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Some habitable exoplanets could experience wildly unpredictable climates

March 13, 2015 11:28 am | by Peter Kelley, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

As telescopes of ever-greater power scan the cosmos looking for life, knowing where to look, and where not to waste time looking, will be of great value. New research by Univ. of Washington astronomers describes possible planetary systems where a gravitational nudge from one planet with just the right orbital configuration and tilt could have a mild to devastating effect on the orbit and climate of another, possibly habitable world.

Hubble observations suggest underground ocean on Jupiter’s largest moon

March 13, 2015 8:46 am | by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has the best evidence yet for an underground saltwater ocean on Ganymede, Jupiter's largest moon. The subterranean ocean is thought to have more water than all the water on Earth's surface. Identifying liquid water is crucial in the search for habitable worlds beyond Earth and for the search of life as we know it.

Saturn’s moon may have hot springs

March 12, 2015 8:34 am | by Alicia Chang, Associated Press | News | Comments

New research suggests there are hot springs bubbling beneath the icy surface of a tiny Saturn moon. If confirmed, it would make the moon Enceladus the only other known body in the solar system besides Earth where hot water and rocks interact underground. That activity would make the moon an even more attractive place in the hunt for microbial life.

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Is the Milky Way much larger than previously estimated?

March 11, 2015 11:53 am | by Mary L. Marialay, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute | News | Comments

The Milky Way galaxy is at least 50% larger than is commonly estimated, according to new findings that reveal that the galactic disk is contoured into several concentric ripples. The research, conducted by an international team, revisits astronomical data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey which, in 2002, established the presence of a bulging ring of stars beyond the known plane of the Milky Way.

Why isn’t the universe as bright as it should be?

March 4, 2015 4:50 pm | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A handful of new stars are born each year in the Milky Way, while many more blink on across the universe. But astronomers have observed that galaxies should be churning out millions more stars, based on the amount of interstellar gas available. Now researchers have pieced together a theory describing how clusters of galaxies may regulate star formation.

Higgs particle can disintegrate into particles of dark matter

March 4, 2015 11:30 am | by Chalmers Univ. of Technology | News | Comments

The Standard Model of particle physics successfully describes the smallest constituents of matter. But the model has its limitations: It does not explain the dark matter of the universe. A research scientist at Chalmers Univ. of Technology has found a solution; and his theories are now being tested at the particle physics laboratory CERN.

A clearer view of clouds

March 3, 2015 10:25 am | by Helen Knight, MIT News correspondent | News | Comments

Meteorologists sometimes struggle to accurately predict the weather here on Earth, but now we can find out how cloudy it is on planets outside our solar system, thanks to researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In a paper to be published, the researchers describe a technique that analyzes data from NASA’s Kepler space observatory to determine the types of clouds on planets that orbit other stars, known as exoplanets.

Research gets to the core of Earth’s formation

March 3, 2015 7:54 am | by Anne M Stark, LLNL | News | Comments

Violent collisions between the growing Earth and other objects in the solar system generated significant amounts of iron vapor, according to a new study by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The results show that iron vaporizes easily during impact events, which forces planetary scientists to change how they think about the growth of planets and evolution of our solar system.

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An old-looking galaxy in a young universe

March 2, 2015 12:34 pm | by ESO | News | Comments

A team of astronomers from the Univ. of Copenhagen used the Very Large Telescope's X-shooter instrument along with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to observe one of the youngest and most remote galaxies ever found. They were surprised to discover a far more evolved system than expected.

Life “not as we know it” possible on Saturn’s moon Titan

March 2, 2015 8:26 am | by Syl Kacapyr, Cornell Univ. | News | Comments

A new type of methane-based, oxygen-free life form that can metabolize and reproduce similar to life on Earth has been modeled by a team of Cornell Univ. researchers. Taking a simultaneously imaginative and rigidly scientific view, chemical engineers and astronomers offer a template for life that could thrive in a harsh, cold world: specifically Titan, the giant moon of Saturn.

Monster black hole discovered at cosmic dawn

February 27, 2015 8:33 am | by Daniel Stolte, Univ. of Arizona Communications | News | Comments

Scientists have discovered the brightest quasar in the early universe, powered by the most massive black hole yet known at that time. The discovery of this quasar, named SDSS J0100+2802, marks an important step in understanding how quasars, the most powerful objects in the universe, have evolved from the earliest epoch, only 900 million years after the Big Bang, which is thought to have happened 13.7 billion years ago.

New insight found in black hole collisions

February 26, 2015 10:50 am | by Amanda Siegfried, UT Dallas | News | Comments

New research by a Univ. of Texas, Dallas astrophysicist provides revelations about the most energetic event in the universe: the merging of two spinning, orbiting black holes into a much larger black hole. The work provides, for the first time, solutions to decades-old equations that describe conditions as two black holes in a binary system orbit each other and spiral in toward a collision.

