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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The first solids to form in the solar system contain unusual isotopic signatures that show a nearby supernova injected material within ~100,000 years of their formation. That supernova, caused from the cataclysmic death of a star, could have even triggered the birth of the sun.
The Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a six-tailed asteroid in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Scientists say they've never seen anything like it. Incredibly, the comet-like tails change shape as the asteroid sheds dust. The streams have occurred over several months.
A pioneering technology called an atom interferometer promises to detect tiny perturbations in the curvature of space-time. With its potential picometer-level sensitivity, the instrument may one day detect what so far has remained imperceptible: gravitational waves or ripples in spacetime caused when massive celestial objects move and disrupt the space around them.
A Russian rocket soared into the cosmos Thursday carrying the Sochi Olympic torch and three astronauts to the International Space Station ahead of the first-ever spacewalk for the symbol of peace. The unlit torch for the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi is to be taken on a spacewalk Saturday, then return to Earth on Monday (late Sunday EST) with three departing space station astronauts.
A rare, recently discovered microbe that survives on very little to eat has been found in two places on Earth: spacecraft clean rooms in Florida and South America. Some other microbes have been discovered in a spacecraft clean room and found nowhere else, but none previously had been found in two different clean rooms and nowhere else.
Over billions of years, small black holes can slowly grow into the supermassive variety by taking on mass from their surroundings and by merging with other black holes. But this slow process can't explain the problem of supermassive black holes existing in the early universe. New findings may help to test a model that solves this problem.
Leslie Rosenberg and his colleagues are about to go hunting. Their quarry: A theorized-but-never-seen elementary particle called an axion. The search will be conducted with a recently retooled, extremely sensitive detector that is currently in a testing and shakeout phase at the University of Washington’s Center for Experimental Nuclear Physics and Astrophysics.
Space is vast, but it may not be so lonely after all: A study finds the Milky Way is teeming with billions of planets that are about the size of Earth, orbit stars just like our sun, and are not too hot or cold for life. For the first time, NASA scientists have calculated, not estimated, what percent of stars that are just like our sun have planets similar to Earth: 22%, with a margin of error of plus or minus 8 percentage points.
Semiconductors have had a nice run, but for certain applications, such as astrophysics, they are being edged out by superconductors. Ben Mazin, asst. prof. of physics at the Univ. of California, Santa Barbara, has developed a superconducting detector array that measures the energy of individual photons.
Doom may be averted for the Smith Cloud, a gigantic streamer of hydrogen gas that is on a collision course with the Milky Way Galaxy. Astronomers have discovered a magnetic field deep in the cloud’s interior, which may protect it during its meteoric plunge into the disk of our galaxy. This discovery could help explain how so-called high velocity clouds remain mostly intact during their mergers with the disks of galaxies.
Astronomers have calculated the odds that, sometime during the next 50 years, a supernova occurring in our home galaxy will be visible from Earth. The good news: They’ve calculated the odds to be nearly 100% that such a supernova would be visible to telescopes in the form of infrared radiation. The bad news: The odds are much lower that the shining stellar spectacle would be visible to the naked eye in the nighttime sky.
Nearly a mile underground in an abandoned gold mine, one of the most important quests in physics has so far come up empty in the search for the elusive substance known as dark matter, scientists announced Wednesday. But physicists on the project were upbeat, saying they had developed a new, more sensitive method of searching for the mysterious material that has mass but cannot be seen. They planned to keep looking.
Scientists have found a planet way out in the cosmos that's close in size and content to Earth, an astronomical first. But hold off on the travel plans. This rocky world is so close to its sun that it's at least 2,000 degrees hotter than here, almost certainly too hot for life.
New evidence of heavy elements spread evenly between the galaxies of the giant Perseus cluster supports the theory that the universe underwent a turbulent and violent youth more than 10 billion years ago. That explosive period was responsible for seeding the cosmos with the heavy elements central to life itself.
In August, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers identified an exoplanet with an extremely brief orbital period: The team found that Kepler 78b, a small, intensely hot planet 400 light-years from Earth, circles its star in just 8.5 hrs. Now this same team has found that Kepler 78b shares another characteristic with Earth: its mass.
Dark matter, believed by physicists to outweigh all the normal matter in the universe by more than five to one, is by definition invisible. But certain features associated with dark matter might be detectable, according to some of the many competing theories describing this elusive matter. Now scientists have developed a tool that could test some of these predictions and thus prove, or disprove, one of the leading theories.
At a cosmologically crisp 1 K (-458 F), the Boomerang Nebula is the coldest known object in the Universe—colder, in fact, than the faint afterglow of the Big Bang, which is the natural background temperature of space. Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope have taken a new look at this ghostly object to learn more about its frigid properties and to determine its true shape.
The journey of light from the very early universe to modern telescopes is long and winding. The ancient light traveled billions of years to reach us, and along the way, its path was distorted by the pull of matter, leading to a twisted light pattern. This twisted pattern of light, called B-modes, has at last been detected and will lead to better maps of matter across our universe.
For the threat of meteor strikes large or small, early detection is key, and evacuation may be the only defense needed within the next 1,000 years, according to an asteroid impact expert. The best investment in asteroid defense is not in weapons to deflect them, but in telescopes and surveys to find them.
The universe is a vast and mysterious place, but thanks to high-performance computing technology scientists around the world are beginning to understand it better. They are using supercomputers to simulate how the Big Bang generated the seeds that led to the formation of galaxies such as the Milky Way.