It’s a big sky — someone has to watch it. This quick, weekly audio broadcast explores the astronomy news of the day, with topics ranging from dark matter to nearby planets. Join hosts Carol Christian of the Space Telescope Science Institute and Jim O’Leary of the Maryland Science Center for the latest buzz on space. SkyWatch also includes HubbleWatch, news stories from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
Here's the Latest Episode from Skywatch – MP3 – NASA:
Hubble maps a double-star system’s outbursts, and a fortuitous alignment of stars will allow us to search for planets around our nearest stellar neighbor.
Pluto's new moons have new names, given by the public via popular vote. P4 and P5, as they were previously known, are now called Styx and Kerberos. The names match Pluto's mythological theme, since Pluto in Greek mythology was the lord of the underworld.
At a distance of 4.2 light-years from Earth, Proxima Centauri is just 0.2 light-years from the more-distant binary star Alpha Centauri A+B. These three stars are considered part of the triple-star system that is closest to Earth, although right now Proxima Centauri is the closest of the three stars. Astronomers would like to know if Proxima has any planets around it. Because Proxima is the closest star, there is a chance in the next two years that as the star passes in front of more distant stars, a tiny perturbation by Proxima, or perhaps one of its planets (if it has any), will distort the positions of the background stars as we see them. This effect is called microlensing and could provide the mass of Proxima as well as information about planets if they are there.
NASA’s twin GRAIL probes were launched in 2011 to fly to the Moon and measure changes in the gravity of that body. The analysis of the data has just been published and shows a detailed map of the gravity variations. Although mass concentrations under the Moon’s surface were known, the new detailed mapping helps understand how these concentrations formed and what their shape is now.
High tides happen every day, but some are higher than others. Some of the highest tides, called “perigean high tides,” occur when the Moon is closest to Earth in its monthly orbit. When coastal storms take place during these tides, major flooding can result.
A new comet discovered in September 2012 is on its way for a close approach to the Sun and perhaps a brilliant appearance in Earth’s skies late in 2013. Called Comet ISON, it will be closest to the Sun in November 28, 2013 and could become visible by eye even in broad daylight.
Radio observations of the region between the two spiral galaxies nearest our own, Andromeda and Triangulum, have verified the presence of hydrogen gas clouds. The clouds are hard to find, since they are mostly composed of ionized gas that is difficult to detect. There is a trace of neutral hydrogen mixed in the clouds, and that material could be observed. The origin of the material is not completely clear – was the gas always there or did it get ripped out during a close encounter of the two galaxies?
Astronomers have discovered signs of rocky debris in the vicinity of white dwarf stars in the Hyades star cluster. It's possible that the debris indicates the presence of Earth-sized planets in the neighborhood.
Using new technology, researchers have discovered an important pair of pre-biotic molecules in interstellar space. The new discoveries indicate that some basic chemicals are key steps on the path to life and may have formed on dusty ice grains floating between stars.
Hubble studies a strange, ancient visitor to our galaxy. Join HubbleWatch for a discussion of the "Methuselah star" HD 140283, a fast-moving star with a long and odd past.
New NASA research shows that hydrogen peroxide is abundant across much of the surface of Jupiter's moon, Europa. If this material could mix into the ocean below the moon’s icy surface, it could be important energy supply for simple forms of life.
Gone but not forgotten, the Russian Mars 3 lander descended to the surface of the red planet in 1971. This first lander on Mars was meant to take images, but it unexpectedly failed and its transmissions were short-lived. Through the power of citizen scientists, the lander may have been found in images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Data from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) appear to have captured objects on the surface of Mars which are consistent with the location, shape and relative positioning of the Mars 3 lander.
The iconic Horsehead nebula has been the subject of astronomical imagery by amateurs and professionals alike. The region has clouds of ionized hydrogen as well as areas of dark dust that obscure new-forming stars. A new image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope shows new features and hidden stars not seen in the other optical images. A 3D movie of the image gives perspective to the structure of the nebula.
The NASA spacecraft WISE has discovered a pair of stars that is now known to be the third-closest star system to Sun. The last closest system to Earth was discovered in 1916. The newly discovered star pair is composed of two cool “brown dwarfs” 6.5 light years away from our Sun.
The solar system -- especially the inner part -- is bathed in charged particles from the Sun and cosmic radiation. Several planets with magnetic fields, including Earth, are somewhat protected from the particles because they become trapped high above the surface by magnetic field lines. The Van Allen belts, discovered in the 1950s, are a pair of radiation belts encircling the Earth. Surprisingly, two new NASA probes discovered a short-lived third belt.
The impact of a meteorite in Russia in February 2013 and the flyby of asteroid debris highlights that the solar system is full of rocky material. While the asteroid has been observed for some time, the smaller meteorite was unexpected. Many meteorites hit the Earth each year, but these events indicate how important it is to develop international plans for threat avoidance and early warning systems. Meanwhile, researchers are digging through the meteorite remains to see what they can learn.
Rock samples collected in February 2013 by NASA's Curiosity rover show ancient Mars could have supported living microbes. The rover found the soil contains sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon – all elements critical for life.
In the three years since NASA launched the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), the spacecraft has provided continuous, high-resolution views of the Sun, helping us better understand our star and its influence on us. Among other accomplishments, SDO also has studied the atmosphere of Venus as the planet passed in front of the Sun, and it revealed how a comet’s tail was buffeted by the solar wind as the comet passed near the Sun.
In Arthur C. Clarke's short story "Sunjammer," a spaceship designer develops a spacecraft with a large "solar sail" that propels it through space using radiation pressure from the Sun. In recent years, solar sails have jumped from the pages of science fiction into real life. In 2014, NASA plans to launch its own Sunjammer spacecraft -- the largest solar sail ever sent to space.
A new study suggests that many of the "super-Earth" planets astronomers have discovered orbiting other stars are probably more like "mini-Neptunes" than like our rocky planet. However, moons orbiting these planets might still hold potential for hosting life.
In 2011 and 2012, NASA's Dawn spacecraft orbited the second-largest asteroid in our solar system, Vesta, providing unprecedented views of its surface. Computer simulations based on Dawn's observations suggest that violent collisions with two other space rocks carved out two giant craters on the asteroid and melted Vesta's crust, making it thicker than expected.
Hubble finds that a planet orbiting the bright star Fomalhaut takes a wild and potentially destructive path through a vast debris field surrounding the star.
For 520 days straight, six volunteers remained confined to a mock spacecraft in Moscow, Russia, in an experiment that simulated a round-trip voyage to Mars. Results of the study show why maintaining a healthy sleep schedule will be vital during the real thing.
Taking shape 16,500 feet above sea level in the bone-dry Atacama Desert of Chile is a vast array of 66 radio antennas that will change the way we see our universe. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, or ALMA, will reveal never-before-seen details that could hold clues to galaxy formation and the birth of stars and planets.
What was galaxy formation like in the universe's early days? Astronomers have long wondered, and the Hubble Space Telescope is now helping to answer that question. By examining ever-deeper Hubble exposures, astronomers have identified several galaxies that formed more than 13 billion years ago, when the universe was less than 4 percent of its current age.
Citizen scientists are helping professional astronomers piece together the history of the neighboring Andromeda Galaxy by studying Hubble Space Telescope images of Andromeda and identifying hundreds of thousands of star clusters in the large galaxy.
Some researchers think that Pluto's atmosphere is much more inflated than previously thought -? possibly extending halfway to the large moon Charon. But we'll have to wait to find out how big it really is until NASA's New Horizons spacecraft gets to Pluto in 2015.
There's a mystery at the center of a giant elliptical galaxy. And Hubble finds seven galaxies from the early universe, galaxies that existed just 350-600 million years after the Big Bang started it all.
Our knowledge of exoplanets depends upon our studying the planets we know and then projecting our expectations onto the new worlds as they are discovered. But studies related to super-Earths, planets a few times more massive than Earth, show that these objects’ interiors may be quite dissimilar to that of our own planet. Does this rule out life on these planets? Intriguingly, not necessarily.
The distant dwarf planet Makemake was discovered in 2005 but little is known about it. Makemake seems like a typical dwarf planet -- like Pluto and Eris -- but without accurate measurements for such a distant object it was not known whether it had an atmosphere (like Pluto) or lacks one (like Eris). New observations of Makemake seem to have resolved the question.
NASA’s Swift satellite has detected another interesting X-ray burst. This one seems to be in the direction of the center of our galaxy. The burst was followed by dimming in the X-ray wavelength and a brightening in the lower energies. This type of emission is typical of a binary star with a black hole. A disk of material from the star periodically accumulates around the black hole before it plummets into it.
The annual Leonid meteor shower peaks this week – 3 a.m. Nov. 17, 2012. The shower is caused by bits of comet debris plowing through Earth’s atmosphere. Some Leonids have produced truly spectacular displays.
NASA’s Kepler mission is on the hunt for extra-solar planets, and any individual interested in joining the search can look at the Kepler data. Two volunteers recently discovered a planet -- in fact, a very unusual one. This planet actually orbits around binary stars. In addition to that odd circumstance, the system contains two more stars, orbiting very far away.
Asian astronomers have been studying the possibility of installing large telescopes in Asia to bolster the astrophysics community’s research. After testing many sites over 20 years, it appears that a difficult site in a mountainous plateau in Tibet may be the answer. The site, in Ngari, has improving infrastructure and is arid, with clear skies during part of the year. Japan, China, Korea and Taiwan are planning to install facilities there in the next few years after site testing is complete.
Astronomers are always searching for evidence on the formation of the universe. Using both the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, astronomers found and measured a tiny galaxy that appears to have formed 500 years after the formation of the universe. This makes this small object a new record holder. Without the help of a gravitational lens that magnifies the light from the distant object, the telescopes would never have detected the faint object.
Hubble finds Pluto has a fifth moon. A faint galaxy is one of the most distant objects ever detected. And a new Deep Field image, the Extreme Deep Field, combines all Hubble's images of a tiny sliver of space
Star clusters are aggregates of stars that formed together. They range dramatically in size, forming out of anywhere from a few hundred stars to many thousands. A young but fairly massive star cluster is known to exist in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a companion galaxy to our own Milky Way. This giant star cluster may not be just one cluster, but actually a merger of at least two clusters. Observations with the Hubble Space Telescope have illuminated the circumstances of this interesting region.
The Mars Science Laboratory is a NASA satellite that transported the new Mars rover to that planet. After a harrowing decent and landing, the new rover -- named Curiosity -- began to send images back to Earth and test all its equipment. Even the rover’s movements were checked in many directions to ensure it is ready for exploration. This rover contains many advanced instruments, including a chemical analysis lab for determining the composition of Martian soil and rocks.
A huge, new asteroid impact crater discovered in Greenland is thought to be a billion years older than any other known asteroid impact crater on Earth. Erosion features on Earth -? rain, wind, continental shift -? make finding evidence of impact craters very difficult. This new crater is about 62 miles across and believed to be 3 billion years old.
The dwarf planet Pluto is never out of the news. It is an object of study because it formed and evolved in the outer part of the solar system called the Kuiper Belt. In support of the NASA New Horizons mission, launched in 2006 and on its way to Pluto, Hubble Space Telescope observations are probing the system so the spacecraft can navigate through it. Although the first moon of Pluto, Charon, was discovered in 1978, 3 more moons were discovered between 2004 and 2011 using Hubble. Now a fifth moon has been discovered, suggesting that the Pluto system may have quite a lot of small (and potentially hazardous) bodies in it.
Astronomers are keen to find extrasolar planets that are similar in size to Earth, as well as those significantly smaller. Now during observations of a planetary system known to have at least one orbiting planet, a second very small planet was found. The object, called UCF-1.01, orbits around the red-dwarf star GJ 436.
The interior of Mars contains huge reservoirs of water, with some locations seemingly as wet as the interior of Earth. This new research is a result of examining two meteorites that formed in the mantle of Mars, were blasted off the planet by a meteorite impact long ago, and landed on Earth more than two million years ago.
Our massive nearby neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy, is headed straight for the Milky Way. Hubble watches a star fry a planet's atmosphere. And dim "ghost galaxies" pose a stellar mystery.
When we think of quasars, we envision brilliant, energetic objects, produced by black holes, that are the result of collisions of large galaxies. But not all quasars are exceedingly bright and the black holes that produce them can be more modest in size. How does this occur? A new study with observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope suggest that fainter quasars are more common. The study also reveals that modest-sized black holes consume smaller amounts of gas and dust as well as small companion satellites, feeding the black hole and perhaps eventually producing a quasar.
When humans establish a base or some sort of colony on another world, they'll need resources. Power and water are crucial. This applies to any Moon base that might be established, so scientists have been searching for locations that have sunlight for power and ice for water. The poles of the Moon are the right areas for such searches. New data on the Shackleton Crater near the lunar south pole suggest there might indeed be ice there.
NASA's Voyager 1 space probe launched back in 1977 and is now about to become the first human-made object to travel beyond the edge of the Solar System. It's not easy telling where that boundary actually is, but Voyager 1 is starting to detect evidence that it's close.
Our galaxy, the Milky Way, and our closest galactic neighbor, Andromeda, are closing in on each other due to their mutual gravitational attraction. New information from the Hubble Space Telescope tells us that collision is about 4 billion years in our future.
Vesta is the second most massive asteroid in the asteroid belt and has been known to astronomers since 1807. Although ground-based telescopes have been used to observe Vesta and determine many of its characteristics, the NASA Dawn mission is orbiting the object to gain deeper knowledge. Vesta has a large mountain, has suffered a massive collision and has many other diverse features on its surface.
New research helps better determine the age of the outer realms of our Milky Way Galaxy. The Milky Way is surrounded by a halo now determined to be about 11.4 billion years old. These new findings help us better understand how galaxies evolve.