Physicists offer solution to puzzle of the origin of matter in the universe

February 25, 2015 10:11 am | by Stuart Wolpert, Univ. of California, Los Angeles | News | Comments

Most of the laws of nature treat particles and antiparticles equally, but stars and planets are made of particles, or matter, and not antiparticles, or antimatter. That asymmetry, which favors matter to a very small degree, has puzzled scientists for many years. New research offers a possible solution to the mystery of the origin of matter in the universe.

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What to expect next from the world’s largest particle accelerator

February 23, 2015 7:56 am | by Kate Greene, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

In March, when researchers flip the switch to the world’s largest, most powerful particle accelerator, scientists from all over the world will be watching. Physicists expect the refurbished, higher-energy Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will build on the 2012 discovery of the Higgs particle and crack open even more mysteries of the universe.

Exoplanet could unlock secrets to how our solar system was formed

February 20, 2015 1:27 pm | by Rebecca Wilhelm, The Open Univ. | News | Comments

Exciting new research by astronomers at The Open Univ. and the Univs. of Warwick and Sheffield has opened up the chance to find out what distant planets are made of. The team of astronomers have made observations which can help reveal the chemical makeup of a small rocky world orbiting a distant star about 1,500 light-years away from Earth, increasing our understanding of how planets, including ours, were formed.

Giving shape to black holes’ intense winds

February 20, 2015 7:41 am | by Anne M. Stark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory | News | Comments

By looking at the speed of ambient gas spewing out from a well-known quasar, astronomers are gaining insight into how black holes and their host galaxies might have evolved at the same time. Using the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), researchers were able to use the x-ray spectra of an extremely luminous black hole (quasar PDS 456) to detect a nearly spherical stream of highly ionized gas streaming out of it.

For the first time, spacecraft catch a solar shockwave in the act

February 19, 2015 9:02 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

New research has shown that a 2013 solar storm produced “ultrarelativistic, killer electrons” in 60 seconds, disrupting Earth's magnetic field and setting off a magnetized sound pulse around the planet. 

A close call of 0.8 light years

February 17, 2015 12:35 pm | by Leonor Sierra, Univ. of Rochester | News | Comments

A group of astronomers from the U.S., Europe, Chile and South Africa have determined that 70,000 years ago a recently discovered dim star is likely to have passed through the solar system's distant cloud of comets, the Oort Cloud. No other star is known to have ever approached our solar system this close—five times closer than the current closest star, Proxima Centauri.

Mismatched twin stars spotted in the delivery room

February 13, 2015 11:24 am | by Christine Pulliam, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

The majority of stars in our galaxy come in pairs. In particular, the most massive stars usually have a companion. These fraternal twins tend to be somewhat equal partners when it comes to mass; but not always. In a quest to find mismatched star pairs known as extreme mass-ratio binaries, astronomers have discovered a new class of binary stars. One star is fully formed while the other is still in its infancy.

Interstellar technology throws light on spinning black holes

February 13, 2015 8:03 am | by American Institute of Physics | News | Comments

The team responsible for the Oscar-nominated visual effects at the center of Christopher Nolan's epic, Interstellar, have turned science fiction into science fact by providing new insights into the powerful effects of black holes.

Scientists predict Earth-like planets around most stars

February 6, 2015 11:32 am | by The Australian National Univ. | News | Comments

Planetary scientists have calculated that there are hundreds of billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy which might support life. The new research, led by The Australian National Univ., made the finding by applying a 200 year old idea to the thousands of exoplanets discovered by the Kepler space telescope.

Hubble captures rare triple-moon conjunction

February 6, 2015 10:11 am | by Ray Villard, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

Firing off a string of action snapshots like a sports photographer at a NASCAR race, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured the rare occurrence of three of Jupiter's largest moons racing across the banded face of the gas-giant planet: Europa, Callisto and Io.

Astronomers find new details in first known spiral galaxy

February 4, 2015 10:56 am | by Kevin Mayhood, Case Western Reserve Univ. | News | Comments

Case Western Reserve Univ. astronomers peered deep into space to discover new features of a galaxy that's been sketched and photographed for 170 years. The researchers were able to see faint plumes extending from the northeast and south of the nearby spiral galaxy M51a, also called the "Whirlpool Galaxy," by taking what is essentially a photograph made by a 20-hr exposure.

Meteorite may represent ‘bulk background’ of Mars’ battered crust

February 2, 2015 9:29 am | by Kevin Stacey, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

NWA 7034, a meteorite found a few years ago in the Moroccan desert, is like no other rock ever found on Earth. It’s been shown to be a 4.4 billion-year-old chunk of the Martian crust, and according to a new analysis, rocks just like it may cover vast swaths of Mars.

Scientists retract high-profile cosmic claim

February 2, 2015 8:37 am | by Malcolm Ritter, AP Science Writer, Associated Press | News | Comments

Scientists who made headlines last March by announcing that they'd found long-sought evidence about the early universe are now abandoning that claim. New data show that their cosmic observations no longer back up that conclusion, they say.

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