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NASA cuts Russian ties, except on ISS

April 3, 2014 8:36 am | by Associated Press, Alicia Chang | News | Comments

After insisting that space relations wouldn't be altered by earthly politics, NASA announced it was severing ties with Russia except for the International Space Station. NASA employees can't travel to Russia or host visitors until further notice. They're also barred from emailing or holding teleconferences with their Russian counterparts because of Russia's actions in Ukraine, according to a memo sent to workers.

The ringed asteroid

March 28, 2014 11:51 am | News | Comments

Benefited from a rare occultation on June 3, 2013, researchers observed the asteroid Chariklo when it passed by a star that concealed it for several seconds. Although the astronomer planned only to measure its size, they were surprised to discover this “centaur”, which has an unstable orbit that passes through the outer planets, has two thin rings made of ice. It is only the fifth Solar System object to exhibit such a system.

2018 mission: Mars rover prototype unveiled in U.K.

March 28, 2014 8:34 am | by Gregory Katz, Associated Press | News | Comments

The European Mars rover unveiled Thursday at a "Mars Yard" testing ground in Britain is designed to drill beneath the surface of the Red Planet searching for signs of life. It's been dubbed “Bryan” by its creators, and the plan is to send it to Mars in 2018 as part of the European Space Agency's ExoMars program, an ambitious plan that begins in 2016 with the launch of a Mars orbiter and demonstrator landing module.

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Newfound pink world lurks at solar system fringes

March 27, 2014 9:30 am | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Until now, the lone known resident in the region of the solar system beyond Pluto was an oddball dwarf planet spotted in 2003 named Sedna. For years, astronomers hunted in vain for other Sednas in the little-studied fringes of the solar system. Now, they’ve found one: a pink frozen world 7.5 billion miles from the sun. And astronomer think they will find others.

NIST gives astronomers better ruler in search for extrasolar planets

March 26, 2014 2:14 pm | News | Comments

As a planet orbits, its gravity makes its parent star wobble a tiny bit, resulting in slight color changes in the star's light due to the Doppler effect. A high-quality reference spectrum allows scientists to make a comparison to find planets. Now, NIST has made extensive new measurements of thorium, a heavy element often used in emission lamps that help provide that fixed ruler. The work has more than doubled the number of spectral lines.

Dramatic new portrait helps define Milky Way’s shape, contents

March 21, 2014 8:22 am | by Terry Devitt, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

Using more than two million images collected by NASA’s orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, a team of Wisconsin scientists has stitched together a dramatic 360-degree portrait of the Milky Way, providing new details of our galaxy’s structure and contents.

New evidence from space supports Stanford physicist’s theory of how universe began

March 17, 2014 12:37 pm | by Bjorn Carey, Stanford News Service | News | Comments

The detection of gravitational waves by the BICEP2 experiment at the South Pole supports the cosmic inflation theory of how the universe came to be. The discovery, made in part by Asst. Prof. Chao-Lin Kuo, supports the theoretical work of Stanford Univ.'s Andrei Linde.  

Researchers spy deep into giant gas planets

March 13, 2014 8:28 am | by Breanna Bishop, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory | News | Comments

Using the VUV Free-Electron Laser FLASH at Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron in Hamburg, Germany, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers were part of a team that took a sneak peek deep into the lower atmospheric layers of giant gas planets such as Jupiter or Saturn.

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NASA launches new research on twins, seeking the subtle in parallel ways

March 9, 2014 11:47 pm | News | Comments

Although NASA’s Human Research Program has been researching the effects of spaceflight on the human body for decades, the March 7 announcement of 10 investigations for the study of identical twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly will provide a broader insight into the subtle effects and changes that may occur in spaceflight as compared to Earth-based environments.

Survey finds thousands of new stars, but no “Planet X”

March 7, 2014 2:02 pm | News | Comments

Researchers have theorized about the existence of this large, but unseen celestial body, suspected to lie somewhere beyond the orbit of Pluto. After searching hundreds of millions of objects across our sky, NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has turned up no evidence of the commonly dubbed "Planet X."

Galactic gas stations

March 7, 2014 1:31 pm | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Future lunar missions may be fueled by gas stations in space, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers: A spacecraft might dock at a propellant depot, somewhere between the Earth and the moon, and pick up extra rocket fuel before making its way to the lunar surface.

A river of plasma, guarding against the sun

March 7, 2014 7:39 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The Earth’s magnetic field, or magnetosphere, stretches from the planet’s core out into space, where it meets the solar wind, a stream of charged particles emitted by the sun. For the most part, the magnetosphere acts as a shield to protect the Earth from this high-energy solar activity. But when this field comes into contact with the sun’s magnetic field, powerful electrical currents from the sun can stream into Earth’s atmosphere.

NASA plots daring flight to Jupiter's watery moon

March 5, 2014 10:07 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

The U.S. space agency is planning an ambitious robotic mission to Europa, a Jupiter moon where astronomers speculate there might be some form of life. The space agency set aside $15 million in its 2015 budget proposal to start planning some kind of mission to Europa. No details have been decided yet, but NASA chief financial officer Elizabeth Robinson said Tuesday that it would be launched in the mid-2020s.

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Bright pulses of light could make space veggies more nutritious

March 5, 2014 9:48 am | News | Comments

One of the concerns for astronauts during future extended spaceflights will be the onslaught of eye-damaging radiation, and plants that contain carotenoids would help mitigate that harm. According to a new study by researchers at the Univ. of Colorado Boulder, exposing leafy vegetables grown during spaceflight to a few bright pulses of light daily could increase the amount of eye-protecting nutrients produced by the plants.

Dimer molecules aid study of exoplanet pressure, hunt for life

March 4, 2014 4:07 pm | by Peter Kelley, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

Astronomers at the Univ. of Washington have developed a new method of gauging the atmospheric pressure of exoplanets, or worlds beyond the solar system, by looking for a certain type of molecule. And if there is life out in space, scientists may one day use this same technique to detect its biosignature, the telltale chemical signs of its presence, in the atmosphere of an alien world.

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.

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.

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.

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