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NASA Webb’s heart survives deep freeze test

October 22, 2014 9:05 am | by Laura Betz, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

After 116 days of being subjected to extremely frigid temperatures like that in space, the heart of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Integrated Science Instrument Module and its sensitive instruments, emerged unscathed from the thermal vacuum chamber at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Operating a telescope powerful enough to reveal the first galaxies forming 13.5 billion years ago requires incredibly cold temperatures: about -387 F.

Big black holes can block new stars

October 21, 2014 10:46 am | by Dennis O'Shea, Johns Hopkins Univ. | News | Comments

Massive black holes spewing out radio frequency-emitting particles at near-light speed can block...

A 3-D map of the adolescent universe

October 20, 2014 8:18 am | by Kate Greene, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Using extremely faint light from galaxies 10.8-billion light-years away, scientists have created...

What gives the sun its heat

October 17, 2014 8:01 am | by David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

Why is the sun's million-degree corona, or outermost atmosphere, so much hotter than the sun's...

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Getting to know super-Earths

October 16, 2014 10:56 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

The findings of NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft suggest that the most common exoplanets are those that are just a bit larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune. These so-called super-Earths, which do not exist in our own solar system, have attracted the attention of astronomers, who have been trying to determine the composition of the closest of these planets. However, an unexpected barrier is blocking their progress.

Spacecraft to attempt comet landing next month

October 15, 2014 11:56 am | News | Comments

The European Space Agency has confirmed the time and place it will attempt to land the first spacecraft on a comet. The unmanned probe Rosetta will release a 100-kg (220-lb) lander on Nov. 12 in a maneuver that will take about seven hours.

MAVEN’s first look at Mars holds surprises

October 15, 2014 8:06 am | by Jim Scott, CU-Boulder Media Relations | News | Comments

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft has provided scientists their first look at a storm of energetic solar particles at Mars and produced unprecedented ultraviolet images of the tenuous oxygen, hydrogen and carbon coronas surrounding the Red Planet. In addition, the new observations allowed scientists to make a comprehensive map of highly variable ozone in the Martian atmosphere underlying the coronas.

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Rediscovering Venus to find faraway Earths

October 14, 2014 9:12 am | News | Comments

Astronomers Chih-Hao Li and David Phillips of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics want to rediscover Venus. They plan to “find” the second planet again using a powerful new optical device installed on the Italian National Telescope that will measure Venus' precise gravitational pull on the sun. If they succeed, their first-of-its-kind demonstration will be later used for finding Earth-like exoplanets orbiting distant stars.

Mars One (and done?)

October 14, 2014 7:43 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In 2012, the Mars One project, led by a Dutch nonprofit, announced plans to establish the first human colony on the Red Planet by 2025. The mission would initially send four astronauts on a one-way trip to Mars, where they would spend the rest of their lives building the first permanent human settlement.

Leaky, star-forming galaxies help researchers better understand the universe

October 10, 2014 10:57 am | by Tracey Reeves, Johns Hopkins Univ. | News | Comments

By focusing on large, star-forming galaxies in the universe, researchers at Johns Hopkins Univ. were able to measure its radiation leaks in an effort to better understand how the universe evolved as the first stars were formed. The team reports in a paper published online in Science that an indicator used for studying star-forming galaxies that leak radiation, is an effective measurement tool for other scientists to use.

Researchers detect brightest pulsar ever recorded

October 9, 2014 8:09 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Astronomers have detected a pulsating dead star that appears to be burning with the energy of 10 million suns, making it the brightest pulsar ever detected. The pulsar—a rotating, magnetized neutron star—was found in the galaxy Messier 82 (M82), a relatively close galactic neighbor that’s 12 million light-years from Earth.

Undergrad helps develop method to detect water on Mars

October 3, 2014 9:25 am | by Eric Sorensen, Washington State Univ. | Videos | Comments

Washington State University undergraduate Kellie Wall, 21, recently looked for evidence that water influenced crystal formation in basalt, the dark volcanic rock that covers most of eastern Washington and Oregon. She then compared this with volcanic rock observations made by the rover Curiosity on Mars’ Gale Crater, inventing a new method for detecting water on Mars.

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Glaciers in the Grand Canyon of Mars?

September 30, 2014 8:56 am | News | Comments

For decades, planetary geologists have speculated that glaciers might once have crept through Valles Marineris, the 2000-mile-long chasm that constitutes the Grand Canyon of Mars. A research team has now identified what could be the first mineralogical evidence of past glaciers within the Valles Marineris: a layer of mixed sulfate minerals halfway up three-mile-high cliffs in the canyon system.

