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What to expect next from the world’s largest particle accelerator

February 23, 2015 7:56 am | by Kate Greene, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

In March, when researchers flip the switch to the world’s largest, most powerful particle accelerator, scientists from all over the world will be watching. Physicists expect the refurbished, higher-energy Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will build on the 2012 discovery of the Higgs particle and crack open even more mysteries of the universe.

Exoplanet could unlock secrets to how our solar system was formed

February 20, 2015 1:27 pm | by Rebecca Wilhelm, The Open Univ. | News | Comments

Exciting new research by astronomers at The Open Univ. and the Univs. of Warwick and Sheffield has opened up the chance to find out what distant planets are made of. The team of astronomers have made observations which can help reveal the chemical makeup of a small rocky world orbiting a distant star about 1,500 light-years away from Earth, increasing our understanding of how planets, including ours, were formed.

Giving shape to black holes’ intense winds

February 20, 2015 7:41 am | by Anne M. Stark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory | News | Comments

By looking at the speed of ambient gas spewing out from a well-known quasar, astronomers are gaining insight into how black holes and their host galaxies might have evolved at the same time. Using the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), researchers were able to use the x-ray spectra of an extremely luminous black hole (quasar PDS 456) to detect a nearly spherical stream of highly ionized gas streaming out of it.

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For the first time, spacecraft catch a solar shockwave in the act

February 19, 2015 9:02 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

New research has shown that a 2013 solar storm produced “ultrarelativistic, killer electrons” in 60 seconds, disrupting Earth's magnetic field and setting off a magnetized sound pulse around the planet. 

A close call of 0.8 light years

February 17, 2015 12:35 pm | by Leonor Sierra, Univ. of Rochester | News | Comments

A group of astronomers from the U.S., Europe, Chile and South Africa have determined that 70,000 years ago a recently discovered dim star is likely to have passed through the solar system's distant cloud of comets, the Oort Cloud. No other star is known to have ever approached our solar system this close—five times closer than the current closest star, Proxima Centauri.

Mismatched twin stars spotted in the delivery room

February 13, 2015 11:24 am | by Christine Pulliam, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

The majority of stars in our galaxy come in pairs. In particular, the most massive stars usually have a companion. These fraternal twins tend to be somewhat equal partners when it comes to mass; but not always. In a quest to find mismatched star pairs known as extreme mass-ratio binaries, astronomers have discovered a new class of binary stars. One star is fully formed while the other is still in its infancy.

Interstellar technology throws light on spinning black holes

February 13, 2015 8:03 am | by American Institute of Physics | News | Comments

The team responsible for the Oscar-nominated visual effects at the center of Christopher Nolan's epic, Interstellar, have turned science fiction into science fact by providing new insights into the powerful effects of black holes.

Scientists predict Earth-like planets around most stars

February 6, 2015 11:32 am | by The Australian National Univ. | News | Comments

Planetary scientists have calculated that there are hundreds of billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy which might support life. The new research, led by The Australian National Univ., made the finding by applying a 200 year old idea to the thousands of exoplanets discovered by the Kepler space telescope.

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Hubble captures rare triple-moon conjunction

February 6, 2015 10:11 am | by Ray Villard, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

Firing off a string of action snapshots like a sports photographer at a NASCAR race, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured the rare occurrence of three of Jupiter's largest moons racing across the banded face of the gas-giant planet: Europa, Callisto and Io.

Astronomers find new details in first known spiral galaxy

February 4, 2015 10:56 am | by Kevin Mayhood, Case Western Reserve Univ. | News | Comments

Case Western Reserve Univ. astronomers peered deep into space to discover new features of a galaxy that's been sketched and photographed for 170 years. The researchers were able to see faint plumes extending from the northeast and south of the nearby spiral galaxy M51a, also called the "Whirlpool Galaxy," by taking what is essentially a photograph made by a 20-hr exposure.

Meteorite may represent ‘bulk background’ of Mars’ battered crust

February 2, 2015 9:29 am | by Kevin Stacey, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

NWA 7034, a meteorite found a few years ago in the Moroccan desert, is like no other rock ever found on Earth. It’s been shown to be a 4.4 billion-year-old chunk of the Martian crust, and according to a new analysis, rocks just like it may cover vast swaths of Mars.