Some stars can actually get kicked out of their home galaxy. Know by several names -? rogue, runaway or hypervelocity stars, they have been long thought to exist. But now a new group of nearly 700 ejected stars have been identified.
It's Hubble's 22nd anniversary, and the telescope is celebrating with a glorious image of the 30 Doradus star-forming region. Hubble catches sight of brief auroras on Uranus, and will turn its eye closer to home in June, using the Moon to watch the Venus transit.
Studies of the moons, rings and the environment of Saturn are being carried out by NASA's Cassini mission. Data on one of the planet's irregular moons, Phoebe, suggests that this object may be a planetesimal, similar in constitution to Pluto. Perhaps it drifted in from the outer solar system and was captured by Saturn.
We know a lot about our own Milky Way galaxy. Since we are embedded in it, we have a close-up view of it. We've measured the distribution of stars in space and the numbers of stars that have different masses. Up until now, it has been assumed that other galaxies have the same distribution of stars -? that is, the relative number of stars at each mass is the same with very massive stars being rarer than smaller stars. But new results show that some galaxies have even more extreme distributions.
A new study shows that complex organic compounds, even those critical to the formation of life on Earth, easily formed in the early solar system. The early solar nebula that formed the Sun and planets seems to have the right conditions for forming organic molecules.
Among the planets out there, could there exist other systems and stars directly related to our own? It is thought that the Sun formed in a cluster of stars. Could there have been an exchange of material among those stars so that the now long-distant solar siblings have retained some of the material from our solar system? What if some of that material was biological and had been preserved during the exchange?
Astronomers have suspected that a gigantic black hole resides at the center of our Milky Way galaxy for some time now, but they can't say for sure. Now scientists are hoping to image this mysterious object with a world-wide array of radio telescopes.
The universe's mysterious dark matter gets a little more mysterious. And Hubble celebrates its 22nd birthday by showing off its keen vision, capturing an immense and detailed view of a nearby star-forming region.
What do extrasolar planet systems have to do with Earth weather? Perhaps a lot. The United Kingdom Met Office, which, handles the UK national weather service, has a research team looking at applying space-weather models to the Earth, Sun and our solar system. If the models can explain what is seen in other planetary systems, different from our own, then they can help us understand the physics that drives our weather and climate.
An asteroid known as 2012 DA14 was discovered in Feb 2012 and is on track for close swing by Earth in 2013. Many reports circulated about it hitting our planet, but that's not going to happen. Astronomers are monitoring the asteroid for calculations on its future passes.
The existence of black holes has been known for some time, and it can seem like we know all about them. We know that individual, stellar-size black holes form at the end of a massive star's life. We also know that supermassive black holes exist in the center of galaxies, and it is assumed that they form from the merger of medium-size black holes. Yet these medium-size objects have not been found. Now an x-ray telescope's discovery suggests they do exist. New observations with the Hubble Space Telescope and the SWIFT telescope yield new clues.
Some strange, gigantic explosions, which seem to be fueled by fueled by solar energy, have been detected just above the surface of the planet Venus. These powerful explosions have also been detected in the past near Earth, Saturn and possibly Mars.
Although the concept of dark matter has been around for a long time, scientists aren't really clear on what it is. Originally, scientists thought that dark matter was associated with and "stuck to" the luminous matter we see ? stars, galaxies, clusters of galaxies and other groupings. But new observations confirm a suspicion that emerged a few years ago: dark matter does not always behave exactly like normal matter.
Famously fractious star Eta Carinae is replaying one of its greatest hits -? an explosion witnessed on Earth 170 years earlier. And Hubble has discovered a new type of planet -? a hot super-Earth made up mostly of water and ice.
Earth might someday have a second sun in the sky, at least for a few weeks. This would occur when one of the brightest stars in the sky explodes as a supernova. The star is Betelgeuse, the red giant that marks the shoulder of the northern winter constellation Orion the hunter. But don't count on it to happening anytime soon.
Venus is sometimes called a sister planet to Earth but has important differences. While similar in size, Venus has a much thicker atmosphere and is unbearably hot at the surface. Venus has been studied by many spacecraft, and recently the Venus Express, launched in 2005, probed its atmosphere and surface. Results from infrared observations indicate something may have changed in Venus' rate of rotation, posing an intriguing mystery for researchers.
Type 1a Supernovae are important objects in the study of the cosmos and, in particular, the expansion and acceleration of the universe. While much is known about the signature of the Type 1a supernovae, such as how fast the light from the explosion increases and the rate at which it decays, the cause of the explosion was not entirely known.
Hubble discovers a strange variety of blue star in our galactic neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy. And astronomers learn the reason behind a nearby stellar explosion.
Recently, two Earth-sized planets were discovered around a dying star. The star has passed beyond its red giant stage, in which it would have engulfed the planets, and the planets survived. The discovery provides new information about how planets affect the course of a star's evolution.
Astronomers have found a huge, alien planet that turns somersaults as it moves through space and actually drags its four neighboring planets along with it. The system gets tugged by the gravity of a far-off companion star and, over the course of millions of years, flips itself over.
Two large programs -- the Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey (CANDELS) and the Cluster Lensing and Supernova Survey with Hubble (CLASH) -- are being used to find distant supernovae, or exploding stars. Supernovae are used to map the expansion and acceleration of the universe and probe the nature of dark energy. A new, far-away supernova has been found, pushing the mapping even further back in time.
NASA's Voyager 1 is now 11 billion miles from Earth. The spacecraft has entered a new region between our Solar System and interstellar space. The data from Voyager over the past year reveals a new region where the wind of charged particles from Sun has diminished, and particles from inside the solar system seem to be "leaking" out into interstellar space.
Two new discoveries about Stonehenge indicate an even longer history of solar significance and a connection with a site in Wales where builders quarried stones.
Astronomers apply a new technique to old Hubble data to discover planets. And Hubble finds a multitude of stars arising from minute galaxies.
NASA's Kepler mission, launched in March 2009, is observing 150,000 stars to discover planets. The ultimate goal is to discover Earth-sized planets, and in particular, Earth-sized planets in the zone around the parent star that is the right temperature for water. Over 1,000 planet candidates from Kepler have been cataloged, mostly planets larger than Earth. Now Kepler has announced the discovery of several nearly, Earth-sized planets, one right in the habitable zone. It's a new, exciting milestone in the search for an Earth twin.
NASA's New Horizons mission reaches Pluto in 2015, after a 9.5 year journey. Images from the spacecraft may help determine if an ocean hides under the dwarf planet's frigid surface. At this great distance from the Sun, water would be unexpected, but new research indicates a possible surprise.
Giant planets are home to giant storms. Jupiter's ongoing storm, the Great Red Spot, is well-known, as are other vortices on that planet and Saturn. A giant Saturn weather system, originating deep in the layers of the planet's atmosphere, emerged as a violent storm that disrupted much of Saturn's atmosphere. The storm, discovered by NASA's Cassini telescope, was also monitored by amateurs and other telescopes as the storm evolved.
Carbon atoms bond to each other to make a variety of materials, such as diamond and graphite. For more than 25 years, scientists have been experimenting with creating carbon structures. One interestingly stable structure is called Buckminsterfullerene, or Buckyballs. This carbon structure contains 60 carbon atoms bonded together in a shape like a soccer ball. Since carbon is abundant in space, astronomers have searched for such giant molecules occurring naturally, and found some in planetary nebulae outside the Milky Way.
Venus has graced evening sky for months now, and in the next few weeks, it approaches its highest (Jan. 14) and brightest (Feb. 20) in evening sky. But Venus is always brighter than the brightest stars -? it can cast shadows on dark nights, and it's bright enough to be seen even in the middle of the day, if you know where to look. To find Venus at a more standard hour, look toward the southwest sky after sunset. Venus appears above the location where the Sun has set and looks like a brilliant white star.
Over 3 billion years ago, comets bombarded the inner solar system, scarring and cratering the Moon. The comets also struck Earth, delivering water and carbon to our planet. Crucial ingredients for life were deposited on the surface, and the first evidence for life appears shortly after this period. New data from the Spitzer Space Telescope suggests that the system around a star called Eta Corvi may be undergoing this type of event now, giving us a look at what may have happened early in the history of our solar system.
A giant crater on Mars has been chosen for landing site of NASA's next rover, the Mars Science Laboratory. Its suite of sophisticated instruments could provide some intriguing new discoveries. The rover, about the size of a small car, launched in November 2011 and will land on Mars in August 2012.
Finding extrasolar planets seems to be routine these days, with a variety of telescopes using different techniques to find them. In some cases, once the planets are found, it pays to go back and see if the planets were unknowingly detected in earlier data. Recently, analysis of data taken with the Hubble Space Telescope in 1998 revealed extrasolar planets that were discovered years later by another observatory. Why bother? Well, scientists now have additional observations that show the slow movement of the planets around their parent star. Knowing the orbits of the extrasolar planets tells us a lot about those systems.
In 2011, the National Research Council named a mission to Uranus as the third priority behind a Mars sample return and a Jupiter Europa Orbiter. Imaged and studied close-up only once -? in 1986 by Voyager -? the planet was not as striking as its neighbors Jupiter and Saturn. But we have discovered more about this unique planet that makes it worth studying more closely.
Radio astronomers are keen to build the next big radio telescope, one that will probe deep into the universe, map the material between stars and galaxies, and hunt for emissions from new stars and planetary systems. The new telescope, called the Square Kilometer Array, will consist of thousands of antennae combined to collect radio waves. But where will this large facility be located? There are two contenders, an African consortium led by South Africa, and a team from Australia and New Zealand. The decision, to be made in 2012, may extend beyond cut-and-dried science and technology issues.
Astronomers discover another moon around Pluto, the smallest body to yet be found around the Kuiper Belt object. And Hubble reaches its millionth science observation while studying the atmosphere of an extrasolar planet.
The source of the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs and many other species 65 million years ago remains a mystery. Some researchers thought that the asteroid was the child of a much larger space rock that broke apart 160 million years ago. New research from NASA's WISE satellite seems to indicate otherwise.
Extra-solar planets abound. Each week, more planet discoveries are being reported, including those from NASA's Kepler mission and the European Southern Observatory's HARPS instrument. A planet that orbits two stars and a collection of Super-Earths -? planets with mass higher than Earth but lower than that of gas giants -- all were discovered recently. The number of extrasolar planets to date is about 690, but at this rate that won't be the case for long.
The recent crash-landing of a satellite brought a lot of attention. So what will happen when the much larger International Space Station comes down? NASA has planned for the station's eventual demise. Unlike the recent satellite, the ISS will be de-orbited in controlled way, with all its debris falling into the ocean.
At the site of a supernova witnessed in 1987, the remnants of an exploded star are undergoing a transformation that astronomers are able to watch in detail for the first time. And new movies made from Hubble images taken over a span of 14 years show material shooting away from young stars and across space at supersonic speeds.
Cygnus X-1 was the first object identified as a black hole. While many black holes have been detected, the distance to Cygnus X-1 has been determined just recently. Knowing that this object is comprised of two components -- an evolving blue supergiant and a dark companion -- and with the new distance determination, it appears that indeed the dark companion is a black hole. In addition, new observations suggest the long-term fate of the pair.
New evidence suggests that an ancient ocean existed on Mars -- a frigid one surrounded by glaciers. Perhaps Mars was wet and cold rather than wet and warm.
Most of the black holes that generate powerful jets of charged particles are located in elliptical galaxies. Astronomers are now investigating an exotic new black hole, with powerful jets generated repeatedly, in a spiral galaxy. The galaxy, named Speca, may provide information about galaxies in the younger days of the universe.
A new object with the mass of Jupiter was recently discovered, and it's made of diamond -? a billion, billion, billion carat diamond floating through space! The planet was probably a white dwarf, stripped down to its core by a nearby pulsar.
Pluto, the most famous dwarf planet in the solar system, is known to have three moons. A new, tiny moon has been observed with the Hubble Space Telescope. The new moon is temporarily called "P4" and is a scant 8-21 miles across. These observations were made in support of the New Horizon mission, currently on its way to the Pluto system. Hubble data is helping scientists to understand what the system is like in advance of the mission's arrival.
A new image reveals a huge, amorphous nebula surrounding the famous red supergiant star Betelgeuse. The new images -- showing the stellar nebula in much greater detail than ever before, with the structures that look like flames originating from the star and stretching 40 billion miles into space -- come from the very Large Telescope in Chile.
Neptune is the solar system's farthest major planet from the Sun. Its larger neighbors, Jupiter and Saturn, draw a lot of attention, but Neptune has interesting weather patterns and differs from the two large gas planets in structure and composition. It's similar to its near-twin Uranus, and it even has a ragged ring system. Neptune has just completed its first full, 165-year orbit since its discovery in 1846. Hubble images commemorate the event.
New discoveries about planet Mercury are on the way from NASA's Messenger mission. Messenger is the first spacecraft to enter orbit around the smallest planet in our solar system. Exciting new clues to the planet's origin and its geology have begun accumulating.
In September 1859, Earth experienced one of the most powerful solar storms ever. The storm produced electrical currents that set telegraph offices afire and generated striking auroras as far south as Cuba and Hawaii. That type of storm could happen again, but with our increased dependence on electronics and satellites, the consequences would be much more severe.
Saturn's moon Enceladus is certainly an exotic place, spewing plumes of material from its atmosphere. The composition of the plumes suggested they may be venting from an icy source. Recent analysis suggests that perhaps the origin is actually some sort of ocean or salty sea below the moon's frozen surface.
