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Comet dances with sun, death; giving mixed signals

November 27, 2013 8:46 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Comet ISON will be only about 1 million miles away from the sun's super-hot surface during its close encounter on Thanksgiving. On Monday, it looked like it was about to die even before it got there. On Tuesday, it appeared healthy again. Will it meet a fiery death (or survive) when it whips around the sun on Thursday? Scientists haven’t seen a comet behave this way before.

Peering through the intergalactic dust

November 26, 2013 10:47 am | News | Comments

Where do you go to look at the stars? Away from city lights, certainly. But if you're serious about peering far out into space, to the observable edges of our universe, at submillimeter wavelengths, you have to do a little better than that. You have to go farther and higher, up to where the atmosphere is thin. And if you want to look at the stars for more than a few nights a year, you also need some place that is very, very dry.

High-energy gamma ray burst could re-shape astrophysics theories

November 25, 2013 12:42 pm | News | Comments

In April, a bright flash of light burst from near the constellation Leo. Originating billions of light years away, this explosion of light, called a gamma ray burst, has now been confirmed as the brightest gamma ray burst ever observed. Astronomers around the world were able to view the blast in unprecedented detail and observe several aspects of the event. The data could lead to a rewrite of standard theories on how gamma ray bursts work.

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Will icy comet survive close encounter with sun?

November 24, 2013 10:37 am | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

For months, all eyes in the sky have pointed at the comet that's zooming toward a blisteringly close encounter with the sun. The moment of truth comes Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. The sun-grazing Comet ISON, now thought to be less than a mile wide, will either fry and shatter, victim of the sun's incredible power, or endure and quite possibly put on one fabulous celestial show. Talk about an astronomical cliffhanger.

“Monster” cosmic blast zipped harmlessly by Earth

November 21, 2013 6:04 pm | by Francis Reddy, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

Orbiting telescopes got the fireworks show of a lifetime last spring when they spotted what is known as a gamma ray burst in a far-off galaxy. It’s not an unusual occurrence, but this one set records. Had it been closer, Earth would have been toast. But because this blast was 3.7 billion light-years away, mankind was spared.

Researchers uncover secrets of Mars’ birth from unique meteorite

November 20, 2013 8:26 pm | News | Comments

As NASA prepares to launch a new Martian probe, a scientist at Florida State Univ.’s MagLab has uncovered what may be the first recognized example of ancient Martian crust. Professor Munir Humayun’s groundbreaking discoveries are based on an analysis of a 4.4 billion-year-old Martian meteorite that was unearthed by Bedouin tribesmen in the Sahara desert.

NASA determines hazards of deep-space radiation

November 19, 2013 10:11 am | by Paul Gabrielsen, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

An instrument on NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has learned more than ever before about the high-energy hazards at and around the moon. These dangers are serious but manageable, and human exploration missions will rely on these measurements to know how much radiation to expect in deep space and how best to shield against it.

Asteroids’ close encounters with Mars

November 19, 2013 7:56 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

For nearly as long as astronomers have been able to observe asteroids, a question has gone unanswered: Why do the surfaces of most asteroids appear redder than meteorites—the remnants of asteroids that have crashed to Earth? Scientists have now found that Mars, not Earth, shakes up some near-Earth asteroids.

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NASA launching robotic explorer to Mars

November 18, 2013 7:39 am | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

NASA's newest Martian explorer, Maven, is on its launch pad in Florida, ready to soar. Bearing eight science instruments, the spacecraft will take 10 months to reach Mars, entering into orbit around the red planet in September 2014. Scientists hope Maven will help them learn why Mars went from being warm and wet during its first billion years, to the cold and dry place it is today.

A blast from the past

November 12, 2013 8:12 am | News | Comments

The first solids to form in the solar system contain unusual isotopic signatures that show a nearby supernova injected material within ~100,000 years of their formation. That supernova, caused from the cataclysmic death of a star, could have even triggered the birth of the sun.

Martian moon samples will have bits of Mars itself

November 11, 2013 2:55 pm | News | Comments

A planned mission to return a sample from the Martian moon Phobos will likely be a twofer, according to a study by Brown Univ. geologists. The Russian mission launching in 2020, would return samples from Phobos that contain bits and pieces of Mars itself. The study calculates how much Martian material is on the surface of Phobos and how deep it is likely to go.

Moon’s face doesn’t tell its whole story

November 8, 2013 12:00 pm | News | Comments

Researchers find that huge craters on the near side of the moon may overstate the intensity of asteroid impacts about 4.1 billion years ago.                                          

Olympic torch blasts into space for first-ever spacewalk

November 8, 2013 7:00 am | News | Comments

A Russian rocket soared into the cosmos Thursday carrying the Sochi Olympic torch and three astronauts to the International Space Station ahead of the first-ever spacewalk for the symbol of peace. The unlit torch for the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi is to be taken on a spacewalk Saturday, then return to Earth on Monday (late Sunday EST) with three departing space station astronauts.

