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Planet bonanza: Kepler finds 715 new worlds

February 27, 2014 12:57 pm | News | Comments

NASA on Wednesday confirmed a bonanza of 715 newly discovered planets outside our solar system. Scientists using the planet-hunting Kepler telescope pushed the number of planets discovered in the galaxy to about 1,700. Twenty years ago, astronomers had not found any planets circling stars other than the ones revolving around our sun.

Detection of water vapor in the atmosphere of a hot Jupiter

February 25, 2014 8:27 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

Although liquid water covers a majority of Earth's surface, scientists are still searching for planets outside of our solar system that contain water. Researchers have used a new technique to analyze the gaseous atmospheres of such extrasolar planets and have made the first detection of water in the atmosphere of the Jupiter-mass planet orbiting the nearby star tau Boötis.

Closing the “free will” loophole

February 20, 2014 8:01 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In a recently published paper, researchers proposed an experiment that may close the last major loophole of Bell’s inequality, a 50-year-old theorem that, if violated by experiments, would mean that our universe is based not on the textbook laws of classical physics, but on the less-tangible probabilities of quantum mechanics. Such a quantum view would allow for seemingly counterintuitive phenomena such as entanglement.

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NuSTAR helps untangle how stars explode

February 19, 2014 2:51 pm | News | Comments

For the first time, an international team of astrophysicists has unraveled how stars blow up in supernova explosions. Using NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), the international collaboration created the first-ever map of radioactive material in a supernova remnant, named Cassiopeia A. The findings reveal how shock waves likely rip apart massive dying stars, and ultimately end their lives.

Rife with hype, exoplanet study needs patience and refinement

February 19, 2014 7:30 am | by Morgan Kelly, Princeton Univ. | News | Comments

The dominant methods for studying exoplanet atmospheres are not intended for objects as distant, dim and complex as planets trillions of miles from Earth. Few “hard facts” about exoplanet atmospheres have been collected since the first planet was detected in 1992, and most of the data is of “marginal utility.” An exoplanet expert is now calling for initiatives that will help scientists develop tools to detect and analyze exoplanet spectra.

A global map of Jupiter’s biggest moon

February 12, 2014 4:55 pm | News | Comments

Using images from NASA’s Voyager Mission in the 1970s and the orbital Galileo Mission of 1995, researchers have created the first global geological map of Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede. With its varied terrain and possible underground ocean, Ganymede is considered a prime target in the search for habitable environments in the solar system.

Flowing water on Mars appears likely, but hard to prove

February 11, 2014 8:07 am | News | Comments

Martian experts have known since 2011 that mysterious, possibly water-related streaks appear and disappear on the planet’s surface. These features were given the descriptive name of recurring slope lineae (RSL) because of their shape, annual reappearance and occurrence generally on steep slopes such as crater walls. A team has been looking closer at this phenomenon to try to understand the nature of these features: water-related or not?

Researchers identify one of the earliest stars in the universe

February 10, 2014 8:20 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Scientists have thought that the first stars in the universe burst with tremendous energy, spewing out the first heavy elements, such as carbon, iron, and oxygen. But according to new research from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, not all of these first stars may have been forceful exploders.

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Heavy metal in the early cosmos

February 6, 2014 9:23 am | by Aaron Dubrow, Texas Advanced Computing Center | News | Comments

Texas Advanced Computing Center recently reported the results of several massive numerical simulations charting the forces of the universe in its first hundreds of millions of years. The study, which used some of the world's most powerful supercomputers, has refined our understanding of how the first galaxies formed, and, in particular, how metals in the stellar nurseries influenced the characteristics of the stars in the first galaxies.

Solving a physics mystery: Those “solitons” are really vortex rings

February 4, 2014 8:51 am | by Peter Kelley, News and Information, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

The same physics that gives tornadoes their ferocious stability lies at the heart of new Univ. of Washington research, and could lead to a better understanding of nuclear dynamics in studying fission, superconductors and the workings of neutron stars. The work seeks to clarify what Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers witnessed when in 2013 they named a mysterious phenomenon.

“Rogue” asteroids may be the norm

January 30, 2014 7:33 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

To get an idea of how the early solar system may have formed, scientists often look to asteroids. These relics of rock and dust represent what today’s planets may have been before they differentiated into bodies of core, mantle and crust. In the 1980s, scientists’ view of the solar system’s asteroids was essentially static. But in the last decade, astronomers have detected asteroids with compositions unexpected for their locations in space.

River of hydrogen seen flowing through space

January 28, 2014 9:11 am | News | Comments

Using the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), astronomer D.J. Pisano from West Virginia Univ. has discovered what could be a never-before-seen river of hydrogen flowing through space. This very faint, very tenuous filament of gas is streaming into the nearby galaxy NGC 6946 and may help explain how certain spiral galaxies keep up their steady pace of star formation.

