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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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Controversial Telescope's Website Hacked

April 27, 2015 10:19 am | by Associated Press | News | Comments

An apparent cyberattack Sunday temporarily disrupted the main website of Thirty Meter Telescope, the organization trying to construct one of the world's largest telescopes near the summit of Mauna Kea on Hawaii's Big Island.

James Webb Space Telescope's Pathfinder backplane test model is being prepared for its cryogenic test. Courtesy of NASA/Chris Gunn

Building Hubble's successor: Crucial Pathfinder test set up inside Chamber A

April 24, 2015 10:05 am | by Laura Betz, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

Inside NASA's giant thermal vacuum chamber, called Chamber A, at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, the James Webb Space Telescope's Pathfinder backplane test model is being prepared for its cryogenic test. Previously used for manned spaceflight missions, this historic chamber is now filled with engineers and technicians preparing for a crucial test.

Astronomers find runaway galaxies

April 24, 2015 8:01 am | by Christine Pulliam, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

We know of about two dozen runaway stars, and have even found one runaway star cluster escaping its galaxy forever. Now, astronomers have spotted 11 runaway galaxies that have been flung out of their homes to wander the void of intergalactic space.

Tau Ceti: The next Earth? Probably not

April 23, 2015 8:37 am | by Nikki Cassis, Arizona State Univ. | News | Comments

As the search continues for Earth-size planets orbiting at just the right distance from their star, a region termed the habitable zone, the number of potentially life-supporting planets grows. In two decades we have progressed from having no extrasolar planets to having too many to search. Narrowing the list of hopefuls requires looking at extrasolar planets in a new way.

Black hole hunters tackle a cosmic conundrum

April 21, 2015 8:31 am | by Dartmouth College | News | Comments

Dartmouth College astrophysicists and their colleagues haven’t only proven that a supermassive black hole exists in a place where it isn't supposed to be, but in doing so have opened a new door to what things were like in the early universe. Henize 2-10 is a small irregular galaxy that is not too far away in astronomical terms: 30 million light-years.

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Pulsing light may indicate supermassive black hole merger

April 20, 2015 10:11 am | by Abby Robinson, Univ. of Maryland | News | Comments

As two galaxies enter the final stages of merging, scientists have theorized that the galaxies' supermassive black holes will form a "binary," or two black holes in such close orbit they are gravitationally bound to one another. In a new study, astronomers at the Univ. of Maryland present direct evidence of a pulsing quasar, which may substantiate the existence of black hole binaries.

A cold cosmic mystery solved

April 20, 2015 8:31 am | by Univ. of Hawaii at Manoa | News | Comments

In 2004, astronomers examining a map of the radiation leftover from the Big Bang (the cosmic microwave background, or CMB) discovered the Cold Spot, a larger-than-expected unusually cold area of the sky. The physics surrounding the Big Bang theory predicts warmer and cooler spots of various sizes in the infant universe, but a spot this large and this cold was unexpected.

Liquid crystal bubbles experiment arrives at ISS

April 20, 2015 8:10 am | by Univ. of Colorado, Boulder | News | Comments

An experiment led by the Univ. of Colorado Boulder arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) and will look into the fluid dynamics of liquid crystals that may lead to benefits both on Earth and in space. A new physical science investigation on ISS, the Observation and Analysis of Smectic Islands in Space (OASIS), will examine the behavior of liquid crystals in microgravity.

Astronomers probe inner region of young star and its planets

April 20, 2015 7:36 am | by Daniel Stolte, Univ. of Arizona Communications | News | Comments

Astronomers have probed deeper than before into a planetary system 130 light-years from Earth. The observations mark the first results of a new exoplanet survey called LEECH (LBT Exozodi Exoplanet Common Hunt). The planetary system of HR8799, a young star only 30 million years old, was the first to be directly imaged, with three planets found in in 2008 and a fourth one in 2010.

Hawaii telescope builders again extend construction timeout

April 18, 2015 12:05 am | by Audrey Mcavoy, Associated Press | News | Comments

A nonprofit company planning to build one of the world's biggest telescopes on a mountain many Native Hawaiians consider sacred will continue to postpone construction, Hawaii Gov. David Ige said Friday. This is the second time the Thirty Meter Telescope has extended a moratorium on building at the summit of Mauna Kea, the highest peak on the Big Island of Hawaii.

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A blueprint for clearing the skies of space debris

April 17, 2015 9:47 am | by RIKEN | News | Comments

An international team of scientists have put forward a blueprint for a purely space-based system to solve the growing problem of space debris. The proposal combines a super-wide field-of-view telescope and a recently developed high-efficiency laser system, the CAN laser that will be used to track space debris and remove it from orbit.

