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Map of mysterious molecules in our galaxy shed new light on century-old puzzle

January 9, 2015 9:18 am | by Phil Shneiderman, Johns Hopkins Univ. | News | Comments

By analyzing the light of hundreds of thousands of celestial objects, Johns Hopkins Univ. astronomers from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) have created a unique map of enigmatic molecules in our galaxy that are responsible for puzzling features in the light from stars. The map was unveiled Jan. 8 at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.

Unusual light signal yields clues about elusive black hole merger

January 8, 2015 7:44 am | by Ker Than, Caltech | News | Comments

The central regions of many glittering galaxies, our own Milky Way included, harbor cores of impenetrable darkness—black holes with masses equivalent to millions, or even billions, of suns. What is more, these supermassive black holes and their host galaxies appear to develop together, or "co-evolve." Theory predicts that as galaxies collide and merge, growing ever more massive, so too do their dark hearts.

Eight new planets found in “Goldilocks” zone

January 6, 2015 3:43 pm | by David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

Astronomers announced they have found eight new planets in the "Goldilocks" zone of their stars, orbiting at a distance where liquid water can exist on the planet's surface. This doubles the number of small planets (less than twice the diameter of Earth) believed to be in the habitable zone of their parent stars. Among these eight, the team identified two that are the most similar to Earth of any known exoplanets to date.

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Planet-hunting satellite to observe supermassive black hole

January 6, 2015 11:00 am | by Joe Hadfield, Brigham Young Univ. | Videos | Comments

If you want to see just how far Brigham Young Univ. (BYU)’s latest research extends, step outside of your house tonight, look up towards the sky, focus your view between the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra, and then zoom in about 100 million light years. That’s the home of a galaxy known as KA 1858, which contains a black hole that BYU scientists observed with the help of NASA and astrophysicists throughout the Univ. of California system.

“Iron sun”: The key to how stars transmit energy

January 6, 2015 8:34 am | by Neal Singer, Sandia National Laboratories | News | Comments

Working at temperatures matching the interior of the sun, researchers have been able to determine experimentally, for the first time, iron’s role in inhibiting energy transmission from the center of the sun to near the edge of its radiative band. Because that role is much greater than formerly surmised, the experimentally derived amount of iron’s opacity helps close a theoretical gap in the Standard Solar Model.

New instrument reveals recipe for other Earths

January 5, 2015 4:23 pm | by David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

How do you make an Earth-like planet? The "test kitchen" of Earth has given us a detailed recipe, but it wasn't clear whether other planetary systems would follow the same formula. Now, astronomers have found evidence that the recipe for Earth also applies to terrestrial exoplanets orbiting distant stars.

NASA inflates chance of landing astronauts on Mars

January 5, 2015 9:28 am | by Brock Vergakis, Associated Press | News | Comments

Devising a way to one day land astronauts on Mars is a complex problem and NASA scientists think something as simple as a child's toy design may help solve the problem. Safely landing a large spacecraft on the Red planet is just one of many engineering challenges the agency faces as it eyes an ambitious goal of sending humans into deep space later this century.

A Christmas comet to be seen from dark skies

December 18, 2014 3:07 pm | News | Comments

If you are away from the bustle of the city these holidays, then try your luck at spotting a faint comet in the northern sky. Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2 is the fifth comet to be discovered by Brisbane amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy. Comets are the only astronomical objects that are automatically named for the person who found them.

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Rover finds methane spikes on Mars

December 17, 2014 8:32 am | by Associated Press, Marcia Dunn | News | Comments

NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity, has detected spikes of methane in the planet's atmosphere. That suggests something is producing or venting the scientifically tantalizing gas, but no one knows what. Most of Earth's atmospheric methane comes from animal and plant life, and the environment itself. So the Martian methane raises the question of past or present microbial life.

Life on an aquaplanet

December 17, 2014 7:43 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Nearly 2,000 planets beyond our solar system have been identified to date. Whether any of these exoplanets are hospitable to life depends on a number of criteria. Among these, scientists have thought, is a planet’s obliquity—the angle of its axis relative to its orbit around a star.

Pluto-sized objects kick up dust around adolescent sun-like star

December 15, 2014 10:27 am | by David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) may have detected the dusty hallmarks of an entire family of Pluto-size objects swarming around an adolescent version of our own sun. By making detailed observations of the protoplanetary disk surrounding the star known as HD 107146, the astronomers detected an unexpected increase in the concentration of millimeter-size dust grains in the disk's outer reaches.

