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New planet-weighing technique found

June 27, 2012 10:53 am | News | Comments

About 800 extra-solar planets have been discovered so far in our galaxy, but the precise masses of the majority of them are still unknown. The only previous way to determine mass was to observe a transit, during which the planet’s host is eclipsed. Now, scientist Mercedes López-Morales has, for the first time, determined the mass of a non-transiting planet.

Cassini shows why jet streams cross-cut Saturn

June 25, 2012 1:38 pm | News | Comments

Turbulent jet streams, regions where winds blow faster than in other places, churn east and west across Saturn. Scientists have been trying to understand for years the mechanism that drives these wavy structures in Saturn's atmosphere. Recent images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has revealed the source from which the jets derive their energy.

Black holes as particle detectors

June 19, 2012 6:26 am | News | Comments

Finding new particles usually requires high energies—that is why huge accelerators have been built, which can accelerate particles to almost the speed of light. But there are other creative ways of finding new particles: At the Vienna University of Technology, scientists presented a method to prove the existence of hypothetical "axions."

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Alien Earths could form earlier than expected

June 14, 2012 7:15 am | News | Comments

Building a terrestrial planet requires raw materials that weren't available in the early history of the universe. The Big Bang filled space with hydrogen and helium. Chemical elements like silicon and oxygen had to be cooked up over time by stars. But how long did that take? How many of such heavy elements do you need to form planets?

NuSTAR to hunt for extreme objects in space

June 13, 2012 10:29 am | by Anne M. Stark | News | Comments

Scheduled for launch this week from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (or NuSTAR), is the first focusing, high energy X-ray satellite to be launched from NASA. Hundreds of times more sensitive than any previous hard X-ray instrument, it will allow researchers to take a census of black holes.

NASA's Fermi detects the highest-energy light from a solar flare

June 11, 2012 10:26 pm | News | Comments

During a powerful solar blast on March 7, the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope detected the highest-energy light ever associated with an eruption on the sun. The flare produced such an outpouring of gamma rays—a form of light with even greater energy than X-rays—that the sun briefly became the brightest object in the gamma-ray sky.

Cosmic smashup predicted, but Earth will survive

June 1, 2012 8:20 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Astronomers in a NASA news conference Thursday said that years of observations from the Hubble Space Telescope provide grisly details of a long-anticipated galactic smashup, one that will involve the dead-on crash of a neighboring galaxy with our entire Milky Way.

On early Earth, iron may have performed magnesium's RNA folding job

June 1, 2012 4:07 am | News | Comments

In a new study, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology used experiments and numerical calculations to show that iron, in the absence of oxygen, can substitute for magnesium in RNA binding, folding, and catalysis. The researchers found that RNA's shape and folding structure remained the same and its functional activity increased when magnesium was replaced by iron in an oxygen-free environment.

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New lab turns SD gold town into scientific hub

May 30, 2012 5:44 pm | by Amber Hunt,Associated Press | News | Comments

On Wednesday, the Large Underground Xenon experiment, or LUX, became official when part of the closed Homestake Gold Mine nearly 5,000 feet beneath the earth at Lead, S.D., opened for business, not as a mine, but as an underground campus. The primary curriculum: finding out where dark matter is.

New telescope to be in South Africa, Australia

May 30, 2012 2:26 pm | by Donna Bryson, Associated Press | News | Comments

South Africa and Australia had competed fiercely against each other for the Square Kilometer Array telescope project, which will become the world’s biggest instrument when built. Recently, the consortium overseeing the effort decided to award it to both countries, with South Africa getting the lion’s share of the radio dishes.

Hypothesis presented for Faint Young Sun Paradox

May 30, 2012 9:48 am | News | Comments

More than 2 billion years ago, a much fainter sun should have left the Earth as an orbiting ice ball, unfit to develop life as we know it today. Why the Earth avoided the deep freeze is a question that has puzzled scientists, but Purdue University's David Minton believes he might have an answer.

Deep underground, LUX lies in wait for WIMPs

May 24, 2012 4:05 am | by Paul Preuss | News | Comments

Dark matter accounts for at least 80% of the matter in the universe. No one knows what it is, but most scientists would bet on weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs. LUX, the Large Underground Xenon detector at the Sanford Underground Research Facility nearly a mile below the Black Hills of South Dakota, holds 350 kg of liquid xenon and is a trap set for dark-matter WIMPs.

