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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.

Ghosts of quasars past

April 2, 2015 12:02 pm | by ESA/Hubble Information Centre | News | Comments

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has imaged a set of enigmatic quasar ghosts, ethereal green objects which mark the graves of these objects that flickered to life and then faded. The eight unusual looped structures orbit their host galaxies and glow in a bright and eerie goblin-green hue. They offer new insights into the turbulent pasts of these galaxies.

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As stars form, magnetic fields influence regions big and small

March 30, 2015 12:34 pm | by Christine Pulliam, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

Stars form when gravity pulls together material within giant clouds of gas and dust. But gravity isn't the only force at work. Both turbulence and magnetic fields battle gravity, either by stirring things up or by channeling and restricting gas flows, respectively. New research focusing on magnetic fields shows that they influence star formation on a variety of scales, from hundreds of light-years down to a fraction of a light-year.

Comet dust: Mercury’s “invisible paint”

March 30, 2015 11:26 am | by Kevin Stacey, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

A team of scientists has a new explanation for the planet Mercury’s dark, barely reflective surface. In a paper published in Nature Geoscience, the researchers suggest that a steady dusting of carbon from passing comets has slowly painted Mercury black over billions of years.

Dark matter even darker than once thought

March 27, 2015 7:54 am | by Hubble Information Centre | News | Comments

Astronomers using observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have studied how dark matter in clusters of galaxies behaves when the clusters collide. The results, published in Science, show that dark matter interacts with itself even less than previously thought, and narrows down the options for what this mysterious substance might be.

Ancient Martian lake system records two water-related events

March 26, 2015 11:37 am | by Kevin Stacey, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers from Brown Univ. have completed a new analysis of an ancient Martian lake system in Jezero Crater, near the planet’s equator. The study finds that the onslaught of water that filled the crater was one of at least two separate periods of water activity in the region surrounding Jezero.

New spin on Saturn’s peculiar rotation

March 26, 2015 8:41 am | by Tel Aviv Univ. | News | Comments

Tracking the rotation speed of solid planets, like the Earth and Mars, is a relatively simple task: Just measure the time it takes for a surface feature to roll into view again. But giant gas planets Jupiter and Saturn are more problematic for planetary scientists, as they both lack measurable solid surfaces and are covered by thick layers of clouds, foiling direct visual measurements by space probes.

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Black-hole wind linked to galactic gush of star-forming gas

March 26, 2015 8:33 am | by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | Videos | Comments

By combining observations from the Japan-led Suzaku x-ray satellite and the European Space Agency's infrared Herschel Space Observatory, scientists have connected a fierce "wind" produced near a galaxy's monster black hole to an outward torrent of cold gas a thousand light-years across. The finding validates a long-suspected feedback mechanism enabling a supermassive black hole to influence the evolution of its host galaxy.

Best look yet at “warm dense matter” at cores of giant planets

March 25, 2015 8:30 am | by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory | Videos | Comments

In an experiment at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, scientists precisely measured the temperature and structure of aluminum as it transitions into a superhot, highly compressed concoction known as “warm dense matter.” Warm dense matter is the stuff believed to be at the cores of giant gas planets in our solar system and some of the newly observed “exoplanets” that orbit distant suns.

Automation offers big solution to big data in astronomy

March 24, 2015 3:40 pm | by University of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

In a study, a team of scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has developed a new, faster approach to analyze all the data that will come out of the new, super-advanced Square Kilometer Array (SKA), a radio telescope planned for Africa and Australia that will have an unprecedented ability to deliver data on the location and properties of stars, galaxies and giant clouds of hydrogen gas.

Research suggest solar system may have once harbored super-Earths

March 23, 2015 4:22 pm | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

Long before Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars formed, it seems that the inner solar system may have harbored a number of super-Earths, planets larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune. If so, those planets are long gone, broken up and fallen into the sun billions of years ago largely due to a great inward-and-then-outward journey that Jupiter made early in the solar system's history.

Chemical fingerprints of ancient supernovae found

March 23, 2015 12:03 pm | by Carnegie Institute | News | Comments

A Carnegie Institute-based search of nearby galaxies for their oldest stars has uncovered two stars in the Sculptor dwarf galaxy that were born shortly after the galaxy formed, approximately 13 billion years ago. The unusual chemical content of the stars may have originated in a single supernova explosion from the first generation of Sculptor stars.

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Have researchers discovered the sound of stars?