Instrument prompts researchers to rethink how Mercury formed

April 17, 2015 7:51 am | by Stephen Wampler, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory | News | Comments

A versatile instrument developed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists and riding on the first spacecraft to ever orbit Mercury is causing researchers to rethink their theories on the planet’s formation. Known as the Gamma-Ray Spectrometer, or GRS, the instrument is part of a suite of seven instruments onboard NASA’s Mercury MESSENGER spacecraft.

Spitzer, OGLE spot planet deep within our galaxy

April 15, 2015 7:44 am | by Christine Pulliam, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has teamed up with a telescope on the ground to find a remote gas planet about 13,000 light-years away, making it one of the most distant planets known. The discovery demonstrates that Spitzer can be used to help solve the puzzle of how planets are distributed throughout our flat, spiral-shaped Milky Way galaxy. Are they concentrated heavily in its central hub, or more evenly spread throughout its suburbs?

Mars liquid water: Curiosity confirms favorable conditions

April 14, 2015 11:37 am | by Fernanda Pires, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

NASA's Curiosity rover, which is exploring the Gale crater on Mars, confirms that conditions for liquid water on the Red Planet are favorable. And in a detail that surprised researchers, the measurements were made in the tropical region of the planet: one of the driest regions.

Dark Energy Survey creates detailed guide to spotting dark matter

April 14, 2015 7:39 am | by Andre Salles, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory | News | Comments

Scientists on the Dark Energy Survey have released the first in a series of dark matter maps of the cosmos. These maps, created with one of the world's most powerful digital cameras, are the largest contiguous maps created at this level of detail and will improve our understanding of dark matter's role in the formation of galaxies.

Violent methane storms on Titan may solve dune direction mystery

April 14, 2015 7:28 am | by Peter Kelley, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

With its thick, hazy atmosphere and surface rivers, mountains, lakes and dunes, Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is one of the most Earth-like places in the solar system. As the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft examines Titan over many years, its discoveries bring new mysteries. One of those involves the seemingly wind-created sand dunes spotted by Cassini near the moon’s equator, and the contrary winds just above.

Scientists help build next-generation dark energy probe

April 13, 2015 7:54 am | by Nicole Casal Moore, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

Univ. of Michigan scientists and students will build components of a giant camera that will map 30 million galaxies' worth of the universe in three dimensions. The camera is officially known as the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, abbreviated DESI, and it's designed to help answer one of the most puzzling scientific questions of our time: Why is the expansion of the universe accelerating?

Accelerating universe? Not so fast

April 13, 2015 7:29 am | by Daniel Stolte, Univ. of Arizona Communications | News | Comments

Certain types of supernovae, or exploding stars, are more diverse than previously thought, a Univ. of Arizona-led team of astronomers has discovered. The results have implications for big cosmological questions, such as how fast the universe has been expanding since the Big Bang.

Flip-flopping black holes spin to the end of the dance

April 10, 2015 8:01 am | by Susan Gawlowicz, Rochester Institute of Technology | News | Comments

When black holes tango, one massive partner spins head over heels (or in this case heels over head) until the merger is complete, according to researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology. This spin dynamic may affect the growth of black holes surrounded by accretion disks and alter galactic and supermassive binary black holes, leading to observational effects.

Study finds small solar eruptions can have profound effects on unprotected planets

April 10, 2015 7:48 am | by Susan Hendrix, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

While no one yet knows what's needed to build a habitable planet, it's clear that the interplay between the sun and Earth is crucial for making our planet livable: a balance between a sun that provides energy and a planet that can protect itself from the harshest solar emissions. Our sun steadily emits light, energy and a constant flow of particles called the solar wind that bathes the planets as it travels out into space.

A new view of the moon’s formation

April 9, 2015 8:25 am | by Matthew Wright, Univ. of Maryland | News | Comments

Within the first 150 million years after our solar system formed, a giant body roughly the size of Mars struck and merged with Earth, blasting a huge cloud of rock and debris into space. This cloud would eventually coalesce and form the moon. For almost 30 years, planetary scientists have been quite happy with this explanation, with one major exception.

Complex organic molecules discovered in infant star system: hints that prebiotic chemistry is universal

April 8, 2015 2:21 pm | by National Radio Astronomy Observatory | News | Comments

For the first time, astronomers have detected the presence of complex organic molecules, the building blocks of life, in a protoplanetary disk surrounding a young star, suggesting once again that the conditions that spawned our Earth and Sun are not unique in the universe.

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