Engineering students aim to generate first breathable air on Mars

December 15, 2014 8:32 am | by The Univ. of Western Australia | News | Comments

A project by students from The Univ. of Western Australia and Mars One astronaut candidate Josh Richards has reached the finals of an international competition to land vital experiments on the Red Planet. The Helena Payload project, which aims to generate the first breathable air on Mars, is one of 10 finalists in the Mars One University Competition and is the only successful entry from the southern hemisphere.

Robot 'shadow hand'

December 12, 2014 10:57 am | by ESA | News | Comments

ESA is developing technologies for advanced human–machine interaction to transfer the human sense of touch to space.                                       

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RoboSimian beats out Surrogate for spot at DARPA finals

December 12, 2014 7:00 am | News | Comments

RoboSimian was created for the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a competition consisting of several disaster-related tasks for robots to perform. Using extra limbs from RoboSimian, researchers constructed Surrogate. Over the past six months, they have been testing both robots to see which one should compete in the finals.

Interstellar mystery solved by supercomputer simulations

December 11, 2014 2:48 pm | by Jorge Salazar, TACC | News | Comments

An interstellar mystery of why stars form has been solved thanks to the most realistic supercomputer simulations of galaxies yet made.                                 

NASA, Houston hospital work on spacesuit issue

December 10, 2014 2:00 pm | by Juan A. Lozano, Associated Press | News | Comments

The empty spacesuit that sat on the operating table in a lab at Houston Methodist Hospital's research institute made for an unusual patient.                               

Powering space craft of the future

December 9, 2014 12:31 pm | by Lancaster University | News | Comments

Engineers at Lancaster University are working on powering future giant leaps for mankind. They are major partners of a consortium working on a new project to maximize "energy harvesting" on a space craft of the future.         

Traces of biological activity inside meteorite

December 4, 2014 10:57 am | by EPFL | Videos | Comments

Did Mars ever have life? Does it still? A meteorite from Mars has reignited the old debate. An international team that includes scientists from EPFL has published a paper in Meteoritics and Planetary Sciences, showing that Martian life is more probable than previously thought.

“Mirage Earth” exoplanets may have burned away chances for life

December 3, 2014 11:21 am | by Peter Kelley, News and Information, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

Planets orbiting close to low-mass stars are prime targets in the search for extraterrestrial life. But new research led by an astronomy graduate student at the Univ. of Washington indicates some such planets may have long since lost their chance at hosting life because of intense heat during their formative years.

Losing air

December 2, 2014 8:01 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Today’s atmosphere likely bears little trace of its primordial self: Geochemical evidence suggests that Earth’s atmosphere may have been completely obliterated at least twice since its formation more than 4 billion years ago. However, it’s unclear what interplanetary forces could have driven such a dramatic loss.

Plasma shield

December 1, 2014 7:43 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

High above Earth’s atmosphere, electrons whiz past at close to the speed of light. Such ultra-relativistic electrons, which make up the outer band of the Van Allen radiation belt, can streak around the planet in a mere five minutes, bombarding anything in their path. Exposure to such high-energy radiation can wreak havoc on satellite electronics, and pose serious health risks to astronauts.

Space station's 3-D printer pops out first creation

November 25, 2014 8:43 pm | by Marcia Dunn, Associated Press | News | Comments

The first 3-D printer in space has popped out its first creation. The 3-D printer delivered to the International Space Station two months ago made a sample part for itself this week. It churned out a faceplate for the print head casing.

Unraveling the mystery of gamma-ray bursts

November 20, 2014 7:39 am | by Univ. of Cardiff | News | Comments

A team of scientists hope to trace the origins of gamma-ray bursts with the aid of giant space microphones. Researchers at Cardiff Univ. are trying to work out the possible sounds scientists might expect to hear when the ultra-sensitive LIGO and Virgo detectors are switched on in 2015.

Black hole loses its appetite for gassy cloud

November 19, 2014 8:22 am | by Anne M. Stark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboraotry | News | Comments

In a showdown of black hole versus G2—a cloud of gas and dust—it looks like G2 won. Recent research shows that G2 came within 30 billion km of the super-massive black hole at the center of our galaxy, yet managed to escape from the gravitational pull of the black hole.

Warmth, flowing water on early Mars were episodic

November 18, 2014 11:46 am | by Kevin Stacey, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

Ample evidence of ancient rivers, streams and lakes make it clear that Mars was at some point warm enough for liquid water to flow on its surface. While that may conjure up images of a tropical Martian paradise, new research published in Nature Geoscience throws a bit of cold water on that notion.

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