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The Lead

Mars Rover’s ChemCam gets sharper vision

May 22, 2015 7:51 am | by Nancy Amrbosiano, Los Alamos National Laboratory | News | Comments

NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover’s ChemCam instrument just got a major capability fix, as Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists uploaded a software repair for the auto-focus system on the instrument. The team realized last November that a small laser used to focus the ChemCam telescope on its target fialed. And without this laser rangefinder, the instrument was blind.

Uncovering the mysteries of cosmic explosions

May 21, 2015 4:06 pm | by Nancy Ambrosiano, Los Alamos National Laboratory | News | Comments

An automated software system developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory played a key role in...

Hubble observes one-of-a-kind star nicknamed “Nasty”

May 21, 2015 3:52 pm | by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have uncovered surprising new clues about a...

Finding the fluffiest galaxies

May 21, 2015 11:34 am | by Jim Shelton, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

A fluffy galaxy is hard to find, but that didn’t stop a Yale Univ. astronomer and an...

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Astronomers observe supernova colliding with its companion star

May 21, 2015 7:51 am | by Allie Akmal, Caltech | News | Comments

Type Ia supernovae, one of the most dazzling phenomena in the universe, are produced when small dense stars called white dwarfs explode with ferocious intensity. At their peak, these supernovae can outshine an entire galaxy. Although thousands of supernovae of this kind were found in the last decades, the process by which a white dwarf becomes one has been unclear.

NASA advances CubeSat concept for planetary exploration

May 20, 2015 8:08 am | by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

Although scientists are increasingly using pint-size satellites sometimes no larger than a loaf of bread to gather data from low-Earth orbit, they have yet to apply the less-expensive small-satellite technology to observe physical phenomena far from terra firma. Jaime Esper, a technologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., however, is advancing a CubeSat concept that would give scientists that capability.

Researchers join the hunt for “elusive” gravitational waves

May 19, 2015 10:55 am | by Cardiff University | News | Comments

An international project to find the first direct evidence of the existence of gravitational waves, will be officially inaugurated on May 19, 2015. Researchers at Cardiff University will use a powerful supercomputer to comb through data from two gravitational wave detectors now being brought online and will search, with unprecedented accuracy, for the first ever direct evidence of the existence of gravitational waves later this year.

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Geologists fine-tune search for life on Mars

May 14, 2015 2:23 pm | by Brendan Lynch, KU News Service | Videos | Comments

For centuries, people have imagined the possibility of life on Mars. But long-held dreams that Martians could be invaders of Earth, or little green men, or civilized superbeings, all have been undercut by missions to our neighboring planet that have, so far, uncovered no life at all.

Water was plentiful in early universe

May 13, 2015 12:17 pm | by American Friends of Tel Aviv Univ. | News | Comments

Astronomers have held that water was a relative latecomer to the universe. They believed any element heavier than helium had to have been formed in the cores of stars and not by the Big Bang itself. Since the earliest stars would have taken some time to form, mature and die, it was presumed that it took billions of years for oxygen atoms to disperse throughout the universe and attach to hydrogen to produce the first interstellar "water".

Preparing weather forecasts for planets beyond our solar system

May 13, 2015 7:42 am | by Sean Bettam, Univ. of Toronto | News | Comments

"Cloudy for the morning, turning to clear with scorching heat in the afternoon." While this might describe a typical late-summer day in many places on Earth, it may also apply to planets outside our solar system, according to a new study by an international team of astrophysicists.

The dark side of star clusters

May 13, 2015 7:26 am | by ESO | News | Comments

Globular star clusters are huge balls of thousands of stars that orbit most galaxies. They are among the oldest known stellar systems in the universe and have survived through almost the entire span of galaxy growth and evolution.