It is assumed that the Sun and the planets formed from the same material. This is basically true, but painstaking analysis from the NASA Genesis satellite samples suggests an odd discrepancy. The Sun and Jupiter seem to have the same type of oxygen and nitrogen, while the inner planets and bodies, including Earth, are a bit different.
In 1987, a star in a nearby galaxy exploded. Astronomers in the southern hemisphere watched the supernova ignite in the sky. Shortly after the Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990, astronomers began observing the object, discovering a complex ring structure. Now the supernova is transitioning to the next stage, a supernova remnant.
The 90-mile-wide Gale Crater on Mars seems to leading the running for a landing site for Mars Science Laboratory rover, which will launch in November and arrive at Mars in August 2012. Gale has great variety of geologic formations that could help explain the history of Mars.
Something doesn't add up about the ages of "blue straggler" stars. And Hubble takes a picture of the star that revealed the true nature of the universe.
The Earth-Moon system has been studied in great detail and for many years. It has been theorized that the presence of the Moon has had a stabilizing effect on the spin of the Earth. This also has stabilized the atmosphere of the Earth because the tilt of the Earth's axis does not wobble much relative to the orbit of the Earth around the Sun. In contrast, the tilt of Mars has likely wobbled nearly sixty degrees, leaving that planet desert-like with a thin atmosphere.
In 1920, the nature of spiral nebulae, now known as spiral galaxies, was unknown. The scale and expansion of the universe were unknown as well. Astronomers debated whether the spiral objects they could see in the sky were within our galaxy or outside it. The astronomer Edwin Hubble devoted considerable time to observing stars in Andromeda, the largest known spiral nebula of the time. He found a variable star that demonstrated that Andromeda was far away -? and thus a separate galaxy. The first variable that Hubble found, known simply as "V1," has been observed with the Hubble Space Telescope almost 90 years after the first observations of the object.
Though NASA's Mars rover, Spirit, is now officially proclaimed dead, it won't be soon forgotten. NASA announced in May that it was ceasing any further attempts to raise Spirit. The spacecraft hasn't been heard from since March 2010. In its six-plus years operating on the Martian surface, Spirit and its twin rover, Opportunity, revolutionized our view of the Red Planet.
A giant cluster of elliptical galaxies, called Abell 383, contains a large amount of matter, including dark matter. It has formed what is called a gravitational lens. This lens distorts and magnifies light from the more distant objects behind it. This process helped astronomers observe a young galaxy that formed early in the universe. The characteristics of this new object help explain what happened at the very beginning of the universe, not very long after the Big Bang.
Some Apollo Moon landing folklore appears to have bitten the dust. The Apollo 12 Moon landing mission brought back the camera from the Surveyor 3 spacecraft, which had landed on the Moon two and a half years earlier. NASA discovered Earthly microbes that had seemingly survived several years in the Moon's harsh environment. But now, new research indicates otherwise.
Interacting pairs and groups of galaxies seem to be common in the universe. For 21 years, the Hubble Space Telescope has been providing beautiful images of such encounters along with amazing images of all kinds of other objects. Hubble took an anniversary image of interacting galaxy Arp 273, showing the beautiful but disturbed spiral structure of the main galaxy. The star formation and distortion apparent is most likely due to interaction with at least one, and possibly two, smaller galaxies in the vicinity.
Four planets line up in space in May's predawn sky. Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter all appear as the sky brightens before dawn. Southern hemisphere residents have the best view, but northerners will need to find a low, clear horizon to see them all.
The solar system contains many small objects in addition to the well-known planets, moons and large asteroids. Some of these objects linger around the planets, and Earth has its own collection. Astronomers recently discovered a new member of this group, an asteroid with an orbit almost identical to Earth's orbit around the Sun. Due to gravitational perturbations caused by Earth, the asteroid drifts slightly in its orbit, so relative to Earth and the Sun it appears to be in a "horseshoe" shaped orbit. These orbits are very rare, and only a few were previously known.
For the first time, scientists have captured signs of rain appearing on Saturn's giant moon, Titan, at latitudes close to the equator, where conditions have been dry for years. At Titan's frigid temperatures, the precipitation that descends is not water rain, but methane rain.
A strange green blob creeps up on an unsuspecting galaxy. And Hubble monitors a cosmic explosion unlike anything ever seen before.
NASA's SWIFT satellite is very productive at detecting blasts of gamma ray radiation from stars and black holes. Recently it detected an unusual explosion. The mystery explosion was more energetic and lasted longer than other such blasts. Astronomers used many telescopes, including the CHANDRA X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope, to study the object. Is it a star being ripped apart by a supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy?
REBROADCAST -- Solar eclipses come in several varieties and provide spectacular views for observers on the Earth. As the Moon moves between the Earth and the Sun, the Moon's shadow is cast into space. Sometimes this shadow intersects the Earth. Eclipses can be total, when the Moon completely obscures the Sun; grazing, when the Moon only covers part of the Sun; and annular, when the Moon and Sun are aligned, but the Moon does not cover the Sun completely. Eclipse shadows are visible to satellites that observe the Earth. In some cases, the images are quite spectacular, and show the path of the eclipse across the planet.
Most of the searches for planets that could support life are focused on looking at stars. For life to form and survive, at least water-based life, the planet needs to be at a particular location in proximity to its star so that the temperature is just right. New computer simulations suggest that life might actually survive on a "rogue planet" that has been ejected from its planetary system through gravitational interaction with other planets. With a blanket of ice and geothermal heating, life on such a wandering planet might exist.... For a while.
A new image from Chile's Gemini Observatory shows previously hidden details at the center of the unstable Eta Carinae star system. The high-resolution view begins to reveal the secrets of the star system's outburst in 1843, when it became the second brightest star in the sky.
Evidence may be mounting that either a brown dwarf star or a gas giant planet exists at the far reaches of the solar system -? way beyond even Pluto. Named Tyche, it could be four times the size of our largest know planet, Jupiter, and 15,000 times farther from Sun than Earth.
NASA's Kepler mission is designed to discover planets. It looks for the dimming in a star that occurs as a passing planet blocks a tiny fraction of its star's light. The Kepler team has released new results that suggest that at least one system it examined contains several planets in the habitable zone, the area where water might exist. Water is a necessity for an environment that can sustain life as we know it.
Why the Sun's corona, or outer layer, is millions of degrees hotter than its surface is a long-standing mystery. A new discovery reveals a major source of hot gas that replenishes the corona -? jets of super-hot plasma that shoot up from just above the Sun's surface.
You've heard of Planet X -- the idea, popular with science fiction enthusiasts and conspiracy addicts, that there might be an undetected planet out there in our solar system. But how about Galaxy X?Astronomers using numerical models predict the presence of a dwarf galaxy 600,000 light years from the center of the Milky Way. The galaxy may be too faint to see in visible light ? but observers with infrared and radio telescopes could find it.
There's a pattern of forms of life on Earth growing both more and less diverse over time, and we may be able to trace it back to our solar system's path through the Milky Way galaxy. Every 60 million years or so, our solar system emerges north out of the average plane of the galaxy's disk, and the variety of Earthly life drops. It may be due to increased exposure to high-energy cosmic rays.
Many extrasolar planets have been found using the transit technique. This occurs when a planet blocks some of the light from its parent star as it orbits in front of it. If astronomers detect a repeating pattern, they can glean information about the planet's orbit. Most of these planets are very close to their host stars, and so they are very hot. A new record has been set in the WASP-33 system. The planet, called WASP-33b, appears to be 3200 degrees Celsius, or about 5800 Fahrenheit!
Hubble has located the faintest galaxy yet seen, a dim collection of blue stars that existed just 480 million years after the Big Bang. And astronomers find that tiny red dwarf stars can unleash mighty eruptions, making life difficult for any planets orbiting nearby.
The next mission to Titan could provide a true bird's-eye view of Saturn's moon. Scientists might send a balloon or a blimp cruising through its skies for months. NASA's Cassini spacecraft has been flying past Titan for several years, and the Huygens probe landed and sent back data during a 2005 descent to the surface, but many questions remain that could benefit from a long-term mission.
Astronomers are interested in finding out about the composition of the distant worlds now being discovered. A new observation from the Spitzer Space Telescope, combined with ground-based observations from the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope, reveals a planet that has an unusual amount of carbon in it. Its discovery highlights suggests that smaller, rocky planets made of carbon could exist. If so, they would contain graphite, diamond and tar.
An Air Force satellite carrying instruments to measure wind velocity on Earth and another to measure disturbances in the solar wind also detected explosive stars, or "novae." These novae are stellar flare-ups that are not as catastrophic or bright as supernovae. The observations were of confirmed novae, but some of the data captured the explosion before it achieved peak brightness. This has not been done before from the ground or space. Such observations can be used to study the phenomena that create such repeated stellar explosions in greater detail.
A huge, mountainous ridge circling the equator of Saturn's moon Iapetus was discovered in 2004 by the Cassini spacecraft. The ridge reaches 12 miles high and runs 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from end to end. Astronomers now propose a new idea for its formation.
A NASA telescope has detected a previously unseen structure centered in our Milky Way galaxy. It's pair of gamma-ray emitting bubbles, 50,000 light years across, that could be a remnant of an eruption from the black hole at the galaxy's center.
The EPOXI Deep Impact comet investigation team, known for its flyby of Comet Tempel 1, was able to re-use its spacecraft to fly near a second comet, Hartley 2. The second flyby was executed in November 2010. The close approach of the spacecraft showed the comet's unusual shape, and jets emerging from various lumps. The images are now being analyzed to glean clues to the formation of Hartley 2.
Elliptical galaxies are traditionally thought of as old objects where most star formation happened long ago and then evened out. They appear smooth and more or less featureless. However, Hubble observations reveal that elliptical galaxies may not be so undisturbed. These objects, judging by a galaxy called NGC 4150, may actually cannibalize smaller galaxies. In doing so, they become the sites of localized star formation, though less than in spiral galaxies.
A total eclipse of the Moon took place in the morning hours of December 21. Eclipses of the Moon only happen when the Moon is full, and it passes through the shadow cast by our planet. This eclipse was visible for all of North America.
Scientists recently discovered water ice on an asteroid for the second time in a few months. This new finding suggests that water is more common on asteroids than previously thought. Perhaps asteroids delivered much of the water present on the early Earth.
Hubble spies an X-shaped object streaking through space -- and learns what created it. And the Dawn spacecraft is zeroing in on the asteroid Vesta. Learn how Hubble is helping it get there.
The universe began with a hot explosion called the Big Bang. The aftermath of the Big Bang consisted mostly of radiation, but as things cooled, the elements hydrogen and helium formed. Hubble's new Cosmic Origins Spectrograph is giving us information about the early formation process, including the development of galaxies and the "re-ionization" of the universe.
The giant elliptical galaxy, M87, has a supermassive black hole in its center. A long jet extends outward from the core of the galaxy, and huge radio lobes reach into space. New X-ray and radio data from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the Very Large Array Radio Observatory show that eruptions from the core of M87 have long-range effects. The hot eruptions stop cool gas from falling toward M87?s center to form new stars, and even affect surrounding galaxies.
A celestial event recorded by the ancient Greeks may be the earliest sighting of Halley's Comet, which would push accounts of Halley back 226 years. According to ancient writers, a large meteorite smacked into northern Greece between 466 B.C. and 467 B.C. -? but the writers also describe a comet in sky at time that the meteorite fell to Earth.
The origin of the two moons of Mars -? Phobos and Deimos -? has been a long-standing puzzle. Now, new evidence indicates that Mars' largest moon, Phobos, is made from rocks blasted off Martian surface in a catastrophic event. Astronomers have speculated that both moons could be asteroids that were captured by Mars's gravity, but the latest evidence supports another, more violent possibility.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Observer has mapped the surface of the Moon. Researchers have examined the imagery and cataloged multitudes of craters on the surface. Interested members of the public, known as citizen scientists, can participate in the cataloging. Participants have found interesting craters, bridge arches, and lava tube "skylights" through the Moon Zoo program.
The material left in the outer part of the solar system can contain clues to the formation and early stages of the Sun and its planets. A plethora of rocky objects, comets and possibly dwarf planets reside in our solar system well beyond the orbit of Neptune. Most are small, dark objects that are very hard to find because they reflect so little light. Using the Hubble archive, a team searched some of the images and found new distant solar system objects. They range in size and suggest a fair number of collisions have occurred throughout the 4.5 billion year lifetime of the Sun.
A recently discovered "monster star" could once have been 320 times as massive as the Sun and 10 million times as bright -? twice as massive as scientists thought a star could be. This monstrous star resides deep inside the Tarantula Nebula, a bright region of hydrogen gas in the neighboring galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud.
Researchers have identified rocks they say could contain fossilized remains of life from early Mars. The team made the discovery in a region known as Nili Fossae. The trench on Mars resembles an area in Australia where some of the earliest fossil evidence of life on Earth was found.
Dark energy, a mysterious force that seems to be accelerating the expansion of the universe, was discovered in 1998. Ever since, astronomers have been trying to refine the measurements of the effects of dark energy, and figure out exactly what it is. Observations of supernovae, cosmic microwave background radiation, and other phenomena have contributed to the trove of data about dark energy. The latest method to refine the measurements relies on studying the dark matter distribution of a huge cluster of galaxies known as Abell 1689.
Every decade, the National Academy of Sciences convenes a committee of astronomers to survey the science community and prioritize research questions and facilities for the next decade. Funding is tight and astronomers' ambitions are grand, so information gathering is vital. The results are presented in the Astro 2010 report. The recommendations of the committee attempt to produce a balanced program of space- and ground-based astronomy, driven by the pressing astrophysics questions of the day.
