Astronomers are still largely working with a “flat” map of the galaxy, and the European Space Agency hopes to change that with Gaia, its star-surveying satellite which launched into space Thursday. The spacecraft will produce the most accurate 3-D map of the Milky Way yet. Gaia is now heading for a stable orbit on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun, and will always keep its back to the sun.
Astronomers affiliated with the Supernova Legacy Survey (SNLS) have discovered two of the brightest and most distant supernovae ever recorded, 10 billion light-years away and a hundred times more luminous than a normal supernova. These newly discovered supernovae are especially puzzling because the mechanism that powers most of them cannot explain their extreme luminosity.
Noble gas molecules have been detected in space for the first time in the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant, by astronomers at Univ. College London. Led by Prof. Mike Barlow, the team used ESA's Herschel Space Observatory to observe the Crab Nebula in far infrared light. Their measurements of regions of cold gas and dust led them to the serendipitous discovery of the chemical fingerprint of argon hydride ions.
An atmospheric peculiarity the Earth shares with Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune is likely common to billions of planets, Univ. of Washington astronomers have found, and knowing that may help in the search for potentially habitable worlds. The paper uses basic physics to show why this happens, and suggests that tropopauses are probably common to billions of thick-atmosphere planets and moons throughout the galaxy.
Jupiter’s moon Europa features an intricate network of cracks in its icy surface. This unusual pattern is particularly pronounced around the equator. Scientists performing modeling studies on the potential marine currents below this ice layer have discovered that, near Europa’s equator, warmer water rises from deep within the moon.
A massive impact on the moon about 4 billion years ago left a 2,500-mile crater, among the largest known craters in the solar system. Smaller subsequent impacts left craters within that crater. Comparing the spectra of light reflected from the peaks of those craters may yield clues to the composition of the moon’s lower crust and mantle—and would have implications for models of how the moon formed.
NASA's Curiosity rover has uncovered signs of an ancient freshwater lake on Mars that may have teemed with tiny organisms for tens of millions of years, far longer than scientists had imagined, new research suggests. The watering hole near the Martian equator existed about 3.5 billion years ago. Scientists say it was neither salty nor acidic, and contained nutrients—a perfect spot to support microbes.
A research team has discovered a natural particle accelerator of interstellar scale. By analyzing data from NASA’s Van Allen probes, physicists have been able to measure and identify the “smoking gun” of a planetary scale process that accelerates particles to speeds close to the speed of light within the Van Allen radiation belt.
Using the powerful eye of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, two teams of scientists have found faint signatures of water in the atmospheres of five distant planets. The presence of atmospheric water was reported previously on a few exoplanets orbiting stars beyond our solar system, but this is the first study to conclusively measure and compare the profiles and intensities of these signatures on multiple worlds.
Quantum entanglement, a perplexing phenomenon of quantum mechanics that Albert Einstein once referred to as “spooky action at a distance,” could be even spookier than Einstein perceived. A team of physicists believe the phenomenon might be intrinsically linked with wormholes, hypothetical features of space-time that in popular science fiction can provide a much-faster-than-light shortcut from one part of the universe to another.
NASA said Monday that the Hubble Space Telescope is the best bet for figuring out whether Comet ISON disintegrated during its brush with the sun last week. A pair of solar observatories saw something emerge from around the sun following ISON's close approach on Thanksgiving Day. But scientists don't yet know whether the spot of light was merely the comet's shattered remains or what's left of its icy nucleus.
Research has shed new light on the properties of neutron stars, super dense stars that form when a large star explodes and collapses into itself. Writing in Nature, the team describes a newly discovered process that happens within the star's crust, located just below the surface. Until now, scientists thought that nuclear reactions within the crust contributed to the heating of the star's surface.
Comet ISON will be only about 1 million miles away from the sun's super-hot surface during its close encounter on Thanksgiving. On Monday, it looked like it was about to die even before it got there. On Tuesday, it appeared healthy again. Will it meet a fiery death (or survive) when it whips around the sun on Thursday? Scientists haven’t seen a comet behave this way before.
In April, a bright flash of light burst from near the constellation Leo. Originating billions of light years away, this explosion of light, called a gamma ray burst, has now been confirmed as the brightest gamma ray burst ever observed. Astronomers around the world were able to view the blast in unprecedented detail and observe several aspects of the event. The data could lead to a rewrite of standard theories on how gamma ray bursts work.
For months, all eyes in the sky have pointed at the comet that's zooming toward a blisteringly close encounter with the sun. The moment of truth comes Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. The sun-grazing Comet ISON, now thought to be less than a mile wide, will either fry and shatter, victim of the sun's incredible power, or endure and quite possibly put on one fabulous celestial show. Talk about an astronomical cliffhanger.
In our universe there are particle accelerators 40 million times more powerful than the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Scientists don’t know what these cosmic accelerators are or where they are located, but new results being reported from IceCube, the neutrino observatory buried at the South Pole, may show the way. These new results should also erase any doubts as to IceCube’s ability to deliver on its promise.
Orbiting telescopes got the fireworks show of a lifetime last spring when they spotted what is known as a gamma ray burst in a far-off galaxy. It’s not an unusual occurrence, but this one set records. Had it been closer, Earth would have been toast. But because this blast was 3.7 billion light-years away, mankind was spared.
For nearly as long as astronomers have been able to observe asteroids, a question has gone unanswered: Why do the surfaces of most asteroids appear redder than meteorites—the remnants of asteroids that have crashed to Earth? Scientists have now found that Mars, not Earth, shakes up some near-Earth asteroids.
The first solids to form in the solar system contain unusual isotopic signatures that show a nearby supernova injected material within ~100,000 years of their formation. That supernova, caused from the cataclysmic death of a star, could have even triggered the birth of the sun.
The Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a six-tailed asteroid in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Scientists say they've never seen anything like it. Incredibly, the comet-like tails change shape as the asteroid sheds dust. The streams have occurred over several months.
A pioneering technology called an atom interferometer promises to detect tiny perturbations in the curvature of space-time. With its potential picometer-level sensitivity, the instrument may one day detect what so far has remained imperceptible: gravitational waves or ripples in spacetime caused when massive celestial objects move and disrupt the space around them.
A Russian rocket soared into the cosmos Thursday carrying the Sochi Olympic torch and three astronauts to the International Space Station ahead of the first-ever spacewalk for the symbol of peace. The unlit torch for the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi is to be taken on a spacewalk Saturday, then return to Earth on Monday (late Sunday EST) with three departing space station astronauts.
A rare, recently discovered microbe that survives on very little to eat has been found in two places on Earth: spacecraft clean rooms in Florida and South America. Some other microbes have been discovered in a spacecraft clean room and found nowhere else, but none previously had been found in two different clean rooms and nowhere else.
Leslie Rosenberg and his colleagues are about to go hunting. Their quarry: A theorized-but-never-seen elementary particle called an axion. The search will be conducted with a recently retooled, extremely sensitive detector that is currently in a testing and shakeout phase at the University of Washington’s Center for Experimental Nuclear Physics and Astrophysics.
Over billions of years, small black holes can slowly grow into the supermassive variety by taking on mass from their surroundings and by merging with other black holes. But this slow process can't explain the problem of supermassive black holes existing in the early universe. New findings may help to test a model that solves this problem.