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Dimer molecules aid study of exoplanet pressure, hunt for life

March 4, 2014 4:07 pm | by Peter Kelley, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

Astronomers at the Univ. of Washington have developed a new method of gauging the atmospheric pressure of exoplanets, or worlds beyond the solar system, by looking for a certain type of molecule. And if there is life out in space, scientists may one day use this same technique to detect its biosignature, the telltale chemical signs of its presence, in the atmosphere of an alien world.

Planet bonanza: Kepler finds 715 new worlds

February 27, 2014 12:57 pm | News | Comments

NASA on Wednesday confirmed a bonanza of 715 newly discovered planets outside our solar system. Scientists using the planet-hunting Kepler telescope pushed the number of planets discovered in the galaxy to about 1,700. Twenty years ago, astronomers had not found any planets circling stars other than the ones revolving around our sun.

Detection of water vapor in the atmosphere of a hot Jupiter

February 25, 2014 8:27 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

Although liquid water covers a majority of Earth's surface, scientists are still searching for planets outside of our solar system that contain water. Researchers have used a new technique to analyze the gaseous atmospheres of such extrasolar planets and have made the first detection of water in the atmosphere of the Jupiter-mass planet orbiting the nearby star tau Boötis.

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Closing the “free will” loophole

February 20, 2014 8:01 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In a recently published paper, researchers proposed an experiment that may close the last major loophole of Bell’s inequality, a 50-year-old theorem that, if violated by experiments, would mean that our universe is based not on the textbook laws of classical physics, but on the less-tangible probabilities of quantum mechanics. Such a quantum view would allow for seemingly counterintuitive phenomena such as entanglement.

NuSTAR helps untangle how stars explode

February 19, 2014 2:51 pm | News | Comments

For the first time, an international team of astrophysicists has unraveled how stars blow up in supernova explosions. Using NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), the international collaboration created the first-ever map of radioactive material in a supernova remnant, named Cassiopeia A. The findings reveal how shock waves likely rip apart massive dying stars, and ultimately end their lives.

Heavy Flavor Tracker boosts physics work at STAR experiment

February 19, 2014 7:56 am | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

In the first few microseconds after the Big Bang, the universe was a superhot, superdense primordial soup of quarks and gluons, particles of matter and carriers of force respectively. This quark-gluon plasma cooled almost instantly, but its brief existence set the stage for the universe we know today. To better understand how our universe evolved, scientists are re-creating a quark-gluon plasma in giant particle accelerators.

Rife with hype, exoplanet study needs patience and refinement

February 19, 2014 7:30 am | by Morgan Kelly, Princeton Univ. | News | Comments

The dominant methods for studying exoplanet atmospheres are not intended for objects as distant, dim and complex as planets trillions of miles from Earth. Few “hard facts” about exoplanet atmospheres have been collected since the first planet was detected in 1992, and most of the data is of “marginal utility.” An exoplanet expert is now calling for initiatives that will help scientists develop tools to detect and analyze exoplanet spectra.

A global map of Jupiter’s biggest moon

February 12, 2014 4:55 pm | News | Comments

Using images from NASA’s Voyager Mission in the 1970s and the orbital Galileo Mission of 1995, researchers have created the first global geological map of Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede. With its varied terrain and possible underground ocean, Ganymede is considered a prime target in the search for habitable environments in the solar system.

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Source of “Moon Curse” revealed by eclipse

February 12, 2014 8:51 am | by Susan Brown, UC Davis | News | Comments

Strange events have long been linked to nights of a full moon, though careful scrutiny dispels any association. So, when signals bounced off the lunar surface returned surprisingly faint echoes on full moon nights, scientists sought an explanation in reason rather than superstition. Still, the most compelling evidence arrived during another event that once evoked irrational fears, on a night when Earth's shadow eclipsed the full moon.