New evidence indicates that Mars was once a watery world. Now new analysis of Mars' dry valleys and river deltas suggests an ancient Martian ocean may have covered large portions of the planet long in its past -? around three and half billion years ago.
Researchers are keen to understand the distribution of matter in the universe, and understanding our own galaxy is a key to this puzzle. By observing the motions of stars in our own galaxy, the distribution of material can be determined. In such studies, a few very fast "hypervelocity" stars have been found. A new Hubble Space Telescope observation indicates that one of these stars has been ejected from the center of the Milky Way in a bizarre scenario. The object was originally part of a multiple-star system, and one component was trapped in the galaxy's core, while the other two were ejected and eventually merged into the object we see today.
The annual Perseid Meteor Shower lit the sky in August, for those lucky enough to have a clear sky and energetic enough to stay up past midnight. The meteors that skim across the sky every year are tiny bits of dust burning up in the Earth?s atmosphere. The Perseid debris was left behind by the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle.
An object that slammed into Jupiter in July 2009, causing Hubble to interrupt its post-servicing mission calibration to snap some pictures, was almost certainly an asteroid rather than comet. Astronomers suggest that such impacts might happen as often as every 10 to 15 years.
Hubble identifies the culprits who targeted Jupiter. A black hole is on the loose, roaming its galaxy. And a planet losing its atmosphere may look like a giant comet.
Buckminsterfullerine or "Buckyballs" are carbon structures first discovered in a lab in 1985. Astronomers have long wondered if these molecules, comprised of hexagonal and pentagonal sections similar to a soccer ball, exist in space as well. Researchers using the Spitzer Space Telescope recently found the large molecules in the gas clouds of a planetary nebula. Their presence likely plays a role in many cosmic processes.
Solar eclipses come in several varieties and provide spectacular views for observers on the Earth. As the Moon moves between the Earth and the Sun, the Moon's shadow is cast into space. Sometimes this shadow intersects the Earth. Eclipses can be total, when the Moon completely obscures the Sun; grazing, when the Moon only covers part of the Sun; and annular, when the Moon and Sun are aligned, but the Moon does not cover the Sun completely. Eclipse shadows are visible to satellites that observe the Earth. In some cases, the images are quite spectacular, and show the path of the eclipse across the planet.
Nicolaus Copernicus' findings were condemned by the Roman Catholic Church as heretical, but he was reburied as a hero back in May 2010, nearly 500 years after he was laid to rest in unmarked grave. His revolutionary theory that Earth revolved around the Sun helped usher in the modern scientific age.
Venus is a planet veiled in mystery, largely due to its thick atmosphere and hostile conditions for spacecraft. The Japanese space agency, JAXA, has recently launched two probes to Venus. One, Akatsuki, is designed to learn about the Venusian atmosphere and surface. The second probe, Ikaros, is an experimental solar sail. Results will be forthcoming over the next few months.
The SOFIA Airborne Observatory project, initiated in 1966, has captured its first images. The unusual observatory is a Boeing 747 aircraft with a 2.5 meter telescope. A hole, cut in the side of the fuselage, allows astronomers to point the telescope and view the universe in wavelengths that are blocked from the ground by the Earth's atmosphere.
One of the cloud belts that ring the giant planet Jupiter has recently disappeared. The missing stripe is big enough to swallow 20 Earths, and its disappearance has transformed the appearance of the solar system's largest planet.
Planets orbiting a star at odd angles to one other challenge astronomers' notions of how planets should behave. Hubble tracks down a star running away from home and catches another star feeding on its own planet.
Astronauts take lots of items into space with them. Some are personal items, others are patches and similar memorabilia likely to be presented to museums and dignitaries. Quite a few famous objects go into space -? examples include a Star Wars light saber and a piece of Isaac Newton's legendary apple tree.
The 30 Doradus complex in a small nearby galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, is home to a giant, massive star cluster rapidly forming hundreds of stars. It is probably the most massive star cluster in the local part of the universe. This region has been studied extensively, and data from Australia, Chile and the Hubble have been combined to analyze it. The scientists have found it contains at least one massive, runaway star, somehow kicked out of the rest of the cluster. How this occurs and whether there are more runaways are questions to be answered in the future.
The European Space Agency's Herschel Observatory has been observing the infrared universe for more than a year now, studying monster stars and probing dark dust clouds that now reveal regions of intense star formation.
NASA's new Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has taken some astonishing movies of the Sun. One shows one of the biggest eruptions of the Sun in recent years, with billions of tons of solar material blasting into space. The images have helped solve a solar mystery.
Thousands of small objects drift through the solar system. Many are in the Asteroid Belt, but many more reside beyond the orbit of Neptune. Some of these small objects collect together into binaries or clusters and orbit the Sun together. Scientists have found that an asteroid originally thought to be single may actually have two companions.
Venus, often called Earth's twin, has a surface with few craters, suggesting some activity that resurfaces the planet. Now, new evidence from the European Venus Express spacecraft indicates relatively recent lava flows on the planet.
The conventional concept of extrasolar planet formation is that the objects form out of the dusty material circling the parent star. As a cloud of gas and dust collapses and rotates, the star forms at the center, leaving behind a remnant of cloud that forms a disk as it continues to rotate. As the dusty disk churns along, planets form in orbit around the star. In our solar system, the planets orbit in the same direction as the Sun rotates. The dynamics of planet formation suggest that this is the usual situation, but new observations have found Jupiter-sized planets orbiting in a backwards or skewed fashion. It's a puzzle to understand how these systems form.
Hubble celebrates its 20th anniversary with a new image and a way for people to make their love for the telescope known. An X-shaped debris trail marks the path of a mysterious object, and an object circling a brown dwarf looks like a planet -? but is it?
When a massive star explodes, it leaves behind glowing traces called supernova remnants. Many have been studied, but it is not completely clear how much material comes off the exploding star, and how it is distributed outward. A combination of X-ray observations from Chandra Space Telescope and infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope allowed astronomers to see the supernova mechanism in action.
A trio of planets is now shining in our skies. Venus is rising higher in the western sky, Mars is still visible but getting fainter, but Saturn is now at its brightest for the year. Saturn is visible just about all night, rising at sunset, highest in southern sky at midnight.
NASA's radar experiment aboard India's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft orbiting the Moon has identified thick deposits of water-ice in more than 40 small craters near the Moon's north pole. Ranging from one to 9 miles across, the craters likely contain ice at least a few meters thick, leading to total estimates of at least 600 million metric tons of ice within these craters.
Saturn's largest moon, Titan, continues to show indications of its intriguing surface. NASA's Cassini spacecraft has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004 and recently came across signs of floods, large impacts, and even ice volcanoes under the smoggy atmosphere. Long obscured by thick hazy clouds, Titan is finally revealing its secrets to Cassini.
Astronomers know that in the early universe, small galaxies merge to form larger ones. Observations of distant galaxies are difficult and tricky to decipher. Fortunately a group of galaxies, called the Hickson Compact Group 31, was observed with the Hubble Space Telescope, and astronomers found evidence that these galaxies are just forming, as if they were located in the early universe. The conclusions were confirmed with observations from the Spitzer Infrared Telescope, SWIFT and other observatories. This discovery is akin to finding a dinosaur in our backyard ? we can see the early days up close.
The Sun has a circulation mechanism that brings hot plasma and magnetic fields to its surface. This circulation pattern is called the Sun's Great Circulation Belt.It was thought that sunspots are related to the Sun's circulation, and that the faster the belt ran, the more sunspots there would be. Observations with the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) seem to contradict this model. A new satellite, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, was launched in February 2010, and may be able to discover more through helioseismology, the study of oscillating waves within the Sun.
The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), launched by NASA on Dec. 14, 2009, is designed to look at faint objects in the infrared. In February, WISE spotted a new comet as it surveyed the sky. The comet circles the Sun every 4.7 years.WISE needs the public's help to observe the objects it discovers, since the probe won't view them again once they're found. Ground-based observations will help identify the comet's orbit.
A new movie, made up of images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, provides an unusual view of Saturn with its rings edge-on and practically invisible. It also gives viewers a rare look at the colorful auroras at the planet's north and south poles. This view is available to us only once every 15 years, due to Saturn?s leisurely orbit around the Sun.
The Hubble Space Telescope observed a mysterious X-shaped debris pattern with trailing streamers of dust that suggests a head-on collision between two asteroids -? asteroids that are possible siblings of the one responsible for killing the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
The Olympic Games of 2010 are making us think about what it would be like to have sporting events on other bodies in the solar system. Mars and the Moon both have ice, for instance. The unusual environments provide challenges and perhaps, in the distant future, some unique opportunities!
One of the most obvious craters on the Moon's surface is relatively young crater called Tycho. "Relatively young" in this case means about 108 million years old, but that's still early enough in the crater's life for it to retain a tremendous system of rays that stretch 900 miles across the lunar surface.
The new Fermi telescope joins a suite of gamma ray telescopes searching for the origins of gamma rays, cosmic rays and evidence of other energetic phenomena in the universe. Fermi has found new evidence for its namesake's theory for the origin of cosmic rays. The idea is that energetic particles are accelerated within the remnants of supernovae. Fermi was able to detect faint gamma-rays that appear to be associated with supernovae in two "normal" type galaxies, M82 and NGC253.
A newly found depression in the Atlantic Ocean floor, south of the Azores Islands, may be an impact crater. It's roughly a circular 3.5-mile-wide hollow with broad central dome and has been dubbed the "Fried Egg" due to its distinctive shape. Scientists will need to investigate further to discover whether the crater was caused by a space impact instead of a volcanic eruption, but the lack of volcanic evidence points to an impact. A second object nearby may be another crater.
The next generation of Moon explorers may end up living in a hole, thanks to the discovery by a Japanese lunar mission of a vertical shaft, probably a collapsed lava tube. Living underground would provide protection from the harsh lunar environment.
The Hubble Space Telescope's Fine Guidance Sensors are targeting devices that lock onto "guide stars" and measure their positions relative to the object under observation, thus helping to point the telescope. But their data is useful for other purposes as well. By digging through 4.5 years of the data from the sensors, astronomers were able to identify the smallest Kuiper Belt Object ever found, locating the object by the dimming of a star as the object passed in front of it.
Five newly discovered planets are among the first results to arrive from NASA's Kepler Mission, launched on Marcy 7, 2009.Kepler was designed to find Earth-size planets. Kepler scientists analyze the light from observed stars, looking for variations. Some light variations are due to processes within the stars themselves, and some are due to "transits" -- that is, a planet passing in front of the star and blocking a tiny bit of the star's light.
Globular cluster Terzan 5, a densely packed group of stars in the Milky Way, is probably the remnants of a long-ago merger between the Milky Way and a dwarf galaxy. Galaxies are known to grow by colliding and merging, combining their stars. Terzan 5 has two different populations of stars, indicating an unusual origin -? globular clusters ordinarily have uniform populations of stars that all formed at the same time from a single cloud of gas and dust.
Incredibly powerful waves of plasma are rippling across the Sun's surface. These "solar tsunamis" were once thought to be an optical illusion. The first witnessed wave, taller than the Earth and creating a rippling pattern millions of kilometers around, was so amazing researchers thought they might be seeing some kind of flaw or trick in the satellite's vision instead of a real wave. The Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft were able to confirm the tsunamis existence.
Brown dwarfs are objects that are bigger than planets but not massive enough to become stars, yet have nuclear reactions in their cores. How do they form? Are they more like planets, or more like stars? A team of astronomers using the Spitzer Space Telescope discovered two objects that appear to be brand-new brown dwarfs. Observatories across the globe are participating in the hunt for new information.
As the International Year of Astronomy draws to a close, a dramatic composite image of the center of our own Milky Way Galaxy was unveiled. The image was a combination of observations from NASA's Great Observatories: Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra. In addition to the composite image, the public can view the individual images obtained by each observatory.
Astronomers observing the tremendous stellar explosions known as gamma ray bursts have gained new insights into the nature of the most distant objects ever observed in the universe. A huge explosion detected in April 2009 by NASA's Swift satellite has been deemed to be more than 13 billion light years from Earth.
A survey of a carefully selected list of stars has turned up 32 new planets beyond our solar system. An instrument called the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) in La Silla, Chile, provided the information after a five-year effort. Several stars appear to have multiple planetary systems, and a number of super-Earths, planets a few times the mass of Earth, were located.
Hubble takes a picture of the Southern Pinwheel, a dazzling galaxy with three spiral arms. The images show the aftermath of star death and the rise of new stars. In commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Galileo turning a telescope on the skies, Hubble teams up with the Chandra and Spitzer space telescopes to capture the heart of our Milky Way galaxy.
Our Sun creates an insulating bubble, called the "heliosphere" around our solar system. This heliosphere shields us from a tenth of the galactic radiation pouring in from space. In 2008, NASA launched the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) to study the particles in this region. The first IBEX maps are now available, and they reveal much more complexity than models predicted.
NASA developed the Ares 1 rocket to carry a new crew vehicle into space upon the retirement of the space shuttle. A test conducted in fall 2009 included a six-minute flight with myriad sensors to provide data on the rocket's performance. The test went well, but the re-entry parachutes did not perform as expected, and a booster was dented on impact with the ocean. The expensive test and the projected budget calls into question whether this technology can be further developed.
Astronomers using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have located some new craters on the surface of Mars. This isn't unusual - the surfaces of planets and moons are pocked by plummeting space rocks happen all the time. But this time, the craters were so fresh that scientists were able to see water ice within them. Apparently the small impacts had exposed a layer of ice beneath Mars' dust.
The largest astronomical project in existence is getting under way in the high plains of northern Chile. The Atacama Large Millimeter Array, or ALMA, will be comprised of 66 giant 40-foot and 23-foot antennas, spread over 11.5 miles, operating as a single, giant radio telescope. ALMA will help astronomers answer questions about our cosmic origins and will observe some of coldest and most distant objects in the cosmos.
