Carbon-rich planets may be more common than previously thought, according to new research by Yale Univ. astronomers. Some of these planets, all located far beyond Earth’s solar system, could contain vast deposits of graphite or diamonds, and their apparent abundance prompts new questions about the implications of carbon-intense environments for climate, plate tectonics and other geological processes, as well as for life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
Although liquid water covers a majority of Earth's surface, scientists are still searching for planets outside of our solar system that contain water. Researchers have used a new technique to analyze the gaseous atmospheres of such extrasolar planets and have made the first detection of water in the atmosphere of the Jupiter-mass planet orbiting the nearby star tau Boötis.