Cassini reveals details about charged nanograins

May 22, 2012 8:59 am | News | Comments

In a new study, researchers describe what they found in data from Cassini: a new class of space particles—submicroscopic nanograins of electrically charged dust. Such particles are believed to exist throughout the universe, and this marks the first time researchers have measured and analyzed them.

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Newfound exoplanet may turn to dust

May 18, 2012 3:30 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, NASA, and elsewhere have detected a possible planet, some 1,500 light years away, that appears to be evaporating under the blistering heat of its parent star. The scientists infer that a long tail of debris is following the planet, and that this tail may tell the story of the planet's disintegration.

Interferometry reveals how black holes are fueled

May 16, 2012 10:52 am | News | Comments

By combining the light of three powerful infrared telescopes, an international research team has observed the active accretion phase of a supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy tens of millions of light years away, a method that has yielded an unprecedented amount of data for such observations.

Overactive black holes shut down star formation

May 11, 2012 11:14 am | News | Comments

A team of astronomers has found that the most active galactic nuclei—enormous black holes that are violently devouring gas and dust at the centers of galaxies—may prevent new stars from forming.

Astrophysicists zero in on gravity theory

May 11, 2012 6:16 am | News | Comments

Most people take gravity for granted. But for University of Pennsylvania astrophysicist Bhuvnesh Jain, the nature of gravity is the question of a lifetime. As scientists have been able to see farther and deeper into the universe, the laws of gravity have been revealed to be under the influence of an unexplained force. By analyzing a well-studied class of stars in nearby galaxies, a team of astrophysicists have produced new findings that narrow down the possibilities of what this force could be.

First light from a super-Earth spotted

May 9, 2012 5:53 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Scientists on a planetary-heat-seeking mission have detected the first infrared light from a super-Earth—in this case, a planet some 40 light-years away. And according to their calculations, 55 Cancri e, a planet just over twice the size of Earth, is throwing off some serious heat.

Hubble to use Moon as mirror to see Venus

May 7, 2012 1:58 pm | by Cheryl Gundy, STScI | News | Comments

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope recently imaged the Moon’s crater Tycho, though not for the purpose of adding to our knowledge of the lunar surface. Instead, the telescope was being prepped for study the last transit of the sun by Venus to occur this century. Because the Hubble can’t look at the sun directly, the Moon will serve as a giant mirror.

Honing in on supernova origins

May 7, 2012 12:26 pm | News | Comments

Type Ia supernovae are important stellar phenomena, used to measure the expansion of the universe. But astronomers know embarrassingly little about the stars they come from and how the explosions happen. New research from a team led by Harvard University examined 23 Type Ia supernovae and helped identify the formation process for at least some of them.

Scientists use airship to look for meteorites

May 4, 2012 3:04 pm | News | Comments

A group of scientists took to the skies in a slow-moving airship Thursday in search of meteorites that rained over California's gold country last month. It's the latest hunt for extraterrestrial fragments from the April 22 explosion that was witnessed over a swath of Northern California and Nevada.

Solar system may have evolved faster than we think

May 2, 2012 6:52 am | News | Comments

Our solar system is four and a half billion years old, but its formation may have occurred over a shorter period of time than we previously thought, says an international team of researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and universities and laboratories in the U.S. and Japan.

Record-breaking radio waves from ultra-cool star

April 30, 2012 3:56 am | News | Comments

Using the world's largest radio telescope, scientists at Arecibo, Puerto Rico, have discovered flaring radio emissions from an ultra-cool star, not much warmer than the planet Jupiter, shattering the previous record for the lowest stellar temperature at which radio waves were detected.

From the IceCube, new insights into origin of cosmic rays

April 19, 2012 9:43 am | News | Comments

Between 2008 and 2010, scientists at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica searched for neutrinos emitted from 300 gamma ray bursts. In defiance of 15 years of predictions no neutrinos were found. Nevertheless, the recently published report from this effort still sheds light on the formation of high-energy gamma rays.

NASA collecting ideas on new strategy for exploring the Red Planet

April 16, 2012 3:36 am | News | Comments

Starting Friday, NASA’s Mars Program Planning Group began accepting ideas and abstracts online from the worldwide scientific and technical community as part of NASA's effort to seek out the best and the brightest ideas from researchers and engineers in planetary science. They hope to develop a new strategy for the exploration of Mars.

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