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Sun-like stars reveal their ages

July 11, 2014 8:49 am | News | Comments

Defining what makes a star “sun-like" is as difficult as defining what makes a planet "Earth-like." A solar twin should have a temperature, mass and spectral type similar to our sun. We also would expect it to be about 4.5 billion years old. However, it is notoriously difficult to measure a star's age so astronomers usually ignore age when deciding if a star counts as "sun-like."

Astronomers discover seven dwarf galaxies

July 11, 2014 8:30 am | by Jim Shelton, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Meet the seven new dwarf galaxies. Yale Univ. astronomers, using a new type of telescope made by stitching together telephoto lenses, recently discovered seven celestial surprises while probing a nearby spiral galaxy. The previously unseen galaxies may yield important insights into dark matter and galaxy evolution, while possibly signaling the discovery of a new class of objects in space.

NASA finds friction from tides could help distant Earths survive, thrive

July 10, 2014 8:56 am | by Elizabeth Zubritsky, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

As anybody who has started a campfire by rubbing sticks knows, friction generates heat. Now, computer modeling by NASA scientists shows that friction could be the key to survival for some distant Earth-sized planets traveling in dangerous orbits. The findings are consistent with observations that Earth-sized planets appear to be very common in other star systems.

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Technology illuminates colder objects in deep space

July 10, 2014 7:42 am | News | Comments

Too cool and faint, many objects in the universe are impossible to detect with visible light. Now a Northwestern Univ. team has refined a new technology that could make these colder objects more visible, paving the way for enhanced exploration of deep space. The new technology uses a type II superlattice material called indium arsenide/indium arsenide antimonide (InAs/InAsSb).

Mercury: A result of early hit-and-run collisions

July 9, 2014 11:02 am | by Nikki Cassis, Arizona State Univ. | News | Comments

Planet Mercury’s unusual metal-rich composition has been a longstanding puzzle in planetary science. According to a study published online in Nature Geoscience, Mercury and other unusually metal-rich objects in the solar system may be relics left behind by collisions in the early solar system that built the other planets.

Models suggest that stretching forces shaped Jupiter moon's surface

July 8, 2014 12:46 pm | News | Comments

Processes that shaped the ridges and troughs on the surface of Jupiter's icy moon Ganymede are likely similar to tectonic processes seen on Earth, according to a team of researchers led by Southwest Research Institute. To arrive at this conclusion, the team subjected physical models made of clay to stretching forces that simulate tectonic action.

Ocean on Saturn moon could be as salty as the Dead Sea

July 8, 2014 9:02 am | News | Comments

Scientists analyzing data from NASA’s Cassini mission have firm evidence the ocean inside Saturn's largest moon, Titan, might be as salty as the Earth's Dead Sea. The new results come from a study of gravity and topography data collected during Cassini's repeated flybys of Titan during the past 10 years. The finding may change some scientists' expectations for present-day life on the distant moon.

Physicists a step closer to finding mysterious cosmic ray sources

July 8, 2014 8:52 am | News | Comments

An observatory run by the Univ. of Utah has found a “hotspot” beneath the Big Dipper emitting a disproportionate number of the highest-energy cosmic rays. The discovery moves physics another step toward identifying the mysterious sources of the most energetic particles in the universe.

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A young star's age can be gleaned from nothing but sound waves

July 7, 2014 9:42 am | News | Comments

Determining the age of stars has long been a challenge for astronomers. Recent experiments by researchers in Belgium show that “baby” stars can be distinguished from “adolescent” stars by measuring the acoustic waves they emit. This is because stars can vibrate due to sound waves bouncing inside, and those waves are detectable through subtle changes in stellar brightness.

Hawaii board advances $1 billion telescope pending review

June 30, 2014 8:45 am | by Cathy Bussewitz, Associated Press | News | Comments

Hawaii's Board of Land and Natural Resources has approved a sublease for a $1.3 billion telescope that would be one of the world's largest, but the approval is on hold until the board hears objections in a separate review process. The board met Friday to discuss issues raised previously about a plan to build the Thirty Meter Telescope on the summit of the Mauna Kea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island.

Mars '”flying saucer” splashes down after NASA test

June 30, 2014 7:49 am | by Christopher Weber, Associated Press | News | Comments

NASA has tested new technology designed to bring spacecraft safely down to Mars, with the agency declaring the experiment a qualified success even though a giant parachute got tangled on the way down. Saturday's $150 million experiment is the first of three involving the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator vehicle, which creates atmospheric drag to dramatically slow the spacecraft from Mach 4.

Cosmic caffeine: Astronauts getting espresso maker

June 27, 2014 2:37 pm | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

Talk about a cosmic caffeine jolt. The International Space Station is getting a real Italian espresso machine. Astronauts of all nationalities have long grumbled about the tepid instant coffee served in pouches and drunk with straws 260 miles above Earth. The pouches and straws aren't going away, but at least the brew will pack some zero-gravity punch thanks to the ISSpresso, which can also make tea and consommé.

