Why is the sun's million-degree corona, or outermost atmosphere, so much hotter than the sun's surface? This question has baffled astronomers for decades. A team led by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is presenting new clues to the mystery of coronal heating using observations from the recently launched Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS).
The findings of NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft suggest that the most common exoplanets are those that are just a bit larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune. These so-called super-Earths, which do not exist in our own solar system, have attracted the attention of astronomers, who have been trying to determine the composition of the closest of these planets. However, an unexpected barrier is blocking their progress.
The European Space Agency has confirmed the time and place it will attempt to land the first spacecraft on a comet. The unmanned probe Rosetta will release a 100-kg (220-lb) lander on Nov. 12 in a maneuver that will take about seven hours.
NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft has provided scientists their first look at a storm of energetic solar particles at Mars and produced unprecedented ultraviolet images of the tenuous oxygen, hydrogen and carbon coronas surrounding the Red Planet. In addition, the new observations allowed scientists to make a comprehensive map of highly variable ozone in the Martian atmosphere underlying the coronas.
Astronomers Chih-Hao Li and David Phillips of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics want to rediscover Venus. They plan to “find” the second planet again using a powerful new optical device installed on the Italian National Telescope that will measure Venus' precise gravitational pull on the sun. If they succeed, their first-of-its-kind demonstration will be later used for finding Earth-like exoplanets orbiting distant stars.
In 2012, the Mars One project, led by a Dutch nonprofit, announced plans to establish the first human colony on the Red Planet by 2025. The mission would initially send four astronauts on a one-way trip to Mars, where they would spend the rest of their lives building the first permanent human settlement.
By focusing on large, star-forming galaxies in the universe, researchers at Johns Hopkins Univ. were able to measure its radiation leaks in an effort to better understand how the universe evolved as the first stars were formed. The team reports in a paper published online in Science that an indicator used for studying star-forming galaxies that leak radiation, is an effective measurement tool for other scientists to use.
Astronomers have detected a pulsating dead star that appears to be burning with the energy of 10 million suns, making it the brightest pulsar ever detected. The pulsar—a rotating, magnetized neutron star—was found in the galaxy Messier 82 (M82), a relatively close galactic neighbor that’s 12 million light-years from Earth.
Washington State University undergraduate Kellie Wall, 21, recently looked for evidence that water influenced crystal formation in basalt, the dark volcanic rock that covers most of eastern Washington and Oregon. She then compared this with volcanic rock observations made by the rover Curiosity on Mars’ Gale Crater, inventing a new method for detecting water on Mars.
For decades, planetary geologists have speculated that glaciers might once have crept through Valles Marineris, the 2000-mile-long chasm that constitutes the Grand Canyon of Mars. A research team has now identified what could be the first mineralogical evidence of past glaciers within the Valles Marineris: a layer of mixed sulfate minerals halfway up three-mile-high cliffs in the canyon system.
Certain primordial stars—those between 55,000 and 56,000 times the mass of our sun, or solar masses—may have died unusually. In death, these objects—among the universe’s first-generation of stars—would have exploded as supernovae and burned completely, leaving no remnant black hole behind.
Hunting from a distance of 27,000 light years, astronomers have discovered an unusual carbon-based molecule—one with a branched structure—contained within a giant gas cloud in interstellar space. Like finding a molecular needle in a cosmic haystack, astronomers have detected radio waves emitted by isopropyl cyanide. The discovery suggests that the complex molecules needed for life may have their origins in interstellar space.
Astronomers using data from NASA's space telescopes Hubble, Spitzer, and Kepler have discovered clear skies and steamy water vapor on a gaseous planet outside our solar system. The planet is about the size of Neptune, making it the smallest planet from which molecules of any kind have been detected.
Strong solar flares can bring down communications and power grids on Earth. Physicists in Switzerland have examined the processes that take place when explosions occur on the Sun’s surface and have accurately reconstructed the statistical size distribution and temporal succession of the solar flares with a computer model. This has allowed them to make several new observations about the how these flares occur and behave.
India triumphed in its first interplanetary mission, placing a satellite into orbit around Mars on Wednesday and catapulting the country into an elite club of deep-space explorers. In scenes broadcast live on Indian TV, scientists broke into wild cheers as the orbiter's engines completed 24 min of burn time to maneuver the spacecraft into its designated place around the red planet.
The robotic explorer Maven successfully slipped into orbit around Mars late Sunday night. Now the real work begins for the $671 million mission, the first dedicated to studying the Martian upper atmosphere and the latest step in NASA's bid to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s. Researchers hope to learn where all the red planet's water went, along with the carbon dioxide that once comprised an atmosphere thick enough to hold moist clouds.
A SpaceX cargo ship rocketed toward the International Space Station on Sunday, carrying more than 5,000 pounds of supplies, including the first 3-D printer for astronauts in orbit. The printer, developed by Made in Space, is sturdier than Earthly models and is a technology demonstrator. . But NASA envisions astronauts one day using one to crank out spare parts as needed.
For future astronauts, the process of suiting up may go something like this: Instead of climbing into a conventional, bulky, gas-pressurized suit, an astronaut may don a lightweight, stretchy garment, lined with tiny, muscle-like coils. She would then plug in to a spacecraft’s power supply, triggering the coils to contract and essentially shrink-wrap the garment around her body.
Mars, get ready for another visitor or two. This weekend, NASA's Maven spacecraft will reach the red planet following a 10-month journey spanning 442 million miles (711 million km). If all goes well, the robotic explorer will hit the brakes and slip into Martian orbit Sunday night.
Groundbreaking contracts worth $6.8 billion were issued Tuesday to Boeing and SpaceX to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station using their CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, respectively. NASA’s awards to United States spacecraft will meet a goal of ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia in 2017.
On Monday, NASA's inspector general released a report blasting the agency’s Near Earth Objects program, which is meant to hunt and catalog comets, asteroids and relatively large fragments of these objects that pass within 28 million miles of Earth. The purpose is to protect the planet against their potential dangers, but only 10% of the near-Earth objects bigger than 460 ft across have been catalogued, well short of the goal of 90% by 2020.
Workers at Kennedy Space Center gathered to watch as the Orion capsule, NASA's new spacecraft for humans, emerged from its assembly hangar Thursday morning, less than three months from its first test flight. During its Dec. 4 test flight, the capsule, unmanned, will shoot more than 3,600 miles into space and take two laps around Earth before re-entering the atmosphere at 20,000 mph and parachuting into the Pacific off the San Diego coast.
Objects in space tend to spin—and spin in a way that’s totally different from the way they spin on earth. Understanding how objects are spinning, where their centers of mass are, and how their mass is distributed is crucial to any number of actual or potential space missions, from cleaning up debris in the geosynchronous orbit favored by communications satellites to landing a demolition crew on a comet.
Yale Univ. astronomers have discovered a window into the early, violent formation of the cores of the universe’s monster galaxies, obscured behind walls of dust. After years of searching, scientists have observed one such turbulent, starbursting galactic core in the young universe using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and a telescope from the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii.
Astronomers using the Green Bank Telescope have discovered that filaments of star-forming gas near the Orion Nebula may be brimming with pebble-size particles: planetary building blocks 100 to 1,000 times larger than the dust grains typically found around protostars. If confirmed, these dense ribbons of rocky material may well represent a new, mid-size class of interstellar particles that could help jump-start planet formation.