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Curiosity sleeps as solar blast races toward Mars

March 7, 2013 9:47 am | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

NASA’s Martian rover hunkered down Wednesday after the sun unleashed a blast that raced toward Mars. While Curiosity was designed to withstand punishing space weather, its handlers decided to power it down as a precaution since it suffered a recent computer problem. While the hardy rover slept, the Opportunity rover and two NASA spacecraft circling overhead carried on with normal activities.

Distance to nearest galaxy measured

March 6, 2013 3:31 pm | News | Comments

The Hubble constant is a fundamental quantity that measures the current rate at which our universe is expanding; it is critical for gauging the age and size of our universe. One of the largest uncertainties plaguing past measurements of the Hubble constant has involved the distance to the Large Magellanic Cloud, our nearest neighboring galaxy. A team of astronomers have now managed to improve the measurement of the distance to our nearest neighbor galaxy and, in the process, refine the calculation that helps measure the expansion of the universe.

Evidence found that comets could have seeded life on Earth

March 6, 2013 2:08 pm | by Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley | News | Comments

Chemists have recently shown that conditions in space are capable of creating complex dipeptides—linked pairs of amino acids—that are essential building blocks shared by all living things. The discovery opens the door to the possibility that these molecules were brought to Earth aboard a comet or possibly meteorites, catalyzing the formation of proteins (polypeptides), enzymes and even more complex molecules, such as sugars, that are necessary for life.

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Goddard scientists work at extreme edge of cosmic ice

March 5, 2013 9:49 am | by Elizabeth Zubritsky, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

In tiny test tubes, researchers at the Cosmic Ice Lab at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center can reproduce reactions in ice from almost any time and place in the history of the solar system, including some that might help explain the origin of life. But to do so, they must use ice that produced with intense cold and low pressure, conditions that rarely occur on Earth.

Fermi's motion produces a study in spirograph

February 28, 2013 12:33 pm | News | Comments

NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope orbits our planet every 95 minutes, building up increasingly deeper views of the universe with every circuit. Its wide-eyed Large Area Telescope (LAT) sweeps across the entire sky every three hours, capturing gamma rays from sources across the universe. A Fermi scientist has transformed LAT data of a famous pulsar into a mesmerizing movie that visually encapsulates the spacecraft's complex motion.

NuSTAR helps solve riddle of black hole spin

February 27, 2013 3:06 pm | News | Comments

An international team including Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists has definitively measured the spin rate of a supermassive black hole for the first time. The findings, made by the two X-ray space observatories, NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton, solve a long-standing debate about similar measurements in other black holes and will lead to a better understanding of how black holes and galaxies evolve.

Capt. Kirk's Vulcan entry wins Pluto moons contest

February 26, 2013 9:28 am | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

An online vote to name Pluto's two newest, itty-bitty moons is over. And No. 1 is Vulcan, a name suggested by actor William Shatner, who played Capt. Kirk in the original "Star Trek" TV series. The contest was conducted by SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., the research base for the primary moon hunter. The 10 astronomers who made the discoveries will take the voting results into account, as they come up with what they consider to be the two best names.

Future evidence for extraterrestrial life might come from dying stars

February 25, 2013 1:08 pm | News | Comments

Even dying stars could host planets with life—and if such life exists, we might be able to detect it within the next decade. This encouraging result comes from a new theoretical study of Earth-like planets orbiting white dwarf stars. Researchers found that we could detect oxygen in the atmosphere of a white dwarf's planet much more easily than for an Earth-like planet orbiting a sun-like star.

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Supercomputers journey to limits of spacetime

February 21, 2013 1:19 pm | News | Comments

Researchers have used the 3D simulation capabilities of the supercomputers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center to predict the formation of accretion disks and relativistic jets that warp and bend more than previously thought, shaped both by the extreme gravity of the black hole and by powerful magnetic forces generated by its spin. Their highly detailed models of the black hole environment contribute new knowledge to the field.

Mercury may have harbored an ancient magma ocean

February 21, 2013 7:53 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

By analyzing Mercury's rocky surface, scientists have been able to partially reconstruct the planet's history over billions of years. Now, drawing upon the chemical composition of rock features on the planet's surface, scientists have proposed that Mercury may have harbored a large, roiling ocean of magma very early in its history, shortly after its formation about 4.5 billion years ago.

Astronomers find smallest known planet

February 20, 2013 4:45 pm | News | Comments

A team of scientists including two Yale University astronomers has discovered the smallest planet yet detected. In recently published research, the scientists reported finding a planetary system, Kepler-37, with three planets. Two of them are smaller than Earth, and one of these is smaller than Mercury, the smallest of the eight planets in Earth's solar system.

Russian scientists recover meteor fragments

February 18, 2013 10:32 am | News | Comments

Scientists have found more than 50 tiny fragments of a meteor that exploded over Russia's Ural Mountains with the power of dozens of atomic bombs. Most are less than a centimeter in diameter, but locals saw a big meteorite fall into the lake on Friday, leaving a 6-m-wide hole in the ice. A meteor up to 50-60 cm could eventually be found in the lake.

