Hunting from a distance of 27,000 light years, astronomers have discovered an unusual carbon-based molecule—one with a branched structure—contained within a giant gas cloud in interstellar space. Like finding a molecular needle in a cosmic haystack, astronomers have detected radio waves emitted by isopropyl cyanide. The discovery suggests that the complex molecules needed for life may have their origins in interstellar space.
Astronomers using data from NASA's space telescopes Hubble, Spitzer, and Kepler have discovered clear skies and steamy water vapor on a gaseous planet outside our solar system. The planet is about the size of Neptune, making it the smallest planet from which molecules of any kind have been detected.
Up to half of the water on Earth is likely older than the solar system itself, Univ. of Michigan astronomers theorize. The researchers' work helps to settle a debate about just how far back in galactic history our planet and our solar system's water formed. Were the molecules in comet ices and terrestrial oceans born with the system itself—in the planet-forming disk of dust and gas that circled the young sun 4.6 billion years ago?
Strong solar flares can bring down communications and power grids on Earth. Physicists in Switzerland have examined the processes that take place when explosions occur on the Sun’s surface and have accurately reconstructed the statistical size distribution and temporal succession of the solar flares with a computer model. This has allowed them to make several new observations about the how these flares occur and behave.
A team of scientists led by Carnegie's Jacqueline Faherty has discovered the first evidence of water ice clouds on an object outside of our own Solar System. Water ice clouds exist on our own gas giant planets, but have not been seen outside of the planets orbiting our Sun until now.
Dr. John Carr, a scientist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, is part of an international team that has found what they believe is evidence of a planet forming around a star about 335 light years from Earth. They made the chance discovery while studying the protoplanetary disk of gas around a distant forming star using a technique called spectro-astrometry, which allows astronomers to detect small changes in the position of moving gas.
In the quantum world, making the simple atom behave is one thing, but making the more complex molecule behave is another story. Now Northwestern Univ. scientists have figured out an elegant way to stop a molecule from tumbling so that its potential for new applications can be harnessed: shine a single laser on a trapped molecule and it instantly cools to the temperature of outer space, stopping the rotation of the molecule.
Yale Univ. astronomers have discovered a window into the early, violent formation of the cores of the universe’s monster galaxies, obscured behind walls of dust. After years of searching, scientists have observed one such turbulent, starbursting galactic core in the young universe using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and a telescope from the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii.
Astronomers using the Green Bank Telescope have discovered that filaments of star-forming gas near the Orion Nebula may be brimming with pebble-size particles: planetary building blocks 100 to 1,000 times larger than the dust grains typically found around protostars. If confirmed, these dense ribbons of rocky material may well represent a new, mid-size class of interstellar particles that could help jump-start planet formation.
A unique experiment at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory called the Holometer has started collecting data that will answer some mind-bending questions about our universe—including whether we live in a hologram. Much like characters on a television show would not know that their seemingly 3-D world exists only on a 2-D screen, we could be clueless that our 3-D space is just an illusion.
Using a calculation originally proposed seven years ago to be performed on a petaflop computer, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers computed conditions that simulate the birth of the universe. When the universe was less than one microsecond old and more than one trillion degrees, it transformed from a plasma of quarks and gluons into bound states of quarks.
The moon appears to be a tranquil place, but modeling done by Univ. of New Hampshire and NASA scientists suggests that, over the eons, periodic storms of solar energetic particles may have significantly altered the properties of the soil in the moon’s coldest craters through the process of sparking—a finding that could change our understanding of the evolution of planetary surfaces in the solar system.
Three major experiments aimed at detecting elusive dark matter particles believed to make up most of the matter in the universe have gotten a financial shot in the arm. Two of the projects are at large national laboratories; the other is at the Univ. of Washington (UW). The selection will bring greater intensity to the UW research, with more equipment and scientists involved in the work.
The first analysis of space dust collected by a special collector onboard NASA’s Stardust mission and sent back to Earth for study in 2006 suggests the tiny specks, which likely originated from beyond our solar system, are more complex in composition and structure than previously imagined. The analysis opens a door to studying the origins of the solar system and possibly the origin of life itself.
Since 2006, when NASA’s Stardust spacecraft delivered its aerogel and aluminum foil dust collectors back to Earth, a team of scientists has combed through them. They now report finding seven dust motes that probably came from outside our solar system, perhaps created in a supernova explosion and altered by eons of exposure to the extremes of space. They would be the first confirmed samples of contemporary interstellar dust.
Scientists hunting for life beyond Earth have discovered more than 1,800 planets outside our solar system, or exoplanets, in recent years, but so far, no one has been able to confirm an exomoon. Now, physicists from The Univ. of Texas at Arlington believe following a trail of radio wave emissions may lead them to that discovery.
The universe’s oldest, brightest beacons may have gorged themselves in the dense, cold, gas flows of the early cosmos—creating a kind of energy drink for infant black holes in the young universe—according to new research by scientists at Yale Univ. and the Weizmann Institute in Israel.
Turning what seemed like a science fiction tale into reality, an unmanned probe swung alongside a comet on Wednesday after a 4-billion mile chase through outer space over the course of a decade. Europe's Rosetta probe will orbit and study the giant lump of dust and ice as it hurtles toward the sun and, if all goes according to plan, drop a lander onto the comet in the coming months.
The million-mile-per-hour solar wind pushed out by the Sun inflates a giant bubble in the interstellar medium called the heliosphere, which envelops the Earth and the other planets. At the 40th International Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) Scientific Assembly in Moscow this week, scientists highlighted an impressive list of achievements in researching the outer heliosphere, which barely registered as a field of research ten years ago.
New findings from a NASA-funded instrument have resolved a decades-old puzzle about a fog of low-energy x-rays observed over the entire sky. Thanks to refurbished detectors first flown on a NASA sounding rocket in the 1970s, astronomers have now confirmed the long-held suspicion that much of this glow stems from a region of million-degree interstellar plasma known as the local hot bubble, or LHB.
A team of international researchers has discovered a new type of cool burning flames that could lead to cleaner, more efficient engines for cars. The discovery was made during a series of experiments on the International Space Station by a team led by Forman Williams, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the Univ. of California, San Diego.
In findings that help astrophysicists understand our corner of the galaxy, an international research team has shown that the soft x-ray glow blanketing the sky comes from both inside and outside the solar system. The source of this "diffuse x-ray background" has been debated for the past 50 years.
The discovery of water vapor in the atmospheres of three exoplanets includes the most precise measurement of any chemical in a planet outside the solar system, and has major implications for planet formation and the search for water on Earth-like habitable exoplanets in future. These results show just how challenging it could be to detect water on Earth-like exoplanets in our search for potential life elsewhere.
Humanity is on the threshold of being able to detect signs of alien life on other worlds. By studying exoplanet atmospheres, we can look for gases like oxygen and methane that only coexist if replenished by life. But those gases come from simple life forms like microbes. What about advanced civilizations? Would they leave any detectable signs?
In late June 2013, an exceptional binary containing a rapidly spinning neutron star underwent a dramatic change in behavior never before observed. The pulsar's radio beacon vanished, while at the same time the system brightened fivefold in gamma rays, the most powerful form of light, according to measurements by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. It was as if someone flipped a switch on the pulsar.