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Study finds surprising clues about the formation of sun-like star clusters

May 9, 2014 11:15 am | News | Comments

An important advance in understanding how clusters of stars like our sun are formed has been made by a team that includes seven astronomers at Penn State Univ. and two at other universities. Using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and infrared telescopes, the astronomers have shown that earlier theories about the process that creates star clusters in giant clouds of gas and dust cannot be correct.

Astronomers create first realistic virtual universe

May 7, 2014 2:43 pm | News | Comments

Move over, Matrix, astronomers at MIT/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies in Germany have done you one better. They have created the first realistic virtual universe using a computer simulation called "Illustris." Illustris can recreate 13 billion years of cosmic evolution in a cube 350 million light-years on a side with unprecedented resolution.

Entire star cluster thrown out of its galaxy

May 1, 2014 10:49 am | News | Comments

The galaxy known as M87 has a fastball that would be the envy of any baseball pitcher. It has thrown an entire star cluster toward us at more than two million miles per hour. The newly discovered cluster, which astronomers named HVGC-1, is now on a fast journey to nowhere. Its fate: to drift through the void between the galaxies for all time.

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Dwarf fossil galaxy reveals new facts about early universe

May 1, 2014 8:04 am | by Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Out on the edge of the universe, 75,000 light-years from us, a galaxy known as Segue 1 has some unusual properties: It’s the faintest galaxy ever detected. It’s very small, containing only about 1,000 stars. And it has a rare chemical composition, with vanishingly small amounts of metallic elements present.

The intergalactic medium unveiled

April 30, 2014 8:13 am | by Cynthia Eller, California Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Caltech astronomers have taken unprecedented images of the intergalactic medium (IGM)—the diffuse gas that connects galaxies throughout the universe—with the Cosmic Web Imager, an instrument designed and built at Caltech. Until now, the structure of the IGM has mostly been a matter for theoretical speculation. However, with observations from the Cosmic Web Imager, astronomers are obtaining our first 3-D pictures of the IGM.

Star discovered to be close neighbor, and the coldest of its kind

April 28, 2014 7:23 am | News | Comments

Brown dwarfs start their lives like stars, as collapsing balls of gas, but they lack the mass to burn nuclear fuel and radiate starlight. A "brown dwarf" star that appears to be the coldest of its kind—as frosty as Earth's North Pole—has been discovered by a Penn State Univ. astronomer to be just 7.2 light-years away, making it the fourth closest system to our Sun. The strange star is as frosty as Earth's North Pole.

“Upside-down planet” reveals new method for studying binary star systems

April 22, 2014 8:12 am | by Peter Kelley, News and Information, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

What looked at first like an upside-down planet has instead revealed a new method for studying binary star systems, discovered by a Univ. of Washington (UW) student astronomer. Working with UW astronomer Eric Agol, doctoral student Ethan Kruse has confirmed the first “self-lensing” binary star system: one in which the mass of the closer star can be measured by how powerfully it magnifies light from its more distant companion star.

Researchers predict signs of black holes swallowing stars

April 18, 2014 8:19 am | by Aaron Dubrow, National Science Foundation | News | Comments

Somewhere out in the cosmos an ordinary galaxy spins, seemingly at slumber. Then all of a sudden, WHAM! A flash of light explodes from the galaxy's center. A star orbiting too close to the event horizon of the galaxy's central supermassive black hole has been torn apart by the force of gravity, heating up its gas and sending out a beacon to the far reaches of the universe.

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Astronomers spot most Earth-like planet yet

April 17, 2014 2:56 pm | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Detected by NASA's orbiting Kepler telescope, a newly found planet is the most Earth-like planet yet detected. Astronomers say the distant, rocky world is similar in size to our own and exists in the Goldilocks zone where it's not too hot and not too cold for life. The find, announced Thursday, excited planet hunters who have been scouring the Milky Way galaxy for years for potentially habitable places outside our solar system.

Astronomers: ‘Tilt-a-worlds’ could harbor life

April 15, 2014 3:17 pm | by Peter Kelley, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

A fluctuating tilt in a planet’s orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by a team of astronomers. In fact, sometimes it helps because such “tilt-a-worlds,” as astronomers sometimes call them, are less likely than fixed-spin planets to freeze over, as heat from their host star is more evenly distributed.

Researchers make most precise measurement yet of the expanding universe

April 10, 2014 1:15 pm | by Barbara Kennedy, Penn State | News | Comments

Astronomers at Penn State and other institutions participating in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey have used 140,000 distant quasars to measure the expansion rate of the universe when it was only one-quarter of its present age. This measurement is the best yet of the expansion rate at any epoch in the last 13 billion years during the history of the universe.

