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Hubble spots strange asteroid with six tails of dust

November 11, 2013 10:07 am | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

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.

NASA pursues geodesy application for atom-optics technology

November 11, 2013 9:51 am | by Lori Keesey, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

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.

Olympic torch blasts into space for first-ever spacewalk

November 8, 2013 7:00 am | News | Comments

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.

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Rare new microbe found in two distant clean rooms

November 7, 2013 10:46 am | News | Comments

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.

A shot in the dark: Searching for axion

November 7, 2013 7:00 am | News | Comments

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.

One collapsing star, two black holes

November 7, 2013 7:00 am | News | Comments

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.

Study: 8.8 billion Earth-size, just-right planets

November 5, 2013 9:12 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

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.

Cutting-edge detector technology for astronomical observations

November 5, 2013 7:41 am | News | Comments

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.

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Magnetic “force field” shield giant gas cloud during collision with Milky Way

November 1, 2013 9:43 am | News | Comments

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.

Could a Milky Way supernova be visible from Earth in next 50 years?

November 1, 2013 8:05 am | News | Comments

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.

Search for dark matter comes up empty so far

October 31, 2013 9:47 am | by Chet Brokaw and Seth Borenstein, Associated Press Writers | News | Comments

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.

Earth-size planet found with rocky core like ours

October 31, 2013 8:35 am | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

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.

Iron tells a cosmic story

October 31, 2013 8:02 am | News | Comments

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.

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So close, yet so far

October 31, 2013 7:42 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

Experiment could shed light on the mysteries of dark matter

October 28, 2013 7:41 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

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.

Coldest place in the universe is shaped like a ghost

October 25, 2013 10:20 am | News | Comments

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.

Long-sought pattern of ancient light detected

October 22, 2013 11:17 am | News | Comments

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.

Asteroid expert says surveillance is key to survival

October 21, 2013 8:07 am | News | Comments

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.

A toolbox to simulate the Big Bang and beyond

October 18, 2013 10:34 am | News | Comments

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.

The sun also flips: 11-year solar cycle wimpy, but peaking

October 17, 2013 7:55 am | News | Comments

In a 3-m-dia hollow aluminum sphere, Cary Forest, a Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison physics prof., is stirring and heating plasmas to 500,000 F to experimentally mimic the magnetic field-inducing cosmic dynamos at the heart of planets, stars and other celestial bodies. Ninety-three million miles away, the sun's magnetic field is churning and undulating as the star experiences the height of the so-called solar maximum.

Englert, Higgs win physics Nobel for particle mass

October 8, 2013 8:54 am | by Associated Press | News | Comments

Francois Englert of Belgium and Peter Higgs of Britain won the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics for their theoretical discoveries on how subatomic particles acquire mass. Their theories are key to explaining the building blocks of matter and the origins of the universe. They were confirmed last year by the discovery of the so-called Higgs particle, also known as the Higgs boson, at CERN, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

A clearer look at Martian clouds

October 8, 2013 8:30 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

At first glance, Mars’ clouds might be mistaken for those on Earth. Given what scientists know about the Red Planet’s atmosphere, these clouds likely consist of either carbon dioxide or water-based ice crystals. But it’s difficult to know the precise conditions that give rise to such clouds without sampling directly from a Martian cloud. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have now done the next-best thing.

New theory to explain seeds of life in asteroids

October 2, 2013 7:43 am | News | Comments

A new look at the early solar system introduces an alternative to a long-taught, but largely discredited, theory that seeks to explain how biomolecules were once able to form inside of asteroids. In place of the outdated theory, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute propose a new theory to explain the ancient heating of the asteroid belt.

“Transformer” star discovered with x-rays and radio waves

September 27, 2013 8:47 am | by Francis Reddy and Barbara K. Kennedy, Penn State | News | Comments

A fleet of orbiting x-ray telescopes has been used by an international team of scientists in the discovery of a "millisecond pulsar" star with a dual identity. The star readily shifts back and forth between two mutually exclusive styles of pulsed emissions, one in x-rays, the other in radio waves. The discovery, the scientists say, reveals a long-sought intermediate phase in the life of these powerful objects.

Observations reveal critical interplay of interstellar dust, hydrogen

September 26, 2013 9:13 am | News | Comments

For astrophysicists, the interplay of hydrogen and the clouds of dust that fill the voids of interstellar space has been an intractable puzzle of stellar evolution. The dust, astronomers believe, is a key phase in the lifecycle of stars, which are formed in dusty nurseries throughout the cosmos. But how the dust interacts with hydrogen and is oriented by the magnetic fields in deep space has proved a theoretical challenge. Until now.

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