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Life on an aquaplanet

December 17, 2014 7:43 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Nearly 2,000 planets beyond our solar system have been identified to date. Whether any of these exoplanets are hospitable to life depends on a number of criteria. Among these, scientists have thought, is a planet’s obliquity—the angle of its axis relative to its orbit around a star.

Is the Higgs boson a piece of the matter-antimatter puzzle?

December 16, 2014 8:28 am | by SLAC Office of Communications | News | Comments

Several experiments, including the BaBar experiment at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, have helped explain some, but not all, of the imbalance between matter and antimatter in the universe. Now a SLAC theorist and his colleagues have laid out a possible method for determining if the Higgs boson is involved.

Pluto-sized objects kick up dust around adolescent sun-like star

December 15, 2014 10:27 am | by David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) may have detected the dusty hallmarks of an entire family of Pluto-size objects swarming around an adolescent version of our own sun. By making detailed observations of the protoplanetary disk surrounding the star known as HD 107146, the astronomers detected an unexpected increase in the concentration of millimeter-size dust grains in the disk's outer reaches.

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Traces of biological activity inside meteorite

December 4, 2014 10:57 am | by EPFL | Videos | Comments

Did Mars ever have life? Does it still? A meteorite from Mars has reignited the old debate. An international team that includes scientists from EPFL has published a paper in Meteoritics and Planetary Sciences, showing that Martian life is more probable than previously thought.

“Mirage Earth” exoplanets may have burned away chances for life

December 3, 2014 11:21 am | by Peter Kelley, News and Information, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

Planets orbiting close to low-mass stars are prime targets in the search for extraterrestrial life. But new research led by an astronomy graduate student at the Univ. of Washington indicates some such planets may have long since lost their chance at hosting life because of intense heat during their formative years.

Losing air

December 2, 2014 8:01 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Today’s atmosphere likely bears little trace of its primordial self: Geochemical evidence suggests that Earth’s atmosphere may have been completely obliterated at least twice since its formation more than 4 billion years ago. However, it’s unclear what interplanetary forces could have driven such a dramatic loss.

Plasma shield

December 1, 2014 7:43 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

High above Earth’s atmosphere, electrons whiz past at close to the speed of light. Such ultra-relativistic electrons, which make up the outer band of the Van Allen radiation belt, can streak around the planet in a mere five minutes, bombarding anything in their path. Exposure to such high-energy radiation can wreak havoc on satellite electronics, and pose serious health risks to astronauts.

Unraveling the mystery of gamma-ray bursts

November 20, 2014 7:39 am | by Univ. of Cardiff | News | Comments

A team of scientists hope to trace the origins of gamma-ray bursts with the aid of giant space microphones. Researchers at Cardiff Univ. are trying to work out the possible sounds scientists might expect to hear when the ultra-sensitive LIGO and Virgo detectors are switched on in 2015.

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Black hole loses its appetite for gassy cloud

November 19, 2014 8:22 am | by Anne M. Stark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboraotry | News | Comments

In a showdown of black hole versus G2—a cloud of gas and dust—it looks like G2 won. Recent research shows that G2 came within 30 billion km of the super-massive black hole at the center of our galaxy, yet managed to escape from the gravitational pull of the black hole.

Warmth, flowing water on early Mars were episodic

November 18, 2014 11:46 am | by Kevin Stacey, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

Ample evidence of ancient rivers, streams and lakes make it clear that Mars was at some point warm enough for liquid water to flow on its surface. While that may conjure up images of a tropical Martian paradise, new research published in Nature Geoscience throws a bit of cold water on that notion.

Gravity may have saved the universe after the Big Bang

November 18, 2014 10:34 am | by Laura Gallagher, Imperial College London | News | Comments

New research by a team of European physicists could explain why the universe did not collapse immediately after the Big Bang. Studies of the Higgs particle have suggested that the production of Higgs particles during the accelerating expansion of the very early universe (inflation) should have led to instability and collapse.

Pulling together the early solar system

November 14, 2014 8:35 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

While astronomers have observed the protoplanetary disk evolution throughout our galaxy, the mechanism by which planetary disks evolve at such a rapid rate has eluded scientists for decades. Now researchers have provided the first experimental evidence that our solar system’s protoplanetary disk was shaped by an intense magnetic field that drove a massive amount of gas into the sun within just a few million years.

Primordial galaxy bursts with starry births

November 12, 2014 4:09 pm | by Vasyl Kacapyr, Cornell Univ. | News | Comments

Peering deep into time with one of the world’s newest, most sophisticated telescopes, astronomers have found a galaxy—AzTEC-3—that gives birth annually to 500 times the number of suns as the Milky Way galaxy, according to a new Cornell Univ.-led study published in the Astrophysical Journal.

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Telescope effort reveals asteroid’s size for first time

November 11, 2014 10:49 am | by Joe Fohn, Communications Dept., Southwest Research Institute | News | Comments

When the double asteroid Patroclus-Menoetius passed directly in front of a star on the night of Oct. 20, 2014, a team of volunteer astronomers across the U.S. was waiting. Observing the event, known as an occultation, from multiple sites where each observer recorded the precise time the star was obscured, yielded the first accurate determination of the two objects’ size and shape.