China's lunar rover has mechanical trouble

January 27, 2014 9:46 am | News | Comments

China says its first lunar rover is experiencing mechanical problems, a rare setback for its burgeoning space program. The six-wheeled Yutu vehicle began operating last month after making the first soft landing on the moon by a space probe in 37 years. The mechanical problems appeared to be related to the solar-powered probe's process for shutting down for the lunar night, which lasts more than two weeks.

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NASA launches newest communication satellite

January 24, 2014 11:25 am | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

An unmanned rocket blasted into a chilly, clear sky Thursday night carrying the latest, third-generation Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS). The TDRS system, used on several satellites to support the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope, is so vital it's considered a national asset. Together they supply real-time global coverage at all times.

Opportunity still roving on Mars after a decade

January 24, 2014 9:50 am | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

A decade after landing on Mars, the rover Opportunity is still chugging along. Sure, it has some wear and tear. One of its six wheels and two instruments stopped working long ago. It has an arthritic joint. Its flash memory occasionally suffers a senior moment. But these problems are considered minor for a journey that was supposed to be just a three-month adventure.

Water in star dust points to origins of life in the universe

January 23, 2014 11:44 am | News | Comments

Space weathering, which works similar to geological erosion on the Earth, produces water in the rims of tiny particles of interplanetary dust. The discovery may have implications on the origins of life and sources of water throughout the galaxy. As a byproduct of star formation, water ice is the most abundant solid material in the universe. But this new source was a surprise.

Star feedback results in less massive galaxies

January 23, 2014 11:17 am | by Jessica Stoller-Conrad, Caltech | News | Comments

For decades, astrophysicists have encountered a puzzling contradiction: although many galactic-wind models—simulations of how matter is distributed in our universe—predict that the majority of the "normal" matter exists in stars at the center of galaxies, in actuality these stars account for less than 10% of the matter in the universe. A new set of simulations offer insight into this mismatch between the models and reality.

Telescope spies water plumes on dwarf planet Ceres

January 23, 2014 9:24 am | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

The largest object in the asteroid belt just got more attractive: Scientists have confirmed signs of water on the dwarf planet Ceres, one of the few bodies in the solar system to hold that distinction. The observations, published in Thursday's issue of Nature, come as NASA's Dawn spacecraft is set to arrive at the Texas-sized dwarf planet next year.

Mimicking how ants adjust to microgravity in space could lead to better robots

January 20, 2014 1:09 pm | by Bjorn Carey, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

Several hundred ants have boldly gone where no ants have gone before: the International Space Station (ISS), high above Earth. An unmanned supply rocket delivered 600 small black common pavement ants to the ISS. Their arrival marked the beginning of an experiment designed by a team at Stanford Univ. to determine how the ants, in these exotic surroundings, adapt the innate algorithms that modulate their group behavior.

Distant quasar illuminates a filament of the cosmic web

January 20, 2014 7:52 am | News | Comments

Astronomers have discovered a distant quasar illuminating a vast nebula of diffuse gas, revealing, for the first time, part of the network of filaments thought to connect galaxies in a cosmic web. Using the 10-m Keck I Telescope at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the researchers detected a very large, luminous nebula of gas extending about 2 million light-years across intergalactic space.

Rosetta’s final sprint to the comet

January 17, 2014 12:23 pm | by Birgit Krummheuer, Max Planck Institute | News | Comments

After a 10-year journey and a long, deep sleep the Rosetta space probe will be awoken on Jan. 20, 2014. The vehicle then starts the last leg of its journey which will lead it to the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet. Then, mission leaders will attempt a space exploration first: setting the Philae lander down on the comet’s surface in November.

Christmas delivery finally for space station

January 12, 2014 6:35 am | by MARCIA DUNN - AP Aerospace Writer - Associated Press | News | Comments

Christmas has finally arrived for the six space station astronauts. A privately launched supply ship arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday morning, three days after blasting off from Virginia. The space station crew used a hefty robot arm to capture the Cygnus capsule as the two craft zoomed side by side at 17,500 mph.

Quasars illuminate swiftly swirling clouds around galaxies

January 9, 2014 7:32 am | News | Comments

A new study of light from quasars has provided astronomers with illuminating insights into the swirling clouds of gas that form stars and galaxies, proving that the clouds can shift and change much more quickly than previously thought. The team used data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a major eight-year cooperative project to image and map galaxies and quasars.

Misbehaving sun delays space station supply flight

January 8, 2014 12:51 pm | by MARCIA DUNN - AP Aerospace Writer - Associated Press | News | Comments

Blame the sun. Orbital Sciences Corp. is delaying its space station delivery mission again, this time because of a strong solar storm. The company's unmanned rocket, the Antares, was supposed to blast off Thursday from Wallops Island, Va., with a capsule full of supplies and science experiments for the International Space Station.

Alive and well inside dwarf galaxies: Massive black holes

January 8, 2014 11:55 am | News | Comments

Dwarf galaxies may be small, but astronomers now know that they can hold massive black holes. Yale Univ. astronomer Marla Geha and collaborators have identified more than 100 dwarf galaxies that show signs of hosting massive black holes, a discovery that challenges the idea that they exist only in much bigger galaxies.

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