Particle decay “smoking gun” settles long debate on cosmic ray source

February 15, 2013 9:00 am | News | Comments

After sifting through four years of data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, a research team has found the first unambiguous evidence of how cosmic rays are born. The new study confirms what scientists have long suspected: Cosmic rays—energetic particles that pelt Earth from all directions—are born in the violent aftermath of supernovas, exploding stars throughout the galaxy.

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Nearly 1,000 injured by blasts as meteor falls in Russia

February 15, 2013 8:30 am | by Jim Heintz, Associated Press | News | Comments

A meteor that scientists estimate weighed 10 tons (11 tons) streaked at supersonic speed over Russia's Ural Mountains on Friday, setting off blasts that injured nearly 1,000 people and frightened countless more. The Russian Academy of Sciences said in a statement that the meteor over the Chelyabinsk region entered the Earth's atmosphere at a speed of at least 54,000 kph (33,000 mph) and shattered about 30-50 km (18-32 miles) above ground.

Expert: Asteroid would explode like a thermonuclear weapon

February 13, 2013 8:36 am | by Jim Schenke, Purdue University | News | Comments

According to Jay Melosh, a distinguished professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences and physics and aerospace engineering at Purdue University, if the asteroid rapidly approaching us this week were to impact rather than nearly miss Earth, it would explode with a four-megaton force near what the military calls optimum height for damage. This asteroid would release only half the energy of the Siberian strike in 1917, but the 30,000-foot detonation height could cause significant property damage and loss of life.

Closest Earth-like planet “stroll across park”

February 7, 2013 9:50 am | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

Earth-like worlds may be closer and more plentiful than anyone imagined. Astronomers reported Wednesday that the nearest Earth-like planet may be just 13 light-years away—or some 77 trillion miles. That planet hasn't been found yet, but should be there based on the team's study of red dwarf stars. Galactically speaking, that's right next door.

Researchers develop model for identifying habitable zones around stars

January 31, 2013 8:11 am | News | Comments

Researchers searching the galaxy for planets that could pass the litmus test of sustaining water-based life must find whether those planets fall in what’s known as a habitable zone. New work, led by a team of Penn State University researchers, will help scientists in that search.

Ridges on Mars suggest ancient flowing water

January 29, 2013 3:57 pm | News | Comments

Ridges in impact craters on Mars appear to be fossils of cracks in the Martian surface, formed by minerals deposited by flowing water. Water flowing beneath the surface suggests life may once have been possible on Mars.

Revolutionary theory of dark matter

January 23, 2013 7:51 am | News | Comments

The universe abounds with dark matter. Nobody knows what it consists of. Now, University of Oslo physicists have launched a very hard mathematical explanation that could solve the mystery once and for all.

New evidence indicates auroras occur outside our solar system

January 21, 2013 3:35 pm | News | Comments

University of Leicester planetary scientists have found new evidence suggesting auroras—similar to Earth's Aurora Borealis—occur on bodies outside our solar system. Auroras occur on several planets within our solar system, and the brightest—on Jupiter—are 100 times brighter than those on Earth. However, no auroras have yet been observed beyond Neptune.

Farthest supernova yet for measuring cosmic history

January 10, 2013 2:27 pm | News | Comments

In 2004 the Supernova Cosmology Project used the Hubble Space Telescope to find a tantalizing supernova that appeared to be almost 10 billion light-years distant. But Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientists had to wait until a new camera was installed on the Hubble years later before they could confirm the candidate's identity and redshift as a Type Ia "standard candle." The spectrum and light curve of supernova SCP-0401 are now known with clarity; it is the supernova furthest back in time that can be used for precise measurements of the expansion history of the universe.

Telescope gives researchers a glimpse of the beginning of time

January 9, 2013 9:27 am | News | Comments

Where do we come from? What is the universe made of? Will the universe exist only for a finite time or will it last forever? These are just some of the questions that University of California, San Diego physicists are working to answer in the high desert of northern Chile.

Carbon found in Vesta's craters

January 8, 2013 8:43 am | News | Comments

Images taken by the framing camera onboard NASA's space probe Dawn show two enormous craters in the southern hemisphere of the asteroid Vesta, a remarkable protoplanet that is a time capsule of early planet formation in the solar system. Scientists have recently found that the asteroids that created these impact features also delivered dark, carbonaceous material to the protoplanet.

At least one in six stars has an Earth-sized planet

January 7, 2013 3:41 pm | News | Comments

The quest for a twin Earth is heating up. Using NASA's Kepler spacecraft, astronomers are beginning to find Earth-sized planets orbiting distant stars. A new analysis of Kepler data shows that about 17% of stars have an Earth-sized planet in an orbit closer than Mercury.

How do you know if you ran through a wall?

January 7, 2013 8:46 am | News | Comments

Researchers from Canada, California, and Poland have devised a straightforward way to test an intriguing idea about the nature of dark energy and dark matter. A global array of atomic magnetometers—small laboratory devices that can sense minute changes in magnetic fields—could signal when Earth passes through fractures in space known as domain walls. These structures could be the answer to the universe’s darkest mysteries.

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