Baby photos of a scaled-up solar system

November 11, 2014 8:46 am | by Daniel Stolte, Univ. Relations - Communications, Univ. of Arizona | News | Comments

Scientists at the Univ. of Arizona have discovered what might be the closest thing to "baby photos" of our solar system. A young star called HD 95086 is found to have two dust belts, analogous to the asteroid and Kuiper belts in the solar system, surrounded by a large dust halo that only young planetary systems have. 

Mars spacecraft reveal comet flyby effects on Martian atmosphere

November 10, 2014 7:46 am | by Jim Scott, CU-Boulder Media Relations | News | Comments

Two NASA and one European spacecraft, including NASA’s MAVEN mission led by the Univ. of Colorado Boulder, have gathered new information about the basic properties of a wayward comet that buzzed by Mars October 19, 2014, directly detecting its effects on the Martian atmosphere. Data from observations revealed that debris from the comet caused an intense meteor shower and added a new layer of ions, or charged particles, to the ionosphere.

Dark matter may be massive

November 4, 2014 2:37 pm | by Case Western Reserve Univ. | News | Comments

The physics community has spent decades searching for and finding no evidence that dark matter is made of tiny exotic particles. Case Western Reserve Univ. theoretical physicists suggest researchers consider looking for candidates more in the ordinary realm and, well, more massive. Dark matter is unseen matter, that, combined with normal matter, could create the gravity that, among other things, prevents spinning galaxies from flying apart.

Physicists narrow search for solution to proton spin puzzle

November 4, 2014 9:11 am | by Karen McNulty Walsh, Brookhaven National Laboratory | News | Comments

Results from experiments at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, a particle collider located at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, reveal new insights about how quarks and gluons, the subatomic building blocks of protons, contribute to the proton’s intrinsic angular momentum, a property more commonly known as “spin.”

How a giant impact formed asteroid Vesta’s “belt”

November 4, 2014 8:03 am | by Kevin Stacey, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

When NASA’s Dawn spacecraft visited the asteroid Vesta in 2011, it showed that deep grooves that circle the asteroid’s equator like a cosmic belt were probably caused by a massive impact on Vesta’s south pole. Now, using a super high-speed cannon at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Brown Univ. researchers have shed new light on the violent chain of events deep in Vesta’s interior that formed those surface grooves.

Ultracold disappearing act

November 3, 2014 8:09 am | by Jade Boyd, Rice Univ. | Videos | Comments

A disappearing act was the last thing Rice Univ. physicist Randy Hulet expected to see in his ultracold atomic experiments, but that is what he and his students produced by colliding pairs of Bose Einstein condensates (BECs) that were prepared in special states called solitons. Hulet’s team documented the strange phenomenon in a new study published online in Nature Physics.

Sculpting solar systems: Magnetic fields seen for first time

October 30, 2014 7:50 am | by Liz Ahlberg, Physical Sciences Editor, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | News | Comments

Astronomers have caught their first glimpse of the invisible magnetic fields that sculpt solar systems. Looking at a bright, nearby baby star and the dust swirling in its cradle, astronomers from the Univ. of Illinois and six collaborating institutions were able to make out the shape of the magnetic field surrounding the star.

NASA identifies ice cloud above cruising altitude on Titan

October 27, 2014 9:34 am | News | Comments

Scientists have identified an unexpected high-altitude methane ice cloud on Saturn's moon Titan that is similar to exotic clouds found far above Earth's poles. Now, eight years after spotting this mysterious bit of atmospheric fluff, NASA's Cassini spacecraft, researchers have determined that it contains methane ice, which produces a much denser cloud than the ethane ice previously identified there.

NASA Webb’s heart survives deep freeze test

October 22, 2014 9:05 am | by Laura Betz, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

After 116 days of being subjected to extremely frigid temperatures like that in space, the heart of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Integrated Science Instrument Module and its sensitive instruments, emerged unscathed from the thermal vacuum chamber at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Operating a telescope powerful enough to reveal the first galaxies forming 13.5 billion years ago requires incredibly cold temperatures: about -387 F.

Big black holes can block new stars

October 21, 2014 10:46 am | by Dennis O'Shea, Johns Hopkins Univ. | News | Comments

Massive black holes spewing out radio frequency-emitting particles at near-light speed can block formation of new stars in aging galaxies, a study has found. The research provides crucial new evidence that it is these jets of radio frequency feedback streaming from mature galaxies’ central black holes that prevent hot free gas from cooling and collapsing into baby stars.

A 3-D map of the adolescent universe

October 20, 2014 8:18 am | by Kate Greene, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Using extremely faint light from galaxies 10.8-billion light-years away, scientists have created one of the most complete, 3-D maps of a slice of the adolescent universe. The map shows a web of hydrogen gas that varies from low to high density at a time when the universe was made of a fraction of the dark matter we see today.

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