Simulations reveal an unusual death for ancient stars

September 29, 2014 11:01 am | by Linda Vu, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Certain primordial stars—those between 55,000 and 56,000 times the mass of our sun, or solar masses—may have died unusually. In death, these objects—among the universe’s first-generation of stars—would have exploded as supernovae and burned completely, leaving no remnant black hole behind.

New molecule found in space connotes life origins

September 29, 2014 8:43 am | by Blaine Friedlander, Cornell Univ. | News | Comments

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.

NASA finds clear skies and water vapor on exoplanet

September 26, 2014 8:42 am | News | Comments

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.

Solar explosions inside a computer

September 25, 2014 8:44 am | News | Comments

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.

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Mission accomplished: India joins Mars explorers

September 24, 2014 8:58 am | by Katy Daigle, Associated Press | News | Comments

India triumphed in its first interplanetary mission, placing a satellite into orbit around Mars on Wednesday and catapulting the country into an elite club of deep-space explorers. In scenes broadcast live on Indian TV, scientists broke into wild cheers as the orbiter's engines completed 24 min of burn time to maneuver the spacecraft into its designated place around the red planet.

NASA's Maven spacecraft enters Mars orbit

September 22, 2014 10:26 am | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

The robotic explorer Maven successfully slipped into orbit around Mars late Sunday night. Now the real work begins for the $671 million mission, the first dedicated to studying the Martian upper atmosphere and the latest step in NASA's bid to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s. Researchers hope to learn where all the red planet's water went, along with the carbon dioxide that once comprised an atmosphere thick enough to hold moist clouds.

SpaceX launches space station supplies, first 3-D printer bound for orbit

September 22, 2014 9:01 am | by Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press | News | Comments

A SpaceX cargo ship rocketed toward the International Space Station on Sunday, carrying more than 5,000 pounds of supplies, including the first 3-D printer for astronauts in orbit. The printer, developed by Made in Space, is sturdier than Earthly models and is a technology demonstrator. . But NASA envisions astronauts one day using one to crank out spare parts as needed.

Shrink-wrapping spacesuits

September 18, 2014 7:32 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

For future astronauts, the process of suiting up may go something like this: Instead of climbing into a conventional, bulky, gas-pressurized suit, an astronaut may don a lightweight, stretchy garment, lined with tiny, muscle-like coils. She would then plug in to a spacecraft’s power supply, triggering the coils to contract and essentially shrink-wrap the garment around her body.

NASA's Maven spacecraft reaches Mars this weekend

September 17, 2014 3:37 pm | by Marcia Dunn - AP Aerospace Writer - Associated Press | News | Comments

Mars, get ready for another visitor or two. This weekend, NASA's Maven spacecraft will reach the red planet following a 10-month journey spanning 442 million miles (711 million km). If all goes well, the robotic explorer will hit the brakes and slip into Martian orbit Sunday night.

NASA makes selections for astronaut transport to space station

September 16, 2014 6:07 pm | News | Comments

Groundbreaking contracts worth $6.8 billion were issued Tuesday to Boeing and SpaceX to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station using their CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, respectively. NASA’s awards to United States spacecraft will meet a goal of ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia in 2017.

NASA inspector blasts asteroid protection program

September 15, 2014 4:58 pm | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

On Monday, NASA's inspector general released a report blasting the agency’s Near Earth Objects program, which is meant to hunt and catalog comets, asteroids and relatively large fragments of these objects that pass within 28 million miles of Earth. The purpose is to protect the planet against their potential dangers, but only 10% of the near-Earth objects bigger than 460 ft across have been catalogued, well short of the goal of 90% by 2020.

NASA's newest human spacecraft on the move

September 11, 2014 12:59 pm | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

Workers at Kennedy Space Center gathered to watch as the Orion capsule, NASA's new spacecraft for humans, emerged from its assembly hangar Thursday morning, less than three months from its first test flight. During its Dec. 4 test flight, the capsule, unmanned, will shoot more than 3,600 miles into space and take two laps around Earth before re-entering the atmosphere at 20,000 mph and parachuting into the Pacific off the San Diego coast.

Where to grab space debris

September 10, 2014 10:10 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Objects in space tend to spin—and spin in a way that’s totally different from the way they spin on earth. Understanding how objects are spinning, where their centers of mass are, and how their mass is distributed is crucial to any number of actual or potential space missions, from cleaning up debris in the geosynchronous orbit favored by communications satellites to landing a demolition crew on a comet.

Astronomers see the birth of a massive galaxy, hidden by dust

August 28, 2014 9:17 am | by Jim Shelton, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

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.

Pebble-sized particles may jump-start planet formation

August 27, 2014 12:10 pm | News | Comments

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.

Calculating conditions at the birth of the universe

August 26, 2014 8:06 am | by Anne M. Stark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboraotry | News | Comments

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.

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