“Breaking waves” perturb Earth’s magnetic field

May 11, 2015 11:37 am | by David Sims, Univ. of New Hampshire | News | Comments

The underlying physical process that creates striking "breaking wave" cloud patterns in our atmosphere also frequently opens the gates to high-energy solar wind plasma that perturbs Earth's magnetic field, or magnetosphere, which protects us from cosmic radiation. The discovery was made by two Univ. of New Hampshire space physicists.

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Lopsided star explosion holds key to supernova mysteries

May 8, 2015 10:34 am | by Ker Than, Caltech | News | Comments

New observations of a recently exploded star are confirming supercomputer model predictions made at Caltech that the deaths of stellar giants are lopsided affairs in which debris and the stars' cores hurtle off in opposite directions. While observing the remnant of supernova (SN) 1987A, NuSTAR recently detected the unique energy signature of titanium-44.

Some see telescope as an opportunity for science education

May 8, 2015 2:09 am | by Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, Associated Press | News | Comments

Before going up to Mauna Kea's summit on Hawaii's Big Island, Heather Kaluna makes an offering to Poliahu, the snow goddess of the mountain. She holds it sacred, as do other Native Hawaiians. The mountain holds another important place in her life: Poised to be the first Native Hawaiian to get an astronomy doctorate from the Univ. of Hawaii, she uses the mountain to gaze at the stars.

Fresh evidence for how water reached Earth

May 7, 2015 8:11 am | by Univ. or Warwick | News | Comments

Water delivery via asteroids or comets is likely taking place in many other planetary systems, just as it happened on Earth, new research strongly suggests. Led by the Univ. of Warwick, the research finds evidence for numerous planetary bodies, including asteroids and comets, containing large amounts of water.

Astronomers unveil the farthest galaxy

May 6, 2015 9:01 am | by Jim Shelton, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

An international team of astronomers has pushed back the cosmic frontier of galaxy exploration to a time when the universe was only 5% of its present age. The team discovered an exceptionally luminous galaxy more than 13 billion years in the past and determined its exact distance from Earth using the powerful MOSFIRE instrument on the W.M. Keck Observatory’s 10-m telescope, in Hawaii. It is the most distant galaxy currently measured.

A hot start to the origin of life?

May 6, 2015 8:01 am | by Kate Greene, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

DNA is synonymous with life, but where did it originate? One way to answer this question is to try to recreate the conditions that formed DNA’s molecular precursors. These precursors are carbon ring structures with embedded nitrogen atoms, key components of nucleobases, which themselves are building blocks of the double helix.

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First evidence of changing conditions on a super Earth

May 5, 2015 8:36 am | by Sarah Collins, Univ. of Cambridge | News | Comments

Astronomers have detected wildly changing temperatures on a super Earth, the first time any atmospheric variability has been observed on a rocky planet outside the solar system, and believe it could be due to huge amounts of volcanic activity, further adding to the mystery of what had been nicknamed the “diamond planet”.

Tracking photosynthesis from space

May 5, 2015 7:55 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

Watching plants perform photosynthesis from space sounds like a futuristic proposal, but a new application of data from NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite may enable scientists to do just that. The new technique, which allows researchers to analyze plant productivity from far above Earth, will provide a clearer picture of the global carbon cycle.

Pulsar with widest orbit ever detected

May 4, 2015 11:25 am | by National Radio Astronomy Observatory | News | Comments

A team of highly determined high school students discovered a never-before-seen pulsar by painstakingly analyzing data from the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT). Further observations by astronomers using the GBT revealed that this pulsar has the widest orbit of any around a neutron star and is part of only a handful of double neutron star systems.

“Nanoflares” superheat sun’s corona

May 4, 2015 9:44 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

New research by NASA, Rice Univ. and the Univ. of Glasgow details the first solid evidence of why the sun’s atmosphere is 300 times hotter than its 10,340 F surface. The answer, according to Rice astrophysicist Stephen Bradshaw and his colleagues, involves intermittent “nanoflares,” bursts of hot plasma in the corona that have a billion times less energy than regular flares but still reach temperatures of 18 million degrees Fahrenheit.

