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CAT scan of nearby supernova remnant reveals frothy interior

January 30, 2015 8:00 am | by David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

Cassiopeia A, or Cas A, is one of the most well-studied supernova remnants in our galaxy. But it still holds major surprises. Harvard-Smithsonian and Dartmouth College astronomers have generated a new 3-D map of its interior using the astronomical equivalent of a CAT scan. They found that the Cas A supernova remnant is composed of a collection of about a half dozen massive cavities—or "bubbles."

Gully patterns document Martian climate cycles

January 29, 2015 8:06 am | by Kevin Stacey, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

Geologists from Brown Univ. have found new evidence that glacier-like ice deposits advanced and...

Some potentially habitable planets began as gaseous, Neptune-like worlds

January 29, 2015 7:45 am | by Peter Kelley, News and Information, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

Two phenomena known to inhibit the potential habitability of planets might instead help chances...

Ancient star system reveals Earth-sized planets forming near start of universe

January 28, 2015 10:34 am | by Verity Leatherdale, Univ. of Sydney | News | Comments

A sun-like star with orbiting planets, dating back to the dawn of the galaxy, has been...

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Research recreates planet formation, giant planets in the laboratory

January 23, 2015 9:14 am | by Breanna Bishop, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory | News | Comments

New laser-driven compression experiments reproduce the conditions deep inside exotic super-Earths and giant planet cores, and the conditions during the violent birth of Earth-like planets, documenting the material properties that determined planet formation and evolution processes. The experimentsreveal the unusual properties of silica under the extreme pressures and temperatures relevant to planetary formation and interior evolution.

Black hole on a diet creates a “changing look” quasar

January 22, 2015 11:18 am | by Jim Shelton, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Yale Univ. astronomers have identified the first “changing look” quasar, a gleaming object in deep space that appears to have its own dimmer switch. The discovery may offer a glimpse into the life story of the universe’s great beacons. Quasars are massive, luminous objects that draw their energy from black holes. Until now, scientists have been unable to study both the bright and dim phases of a quasar in a single source.

Doubt cast on global firestorm generated by dino-killing asteroid

January 22, 2015 8:08 am | by Jo Bowler, Univ. of Exeter | News | Comments

Pioneering new research has debunked the theory that the asteroid thought to have led to the extinction of dinosaurs also caused vast global firestorms that ravaged planet Earth. A team of researchers from the Univ. of Exeter, Univ. of Edinburgh and Imperial College London recreated the immense energy released from an extraterrestrial collision with Earth that occurred around the time that dinosaurs became extinct.

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Peering into cosmic magnetic fields

January 21, 2015 12:03 pm | by Breanna Bishop, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory | News | Comments

The generation of cosmic magnetic fields has long intrigued astrophysicists. Since it was first described in 1959, a phenomenon known as Weibel filamentation instability has generated tremendous theoretical interest from astrophysicists and plasma physicists as a potential mechanism for seed magnetic field generation in the universe. However, direct observation of Weibel-generated magnetic fields remained challenging for decades.

Ocean floor dust gives new insight into supernovae

January 20, 2015 10:32 am | by Phil Dooley, The Australian National Univ. | News | Comments

Scientists plumbing the depths of the ocean have made a surprise finding that could change the way we understand supernovae, exploding stars way beyond our solar system. They have analyzed extraterrestrial dust thought to be from supernovae that has settled on ocean floors to determine the amount of heavy elements created by the massive explosions.

Galactic “hailstorm” in the early universe

January 16, 2015 7:43 am | by Sarah Collins, Univ. of Cambridge | News | Comments

Two teams of astronomers led by researchers at the Univ. of Cambridge have looked back nearly 13 billion years, when the universe was less than 10% its present age, to determine how quasars regulate the formation of stars and the build-up of the most massive galaxies. The team used a combination of data gathered from powerful radio telescopes and supercomputer simulations in their study.

Planets outside our solar system more hospitable to life than thought

January 15, 2015 3:35 pm | by Sean Bettam, Univ. of Toronto | News | Comments

A study by astrophysicists at the Univ. of Toronto suggests that exoplanets are more likely to have liquid water and be more habitable than we thought. Scientists have thought that exoplanets behave in a manner contrary to that of Earth. If so, exoplanets would rotate in sync with their star so that there is always one hemisphere facing it while the other hemisphere is in perpetual cold darkness.

Artificial intelligence helps predict dangerous solar flares

January 15, 2015 9:32 am | by Leslie Willoughby, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

Though scientists don’t completely understand what triggers solar flares, Stanford Univ. solar physicists Monica Bobra and Sebastien Couvidat have automated the analysis of those gigantic explosions. The method could someday provide advance warning to protect power grids and communication satellites.

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ISS evacuated one side during leak scare

January 14, 2015 4:48 pm | by Marcia Dunn, Associated Press | News | Comments

NASA evacuated astronauts from its side of the International Space Station today after an alarm indicated a possible toxic leak. Officials later said a false sensor reading or computer problem likely set off the alarm, rather than an actual leak of ammonia coolant.

A twist on planetary origins

January 14, 2015 4:34 pm | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Meteors that have crashed to Earth have long been regarded as relics of the early solar system. These craggy chunks of metal and rock are studded with chondrules, tiny, glassy, spherical grains that were once molten droplets. Scientists have thought that chondrules represent early kernels of terrestrial planets.

World’s most powerful camera receives funding approval

January 12, 2015 8:22 am | by Justin Eure, Brookhaven National Laboratory | News | Comments

Plans for the construction of the world's largest digital camera at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have reached a major milestone. The 3,200-megapixel centerpiece of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, which will provide unprecedented details of the universe and help address some of its biggest mysteries, has received key "Critical Decision 2" approval from the DOE.

