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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.

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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.

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“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.

Supercomputers help solve a 50-year homework assignment

September 26, 2013 7:56 am | News | Comments

Kids grumble about homework. But their complaints will hold no water with a group of theoretical physicists who’ve spent almost 50 years solving one homework problem: a calculation of one type of subatomic particle decay aimed at helping to answer the question of why the early universe ended up with an excess of matter. Without that excess, the matter and antimatter created in the Big Bang would have completely annihilated one another.

Astronomers discover densest galaxy ever

September 24, 2013 1:51 pm | News | Comments

Imagine the distance between the sun and the star nearest to it—a star called Alpha Centauri. That’s a distance of about 4 light years. Now, imagine as many as 10,000 of our suns crammed into that relatively small space. That is about the density of a galaxy that was recently discovered by an international team of astronomers led by a Michigan State Univ. faculty member.

Scientists explain the formation of unusual ring of radiation in space

September 23, 2013 9:29 am | News | Comments

Since the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts in 1958, space scientists have believed these belts encircling the Earth consist of two doughnut-shaped rings of highly charged particles. In February of 2013, a team of scientists reported the surprising discovery of a previously unknown third radiation ring. In new research, scientists have successfully modeled and explained the unprecedented behavior of this third ring.

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Supercomputing the transition from ordinary to extraordinary forms of matter

September 18, 2013 8:15 am | News | Comments

To get a better understanding of the subatomic soup that filled the early universe, and how it “froze out” to form the atoms of today’s world, scientists are taking a closer look at the nuclear phase diagram. Like a map that describes how the physical state of water morphs from solid ice to liquid to steam with changes in temperature and pressure, the nuclear phase diagram maps out different phases of the components of atomic nuclei.

Eleven spacecraft show interstellar wind changed direction over 40 years

September 5, 2013 4:51 pm | by Karen C. Fox, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

Like the wind adjusting course in the middle of a storm, scientists have discovered that the particles streaming into the solar system from interstellar space have most likely changed direction over the last 40 years. Such information can help us map out our place within the galaxy surrounding us, and help us understand our place in space.

Researchers take a step closer to finding cosmic ray origins

September 3, 2013 8:38 am | News | Comments

The origin of cosmic rays in the universe has confounded scientists for decades. But a study by researchers using data from the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole reveals new information that may help unravel the longstanding mystery of exactly how and where these “rays”, which are actually high-energy particles, are produced.

Ultracold Big Bang experiment successfully simulates evolution of early universe

August 29, 2013 9:34 am | by Steve Koppes, Univ. of Chicago | News | Comments

Physicists have reproduced a pattern resembling the cosmic microwave background radiation in a laboratory simulation of the Big Bang, using ultracold cesium atoms in a vacuum chamber at the Univ. of Chicago. According to the researchers, this is the first time an experiment like this has simulated the evolution of structure in the early universe.

Neutron stars in the computer cloud

August 29, 2013 9:24 am | News | Comments

The combined computing power of 200,000 private PCs helps astronomers take an inventory of the Milky Way. The Einstein@Home project connects home and office PCs of volunteers from around the world to a global supercomputer. Using this computer cloud, an international team analyzed archival data to discover 24 pulsars which has been previously missed by astronomers.

Cassini data from Titan indicates a rigid, weathered ice shell

August 28, 2013 2:35 pm | by Tim Stephens, UC Santa Cruz | News | Comments

An analysis of gravity and topography data from Saturn's largest moon, Titan, has revealed unexpected features of the moon's outer ice shell. The best explanation for the findings, say scientists, is that Titan's ice shell is rigid and that relatively small topographic features on the surface are associated with large roots extending into the underlying ocean.

A brighter method for measuring the surface gravity of distant stars

August 26, 2013 7:59 am | by David Salisbury, Vanderbilt Univ. | News | Comments

Astronomers have found a clever new way to slice and dice the flickering light from a distant star in a way that reveals the strength of gravity at its surface. The method could be used to significantly improve estimates of the sizes of the hundreds of exoplanets that have been discovered in the last 20 years.

NASA spacecraft captures Earth-bound coronal mass ejection

August 21, 2013 9:45 am | News | Comments

On Tuesday, the sun erupted with an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection or CME, a solar phenomenon which can send billions of tons of particles into space that can reach Earth one to three days later. These particles cannot travel through the atmosphere to harm humans on Earth, but they can affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground.

New theory points to “zombie vortices” as key step in star formation

August 21, 2013 7:47 am | News | Comments

A new theory by fluid dynamics experts at the Univ. of California, Berkeley, shows how “zombie vortices” help lead to the birth of a new star. In a recent report, a UC Berkeley-led team shows how variations in gas density lead to instability, which then generates the whirlpool-like vortices needed for stars to form.

Telescope captures dramatic moment of starbirth

August 20, 2013 2:11 pm | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

The ALMA telescope in Chile has captured a close-up of the glowing material spewing from a newborn star. Astronomers say the illuminated jets are spewing out faster than ever measured before and are more energetic than previously thought.

Waking up to a new year

August 19, 2013 8:38 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In the time it takes you to complete a single workday, or get a full night’s sleep, a small fireball of a planet 700 light-years away has already completed an entire year. Researchers have discovered an Earth-sized exoplanet named Kepler 78b that whips around its host star in a mere 8.5 hours, one of the shortest orbital periods ever detected.

Study: Voyager 1 has left the Solar System

August 15, 2013 1:58 pm | News | Comments

Carrying Earthly greetings on a gold plated phonograph record and still-operational scientific instruments NASA's Voyager 1 has traveled farther from Earth than any other human-made object. And now, researchers say, it has begun the first exploration of our galaxy beyond the Sun's influence. The finding could be, however, somewhat controversial.

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