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Galactic “hailstorm” in the early universe

January 16, 2015 7:43 am | by Sarah Collins, Univ. of Cambridge | News | Comments

Two teams of astronomers led by researchers at the Univ. of Cambridge have looked back nearly 13 billion years, when the universe was less than 10% its present age, to determine how quasars regulate the formation of stars and the build-up of the most massive galaxies. The team used a combination of data gathered from powerful radio telescopes and supercomputer simulations in their study.

Planets outside our solar system more hospitable to life than thought

January 15, 2015 3:35 pm | by Sean Bettam, Univ. of Toronto | News | Comments

A study by astrophysicists at the Univ. of Toronto suggests that exoplanets are more likely to have liquid water and be more habitable than we thought. Scientists have thought that exoplanets behave in a manner contrary to that of Earth. If so, exoplanets would rotate in sync with their star so that there is always one hemisphere facing it while the other hemisphere is in perpetual cold darkness.

Artificial intelligence helps predict dangerous solar flares

January 15, 2015 9:32 am | by Leslie Willoughby, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

Though scientists don’t completely understand what triggers solar flares, Stanford Univ. solar physicists Monica Bobra and Sebastien Couvidat have automated the analysis of those gigantic explosions. The method could someday provide advance warning to protect power grids and communication satellites.

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A twist on planetary origins

January 14, 2015 4:34 pm | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Meteors that have crashed to Earth have long been regarded as relics of the early solar system. These craggy chunks of metal and rock are studded with chondrules, tiny, glassy, spherical grains that were once molten droplets. Scientists have thought that chondrules represent early kernels of terrestrial planets.

Photonic booms may help illuminate astronomical secrets

January 12, 2015 7:49 am | by Jennifer Donovan, Michigan Technological Univ. | News | Comments

If you sweep a laser pointer across the moon fast enough, you can create spots that actually move faster than light. Anyone can do it. At a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Wash., Robert Nemiroff, a physics professor at Michigan Technological Univ., reported that this theoretical curiosity may turn out to be practically useful out in the cosmos.

Map of mysterious molecules in our galaxy shed new light on century-old puzzle

January 9, 2015 9:18 am | by Phil Shneiderman, Johns Hopkins Univ. | News | Comments

By analyzing the light of hundreds of thousands of celestial objects, Johns Hopkins Univ. astronomers from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) have created a unique map of enigmatic molecules in our galaxy that are responsible for puzzling features in the light from stars. The map was unveiled Jan. 8 at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.

Unusual light signal yields clues about elusive black hole merger

January 8, 2015 7:44 am | by Ker Than, Caltech | News | Comments

The central regions of many glittering galaxies, our own Milky Way included, harbor cores of impenetrable darkness—black holes with masses equivalent to millions, or even billions, of suns. What is more, these supermassive black holes and their host galaxies appear to develop together, or "co-evolve." Theory predicts that as galaxies collide and merge, growing ever more massive, so too do their dark hearts.

Eight new planets found in “Goldilocks” zone

January 6, 2015 3:43 pm | by David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

Astronomers announced they have found eight new planets in the "Goldilocks" zone of their stars, orbiting at a distance where liquid water can exist on the planet's surface. This doubles the number of small planets (less than twice the diameter of Earth) believed to be in the habitable zone of their parent stars. Among these eight, the team identified two that are the most similar to Earth of any known exoplanets to date.

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Planet-hunting satellite to observe supermassive black hole

January 6, 2015 11:00 am | by Joe Hadfield, Brigham Young Univ. | Videos | Comments

If you want to see just how far Brigham Young Univ. (BYU)’s latest research extends, step outside of your house tonight, look up towards the sky, focus your view between the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra, and then zoom in about 100 million light years. That’s the home of a galaxy known as KA 1858, which contains a black hole that BYU scientists observed with the help of NASA and astrophysicists throughout the Univ. of California system.

“Iron sun”: The key to how stars transmit energy

January 6, 2015 8:34 am | by Neal Singer, Sandia National Laboratories | News | Comments

Working at temperatures matching the interior of the sun, researchers have been able to determine experimentally, for the first time, iron’s role in inhibiting energy transmission from the center of the sun to near the edge of its radiative band. Because that role is much greater than formerly surmised, the experimentally derived amount of iron’s opacity helps close a theoretical gap in the Standard Solar Model.

New instrument reveals recipe for other Earths

January 5, 2015 4:23 pm | by David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

How do you make an Earth-like planet? The "test kitchen" of Earth has given us a detailed recipe, but it wasn't clear whether other planetary systems would follow the same formula. Now, astronomers have found evidence that the recipe for Earth also applies to terrestrial exoplanets orbiting distant stars.

Rover finds methane spikes on Mars

December 17, 2014 8:32 am | by Associated Press, Marcia Dunn | News | Comments

NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity, has detected spikes of methane in the planet's atmosphere. That suggests something is producing or venting the scientifically tantalizing gas, but no one knows what. Most of Earth's atmospheric methane comes from animal and plant life, and the environment itself. So the Martian methane raises the question of past or present microbial life.