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Rare new microbe found in two distant clean rooms

November 7, 2013 10:46 am | News | Comments

A rare, recently discovered microbe that survives on very little to eat has been found in two places on Earth: spacecraft clean rooms in Florida and South America. Some other microbes have been discovered in a spacecraft clean room and found nowhere else, but none previously had been found in two different clean rooms and nowhere else.

A shot in the dark: Searching for axion

November 7, 2013 7:00 am | News | Comments

Leslie Rosenberg and his colleagues are about to go hunting. Their quarry: A theorized-but-never-seen elementary particle called an axion. The search will be conducted with a recently retooled, extremely sensitive detector that is currently in a testing and shakeout phase at the University of Washington’s Center for Experimental Nuclear Physics and Astrophysics.

One collapsing star, two black holes

November 7, 2013 7:00 am | News | Comments

Over billions of years, small black holes can slowly grow into the supermassive variety by taking on mass from their surroundings and by merging with other black holes. But this slow process can't explain the problem of supermassive black holes existing in the early universe. New findings may help to test a model that solves this problem.

Study: 8.8 billion Earth-size, just-right planets

November 5, 2013 9:12 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Space is vast, but it may not be so lonely after all: A study finds the Milky Way is teeming with billions of planets that are about the size of Earth, orbit stars just like our sun, and are not too hot or cold for life. For the first time, NASA scientists have calculated, not estimated, what percent of stars that are just like our sun have planets similar to Earth: 22%, with a margin of error of plus or minus 8 percentage points.

India vies for elite role in space with Mars trip

November 4, 2013 7:35 am | by Katy Daigle, Associated Press | News | Comments

With a launch planned for Mangalyaan, which means "Mars craft" in Hindi, India will this week attempt to become only the fourth country or group of countries to reach the Red Planet, after the Soviet Union, U.S. and Europe. India is aiming to join the world's deep-space pioneers with a journey to Mars that it hopes will showcase its technological ability to explore the solar system while seeking solutions for everyday problems on Earth.

Magnetic “force field” shield giant gas cloud during collision with Milky Way

November 1, 2013 9:43 am | News | Comments

Doom may be averted for the Smith Cloud, a gigantic streamer of hydrogen gas that is on a collision course with the Milky Way Galaxy. Astronomers have discovered a magnetic field deep in the cloud’s interior, which may protect it during its meteoric plunge into the disk of our galaxy. This discovery could help explain how so-called high velocity clouds remain mostly intact during their mergers with the disks of galaxies.

Could a Milky Way supernova be visible from Earth in next 50 years?

November 1, 2013 8:05 am | News | Comments

Astronomers have calculated the odds that, sometime during the next 50 years, a supernova occurring in our home galaxy will be visible from Earth. The good news: They’ve calculated the odds to be nearly 100% that such a supernova would be visible to telescopes in the form of infrared radiation. The bad news: The odds are much lower that the shining stellar spectacle would be visible to the naked eye in the nighttime sky.

Earth-size planet found with rocky core like ours

October 31, 2013 8:35 am | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

Scientists have found a planet way out in the cosmos that's close in size and content to Earth, an astronomical first. But hold off on the travel plans. This rocky world is so close to its sun that it's at least 2,000 degrees hotter than here, almost certainly too hot for life.

Iron tells a cosmic story

October 31, 2013 8:02 am | News | Comments

New evidence of heavy elements spread evenly between the galaxies of the giant Perseus cluster supports the theory that the universe underwent a turbulent and violent youth more than 10 billion years ago. That explosive period was responsible for seeding the cosmos with the heavy elements central to life itself.

So close, yet so far

October 31, 2013 7:42 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In August, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers identified an exoplanet with an extremely brief orbital period: The team found that Kepler 78b, a small, intensely hot planet 400 light-years from Earth, circles its star in just 8.5 hrs. Now this same team has found that Kepler 78b shares another characteristic with Earth: its mass.

Crashing rockets could lead to novel sample-return technology

October 30, 2013 8:33 am | Videos | Comments

During spring break the last five years, a Univ. of Washington class has headed to the Nevada desert to launch rockets and learn more about the science and engineering involved. Sometimes, the launch would fail and a rocket smacked hard into the ground. This year, the session included launches from a balloon that were deliberately directed into a dry lakebed.

Coldest place in the universe is shaped like a ghost

October 25, 2013 10:20 am | News | Comments

At a cosmologically crisp 1 K (-458 F), the Boomerang Nebula is the coldest known object in the Universe—colder, in fact, than the faint afterglow of the Big Bang, which is the natural background temperature of space. Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope have taken a new look at this ghostly object to learn more about its frigid properties and to determine its true shape.

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