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NASA’s IBEX and Voyager spacecraft drive advances in outer heliosphere research

August 4, 2014 11:52 am | News | Comments

The million-mile-per-hour solar wind pushed out by the Sun inflates a giant bubble in the interstellar medium called the heliosphere, which envelops the Earth and the other planets. At the 40th International Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) Scientific Assembly in Moscow this week, scientists highlighted an impressive list of achievements in researching the outer heliosphere, which barely registered as a field of research ten years ago.

NASA to test making rocket fuel on Mars

August 4, 2014 8:16 am | News | Comments

Taking fuel to Mars for return flights is heavy and expensive. The $1.9 billion Mars 2020 rover that NASA announced on Friday will include an experiment that will turn carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere into oxygen. It could then be used to make rocket fuel and for future astronauts to breathe. The device, named MOXIE, will make about three-quarters of an ounce of oxygen an hour.

NASA unveils concept for their Mars 2020 Rover

July 31, 2014 3:40 pm | News | Comments

At a press conference in Washington on Thursday, NASA announced the instruments to be designed into the Mars 2020 rover, a mission that will be based on the design of the highly successful Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, which landed almost two years ago. Managers made the selections out of 58 proposals received in January from researchers and engineers worldwide.

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NASA-funded x-ray instrument settles interstellar debate

July 30, 2014 9:42 am | News | Comments

New findings from a NASA-funded instrument have resolved a decades-old puzzle about a fog of low-energy x-rays observed over the entire sky. Thanks to refurbished detectors first flown on a NASA sounding rocket in the 1970s, astronomers have now confirmed the long-held suspicion that much of this glow stems from a region of million-degree interstellar plasma known as the local hot bubble, or LHB.

Corning donates $1.8M mirror for space telescope

July 29, 2014 11:25 am | by The Associated Press | News | Comments

Corning Inc. has donated $1.8 million in high-tech components for a telescope a private group wants to launch into space. The not-for-profit BoldlyGo Institute wants to put its ASTRO-1 telescope in orbit by the mid-2020s. The group says obtaining the components for a roughly 6-ft telescope primary mirror marks a major step toward the ambitious goal.

Researchers discover cool-burning flames in space

July 28, 2014 2:04 pm | by Ioana Patringenaru, Jacobs School of Engineering | Videos | Comments

A team of international researchers has discovered a new type of cool burning flames that could lead to cleaner, more efficient engines for cars. The discovery was made during a series of experiments on the International Space Station by a team led by Forman Williams, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the Univ. of California, San Diego.

The source of the sky’s x-ray glow

July 28, 2014 8:02 am | by Nicole Casal Moore, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

In findings that help astrophysicists understand our corner of the galaxy, an international research team has shown that the soft x-ray glow blanketing the sky comes from both inside and outside the solar system. The source of this "diffuse x-ray background" has been debated for the past 50 years.

Highest-precision measurement made of water on an exoplanet

July 24, 2014 10:02 am | News | Comments

The discovery of water vapor in the atmospheres of three exoplanets includes the most precise measurement of any chemical in a planet outside the solar system, and has major implications for planet formation and the search for water on Earth-like habitable exoplanets in future. These results show just how challenging it could be to detect water on Earth-like exoplanets in our search for potential life elsewhere.

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A new approach in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence: Targeting alien polluters

July 23, 2014 11:09 am | by David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

Humanity is on the threshold of being able to detect signs of alien life on other worlds. By studying exoplanet atmospheres, we can look for gases like oxygen and methane that only coexist if replenished by life. But those gases come from simple life forms like microbes. What about advanced civilizations? Would they leave any detectable signs?

Researchers pioneer a Google street view of galaxies

July 23, 2014 9:55 am | by Verity Leatherdale, Univ. of Sydney | News | Comments

A new home-grown instrument based on bundles of optical fibers is giving Australian astronomers the first “Google street view” of the cosmos—incredibly detailed views of huge numbers of galaxies. Developed by researchers at the Univ. of Sydney and the Australian Astronomical Observatory, the optical-fiber bundles can sample the light from up to 60 parts of a galaxy, for a dozen galaxies at a time.

NASA’s Fermi space telescope finds a “transformer” pulsar

July 23, 2014 9:19 am | Videos | Comments

In late June 2013, an exceptional binary containing a rapidly spinning neutron star underwent a dramatic change in behavior never before observed. The pulsar's radio beacon vanished, while at the same time the system brightened fivefold in gamma rays, the most powerful form of light, according to measurements by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. It was as if someone flipped a switch on the pulsar.

Research shows oceans vital for alien life

July 21, 2014 9:01 am | News | Comments

Until now, computer simulations of habitable climates on Earth-like planets have focused on their atmospheres. Mathematicians and earth sciences experts in the U.K. have recently taken the next step, creating a computer-simulated pattern of ocean circulation on a hypothetical ocean-covered Earth-like planet. They hope to learn how different planetary rotation rates would impact heat transport with the presence of oceans taken into account.

Peering into giant planets from in and out of this world

July 18, 2014 8:40 am | by Anne M. Stark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboraotry | News | Comments

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists for the first time have experimentally re-created the conditions that exist deep inside giant planets, such as Jupiter, Uranus and many of the planets recently discovered outside our solar system. Researchers can now re-create and accurately measure material properties that control how these planets evolve over time, information essential for understanding how these massive objects form.

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Project yields sharpest map of Mars' surface properties

July 17, 2014 7:20 am | by Robert Burnham, ASU | News | Comments

A heat-sensing camera designed at Arizona State University has provided data to create the most detailed global map yet made of Martian surface properties. THEMIS, the nine-band visual and infrared camera on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter, was used to create this map, which is now available online. And citizen scientists are invited to help make it even better.

NASA’s Van Allen probes show how to accelerate electrons

July 16, 2014 7:50 am | News | Comments

One of the great, unanswered questions for space weather scientists is just what creates two gigantic donuts of radiation surrounding Earth, called the Van Allen radiation belts. Theories abound, but probes sent by NASA have recently provided the first really strong confirmation of what's happening. For the first time, scientists can explain how the electrons are accelerated up to nearly the speed of light.

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.

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.

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.

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