New NASA model gives glimpse into invisible world of electric asteroids

June 25, 2014 10:48 pm | News | Comments

Space may appear empty, a soundless vacuum. But it's not an absolute void. It flows with electric activity that is not visible to our eyes. NASA is developing plans to send humans to an asteroid, and wants to know more about the electrical environment explorers will encounter there. A new computer model can now predict and visualize the interaction between the solar wind, solar radiation and the surface of asteroids in unprecedented detail.

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Few, if any, big impact craters remain to be discovered on Earth

June 18, 2014 8:02 am | by Elizabeth K. Gardner, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

It’s likely that most of the large impact craters on Earth have already been discovered and that others have been erased, according to a new calculation by a pair of Purdue Univ. graduate students. Although it's known that natural processes erase craters fairly quickly from the Earth's surface, this model was the first to quantify how many craters have likely been erased.

Solar photons drive water off the moon

June 17, 2014 8:29 am | by Jason Maderer, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Water is thought to be embedded in the moon’s rocks or, if cold enough, “stuck” on their surfaces. It’s predominantly found at the poles. But scientists probably won’t find it intact on the sunlit side. New research at indicates that ultraviolet photons emitted by the sun likely cause water molecules to either quickly desorb or break apart.

Mining data archives yields haul of “red nuggets”

June 12, 2014 8:09 am | by David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

The world of astronomy has changed. An astronomer used to have to travel to a remote location and endure long, cold nights, patiently guiding a telescope to collect precious photons of light. Now, a proliferation of online archives allows astronomers to make discoveries from the comfort of their own offices.

55-year-old dark side of the moon mystery solved

June 10, 2014 8:09 am | by A'ndrea Elyse Messer, Penn State Univ. | News | Comments

The "man in the moon" appeared when meteoroids struck the Earth-facing side of the moon creating large flat seas of basalt that we see as dark areas called maria. But no "face" exists on farside of the moon and now, Penn State Univ. astrophysicists think they know why.

Bringing new life to Laser Guide Star

June 9, 2014 10:54 am | by Breanna Bishop, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory | News | Comments

Earlier this year, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory engineering technical associate Pam Danforth applied 30 years of laser experience to an out-of-this-world problem—bringing new life to the Univ. of California's Lick Observatory Laser Guide Star. The Lick Observatory's Laser Guide Star is vital to astronomers because a natural guide star isn't always near an object they want to observe.

Surprisingly strong magnetic fields challenge black holes’ pull

June 5, 2014 8:13 am | by Kate Greene, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

A new study of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies has found magnetic fields play an impressive role in the systems’ dynamics. In fact, in dozens of black holes surveyed, the magnetic field strength matched the force produced by the black holes’ powerful gravitational pull, says a team of scientists.

Report: NASA should maintain long-term focus on Mars as “horizon goal”

June 4, 2014 2:45 pm | News | Comments

A new congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council concludes that the expense of human spaceflight and the dangers to the astronauts involved can be justified only by the goal of putting humans on other worlds. The authors recommend a disciplined “pathway” approach that eventually leads to the “horizon goal” of putting humans on Mars.

NASA snaps cosmic color portrait “and then some”

June 4, 2014 9:56 am | News | Comments

A new NASA panorama looking deep and far into the universe for the first time includes ultraviolet light, which is normally not visible to the human eye. It shows up in the photo as bright baby blue with spinning galaxies, which are about 5 to 10 billion years old. The photo is a composite of more than 800 photos taken by Hubble and shows about 10,000 multi-colored galaxies.

NASA to test giant Mars parachute on Earth

June 2, 2014 12:00 pm | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

The skies off the Hawaiian island of Kauai will be a stand-in for Mars as NASA prepares to launch a saucer-shaped vehicle in an experimental flight designed to land heavy loads on the red planet. For decades, robotic landers and rovers have hitched a ride to Earth's planetary neighbor using the same parachute design, but NASA needs a bigger and stronger parachute if it wants to send astronauts there.

SpaceX finishes qualification testing for 3-D printed rocket engine

May 30, 2014 8:58 am | Videos | Comments

The SuperDraco thruster, an engine that will power SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft to orbit, has completed a test regimen held over the last month at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in Texas. This qualification test involves a variety of conditions conditions including multiple starts, extended firing durations and extreme off-nominal propellant flow and temperatures.

A habitable environment on Martian volcano?

May 28, 2014 8:25 am | by Kevin Stacey, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

The slopes of a giant Martian volcano, once covered in glacial ice, may have been home to one of the most recent habitable environments yet found on the Red Planet, according to new research led by Brown Univ. geologists. Nearly twice as tall as Mount Everest, Arsia Mons is the third tallest volcano on Mars and one of the largest mountains in the solar system.

First broadband wireless connection...to the Moon?

May 22, 2014 9:45 am | News | Comments

A demonstration by NASA and MIT engineers last fall showed, for first time, that a data communication technology exists that can provide space dwellers with the connectivity we all enjoy here on Earth. Next month, the team will present the first comprehensive overview of the performance of their laser-based communication uplink between the moon and Earth, which beat the previous record transmission speed last fall by a factor of 4,800.

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