Life on an aquaplanet

December 17, 2014 7:43 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Nearly 2,000 planets beyond our solar system have been identified to date. Whether any of these exoplanets are hospitable to life depends on a number of criteria. Among these, scientists have thought, is a planet’s obliquity—the angle of its axis relative to its orbit around a star.

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Is the Higgs boson a piece of the matter-antimatter puzzle?

December 16, 2014 8:28 am | by SLAC Office of Communications | News | Comments

Several experiments, including the BaBar experiment at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, have helped explain some, but not all, of the imbalance between matter and antimatter in the universe. Now a SLAC theorist and his colleagues have laid out a possible method for determining if the Higgs boson is involved.

Pluto-sized objects kick up dust around adolescent sun-like star

December 15, 2014 10:27 am | by David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) may have detected the dusty hallmarks of an entire family of Pluto-size objects swarming around an adolescent version of our own sun. By making detailed observations of the protoplanetary disk surrounding the star known as HD 107146, the astronomers detected an unexpected increase in the concentration of millimeter-size dust grains in the disk's outer reaches.

Traces of biological activity inside meteorite

December 4, 2014 10:57 am | by EPFL | Videos | Comments

Did Mars ever have life? Does it still? A meteorite from Mars has reignited the old debate. An international team that includes scientists from EPFL has published a paper in Meteoritics and Planetary Sciences, showing that Martian life is more probable than previously thought.

“Mirage Earth” exoplanets may have burned away chances for life

December 3, 2014 11:21 am | by Peter Kelley, News and Information, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

Planets orbiting close to low-mass stars are prime targets in the search for extraterrestrial life. But new research led by an astronomy graduate student at the Univ. of Washington indicates some such planets may have long since lost their chance at hosting life because of intense heat during their formative years.

Losing air

December 2, 2014 8:01 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Today’s atmosphere likely bears little trace of its primordial self: Geochemical evidence suggests that Earth’s atmosphere may have been completely obliterated at least twice since its formation more than 4 billion years ago. However, it’s unclear what interplanetary forces could have driven such a dramatic loss.

Plasma shield

December 1, 2014 7:43 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

High above Earth’s atmosphere, electrons whiz past at close to the speed of light. Such ultra-relativistic electrons, which make up the outer band of the Van Allen radiation belt, can streak around the planet in a mere five minutes, bombarding anything in their path. Exposure to such high-energy radiation can wreak havoc on satellite electronics, and pose serious health risks to astronauts.

Unraveling the mystery of gamma-ray bursts

November 20, 2014 7:39 am | by Univ. of Cardiff | News | Comments

A team of scientists hope to trace the origins of gamma-ray bursts with the aid of giant space microphones. Researchers at Cardiff Univ. are trying to work out the possible sounds scientists might expect to hear when the ultra-sensitive LIGO and Virgo detectors are switched on in 2015.

Black hole loses its appetite for gassy cloud

November 19, 2014 8:22 am | by Anne M. Stark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboraotry | News | Comments

In a showdown of black hole versus G2—a cloud of gas and dust—it looks like G2 won. Recent research shows that G2 came within 30 billion km of the super-massive black hole at the center of our galaxy, yet managed to escape from the gravitational pull of the black hole.

Warmth, flowing water on early Mars were episodic

November 18, 2014 11:46 am | by Kevin Stacey, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

Ample evidence of ancient rivers, streams and lakes make it clear that Mars was at some point warm enough for liquid water to flow on its surface. While that may conjure up images of a tropical Martian paradise, new research published in Nature Geoscience throws a bit of cold water on that notion.

Gravity may have saved the universe after the Big Bang

November 18, 2014 10:34 am | by Laura Gallagher, Imperial College London | News | Comments

New research by a team of European physicists could explain why the universe did not collapse immediately after the Big Bang. Studies of the Higgs particle have suggested that the production of Higgs particles during the accelerating expansion of the very early universe (inflation) should have led to instability and collapse.

Pulling together the early solar system

November 14, 2014 8:35 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

While astronomers have observed the protoplanetary disk evolution throughout our galaxy, the mechanism by which planetary disks evolve at such a rapid rate has eluded scientists for decades. Now researchers have provided the first experimental evidence that our solar system’s protoplanetary disk was shaped by an intense magnetic field that drove a massive amount of gas into the sun within just a few million years.

Primordial galaxy bursts with starry births

November 12, 2014 4:09 pm | by Vasyl Kacapyr, Cornell Univ. | News | Comments

Peering deep into time with one of the world’s newest, most sophisticated telescopes, astronomers have found a galaxy—AzTEC-3—that gives birth annually to 500 times the number of suns as the Milky Way galaxy, according to a new Cornell Univ.-led study published in the Astrophysical Journal.

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