In September, NASA declared the Hubble Space Telescope back in full working order. All the instruments are in excellent shape after being checked out and calibrated. The new instruments are the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which can see wavelengths ranging from the optical into the infrared, and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), which studies the ultraviolet. The Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), which had partially stopped working, has new circuitry and functioning as well as ever. The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS), which was also in need of repairs, is now back on the job.
The three Mercury flybys of the Messenger spacecraft are complete. Despite a glitch during the third pass, most of the surface of Mercury has been imaged. The Messenger team is examining the craters, bright and dark spots, and other surface features in the hopes of understanding the geologic history of Mercury.
Saturn's rings have fascinated us ever since Galileo first spotted them in his telescope in 1610 -- almost 400 years ago. But how these icy rings came into being remains a mystery. Saturn's rings are thought to consist of roughly 35 trillion trillion tons of ice, dust and rock. Cassini and Voyager spacecraft have revealed many new details of the rings, but many mysteries still remain.
The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission is designed to determine whether water ice is present on the Moon. Water is always an issue for future lunar exploration. LCROSS has two components -? a rocket that will impact a shadowy Moon crater and excavate it, and a satellite that will sample the plume produced by the impact. If ancient ice lies buried on the Moon, it may be ejected and then detected by specialized instruments.
NASA says that without more funding, it will not meet the asteroid tracking goals mandated by Congress. NASA hopes to spot 90% of potentially dangerous objects by 2020. Large asteroids could cause global catastrophe if they strike Earth, and the U.S. is the only country with an asteroid-detection program.
Leftover pieces of satellites orbit the earth as debris. Some of this debris has been hazardous for the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle, as well as orbiting satellites. The debris re-enters Earth's atmosphere at the rate of about one piece per day. One of the most famous pieces of orbital debris, a tool box dropped by an astronaut while performing a space walk, re-entered the atmosphere on August 3, 2009.
Saturn's moon Titan is far from Earth, but both worlds have some things in common -? wind, rain, volcanoes and tectonics. These forces sculpt features on Titan, as on Earth, but in an environment more frigid than Antarctica. Titan looks more like Earth than any other body in the solar system, despite the huge differences in temperature and environment.
A new link has been established between the Sun's 11-year cycle and global climate. It shows that solar activity has effects on Earth resembling La Ni?a and El Ni?o events in the Pacific Ocean. We've known for years that long-term solar variations affect certain weather patterns, including droughts and regional temperatures, but establishing a real connection between solar cycles and global climate patterns has proven elusive.
The newly upgraded and repaired Hubble Space Telescope has released its first showcase images, spotlighting galaxies drawn together by gravity, star clusters, dying stars and more. For the first time, Hubble will circle the Earth with a full set of five instruments, opening new horizons for scientific study.
Was the solar system always the organized clockwork system envisioned by Isaac Newton? According to a computer model of the early epoch of the solar system, the answer is "no." The large outer planets may have been closer to the Sun and migrated outwards while encountering small bodies called planetesimals. As the big planets moved outward, small objects cascaded toward the inner solar system, bombarding the four small, rocky planets. The model also predicts other oddities of the solar system that have gone unexplained.
Researchers at Texas State University have found more interesting conclusions about Edvard Munch's paintings in Norway. Previously they had found that the vivid colors in Munch's painting, The Scream, could be attributable to dust spewed into the atmosphere by the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa. In new findings, the group has concluded that a mysterious orb in the sky that Munch painted in "Girls on the Pier" depicts the Moon rather than the Sun. The group also explains why Munch didn't paint the reflection of the Moon in the water.
A new model of sunspots shows striking, beautiful detail, and may help unlock mysteries of Sun and its impact on Earth. This first-ever comprehensive computer model of sunspots, made possible by advances in supercomputers, drew on increasingly detailed observations from a network of ground- and space-based observatories to verify that model captured sunspots realistically.
The red planet Mars conjures up images of rocks and arid, dusty plains, but last year NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander showed that it snows on Mars. The Phoenix robot observed ice crystals falling to the Martian surface. Now new research could shed light on the past and present water cycle on the Martian surface, and possibly characterize the potential habitability of the red planet.
A massive star -- 10 times the mass of the Sun -- called V1449 Aquilla, turns out to have oscillations similar to the Sun. The observations were obtained over 150 days with the Convection, Rotation and Planetary Transits (CoRoT) satellite. No other massive star is known to have such oscillations, and the striking similarity to the Sun helps us study the Sun and understand the precursors to supernovae eruptions.
Servicing Mission 4 went off without a hitch in May, a team of astronauts successfully completing what was perhaps the most challenging Hubble mission ever. Since then, Hubble has been slowly coming awake as scientists and engineers carefully restore its many components to full power. It'll be another month before the first official new images from Hubble, but in July an unexpected astronomical event gave us a sneak preview of one of the telescope's new instruments.
Two amazing telescopes were launched together in May 2009 by the European Space Agency (ESA). One telescope, Herschel, measures the light from star formation regions and builds three-dimensional pictures of nebulae. It is the most powerful infrared telescope yet launched into space. It should be ready for regular science operations in November.The second telescope, Planck, measures the minute fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background through two radio detectors. Planck's instruments have reached their chilly operating temperature and the telescope has entered its final orbit.
The red supergiant star Betelgeuse is shrinking, and astronomers aren't sure why. One of the largest stars we know, Betelgeuse could occupy the space from the Sun out to the Planet Jupiter, engulfing the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Since 1993, it's shrunk about 15 percent. Betelgeuse's size determines that it will die as a supernova, lighting up Earth's skies for months after the light from its explosion reaches us.
Astronomers calculate that there's a tiny chance, a billion or more years from now, that Mars or Venus could collide with Earth. The new finding comes from simulations that show how orbits of planets might evolve. There's also a chance that Mercury could strike Venus and merge into larger planet, that Mars might experience a close encounter with Jupiter, or even that Jupiter's gravity could hurl the Red Planet out of the solar system.
The center of our Milky Way galaxy is a chaotic, harsh place, home to shock waves, intense radiation, and a supermassive black hole. You might think all these elements would prohibit new stars from forming or rip apart any object shortly after it was formed. But a few years ago, infrared observations with the Spitzer Space Telescope indicated that clusters of stars could indeed form in this region. Now new observations have detected brand new stars near the galaxy center. The "baby" stars can be distinguished from similar-looking older stars because they are still imbedded in the molecular cloud in which they formed. Might these objects form planetary systems, since they have lots of dusty material around them?
Astronomers are inventing new ways to find planets around other stars. Most of the methods used thus far don't involve actually seeing the planet; its presence is inferred from observations of the parent star. A large, Jupiter sized planet can be detected b y the "wobble" its gravity causes in the parent star's motion. Other planets pass in front of their host stars, making them detectable by the dimming of the stars' light. A new idea is to block out the light from a bright star so that faint planets can be detected. This technique would be used to obtain direct images of the planets that normally cannot be seen right next to the bright star. The device that blocks the starlight is called a starshade and would be placed in orbit far from the main telescope. The starshade is a clever concept, but would be tricky to engineer.
Neutron stars are the remnants of dead stars that have collapsed into small objects with incredible density. Their crusts could be 10 billion times stronger than steel. Forces from within the star crack the crust during "star quakes," events similar to earthquakes, and blast powerful gamma rays into space.
Asteroids ? were they a boon or bane when they struck Earth billions of years ago? One would think the period of bombardment was not a good thing for a planet! But a new study shows that the bombardment may actually have created environments where microbial organisms could have survived if they were already there. The study also suggests that such environments may have existed on other planets, such as Mars.
A former NASA astronaut is searching for signs of hardy life on Mount Everest, which could provide a window into extreme environments that organisms might inhabit on hostile-appearing planets elsewhere in universe. Scott Parazynski's mission makes him the first astronaut to scale Mount Everests.
The Hubble Space Telescope has been restored after the hugely successful servicing mission by the Space Shuttle Atlantis astronauts and the hundreds of personnel who work on Hubble at NASA and elsewhere. Two new instruments are onboard, two instruments were repaired, and the telescope received new batteries, gyroscopes, and a computer for handling the science data.
Astronomers capture an image of a star eight years before its explosive death, casting light on the development of supernovae. A jet of radiation and plasma caused by a black hole is starting to flicker. And recently developed techniques are being used on the Hubble archive to glean new information from old images.
Astronomers may have solved the cosmic chicken-and-egg problem of which formed first in the early universe -? galaxies or the supermassive black holes seen at their cores. Astronomers believe almost all galaxies have massive black holes at their centers, as well as smaller black holes sprinkled throughout. Evidence is piling up that black holes came first.
The solar system might once have had another planet named Theia. Some researchers believe it existed 4.5 billion years ago and possibly collided with Earth to form our Moon. NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft are on their way to look for the debris that would be left over after such a collision.
Astronomers have searched diligently for a planet of the size of Earth. Researchers would love to find such a planet in the zone appropriate for liquid water ? what they call "the habitable zone." New observations from the European Southern Observatory indicate that the star Gliese 581 has a fourth planet in addition to the known 3. The other planets are large "super earths" and one Neptune-sized planet. But the new planet is about twice the mass of Earth, and could be close to the habitable zone as well.
Hubble is celebrating its 19th anniversary by releasing new, beautiful images. One image shows a complex interaction of four galaxies in a group called Arp 194. This group's numerous star clusters formed recently as a result of the galaxies' gravitational interaction. A second image of two clusters of colliding galaxies, called 1E 0657-556, was also released for the birthday. The galaxies passed through one another, leaving large amounts of gas behind, in the center of the collision.
A new NASA lunar satellite planned for a May launch will send back the highest-resolution photos ever taken of the Moon's surface and provide virtual views close to the ones seen by the Apollo astronauts. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), passing 31 miles above the moon, will have cameras with resolution equal to roughly one foot of Moon surface for every pixel.
NASA's Kepler Mission was launched on Marcy 7, 2009 to begin its quest for earth-like planets. As the spacecraft slowly drifts away from Earth, the first order of business is calibration of the detectors and discarding the dust cover that protects the telescope. Kepler will look for the tiny dimming of light that occurs as a planet passes between us and the star it orbits. Kepler will capture this dimming effect as it "stares" at one part of the sky for three and a half years.
Astronomers recently found what looks like two massive black holes orbiting each other in the center of a distant galaxy. It's long been thought that twin black holes might exist, but a new, innovative search was needed to find this rare pair. The discovery may lead to a greater understanding of how massive black holes form and evolve at centers of galaxies.
Saturn has a complex system of moons and rings. Scientists have thought that moons, or smaller bodies called "moonlets," have something to do with the formation of Saturn's rings. Recent images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft turned up a small moonlet in the G-ring of Saturn's system. The G-ring is a diffuse ring, nearly the last ring in the system. It contains a curious arc that is probably due to material crashing into the little moonlet embedded in it.
Getting crisp, clear images of objects billions of light years away requires big space telescopes. But the size of telescopes sent into orbit is constrained by the size of the rockets that carry them.NASA's new Ares V rocket may completely change rules of the game. The Ares V, which will carry the next lunar lander to the Moon, is big enough to hold eight school buses. It can haul six times more mass and three times the volume the Space Shuttle can.
NASA's Dawn mission is on its way to the asteroid belt. Once there, the spacecraft will orbit two asteroids, Ceres and Vesta, gathering information with its two cameras. The asteroids are pieces left over from the formation of the solar system, so scientists hope the mission will help us understand how the solar system evolved.
A huge celestial blast spotted 12.2 billion light years from Earth is possibly the biggest gamma-ray burst ever detected. NASA's Fermi Telescope detected a massive explosion in the southern constellation Carina that produced energies ranging from 3,000 to more than 5 billion times that of visible light.
Four hundred years ago, Galileo turned a telescope toward the night sky and launched the field of astronomy. To celebrate this anniversary, 2009 has been declared the International Year of Astronomy (IYA). Events are occurring worldwide at museums, observatories, universities and more to direct attention to the study of the universe. Check your local science center or planetarium for an event near you!
NASA's twin Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft are now showing us the first glimpse side of Sun that faces away from Earth, a perspective never seen before. Launched on October 2006, the twin spacecraft will eventually move until they can monitor the entire surface of the Sun -- both the side facing Earth and the far side, giving us a better view of solar storms as they form and develop.
Young stars may get kicked out of their orbits and race through space, creating arrowhead-shaped "bow shocks" ? similar to ripples in the water created by a speed boat -- in the interstellar medium. The stars are plowing through the gas that drifts through space, bunching it up. Astronomers have not found many of these stars, but there's no set place to look ? so there may be many more out there.
Asteroids that drift around the solar system at nearly the same distance from the Sun as the Earth?s orbit, can "corkscrew" into Earth's vicinity as they pass by. These are not common but they do occur. The most recent one, 2009 BD, passed within 400,000 miles of Earth. It is corkscrewing near Earth, and then in the future may drift away.A similar object, called 2003 YN107, came by in 2003 and departed the vicinity of the Earth in 2008. It might return in 60 years.
A new comet will likely become visible in dark skies in late February. Comet Lulin was discovered in July 2007 and should be just on the edge of naked-eye visibility in dark, moonless skies. It should be easily seen in binoculars, but note that comet brightness estimates are notoriously unreliable since comets can change their appearance dramatically and quickly.
In 1572, a "new star" appeared in the sky, stunning astronomers and challenging ancient theories of the universe. The brilliant supernova, recorded by the astronomer Tycho Brahe, was even visible during the day. Now astronomers have been able to capture faint "light echoes" of original explosion, helping to determine the exact type of supernova Tycho saw. It was likely caused by a white dwarf star undergoing titanic, thermonuclear explosion.