Flowing water on Mars appears likely, but hard to prove

February 11, 2014 8:07 am | News | Comments

Martian experts have known since 2011 that mysterious, possibly water-related streaks appear and disappear on the planet’s surface. These features were given the descriptive name of recurring slope lineae (RSL) because of their shape, annual reappearance and occurrence generally on steep slopes such as crater walls. A team has been looking closer at this phenomenon to try to understand the nature of these features: water-related or not?

Researchers identify one of the earliest stars in the universe

February 10, 2014 8:20 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Scientists have thought that the first stars in the universe burst with tremendous energy, spewing out the first heavy elements, such as carbon, iron, and oxygen. But according to new research from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, not all of these first stars may have been forceful exploders.

Heavy metal in the early cosmos

February 6, 2014 9:23 am | by Aaron Dubrow, Texas Advanced Computing Center | News | Comments

Texas Advanced Computing Center recently reported the results of several massive numerical simulations charting the forces of the universe in its first hundreds of millions of years. The study, which used some of the world's most powerful supercomputers, has refined our understanding of how the first galaxies formed, and, in particular, how metals in the stellar nurseries influenced the characteristics of the stars in the first galaxies.

Solving a physics mystery: Those “solitons” are really vortex rings

February 4, 2014 8:51 am | by Peter Kelley, News and Information, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

The same physics that gives tornadoes their ferocious stability lies at the heart of new Univ. of Washington research, and could lead to a better understanding of nuclear dynamics in studying fission, superconductors and the workings of neutron stars. The work seeks to clarify what Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers witnessed when in 2013 they named a mysterious phenomenon.

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“Rogue” asteroids may be the norm

January 30, 2014 7:33 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

To get an idea of how the early solar system may have formed, scientists often look to asteroids. These relics of rock and dust represent what today’s planets may have been before they differentiated into bodies of core, mantle and crust. In the 1980s, scientists’ view of the solar system’s asteroids was essentially static. But in the last decade, astronomers have detected asteroids with compositions unexpected for their locations in space.

River of hydrogen seen flowing through space

January 28, 2014 9:11 am | News | Comments

Using the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), astronomer D.J. Pisano from West Virginia Univ. has discovered what could be a never-before-seen river of hydrogen flowing through space. This very faint, very tenuous filament of gas is streaming into the nearby galaxy NGC 6946 and may help explain how certain spiral galaxies keep up their steady pace of star formation.

Water in star dust points to origins of life in the universe

January 23, 2014 11:44 am | News | Comments

Space weathering, which works similar to geological erosion on the Earth, produces water in the rims of tiny particles of interplanetary dust. The discovery may have implications on the origins of life and sources of water throughout the galaxy. As a byproduct of star formation, water ice is the most abundant solid material in the universe. But this new source was a surprise.

Star feedback results in less massive galaxies

January 23, 2014 11:17 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

For decades, astrophysicists have encountered a puzzling contradiction: although many galactic-wind models—simulations of how matter is distributed in our universe—predict that the majority of the "normal" matter exists in stars at the center of galaxies, in actuality these stars account for less than 10% of the matter in the universe. A new set of simulations offer insight into this mismatch between the models and reality.

Mimicking how ants adjust to microgravity in space could lead to better robots

January 20, 2014 1:09 pm | by Bjorn Carey, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

Several hundred ants have boldly gone where no ants have gone before: the International Space Station (ISS), high above Earth. An unmanned supply rocket delivered 600 small black common pavement ants to the ISS. Their arrival marked the beginning of an experiment designed by a team at Stanford Univ. to determine how the ants, in these exotic surroundings, adapt the innate algorithms that modulate their group behavior.

Distant quasar illuminates a filament of the cosmic web

January 20, 2014 7:52 am | News | Comments

Astronomers have discovered a distant quasar illuminating a vast nebula of diffuse gas, revealing, for the first time, part of the network of filaments thought to connect galaxies in a cosmic web. Using the 10-m Keck I Telescope at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the researchers detected a very large, luminous nebula of gas extending about 2 million light-years across intergalactic space.

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.

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.

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