Turning what seemed like a science fiction tale into reality, an unmanned probe swung alongside a comet on Wednesday after a 4-billion mile chase through outer space over the course of a decade. Europe's Rosetta probe will orbit and study the giant lump of dust and ice as it hurtles toward the sun and, if all goes according to plan, drop a lander onto the comet in the coming months.
The million-mile-per-hour solar wind pushed out by the Sun inflates a giant bubble in the interstellar medium called the heliosphere, which envelops the Earth and the other planets. At the 40th International Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) Scientific Assembly in Moscow this week, scientists highlighted an impressive list of achievements in researching the outer heliosphere, which barely registered as a field of research ten years ago.
New findings from a NASA-funded instrument have resolved a decades-old puzzle about a fog of low-energy x-rays observed over the entire sky. Thanks to refurbished detectors first flown on a NASA sounding rocket in the 1970s, astronomers have now confirmed the long-held suspicion that much of this glow stems from a region of million-degree interstellar plasma known as the local hot bubble, or LHB.
A team of international researchers has discovered a new type of cool burning flames that could lead to cleaner, more efficient engines for cars. The discovery was made during a series of experiments on the International Space Station by a team led by Forman Williams, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the Univ. of California, San Diego.
In findings that help astrophysicists understand our corner of the galaxy, an international research team has shown that the soft x-ray glow blanketing the sky comes from both inside and outside the solar system. The source of this "diffuse x-ray background" has been debated for the past 50 years.
The discovery of water vapor in the atmospheres of three exoplanets includes the most precise measurement of any chemical in a planet outside the solar system, and has major implications for planet formation and the search for water on Earth-like habitable exoplanets in future. These results show just how challenging it could be to detect water on Earth-like exoplanets in our search for potential life elsewhere.
Humanity is on the threshold of being able to detect signs of alien life on other worlds. By studying exoplanet atmospheres, we can look for gases like oxygen and methane that only coexist if replenished by life. But those gases come from simple life forms like microbes. What about advanced civilizations? Would they leave any detectable signs?
In late June 2013, an exceptional binary containing a rapidly spinning neutron star underwent a dramatic change in behavior never before observed. The pulsar's radio beacon vanished, while at the same time the system brightened fivefold in gamma rays, the most powerful form of light, according to measurements by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. It was as if someone flipped a switch on the pulsar.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists for the first time have experimentally re-created the conditions that exist deep inside giant planets, such as Jupiter, Uranus and many of the planets recently discovered outside our solar system. Researchers can now re-create and accurately measure material properties that control how these planets evolve over time, information essential for understanding how these massive objects form.
One of the great, unanswered questions for space weather scientists is just what creates two gigantic donuts of radiation surrounding Earth, called the Van Allen radiation belts. Theories abound, but probes sent by NASA have recently provided the first really strong confirmation of what's happening. For the first time, scientists can explain how the electrons are accelerated up to nearly the speed of light.
Defining what makes a star “sun-like" is as difficult as defining what makes a planet "Earth-like." A solar twin should have a temperature, mass and spectral type similar to our sun. We also would expect it to be about 4.5 billion years old. However, it is notoriously difficult to measure a star's age so astronomers usually ignore age when deciding if a star counts as "sun-like."
Meet the seven new dwarf galaxies. Yale Univ. astronomers, using a new type of telescope made by stitching together telephoto lenses, recently discovered seven celestial surprises while probing a nearby spiral galaxy. The previously unseen galaxies may yield important insights into dark matter and galaxy evolution, while possibly signaling the discovery of a new class of objects in space.
As anybody who has started a campfire by rubbing sticks knows, friction generates heat. Now, computer modeling by NASA scientists shows that friction could be the key to survival for some distant Earth-sized planets traveling in dangerous orbits. The findings are consistent with observations that Earth-sized planets appear to be very common in other star systems.
Planet Mercury’s unusual metal-rich composition has been a longstanding puzzle in planetary science. According to a study published online in Nature Geoscience, Mercury and other unusually metal-rich objects in the solar system may be relics left behind by collisions in the early solar system that built the other planets.
Scientists analyzing data from NASA’s Cassini mission have firm evidence the ocean inside Saturn's largest moon, Titan, might be as salty as the Earth's Dead Sea. The new results come from a study of gravity and topography data collected during Cassini's repeated flybys of Titan during the past 10 years. The finding may change some scientists' expectations for present-day life on the distant moon.
An observatory run by the Univ. of Utah has found a “hotspot” beneath the Big Dipper emitting a disproportionate number of the highest-energy cosmic rays. The discovery moves physics another step toward identifying the mysterious sources of the most energetic particles in the universe.
Determining the age of stars has long been a challenge for astronomers. Recent experiments by researchers in Belgium show that “baby” stars can be distinguished from “adolescent” stars by measuring the acoustic waves they emit. This is because stars can vibrate due to sound waves bouncing inside, and those waves are detectable through subtle changes in stellar brightness.
The world of astronomy has changed. An astronomer used to have to travel to a remote location and endure long, cold nights, patiently guiding a telescope to collect precious photons of light. Now, a proliferation of online archives allows astronomers to make discoveries from the comfort of their own offices.
The "man in the moon" appeared when meteoroids struck the Earth-facing side of the moon creating large flat seas of basalt that we see as dark areas called maria. But no "face" exists on farside of the moon and now, Penn State Univ. astrophysicists think they know why.
Earlier this year, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory engineering technical associate Pam Danforth applied 30 years of laser experience to an out-of-this-world problem—bringing new life to the Univ. of California's Lick Observatory Laser Guide Star. The Lick Observatory's Laser Guide Star is vital to astronomers because a natural guide star isn't always near an object they want to observe.
A new study of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies has found magnetic fields play an impressive role in the systems’ dynamics. In fact, in dozens of black holes surveyed, the magnetic field strength matched the force produced by the black holes’ powerful gravitational pull, says a team of scientists.
A new NASA panorama looking deep and far into the universe for the first time includes ultraviolet light, which is normally not visible to the human eye. It shows up in the photo as bright baby blue with spinning galaxies, which are about 5 to 10 billion years old. The photo is a composite of more than 800 photos taken by Hubble and shows about 10,000 multi-colored galaxies.
The slopes of a giant Martian volcano, once covered in glacial ice, may have been home to one of the most recent habitable environments yet found on the Red Planet, according to new research led by Brown Univ. geologists. Nearly twice as tall as Mount Everest, Arsia Mons is the third tallest volcano on Mars and one of the largest mountains in the solar system.
Supernovae are incredibly energetic, dynamic events. It’s easy to imagine that they are uncommon, but the universe is a big place and supernovae are actually fairly routine. The problem with observing supernovae is knowing just when and where one is occurring and being able to point a world-class telescope at it in the hours immediately afterward, when precious data about the supernova's progenitor star is available.
Researcher in the U.K. has recently shown that Saturn’s auroras are caused by the same phenomenon which leads to dramatic auroral displays on Earth. The finding originates in stunning new images of Saturn’s auroras as the planet’s magnetic field is battered by charged particles from the Sun.