Scientists retract high-profile cosmic claim

February 2, 2015 8:37 am | by Malcolm Ritter, AP Science Writer, Associated Press | News | Comments

Scientists who made headlines last March by announcing that they'd found long-sought evidence about the early universe are now abandoning that claim. New data show that their cosmic observations no longer back up that conclusion, they say.

CAT scan of nearby supernova remnant reveals frothy interior

January 30, 2015 8:00 am | by David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

Cassiopeia A, or Cas A, is one of the most well-studied supernova remnants in our galaxy. But it still holds major surprises. Harvard-Smithsonian and Dartmouth College astronomers have generated a new 3-D map of its interior using the astronomical equivalent of a CAT scan. They found that the Cas A supernova remnant is composed of a collection of about a half dozen massive cavities—or "bubbles."

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Some potentially habitable planets began as gaseous, Neptune-like worlds

January 29, 2015 7:45 am | by Peter Kelley, News and Information, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

Two phenomena known to inhibit the potential habitability of planets might instead help chances for life on certain planets orbiting low-mass stars, Univ. of Washington astronomers have found. The astronomers say tidal forces and vigorous stellar activity could combine to transform uninhabitable “mini-Neptunes” into closer-in, gas-free, potentially habitable worlds.

Ancient star system reveals Earth-sized planets forming near start of universe

January 28, 2015 10:34 am | by Verity Leatherdale, Univ. of Sydney | News | Comments

A sun-like star with orbiting planets, dating back to the dawn of the galaxy, has been discovered by an international team of astronomers. At 11.2 billion years old it is the oldest star with Earth-sized planets ever found and proves that such planets have formed throughout the history of the universe. The discovery used observations made by NASA's Kepler satellite.

Research recreates planet formation, giant planets in the laboratory

January 23, 2015 9:14 am | by Breanna Bishop, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory | News | Comments

New laser-driven compression experiments reproduce the conditions deep inside exotic super-Earths and giant planet cores, and the conditions during the violent birth of Earth-like planets, documenting the material properties that determined planet formation and evolution processes. The experimentsreveal the unusual properties of silica under the extreme pressures and temperatures relevant to planetary formation and interior evolution.

Black hole on a diet creates a “changing look” quasar

January 22, 2015 11:18 am | by Jim Shelton, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Yale Univ. astronomers have identified the first “changing look” quasar, a gleaming object in deep space that appears to have its own dimmer switch. The discovery may offer a glimpse into the life story of the universe’s great beacons. Quasars are massive, luminous objects that draw their energy from black holes. Until now, scientists have been unable to study both the bright and dim phases of a quasar in a single source.

Doubt cast on global firestorm generated by dino-killing asteroid

January 22, 2015 8:08 am | by Jo Bowler, Univ. of Exeter | News | Comments

Pioneering new research has debunked the theory that the asteroid thought to have led to the extinction of dinosaurs also caused vast global firestorms that ravaged planet Earth. A team of researchers from the Univ. of Exeter, Univ. of Edinburgh and Imperial College London recreated the immense energy released from an extraterrestrial collision with Earth that occurred around the time that dinosaurs became extinct.

Peering into cosmic magnetic fields

January 21, 2015 12:03 pm | by Breanna Bishop, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory | News | Comments

The generation of cosmic magnetic fields has long intrigued astrophysicists. Since it was first described in 1959, a phenomenon known as Weibel filamentation instability has generated tremendous theoretical interest from astrophysicists and plasma physicists as a potential mechanism for seed magnetic field generation in the universe. However, direct observation of Weibel-generated magnetic fields remained challenging for decades.

Ocean floor dust gives new insight into supernovae

January 20, 2015 10:32 am | by Phil Dooley, The Australian National Univ. | News | Comments

Scientists plumbing the depths of the ocean have made a surprise finding that could change the way we understand supernovae, exploding stars way beyond our solar system. They have analyzed extraterrestrial dust thought to be from supernovae that has settled on ocean floors to determine the amount of heavy elements created by the massive explosions.

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.

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.

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