Hyperactive stars are found racing through the galaxy, creating glowing arrowhead-shaped structures in the drifting gas of the universe. Brown dwarfs, odd objects that are neither stars nor planets, prefer an exclusive club. And scientists are stumped by a flash in the sky that matches nothing on record.
Our Milky Way galaxy is known to be massive, but new observations of the speed of star formation along its spiral arms indicate it is much more massive than previously thought. The observations of radio emissions from star formation regions were taken with the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), a suite of radio telescope scattered across the globe that work together to map details of regions in the galaxy.
Those amazing Mars rovers are still at it after their 5th birthday. Although it was a dark and dusty winter for Spirit, the rover appears to still be alive and may have a new destination, since more sunlight is available to power the rover during Martian spring and summer. Opportunity is already off to its new adventure at Victoria Crater, six miles (10 km) away.
Venus has graced the evening sky for months now, and in the next few weeks it approaches its highest (Jan. 14) and brightest (Feb. 20) in evening sky. Venus is always brighter than the brightest stars -- bright enough to be seen even in the middle of the day, if you know where to look. On dark nights, it can be bright enough to cause shadows. Look toward the southwest sky after sunset, and Venus appears above where the Sun has set. It will look like a brilliant white star.
Mars has an extremely thin atmosphere compared to Earth's. But scientists think the red planet once had a thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide. Where did it go? Scientists now think it's possible that Mars' uneven magnetic field may have contributed to the stripping away of the atmosphere by the solar wind.
A series of balloon flights over Antarctica was designed to count up the kinds of cosmic rays that shower through the solar system from distant regions of the galaxy. These cosmic rays are usually produced by violent events such as supernovae explosions. The Advanced Thin Ionization Calorimeter (ATIC) detectors did indeed find lots of high energy particles, but many more high energy electrons than expected. This is curious because it is hard for the electrons to travel over large distances -- they usually hit something along the way. So they must have come from nearby. But from what?
A proposal to learn more about Saturn's fascinating moon, Titan, involves three parts: an orbiting spacecraft, a hot air balloon, and a surface probe. The landing probe could be fitted with a helicopter rotor that would help transport it from area to area, and a scoop to pick up soil and analyze it. The orbiter would map the surface. And the balloon would examine the hazy atmosphere, potentially similar to that of primordial Earth.
Why does a small, nearby, isolated galaxy pump out stars faster than any other galaxy in our local neighborhood? The secret is in the details. Maybe this puzzling galaxy, the loner starburst galaxy NGC 1569, is not as nearby as we thought. Hubble discovered new information about the galaxy using the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 and Advanced Camera for Surveys. Detailed analysis is important for determining accurate distances to galaxies, and therein lies the clue to this mystery.
Future astronauts could benefit from a magnetic "umbrella" that deflects harmful space radiation around a spacecraft. The Sun is a constant source of charged particles that stream into space and pose significant threat to astronauts on any long-duration mission, such as to Moon or Mars. Now researchers have come up with a way to avert these dangerous particles and protect traveling space crews.
Humanity has filled the space near Earth with satellites -? and debris. The flotsam, ranging from large satellite pieces to small nuts and bolts, can impact and severely damage functioning satellites and the International Space Station. What can be done? Since satellites are launched by nations, commercial companies and other private entities, all these organizations need to come together globally to look at how to map and control debris.
Hubble has spied a planet outside the solar system for the first time. The strangely bright planet, three times as big as Jupiter, will likely be a target of future telescopes as well. Astronomers have solved the mystery of an oddly active galaxy. And Hubble is back to work after a temporary technical setback.
In 2005, NASA's Cassini probe revealed a plume of ice particles and water vapor shooting out from the south pole region of Saturn's moon, Enceladus. It's thought the moon may hold ocean of liquid water beneath surface and be a potential habitat for extraterrestrial life. Cassini could be used to look for organic chemicals in the plume.
Hubble recently took the first image of a planet around another star. Planets are typically found by looking for changes in their parent stars that indicate the presence of a planet -? a wobble that shows a gravitational tug, a dimming that shows something is passing in front of the star. But this giant planet was bright enough, and far enough away from its star, for Hubble to capture a picture.
Future lunar bases could be built from concrete made directly from Moon dust, which would be much cheaper than transporting materials from Earth to Moon. NASA hopes to send four astronauts to Moon for seven days by 2020. The plan is to eventually build long-term Moon bases.
We talk about "habitable zones" around stars being confined to predictable regions, where temperatures are not too cold and not too hot, so that planets can retain liquid water and support life as we know it. But perhaps there?s more leeway than we thought. A new study has discovered that some extrasolar planets that we assumed were too cold to host life could in fact be livable.
Amino acids are organic molecules that form proteins. Proteins, essential to cells, are one of the first steps in the creation of life. Several -- but not all -- types of amino acids have also been found in meteorites ? chunks of rock that reached Earth from space. Scientists are studying meteorites, like the Murchison meteorite that fell in Australia in 1969, to see if they can give clues to how amino acids link to form the structure of proteins.
Game developer Richard Garriott recently paid $30 million to spend some time on the International Space Station, where he participated in NASA experiments. Creator of the Ultima gaming series, Garriott is the son of retired astronaut Owen Garriott. Part of his 12 days on the space station was spent undergoing a series of microgravity experiments, including analysis of sleep patterns.
Astronomers using Hubble recently came across a mysterious object in the direction of the constellation Boötes that slowly brightened over 100 days then dimmed back to invisibility. Astronomers are used to supernovae -? exploding stars -? brightening the sky, but that flash happens quickly. This slow change in brightness doesn't match anything on the books. Nor does the object's spectrum line up with anything that could help identify it.
Dust devils have been photographed raging across the arctic plains of Mars. They were captured by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, which saw at least six of the whirlwinds. The dust devils often occur when the Sun warms Mars' surface.
Astronomers have found almost 300 planets outside our solar system, but they haven't been able to take pictures of any of them -? the planets are too small, dim and distant. But the Gemini Observatory recently took a picture of a star and a nearby object -? could it be the first picture of an extrasolar planet?
The planet Venus is now visible very low in western sky right after sundown. This evening appearance of Venus will become even better in coming weeks as the planet rises higher and higher each night throughout the fall and winter. The brilliant "evening star" will be at its brightest on Feb. 19.
The Milky Way galaxy is part of a group of galaxies, including several small "dwarf galaxies," that interact with one another. The outer portion of the Milky Way, called its "halo," is filled with clouds of gas, star clusters, dark matter and streams of stars gathered from those dwarf galaxies by the power of the Milky Way's gravity. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) revealed these multiple, previously unknown streams.
About 54 million light-years from Earth, roughly 2,000 galaxies have ganged up in a gravitational grouping called the Virgo Cluster. Centering that cluster is a massive galaxy that is itself surrounded by many clusters?in this case, star clusters. But this massive galaxy has more of these star clusters than astronomers expected it to have. Could it be stealing from its neighbors?
In August, the Hubble Space Telescope completed its 100,000th orbit around Earth. Understandably, the venerable observatory is due for a little maintenance. In October, astronauts will be returning to Hubble to install two new science instruments, repair two other instruments, and upgrade other critical components on the telescope.
The Cassini spacecraft performed a daring flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus on March 12, flying about 15 kilometers per second (32,000 mph) through a geyser-like jet spurting from the moon's surface. It captured sample molecules from the jet.In August, it used special techniques to get pictures of the jets. Scientists want to know where the jets come from and whether Enceladus has water.
Hubble celebrated a new milestone in August ? 100,000 orbits around the planet Earth. Scientists think they know why a certain galaxy has more globular clusters than its neighbors. And a black hole-inhabited galaxy is sending tendrils into the universe.
Could Earth's Moon have water locked up inside its rocks? Samples brought back from the Apollo Moon mission may indicate that the answer is yes. Water may be locked up in volcanic glass beads within the rocks.
The Kuiper Belt is a region past Neptune, full of icy, comet-like objects. Pluto is the most famous Kuiper Belt object. Some of these objects have odd orbits that don't fit with our knowledge of the solar system. A computer model suggests that the region may contain a really large body -- 30 to 70 percent as massive as Earth -- that affects the orbits of objects around it.
The Moon may be younger than originally thought - by about 30 million years. The Moon is thought to have formed after an object hit the Earth, partially melting the planet and propelling material into space. Because the Earth and Moon formed around the same time, this also brings up questions about our planet's formation.
The Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project scans the skies for asteroids in an attempt to find 90% of all the asteroids larger than 0.6 mile (1 km) in diameter by the end of 2008. In January 2008, LINEAR found an object now called Asteroid 2008 BT18. Original calculations suggested the asteroid was going to pass nearby the earth. Asteroid orbits can be altered by the Earth's gravity, so the trajectory was uncertain. Luckily the object passed almost six times the distance between the Earth and Moon. But astronomers got a good look at the object, which turned out to be a lot more interesting than originally thought -- it's a binary asteroid.
A cluster of stars boasts no less than three different ages. Open clusters of stars are usually easy to date, but this one is confusing scientists with mixed messages. Scientists have new information about the bars of stars that develop in the centers of galaxies. Barred spiral galaxies are common in today's cosmos, but were scarce in the universe's early history.
A new, Earth-based radar has examined material ejected from a massive impact on the Moon. The impact early in the Moon's history, by an asteroid 20-40 miles in diameter, created the crater known as Mare Orientale, a huge basin 600 miles across. Its study may help us better understand the early impact history of both Moon and Earth, and the role these impacts played in our planet?s evolution.
Black holes incredibly dense objects that can form at the end of a massive star's life. Scientists thought that because black holes range in size from several times to several billion times the size of the Sun, their behavior would differ as well. But multiple observations of the black hole at the center of the galaxy M81 prove otherwise.
The Gamma Ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) launched on June 11. This observatory will scan the universe for the most powerful form of radiation known, possibly shedding light on dark matter, microscopic black holes and other cosmic mysteries. Gamma rays have the most energy of any type of light, and are created by some of the most violent events in universe.
Astronauts who have visited the Moon quickly discovered that they would get covered with Moon dust whenever they left their spacecraft. NASA is putting together a team to look at the dust and figure out how it could affect a return to the Moon. NASA is concerned that the dust could pose health problems or clog machinery.
A third red spot has appeared on the surface of Jupiter, heralding the creation of a new, violent storm. Jupiter's Great Red Spot is a storm that's been whirling away through the planet's atmosphere for perhaps hundreds of years. These new storms may indicate changing weather on the gas giant. A white dwarf star is missing from the center of the nebula that should house it, according to a Hubble scientist working with a team on ground-based telescopes.
A Russian institute is selecting macaques that may eventually fly to Mars before humans do. Twelve monkeys have flown in Russian and Soviet spaceflights, some for around two weeks. The monkey experiment is happening at same time as one simulating conditions of interplanetary flight for humans here on the ground.
Could microbes have developed and survived in the frigid below-ground region of Mars or other solar system bodies? New results from a team developing drilling and sampling of subsurface soil in Spain found a startling result. Very tough microbes can indeed survive underneath the ground if the conditions are right, and the Mars Astrobiology Research and Technology Experiment (MARTE) team may have found the right environment.
NASA's SWIFT telescope monitors the sky for emission from powerful outbursts. On March 19, 2008, it glimpsed an explosion so bright it could be seen with the naked eye for 30 seconds despite being 7.5 billion light years away -- the farthest object ever seen with human eyes. It was a gamma ray burst, one of the incredible explosions credited to the explosions of tremendously massive stars.
And you think losing your car keys is a pain. Scientists have known since the 1960s that about half of the ordinary matter is missing from the universe. Now they've found some of it in an unusual location. A rare black hole may be nestled in the center of a cluster of stars. And astronomers are recalculating the Hubble Constant -- the rate at which the universe is expanding.
New radar observations from NASA's latest mission to Mars indicate that the red planet's crust and upper mantle are stiffer and colder than previously thought, which suggests any liquid water existing below surface and any organisms living in that water would have to exist deeper than suspected.
The first footage of a solar "tsunami" has been captured by NASA's Stereo spacecraft. This tsunami, obviously, has nothing to do with water -? it's a wave of pressure traveling extremely fast across the surface of the Sun. The shock wave hurtled through Sun's atmosphere at more than 620,000 mph.
A giant cloud of hydrogen gas is speeding toward a collision with our Milky Way galaxy. When it hits, it may set off spectacular display of stellar fireworks in a tremendous burst of star formation. But not to worry, it will be 20-40 million years before its core smashes into our galaxy.
On March 19, the most intense explosion ever recorded appeared in the night sky. It shone dimly for less than a minute, then vanished.It was a gamma ray burst 7.5 billion light years away, but so bright it could be seen -- though faintly -- by the naked eye. Astronomers estimate that the burst was as bright as 10 million galaxies combined. Such bursts are thought to be caused by hypernovae, the explosion of a star much more massive than our Sun.
Brown dwarfs are not quite stars and not quite planets. They are the missing links between the lowest mass stars and the highest mass planets possible. Scientists recently discovered the coolest brown dwarf known -? an important discovery that may shed light on the development of planets beyond our solar system.
A distant, dim flash in the sky marks the location of the biggest explosion ever recorded, as astronomers monitor a gamma ray burst brighter than 10 million galaxies combined. And astronomers have found tiny, early galaxies so thick with stars that they might never experience night as we do.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has found evidence of material orbiting Rhea, Saturn's second largest moon, which means Rhea could have rings. This is the first time rings have potentially been found around any moon. Astronomers speculate that a collision in the moon's distant past led to the rings' formation.