March 23, 2015 10:32 am | by David Garner, Senior Press Officer, Univ. of York | News | Comments

A chance discovery by a team of researchers, including a Univ. of York scientist, has provided experimental evidence that stars may generate sound. The study of fluids in motion goes back to the Egyptians, so it isn’t often that new discoveries are made. However when examining the interaction of an ultra-intense laser with a plasma target, the team observed something unexpected.

Theoretical study suggests huge lava tubes could exist on moon

March 20, 2015 7:37 am | by Elizabeth K. Gardner, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

Lava tubes large enough to house cities could be structurally stable on the moon, according to a theoretical study. The volcanic features are an important target for future human space exploration because they could provide shelter from cosmic radiation, meteorite impacts and temperature extremes.

Milky Way’s center unveils supernova “dust factory”

March 19, 2015 3:09 pm | by Blaine Friedlander, Cornell Univ. | News | Comments

Sifting through the center of the Milky Way galaxy, astronomers have made the first direct observations, using an infrared telescope aboard a modified Boeing 747, of cosmic building-block dust resulting from an ancient supernova.

More than a million stars are forming in a mysterious dusty gas cloud

March 18, 2015 4:22 pm | by Stuart Wolpert, Univ. of California, Los Angeles | News | Comments

More than a million young stars are forming in a hot, dusty cloud of molecular gases in a tiny galaxy near our own, an international team of astronomers has discovered. The star cluster is buried within a supernebula in a dwarf galaxy known as NGC 5253, in the constellation Centaurus. The cluster has one billion times the luminosity of our sun, but is invisible in ordinary light, hidden by its own hot gases.

Extent of moon’s giant volcanic eruption is revealed

March 18, 2015 9:59 am | by Leighton Kitson, Durham Univ. | News | Comments

Scientists have produced a new map of the moon’s most unusual volcano showing that its explosive eruption spread debris over an area much greater than previously thought. A team of astronomers and geologists, led by experts at Durham Univ., U.K., studied an area of the lunar surface in the Compton-Belkovich Volcanic Complex.

Second minor planet may possess Saturn-like rings

March 17, 2015 7:43 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

There are only five bodies in our solar system that are known to bear rings. The most obvious is the planet Saturn; to a lesser extent, rings of gas and dust also encircle Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune. The fifth member of this haloed group is Chariklo, one of a class of minor planets called centaurs: small, rocky bodies that possess qualities of both asteroids and comets.

New clues from the dawn of the solar system

March 16, 2015 9:31 am | by Daniel Stolte, Univ. of Arizona Communications | News | Comments

A research group in the Univ. of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory has found evidence in meteorites that hint at the discovery of a previously unknown region within the swirling disk of dust and gas known as the protoplanetary disk, which gave rise to the planets in our solar system.

Mercury surface composition maps illuminate planet’s history

March 13, 2015 1:59 pm | by Carnegie Institute of Science | News | Comments

Two new papers from members of the MESSENGER Science Team provide global-scale maps of Mercury’s surface chemistry that reveal previously unrecognized geochemical terranes, large regions that have compositions distinct from their surroundings. The presence of these large terranes has important implications for the history of the planet.

Some habitable exoplanets could experience wildly unpredictable climates

March 13, 2015 11:28 am | by Peter Kelley, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

As telescopes of ever-greater power scan the cosmos looking for life, knowing where to look, and where not to waste time looking, will be of great value. New research by Univ. of Washington astronomers describes possible planetary systems where a gravitational nudge from one planet with just the right orbital configuration and tilt could have a mild to devastating effect on the orbit and climate of another, possibly habitable world.

Hubble observations suggest underground ocean on Jupiter’s largest moon

March 13, 2015 8:46 am | by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has the best evidence yet for an underground saltwater ocean on Ganymede, Jupiter's largest moon. The subterranean ocean is thought to have more water than all the water on Earth's surface. Identifying liquid water is crucial in the search for habitable worlds beyond Earth and for the search of life as we know it.

Saturn’s moon may have hot springs

March 12, 2015 8:34 am | by Alicia Chang, Associated Press | News | Comments

New research suggests there are hot springs bubbling beneath the icy surface of a tiny Saturn moon. If confirmed, it would make the moon Enceladus the only other known body in the solar system besides Earth where hot water and rocks interact underground. That activity would make the moon an even more attractive place in the hunt for microbial life.

Is the Milky Way much larger than previously estimated?

March 11, 2015 11:53 am | by Mary L. Marialay, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute | News | Comments

The Milky Way galaxy is at least 50% larger than is commonly estimated, according to new findings that reveal that the galactic disk is contoured into several concentric ripples. The research, conducted by an international team, revisits astronomical data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey which, in 2002, established the presence of a bulging ring of stars beyond the known plane of the Milky Way.

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