New exoplanet too big for its star

May 1, 2015 10:23 am | by Australian National Univ. | News | Comments

The Australian discovery of a strange exoplanet orbiting a small cool star 500 light-years away is challenging ideas about how planets form. In the past two decades more than 1,800 extrasolar planets (or exoplanets) have been discovered outside our solar system orbiting around other stars. The host star of the latest exoplanet, HATS-6, is classed as an M-dwarf, which is one of the most numerous types of stars in galaxy.

High-resolution images, taken through the observatory’s New Solar Telescope, show the atmosphere above the umbrae to be finely structured, consisting of hot plasma intermixed with cool plasma jets as wide as 100 kilometers.

NJIT's new solar telescope unveils the complex dynamics of sunspots' dark cores

April 30, 2015 11:22 am | by New Jersey Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Groundbreaking images of the Sun captured by scientists at NJIT’s Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) give a first-ever detailed view of the interior structure of umbrae—the dark patches in the center of sunspots—revealing dynamic magnetic fields responsible for the plumes of plasma that emerge as bright dots interrupting their darkness.

The Pillars of Creation revealed in 3-D

April 30, 2015 7:51 am | by Richard Hook, ESO, Public Information Officer | News | Comments

Using the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, astronomers have produced the first complete 3-D view of the famous Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula, Messier 16. The new observations demonstrate how the different dusty pillars of this iconic object are distributed in space and reveal many new details.

NASA's EUNIS sounding rocket examined light from the sun in the area shown by the white line (imposed over an image of the sun from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory) then separated the light into various wavelengths (as shown in the lined images – spectr

Strong evidence for coronal heating theory presented

April 29, 2015 12:58 pm | by NASA | News | Comments

The sun's surface is blisteringly hot at 10,340 degrees Fahrenheit—but its atmosphere is another 300 times hotter. This has led to an enduring mystery for those who study the sun: What heats the atmosphere to such extreme temperatures? Normally when you move away from a hot source the environment gets cooler, but some mechanism is clearly at work in the solar atmosphere, the corona, to bring the temperatures up so high.

Fine details of a magnetic flux rope captured by the New Solar Telescope at Big Bear Solar Observatory for Solar Active Region 11817 on 2013 August 11. The structure is further demonstrated by the 3-D magnetic modeling based the observations of Helioseism

Observatory captures groundbreaking images of flaring solar flux ropes

April 29, 2015 12:53 pm | by New Jersey Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Scientists at NJIT’s Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) have captured the first high-resolution images of the flaring magnetic structures known as solar flux ropes at their point of origin in the Sun’s chromosphere. Their research, published in Nature Communications, provides new insights into the massive eruptions on the Sun’s surface responsible for space weather.

Robotically discovering Earth's nearest neighbors

April 29, 2015 11:34 am | by University of Hawaii at Manoa | News | Comments

A team of astronomers using ground-based telescopes in Hawaii, California, and Arizona recently discovered a planetary system orbiting a nearby star that is only 54 light-years away. All three planets orbit their star at a distance closer than Mercury orbits the sun, completing their orbits in just 5, 15, and 24 days.

Image of the day: Unmasking the secrets of Mercury

April 29, 2015 11:09 am | by NASA | News | Comments

If Mars is the Red Planet, then Mercury is the Rainbow Planet. The MESSENGER spacecraft is the first ever to orbit the planet Mercury, and the spacecraft's seven scientific instruments and radio science investigation are unraveling the history and evolution of the solar system's innermost planet, unveiling beautiful images at the same time.

Weird Supernova Sheds Light on Gamma-ray Bursts

April 28, 2015 7:00 am | by National Radio Astronomy Observatory | News | Comments

Astronomers have found a long-sought "missing link" between supernova explosions that generate gamma-ray bursts and those that don't. The scientists found that a stellar explosion seen in 2012 has many characteristics expected of one that generates a powerful burst of gamma rays, yet no such burst occurred.

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