Photonic booms may help illuminate astronomical secrets

January 12, 2015 7:49 am | by Jennifer Donovan, Michigan Technological Univ. | News | Comments

If you sweep a laser pointer across the moon fast enough, you can create spots that actually move faster than light. Anyone can do it. At a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Wash., Robert Nemiroff, a physics professor at Michigan Technological Univ., reported that this theoretical curiosity may turn out to be practically useful out in the cosmos.

Map of mysterious molecules in our galaxy shed new light on century-old puzzle

January 9, 2015 9:18 am | by Phil Shneiderman, Johns Hopkins Univ. | News | Comments

By analyzing the light of hundreds of thousands of celestial objects, Johns Hopkins Univ. astronomers from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) have created a unique map of enigmatic molecules in our galaxy that are responsible for puzzling features in the light from stars. The map was unveiled Jan. 8 at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.

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Unusual light signal yields clues about elusive black hole merger

January 8, 2015 7:44 am | by Ker Than, Caltech | News | Comments

The central regions of many glittering galaxies, our own Milky Way included, harbor cores of impenetrable darkness—black holes with masses equivalent to millions, or even billions, of suns. What is more, these supermassive black holes and their host galaxies appear to develop together, or "co-evolve." Theory predicts that as galaxies collide and merge, growing ever more massive, so too do their dark hearts.

Eight new planets found in “Goldilocks” zone

January 6, 2015 3:43 pm | by David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

Astronomers announced they have found eight new planets in the "Goldilocks" zone of their stars, orbiting at a distance where liquid water can exist on the planet's surface. This doubles the number of small planets (less than twice the diameter of Earth) believed to be in the habitable zone of their parent stars. Among these eight, the team identified two that are the most similar to Earth of any known exoplanets to date.

Planet-hunting satellite to observe supermassive black hole

January 6, 2015 11:00 am | by Joe Hadfield, Brigham Young Univ. | Videos | Comments

If you want to see just how far Brigham Young Univ. (BYU)’s latest research extends, step outside of your house tonight, look up towards the sky, focus your view between the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra, and then zoom in about 100 million light years. That’s the home of a galaxy known as KA 1858, which contains a black hole that BYU scientists observed with the help of NASA and astrophysicists throughout the Univ. of California system.

“Iron sun”: The key to how stars transmit energy

January 6, 2015 8:34 am | by Neal Singer, Sandia National Laboratories | News | Comments

Working at temperatures matching the interior of the sun, researchers have been able to determine experimentally, for the first time, iron’s role in inhibiting energy transmission from the center of the sun to near the edge of its radiative band. Because that role is much greater than formerly surmised, the experimentally derived amount of iron’s opacity helps close a theoretical gap in the Standard Solar Model.

New instrument reveals recipe for other Earths

January 5, 2015 4:23 pm | by David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

How do you make an Earth-like planet? The "test kitchen" of Earth has given us a detailed recipe, but it wasn't clear whether other planetary systems would follow the same formula. Now, astronomers have found evidence that the recipe for Earth also applies to terrestrial exoplanets orbiting distant stars.

NASA inflates chance of landing astronauts on Mars

January 5, 2015 9:28 am | by Brock Vergakis, Associated Press | News | Comments

Devising a way to one day land astronauts on Mars is a complex problem and NASA scientists think something as simple as a child's toy design may help solve the problem. Safely landing a large spacecraft on the Red planet is just one of many engineering challenges the agency faces as it eyes an ambitious goal of sending humans into deep space later this century.

A Christmas comet to be seen from dark skies

December 18, 2014 3:07 pm | News | Comments

If you are away from the bustle of the city these holidays, then try your luck at spotting a faint comet in the northern sky. Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2 is the fifth comet to be discovered by Brisbane amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy. Comets are the only astronomical objects that are automatically named for the person who found them.

Rover finds methane spikes on Mars

December 17, 2014 8:32 am | by Associated Press, Marcia Dunn | News | Comments

NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity, has detected spikes of methane in the planet's atmosphere. That suggests something is producing or venting the scientifically tantalizing gas, but no one knows what. Most of Earth's atmospheric methane comes from animal and plant life, and the environment itself. So the Martian methane raises the question of past or present microbial life.

Life on an aquaplanet

December 17, 2014 7:43 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Nearly 2,000 planets beyond our solar system have been identified to date. Whether any of these exoplanets are hospitable to life depends on a number of criteria. Among these, scientists have thought, is a planet’s obliquity—the angle of its axis relative to its orbit around a star.

Pluto-sized objects kick up dust around adolescent sun-like star

December 15, 2014 10:27 am | by David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) may have detected the dusty hallmarks of an entire family of Pluto-size objects swarming around an adolescent version of our own sun. By making detailed observations of the protoplanetary disk surrounding the star known as HD 107146, the astronomers detected an unexpected increase in the concentration of millimeter-size dust grains in the disk's outer reaches.

Engineering students aim to generate first breathable air on Mars

December 15, 2014 8:32 am | by The Univ. of Western Australia | News | Comments

A project by students from The Univ. of Western Australia and Mars One astronaut candidate Josh Richards has reached the finals of an international competition to land vital experiments on the Red Planet. The Helena Payload project, which aims to generate the first breathable air on Mars, is one of 10 finalists in the Mars One University Competition and is the only successful entry from the southern hemisphere.

Robot 'shadow hand'

December 12, 2014 10:57 am | by ESA | News | Comments

ESA is developing technologies for advanced human–machine interaction to transfer the human sense of touch to space.                                       

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