Gravity measurements confirm subsurface ocean on Enceladus

April 7, 2014 9:18 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

In 2005, NASA's Cassini spacecraft sent pictures back to Earth depicting an icy Saturnian moon spewing water vapor and ice from fractures, known as "tiger stripes," in its frozen surface. It was big news that tiny Enceladus was such an active place. Since then, scientists have hypothesized that a large reservoir of water lies beneath that icy surface, possibly fueling the plumes.

How Earth got its plated shell

April 7, 2014 9:03 am | by Eric Gershon, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

New Yale Univ.-led research suggests how and when Earth came to develop one of its most distinct features—rigid tectonic plates—and why Venus, Earth’s twin-like neighbor, never has. Earth has a unique network of shifting plates embedded in its cold and rocky outermost layer, the lithosphere. The motion of these plates drives many Earth processes, while also stabilizing the planet’s climate and enabling life.

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The ringed asteroid

March 28, 2014 11:51 am | News | Comments

Benefited from a rare occultation on June 3, 2013, researchers observed the asteroid Chariklo when it passed by a star that concealed it for several seconds. Although the astronomer planned only to measure its size, they were surprised to discover this “centaur”, which has an unstable orbit that passes through the outer planets, has two thin rings made of ice. It is only the fifth Solar System object to exhibit such a system.

Newfound pink world lurks at solar system fringes

March 27, 2014 9:30 am | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Until now, the lone known resident in the region of the solar system beyond Pluto was an oddball dwarf planet spotted in 2003 named Sedna. For years, astronomers hunted in vain for other Sednas in the little-studied fringes of the solar system. Now, they’ve found one: a pink frozen world 7.5 billion miles from the sun. And astronomer think they will find others.

Plugging the hole in Hawking’s black hole theory

March 24, 2014 3:38 pm | News | Comments

Recently, physicists have been poking holes in Stephen Hawking’s black hole theory, including Hawking himself. For decades, physicists have been trying to solve the mystery of black holes and Hawking, considered to be the foremost expert on the subject, has continually revised his opinions on this cosmic puzzle. Now, a Michigan State Univ. professor believes he has solved a fundamental problem in Hawking’s theory: the information paradox.

Dramatic new portrait helps define Milky Way’s shape, contents

March 21, 2014 8:22 am | by Terry Devitt, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

Using more than two million images collected by NASA’s orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, a team of Wisconsin scientists has stitched together a dramatic 360-degree portrait of the Milky Way, providing new details of our galaxy’s structure and contents.

NIST chips help South Pole telescope find direct evidence of universe origin

March 19, 2014 9:16 am | News | Comments

Earlier this week, a team of U.S. cosmologists using the BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole said they have discovered the first direct evidence of the rapid inflation of the universe at the dawn of time. The finding was made possible, in part, by superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs) designed at NIST.

New evidence from space supports Stanford physicist’s theory of how universe began

March 17, 2014 12:37 pm | by Bjorn Carey, Stanford News Service | News | Comments

The detection of gravitational waves by the BICEP2 experiment at the South Pole supports the cosmic inflation theory of how the universe came to be. The discovery, made in part by Asst. Prof. Chao-Lin Kuo, supports the theoretical work of Stanford Univ.'s Andrei Linde.  

Researchers spy deep into giant gas planets

March 13, 2014 8:28 am | by Breanna Bishop, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory | News | Comments

Using the VUV Free-Electron Laser FLASH at Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron in Hamburg, Germany, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers were part of a team that took a sneak peek deep into the lower atmospheric layers of giant gas planets such as Jupiter or Saturn.

Survey finds thousands of new stars, but no “Planet X”

March 7, 2014 2:02 pm | News | Comments

Researchers have theorized about the existence of this large, but unseen celestial body, suspected to lie somewhere beyond the orbit of Pluto. After searching hundreds of millions of objects across our sky, NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has turned up no evidence of the commonly dubbed "Planet X."

Galactic gas stations

March 7, 2014 1:31 pm | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Future lunar missions may be fueled by gas stations in space, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers: A spacecraft might dock at a propellant depot, somewhere between the Earth and the moon, and pick up extra rocket fuel before making its way to the lunar surface.

A river of plasma, guarding against the sun

March 7, 2014 7:39 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The Earth’s magnetic field, or magnetosphere, stretches from the planet’s core out into space, where it meets the solar wind, a stream of charged particles emitted by the sun. For the most part, the magnetosphere acts as a shield to protect the Earth from this high-energy solar activity. But when this field comes into contact with the sun’s magnetic field, powerful electrical currents from the sun can stream into Earth’s atmosphere.

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.

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