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Rosetta’s final sprint to the comet

January 17, 2014 12:23 pm | by Birgit Krummheuer, Max Planck Institute | News | Comments

After a 10-year journey and a long, deep sleep the Rosetta space probe will be awoken on Jan. 20, 2014. The vehicle then starts the last leg of its journey which will lead it to the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet. Then, mission leaders will attempt a space exploration first: setting the Philae lander down on the comet’s surface in November.

Quasars illuminate swiftly swirling clouds around galaxies

January 9, 2014 7:32 am | News | Comments

A new study of light from quasars has provided astronomers with illuminating insights into the swirling clouds of gas that form stars and galaxies, proving that the clouds can shift and change much more quickly than previously thought. The team used data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a major eight-year cooperative project to image and map galaxies and quasars.

Alive and well inside dwarf galaxies: Massive black holes

January 8, 2014 11:55 am | News | Comments

Dwarf galaxies may be small, but astronomers now know that they can hold massive black holes. Yale Univ. astronomer Marla Geha and collaborators have identified more than 100 dwarf galaxies that show signs of hosting massive black holes, a discovery that challenges the idea that they exist only in much bigger galaxies.

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Long shots: Galaxies from 13.2 billion years ago

January 8, 2014 9:39 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Images released by NASA on Tuesday show galaxies that are 20 times fainter than those pictured before. They are from a new campaign to have the 23-year-old Hubble Space Telescope gaze much earlier and farther away than it was designed to see. The spacecraft is now looking within 500 million years after the Big Bang.

NASA’s Fermi makes first gamma ray study of a gravitational lens

January 7, 2014 8:54 am | Videos | Comments

An international team of astronomers, using NASA's Fermi observatory, has made the first-ever gamma ray measurements of a gravitational lens, a kind of natural telescope formed when a rare cosmic alignment allows the gravity of a massive object to bend and amplify light from a more distant source. This accomplishment opens new avenues for research, including a novel way to probe emission regions near supermassive black holes.

Three-star system could debunk Einstein’s theory of General Relativity

January 6, 2014 4:47 pm | News | Comments

A newly discovered system of two white dwarf stars and a superdense pulsar is packed within a space smaller than the Earth’s orbit around the sun. The finding is scientists’ best opportunity yet to discover a violation of a key concept in Albert Einstein’s theory of General Relativity: the strong equivalence principle, which states that the effect of gravity on a body does not depend on the nature or internal structure of that body.

Supernova’s super dust factory imaged with ALMA

January 6, 2014 11:10 am | News | Comments

Supernovas are thought to be a primary source of a galaxy’s dust. Direct evidence of a supernova’s dust-making capabilities, however, has been slim and cannot account for the volume of dust detected in young, distant galaxies. Striking new observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope capture, for the first time, the remains of a recent supernova brimming with freshly formed dust.

Europe launches satellite to map 1 billion stars

December 19, 2013 7:16 pm | by Danica Coto and Frank Jordans, Associated Press | News | Comments

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.

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Powerful ancient explosions explain new class of supernovae

December 19, 2013 8:00 am | News | Comments

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.

First noble gas molecules discovered in space

December 12, 2013 2:34 pm | News | Comments

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.

Astronomers solve temperature mystery of planetary atmospheres

December 11, 2013 4:07 pm | News | Comments

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.

The heat pump in Europa's ocean

December 11, 2013 2:00 pm | News | Comments

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.

Ancient crater may be clue to moon’s mantle

December 9, 2013 1:43 pm | News | Comments

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.

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NASA: Ancient Martian lake may have supported life

December 9, 2013 12:28 pm | by ALICIA CHANG - AP Science Writer - Associated Press | News | Comments

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.

CERN, eat your heart out?

December 5, 2013 9:46 am | by Jamie Hanlon, Univ. of Alberta | News | Comments

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.

Hubble traces subtle signals of water on hazy worlds

December 4, 2013 8:07 am | News | Comments

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.

“Spooky action” builds a wormhole between entangled particles

December 4, 2013 8:07 am | News | Comments

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.

Hubble Telescope best shot at learning comet fate

December 3, 2013 2:10 pm | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

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.

Nuclear cooling in neutron stars deepens mystery of hot surface

December 2, 2013 8:45 am | News | Comments

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 dances with sun, death; giving mixed signals

November 27, 2013 8:46 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

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.

High-energy gamma ray burst could re-shape astrophysics theories

November 25, 2013 12:42 pm | News | Comments

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.

Will icy comet survive close encounter with sun?

November 24, 2013 10:37 am | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

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.

Searching for cosmic accelerators via IceCube

November 22, 2013 7:55 am | News | Comments

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.

“Monster” cosmic blast zipped harmlessly by Earth

November 21, 2013 6:04 pm | by Francis Reddy, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

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.

Asteroids’ close encounters with Mars

November 19, 2013 7:56 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

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