The Cassini space probe was launched in 1997 and flew by Earth, Venus and Jupiter. It entered orbit around Saturn in 2004. One of Saturn's moons, Enceladus, is believed to have liquid water below its crusty surface. A daring flyby of Cassini into geyser plume of Enceladus has bolstered the idea.
Astronomers know that complex molecules are required building blocks for life, and can indicate that biological activity is present on distant worlds. Methane, which can come from volcanic eruptions, among other sources, is a key ingredient for the formation of life and also a by-product of microbial activity.
Saturn's moon, Titan, may have a deep, hidden ocean. The second largest moon in the solar system, Titan has long been thought to have an environment similar to that of early Earth, before life began putting oxygen into atmosphere. If the ocean prediction is true, Titan will join three other solar system moons suspected of hiding underground oceans.
For the first time, an organic molecule has been located in the atmosphere of a planet beyond our solar system. The planet itself can't sustain life, but could the molecule's presence is good news for life elsewhere.Back on Earth, art and science merge as the Walter's Art Museum in Baltimore, Md., displays Hubble images on its walls. The special exhibit is the brainchild of a group of curating students at Johns Hopkins University, who worked with astrophysicists to create the display.
Mars was too salty to sustain life for much of its history, new evidence from the Opportunity rover on the Martian surface indicates. Minerals deposited in sedimentary rocks suggest they formed in extremely salty water -? even saltier than oceans on Earth. Such conditions would have made it inhospitable to even the toughest micro-organisms.
Venus is much like planet Earth its composition, but also very different in other ways -- it's bone-dry with little sign of water, experiences temperatures hot enough to melt lead, is enshrouded in a thick poisonous atmosphere of CO2 and sulfuric acid, and even rotates "backwards."Now we may have an explanation for this weirdness ?- a tremendous head-on collision of two bodies may have formed our planetary neighbor.
Gravitational lenses are like giant magnifying glasses in the sky. They occur where huge accumulations of matter, like galaxy clusters, create enough gravity to warp and magnify the light of objects beyond them. This enables us to see objects normally too far away to be viewed by even the most powerful telescopes.Gravitational lenses were once thought to be rare. But astronomers using Hubble have found several, and new sky surveys found more. Scientists are now training a "digital robot" to find additional lenses.
A mission to the Moon will search for water. Scientists would like to know if the Moon does have residual water, as hinted at by earlier missions.The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite will send an impactor into a dark crater at the Moon's south pole. Instruments will measure the plume produced by the impact to see what materials are present, looking particularly for water. LCROSS will launch in October 2008 and the impact will take place early in 2009.
Stars were recently found forming in a long tail of gas trailing away from a galaxy. We normally would not expect to see stars being born so far from their parent galaxy. Scientists believe the pressure of the galaxy's motion through space as it plummeted toward the center of a huge cluster of galaxies stripped away the gas that formed these "orphan stars."
Gravitational lensing is highly useful quirk of the universe. When vast amounts of matter accumulate -- as in enormous clusters of galaxies -- the intense gravity created distorts and magnifies the light of objects behind the cluster. The effect is like creating a giant magnifying glass in space. Astronomers recently used the effect to find one of the youngest galaxies ever seen, and track the placement of dark matter.
NASA has a full launch schedule coming up, with something being launched nearly every month. Astronauts will make four shuttle flights to the International Space Station, as well as a critical trip to Hubble to make repairs and add new instruments to the telescope. NASA will also provide the vehicle for lifting new science spacecraft into orbit, in addition to a few military launches. Finally, in 2009, NASA will launch the Kepler mission, meant to find Earth-sized planets around other stars.
Get ready for a total eclipse of the Moon on Feb. 20. Eclipses of the Moon only happen when the full Moon passes through the shadow cast by our planet. This eclipse is visible for most of North America, all of South America, western Europe and western Africa.
Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, is hard to observe from Earth. We know a little about it from the Mariner 10 spacecraft that flew by Mercury in 1974, but a large part of the planet was never mapped. Messenger, launched in 2004, recently reached Mercury, taking color pictures and probing the planet's mysterious magnetic field.
Cosmic rays consist of high-energy particles that streak through space, crashing into the Earth's atmosphere and leaving a tell-tale trail. But where do these rays come from? Experiments have turned up different results. One shows the rays originate from somewhere in the nearby universe, while another suggests the rays are left over from the Big Bang. A new experiment may help answer the question.
In 1908, a tremendous explosion rocked a sparsely populated region of Siberia, destroying hundreds of square miles of forest. The destruction was likely caused by an asteroid colliding with Earth. Now new computer simulations point toward a smaller asteroid than was previously thought. That smaller asteroids could cause such devastation is an eye-opener for astronomers who look to protect Earth from inevitable future collisions.
What a headache! New findings from examination of mammoth tusks and bison skull remains suggest that 30,000 to 40,000 years ago a meteorite shower peppered the Alaska region with pellets. Amazingly some of the animals may have survived this event, although they were probably severely injured.The individual who found these tusks, Allen West, later searched through over 15,000 artifacts to find the micrometeorites imbedded in some of the tusks and bones. With help from Lawrence Berkeley Lab, they were able to determine when the event happened. Is this one of the explanation for other large animal extinctions?
An asteroid 164 feet wide could be on a collision course with Mars. The asteroid is expected to cross Mars' orbit later this month and may come as close as 30,000 miles to Mars. Astronomers calculate a one-in-20 chance of the asteroid actually striking the red planet.
The Orion Nebula is 300 light-years closer to Earth than previously thought. Radio telescopes have obtained the most precise measure ever of distance to this giant star-forming region. Because the distance to the Nebula is shorter than expected, the stars in the nebula must also be less bright than we believed, and thus older.
Dying red giant stars may zoom out of position as they expire. The stars may eject their mass mainly in one direction, causing the star to move in the opposite direction. Comet Holmes continues to defy understanding, shielding its secrets with a cloud of bright dust. And we bring you a special report on dark energy from the Space Telescope Science Institute.
Sometimes those serene, rounded elliptical galaxies harbor much deeper and more interesting structures. In Hubble Space Telescope observations, one elliptical galaxy shows shells-shaped groups of stars that probably originated in a violent collision between galaxies. The material from the merger is feeding a supermassive black hole in the galaxy's center, creating a quasar that emits enough energy to be seen across the universe.
We've found planets beyond our solar system, but nothing Earth sized. Still, astronomers are considering what such a world might look like.Computer models provide ideas of 14 different theoretical planet types, to help planet hunters spot telltale indicators. Researchers hope that the models will provide information about planet composition and similar characteristics when astronomers begin finding Earth-sized planets.
Want to win a quick $30M? Just finance and successfully land a robotic mission on the moon! The X Prize Foundation and Google have combined to offer a prize for a lunar lander to rove around, take pictures and video and send data back to us on Earth.The foundation and Google expect private companies from around the world to compete for the prize and the achievement. About 347 inquiries have already been made!
A tiny galactic neighbor to the Milky Way, Canis Major Dwarf, was discovered in 2003. The galaxy, 25,000 light years away from our solar system, is being torn apart by the gravity of the Milky Way as it orbits our galaxy. It was detected because it has a large number of red giant stars, detectable by the Two Micron All Sky Survey, which views the sky in infrared.
Astronomers search for stars similar to the Sun in order to understand how the Sun formed and if it is unique. So far, the stars we've found that are like the Sun have had notable differences. The closest candidate was analyzed recently and found to have a composition that strongly resembles our Sun. The research gives us ideas about the nuclear fusion processes that take place in the cores of Sun-like stars and clues about the formation of planetary systems.
Every 62 million years or so, a mass extinction occurs on Earth. A new theory about the motion of the solar system around the Milky Way says cosmic rays may be involved. Charged particles caused by the motion could expose the Earth to high-energy radiation, damaging the biosphere and affecting the environment.
A bright new comet flared into naked eye visibility a few weeks back and continues to be bright enough to see, perhaps for another few weeks. Comet Holmes went through a similar outburst that led to its discovery 115 years ago. It's acting strangely, so go outside and check out this celestial wonder.
Astronomers are using Hubble to look at Comet Holmes, a strange comet that brightened this October to nearly a million times in less than 24 hours. Comet Holmes is the only comet ever seen to brighten so strangely and dramatically. The brightening was first witnessed 115 years ago ? astronomers will be able to get a better look now that the comet is performing under Hubble's gaze.An elliptical galaxy with a supermassive black hole in its center looks like it underwent a collision in the distant past. The collision is fueling the black hole, feeding it meals of stars, gas and dust.
Water vapor is raining down on a young star system, pouring from the cloud of gas and dust around the star onto the dusty disk where planets may form.In the system known as NGC 1333-IRAS 4B, the icy material found in the cloud is dropping towards the star and vaporizing as it reaches the disk. The process could show how water first shows up on planets like our own.
The Huygens spacecraft, which landed on Titan in 2005, encountered some unexpected turbulence as it fell through the moon's thick, planet-like atmosphere. Buffeted by winds and possible methane rain, Huygens descent provides scientists with clues about how to plan for future missions to the intriguing world.
Astronomers now know that that the expansion of the universe is speeding up, as though it were being pushed by kind of strange anti-gravity. Ten years after the discovery, scientists are still trying to find out what this mysterious force, called "dark energy," might be.The more scientists study the tiny galaxy I Zwicky 18, the older it looks. The galaxy has an odd combination of young and old stars, leaving astronomers puzzled about its late star formation.
Tiny galaxies, hundreds to thousands of times smaller than many of the galaxies we see today, existed in the early universe, according to data from the Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes. The tiny "building block" galaxies have distorted shapes that could mean they are merging together to form larger galaxies.
A duo of robots recently surveyed a desolate part of Devon Island in northern Canada, in preparation for one day doing similar survey work on the surface of the Moon. This NASA program tested the ability of human and robotic teams working together to get best results when surveying rugged, unforgiving sites.
The nearby Andromeda Galaxy may one day capture our Sun and planets. Now more than two million light years distant, Andromeda and our own Milky Way galaxy are approaching each other. In the far distant future, the two galaxies will collide with drastic results.
When a star explodes, it leaves behind a glowing cloud of heated gas called a supernova remnant. Hubble recently took pictures of one of these remnants -- the Veil Nebula, 1,400 light years away. The nebula's star would have exploded thousands of years ago, leaving behind an expanding bubble of gas. Scientists are fascinated by supernovae because the explosions create and scatter certain vital elements around the universe.
It's a puzzle ? the outer atmosphere of the Sun, called the corona, is actually much hotter than the Sun itself. Now scientists using the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory think they may have found one of the reasons why: waves that run along the Sun's magnetic field and reach far into space. The ripples of plasma may transfer energy to the corona.
As early as 527 A.D, astute observers of the Moon have reported a variety of odd events on the Moon's surface, including bright flashes, localized reddish hues and haze. Are these Transient Lunar Phenomena (TLP) real? And if so what are they? Professor Arlin Crotts of Columbia suggests the changes can be traced to the emission of gas from the Moon's surface.
Tests have begun on one of world's largest optical telescopes, located on a mountaintop on the Canary Islands. Situated 7,900 feet above sea level, the huge Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC) consists of a mirror measuring 34 feet across and is made up of 36 separate hexagonal mirror segments. This Spanish-led telescope will be able to spot some of faintest, most distant objects in universe.
Google Earth let users explore the planet through satellite imagery. Now it's letting those users turn their attention to the heavens.Google Earth, working with the Space Telescope Science Institute, now offers a feature that explores the night sky. Users can browse the cosmos and zoom in to get Hubble images, background information and links.And speaking of satellites, 2007 is the 50th anniversary of the International Geophysical Year, declared in 1957. Sixty-seven countries participated in the coordinated attempt to observe the globe and atmosphere. Americans and the Soviet Union successfully launched satellites as part of the program. The National Academy of Sciences is celebrating the anniversary with events around the United States.
Two to four times a year, the Moon passes through a portion of the Earth's shadow, causing an eclipse. On August 28, skywatchers will be treated to a total lunar eclipse starting at 4:30 a.m. EST. All of North America will be able to see some portion of the eclipse. From the eastern USA, the Great Lakes region and Ontario, the Moon will sets while total eclipse. Only observers to the west of the Rockies (including Alaska) will be treated to the entire event.
A strangely shaped cloud of dust around a newborn star has astronomers scratching their heads. The lopsided disk may have been caused by the gravity of planets sweeping up debris in the disk, or by the gravity of a nearby star.And Uranus' rings are about to go missing. Every 42 years, Uranus' orbit brings its thin rings in line with Earth, making them vanish like a sheet of paper held up on its edge at eye level. Astronomers use the opportunity to search for moons that might otherwise be hidden by the rings.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is seeking volunteers for a simulated trip to Mars. Six crew members will spend 17 months in an isolation tank, simulating a round trip to the Red Planet. The crew will live and work in series of interlocked modules at a research institute in Moscow. Once the hatches close, their only contact with outside world will be through a radio link to "Earth."
One of the solar system's strangest looking moons is Hyperion, which orbits the ringed planet Saturn. The Cassini spacecraft, now orbiting Saturn, photographed Hyperion a few years ago and revealed a moon that looks more like a sponge or coral than rock or ice. Now scientists think they know what causes the strange appearance.
When we are planning research to look for biological activity elsewhere, are we -- to borrow a lyric -- "looking for life in all the wrong places?"A recent report from the National Academy of Science (NAS) points out that researchers are concerned that the assumption that life is water-based and uses DNA to encode important life information will limit our ability to recognize life elsewhere. The report advises NASA and other research agencies to expand research beyond conventional views.
New details about some of the interesting smaller objects in the solar system are shedding some light on the "planet controversy." Astronomers have been trying to establish what constitutes a planet, taking size, orbit and other factors into consideration.One of the important objects astronomers have been studying is Eris, discovered in 2005. Astronomers suspected Eris was bigger than Pluto, but now they know for sure that Eris has 1.27 times more mass that Pluto. Eris appears to have a density similar to Pluto's, and probably contains rocky material as well as ice.Another object of interest is the asteroid Ceres. Astronomers have imaged Ceres with the Hubble Space Telescope in preparation for the launch of the DAWN mission in 2007. DAWN will travel to and orbit Ceres as well as another large body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter - Vesta.
New images from Mars reveal football field-sized openings in the planet's surface that likely lead to caves. Seven entrances to subterranean caves range from about 330 to 820 feet across, and there is absolutely nothing visible inside the holes, indicating that they are very deep. Perhaps one day robots will be able to explore the caves, revealing their now-hidden contents.
For the first time, researchers have taken a picture of surface of Altair, a star like our own Sun. Even to the largest telescopes, stars look like mere points of light, but a new technique by the Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy allows us to see detail on this distant star. And a strange star it is ? orbiting so fast that it's distorted, wider at its equator than at its poles.
NASA's new Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is a highly modified 747 airliner that carries a 45,000-pound infrared telescope system. SOFIA's purpose is to fly above the water vapor in the Earth's atmosphere that impedes infrared light, allowing its telescope to make powerful infrared observations. NASA recently commemorated the 80th anniversary of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh's historic transatlantic flight by bestowing the name Clipper Lindbergh on the flying observatory.
What happens when astronomers go on the hunt for dark matter with the Hubble Space Telescope? They find some unusual configurations.Recently astronomers reported that observations with the Advanced Camera for Surveys suggested that a ring of the mysterious dark matter exists in a cluster of galaxies. This had never been seen before, and the surprised researchers thought maybe something was wrong with the data analysis. After scrutiny, it appeared a collision of two galaxy clusters shaped dark matter into a ring, like ripples in a pond after a stone is thrown in.
Hubble is staring into the galaxy M81, a shining spiral galaxy rife with star formation, for clues to how stars are born in galaxies outside our own. M81 is a great place to study this since it's both a spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way and it's close enough to allow us to distinguish individual stars. We can look at M81 and compare its star formation to what we know about stars in our own galaxy.The icy, tiny object Eris helped demote Pluto from a planet to a dwarf planet. Eris, three times farther from the Sun than Pluto, was discovered in 2005 and is a member of the Kuiper Belt ? a ring made up of small, icy bodies that are occasionally knocked out of their orbits and become comets. Eris, as it turns out, is also larger than Pluto, based on observations of Eris' moon by Hubble and other observatories.Jupiter is redecorating. The gas giant planet's atmospheric patterns are in the process of changing, with entire bands of its distinctive surface colors morphing over just a few months. Other atmospheric features are also swiftly changing before Hubble?s eyes.
Globular clusters are tightly packed groups of hundreds of thousands to millions of stars. Based on observations of their stars, it seems that the clusters formed when the universe was young, and that the stars within them formed simultaneously. New observations with the Hubble Space Telescope suggest at least one globular cluster has had several episodes of star formation, billions of years ago. All of the stars were born within 200 million years, very early in the life of the 12.5-billion-year-old cluster, but at distinct periods.
NASA is looking into health concerns for astronauts on long journeys, such as a potential Mars trip. A journey to Mars would take 20 to 30 years, meaning the crew would have to be prepared for serious medical crises. Just asking questions of Earth on such a trip could take half an hour or more for the message to travel, so astronauts will have to be ready to handle such situations on their own. A host of other health issues require rules and policies to be established in advance to prevent problems during long journeys or even stays on Earth's Moon.
China plans to launch its first lunar probe this year and expects to land an astronaut on the Moon within 15 years. This year's probe will provide 3-D images of Moon, survey the lunar landscape, study lunar microwaves and estimate the thickness of Moon's soil. Other missions will follow, including a soft landing - one designed to avoid damage - in 2012 and return of lunar samples by 2017.
A remarkable planetary system around a red dwarf star, called Gliese 581, seems to have at least three planets. One planet, close to the parent star, appears to be five times the mass of Earth and only 1.5 times its radius. It whizzes around the star in only 13 days! Most intriguingly, its position could mean that its temperatures would be mild enough to allow liquid water to exist. This is the first Earth-like planet found in that important range, known as the "habitable zone."
Astronomers have detected one of the brightest supernova ever seen and surmised that the star that exploded may have been 150 times the mass of the Sun. The exploding star, 240 million light years away in galaxy NGC 1260, swiftly became the object of scrutiny by the orbiting Chandra X-ray Telescope as well as a number of ground-based telescopes. Before the explosion, the star ejected a great deal of mass. Scientists have seen this behavior in another star - Eta Carinae, in our own Milky Way Galaxy.
Where scientists find galaxies, they find blobs of dark matter. Recently, astronomers discovered something unique - a ring of dark matter within a cluster of galaxies. Scientists believe the ring formed when galaxies smashed into one another. It's the first time scientists have observed dark matter reacting to gravitational forces, just like normal matter.Did Hubble find water vapor on a planet beyond our solar system? One scientist's theoretical model says it did. Scientists are always excited about the possibility of finding water on another planet, since it's one of the three things we believe is necessary for life, along with carbon and energy. Carbon and oxygen has also been detected already in the planet's atmosphere.
A new radio telescope array is under construction in one of Earth's most inaccessible places. The telescope, called the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), is located in Chile's mountainous Atacama Desert at an altitude of 16,500 feet. The wavelengths the telescope will be observing are absorbed by moisture in the atmosphere, so the dry, high-altitude desert air is essential for the telescope to work. The array will not be complete until 2012, but some of its components have recently undergone successful critical tests in New Mexico.
The satellite New Horizons is headed to Pluto. Launched in January 2006, it is destined to arrive at Pluto in 2015. What is it doing along the way? It received a gravity assist to send it in the right direction at Jupiter and it also snapped imagery of Jupiter and its satellite Io. Also, the Hubble Space Telescope is working with the New Horizons mission, obtaining complementary images from Hubble's vantage point, in orbit around the Earth.
This year marks a momentous anniversary in the history of space exploration. It is both the 150th birthday of the Russian space visionary Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, the first Earth-orbiting satellite. The man most responsible for that historic accomplishment is Sergey Korolyov, almost completely unheard of during his lifetime but now recognized as the man who likely sparked the competition between the former Soviet Union and United States to succeed in space, known as the space race.
Hubble has stared into the Carina Nebula to view star formation in intense detail. Stellar winds and ultraviolet radiation from the giant stars that have formed in the nebula are shredding the surrounding gas that contributed to their formation. Some of the stars are at least 50 to 100 times the mass of the Sun. Our Sun and solar system may have formed from a similar situation 4.6 billion years ago.At least 50,000 galaxies have turned up in another Hubble image, revealing new information about the universe's younger days. The panoramic Hubble image shows groupings and scatterings of galaxies. Among the distinctive ones are a giant red galaxy with a duo of black holes at its center and a number of new "gravitational lenses," or places where the gravity from a galaxy cluster bends and magnifies objects beyond it. The Hubble image is part of a larger project to study galaxies in a small but representative area of the sky, in order to get an idea of what the universe looks like in all directions.
Planetary nebulae form when a Sun-sized star dies, ejecting clouds of gas and dust into space. In fact, when our Sun ends its life, it will be as a planetary nebula. Scientists are trying to discover how such dying stars form the complex, colorful structures of nebulae. If they can discover how the process works, it will help explain how the elements in stars find their way into space, and then into new star systems and planets.
In February, a new telescope opened its gaze to the sky. A new telescope isn't that unusual, but this one's location stands out. The telescope is located at the South Pole.The South Pole Telescope, funded primarily by the National Science Foundation, is designed to help answer some fundamental questions about the universe. Many of the telescope's observations will be focused around dark matter and dark energy, twin mysteries that present a major hole in our understanding of the cosmos.
We know quite a bit about the Sun's surface and what goes on at the Sun's equator, but the poles remain a puzzle. We can't see the poles very well, and most solar satellites have viewed the sun from mid-latitudes.The Ulysses satellite has been circling the Sun over the poles to sample these exotic regions. The poles spew out charged particles in a blast of plasma. Observations taken in February 2007 of the Sun's south pole will be compared with observations of the north pole in 2008.
Titan, the mysterious moon of Saturn, has surprised scientists again. NASA's Cassini spacecraft detected what looks like large seas in Titan's northern hemisphere. The largest of the seas is bigger than either our Lake Superior or the Black Sea. The seas are not filled with water, but rather methane and ethane.
One of the strangest objects we know of is a neutron star, which forms upon the death of a star about twice the mass of the Sun. At the end of its life, the massive star collapses into a tiny object just 6-12 miles (10-20 km) in diameter. Because so much mass is crushed into such a small space, neutron stars are incredibly dense. A thimbleful of neutron star material weighs a hundred million tons.Neutron stars are often found spinning, and can emit X-rays as they spin. A recently discovered neutron star called XTE J1739-285 appears to be the fastest spinning neutron star known. It spins 1122 times every second.
The Hubble Space Telescope has been watching a supernova in progress since its launch in 1990. The stellar explosion, which first appeared in 1987, is known as SN1987A. Hubble has observed over the years as the shockwave from the explosion slams into the rings of gas circling the dying star. This is astronomers' first close-up and personal view of the death of a massive star."Hot Jupiters," huge gas planets located perilously close to their parent stars, appear to be scattered throughout our galaxy. One such planet is so close to its star that its atmosphere has puffed up from the heat and is boiling off into space. Hubble is helping astronomers get a glimpse at what that atmosphere is like.The New Horizons space probe, on its way to Pluto, recently swung by the planet Jupiter. The planet's gravity helped slingshot the probe deeper into space. But while it was there, New Horizons took pictures of the gas giant. Hubble took images of Jupiter at the same time, allowing scientists to compare and contrast pictures from both missions.
The universe is full of calcium ? the same substance that helps clot blood and fortifies bones. Calcium, in fact, is the fifth most common element on our planet. We know that elements like iron and sulfur come from the nuclear reactions in exploding stars. It turns out that these supernovae explosions also produce calcium.New X-ray observations taken at the XMM-Newton Observatory indicate that the universe has more calcium than previously thought, giving rise to new theories about the formation of elements and the role of supernovae in their creation.
How did the universe come into being? To figure out where the universe came from and how it's evolving, we need to look at what was happening very early, right after the Big Bang.Scientists can look for "first light," the leftover glow from the Big Bang. The leftover heat is part of the microwave spectrum. Two earlier satellites, the Cosmic Background Explorer Satellite (COBE) and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe studied this "cosmic background radiation." The satellites were designed to be extremely sensitive to changes in temperature, and mapped the radiation throughout the sky.Now a new satellite, the European Space Agency's Planck probe, will examine that background radiation. Planck, set to launch in 2008, will map the sea of microwaves with a precision that was unattainable earlier
A large planet, the size of Jupiter, orbits the star HD 209458. The planet, creatively called HD 209458b, has been studied extensively since its discovery in 1999. Its orbit periodically brings the planet between its star and us, allowing astronomers to detect it using a technique called spectroscopy. The planet's orbit is short, about 3.5 days, because the planet is very close to the parent star. Observations by Hubble found sodium, carbon and oxygen in the planet's atmosphere. Newer observations show that the star is heating up the outer atmosphere of HD 209458b so much that hydrogen is streaming off of it into space.
The Earth will cast its shadow on the Moon on March 3, causing a lunar eclipse. Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are perfectly safe to watch, so grab a pair of binoculars and see how the Moon appears in the shade. The Moon should take on a strong reddish or orange tinge as it falls into the Earth's shadow.
The New Horizons spacecraft is on its way to Pluto and will arrive in 2015. To speed things up as much as possible, the spacecraft is about to swing by Jupiter. Jupiter's gravity will give it a push that will boost its speed by 9,000 mph. While zooming by the giant planet, the probe will examine its cloudy atmosphere, moons and gigantic tail of charged particles that stretches as far back as the orbit of planet Saturn.
An international team of astronomers has mapped out the dark matter in the universe for the first time. The map shows that normal matter seems to accumulate along the densest concentrations of the invisible substance.Hubble found a blizzard of particles in a dust disk around a young star, helping scientists understand the way planets eventually form from the clumping together of tiny particles. The particles are as fluffy as snowflakes and about 10 times larger than normal interstellar dust grains.Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys, Hubble's most prized instrument, shut down in January after an electrical fuse blew. The ACS had lived out its expected five year lifetime, but NASA is currently attempting to identify the precise cause of the problem and decide whether it would be safe to return ACS to operation. In the meantime, Hubble's three other instruments are operating normally. The servicing mission planned for 2008 would add new, more powerful instruments to the telescope.
Astronomers are on the hunt for more planets in other star systems In December, the Europeans launched a satellite called COROT to look some more. COROT, which stands for "Convection Rotation and Planetary Transits," is designed to detect the faint dimming of light as a planet moves between the observatory and its home star. COROT will also look for seismic waves that cause ripples on stars, giving hints to the stars' structures and perhaps their masses and ages.
The Cassini spacecraft has detected geysers in a most unusual place - on Saturn's icy moon, Enceladus. Cassini's images show plumes ejecting large amounts of particles at high speed. The geysers could resemble those in Yellowstone, except that they erupt with icy water.Scientists are excited by the find, suspecting that it could indicate reservoirs of water just meters below the moon's surface. Other moons in the solar system are known to have water, but those reservoirs are also thought to be covered by kilometers of ice.
Dark matter, the invisible substance that seems to make up most of the matter in the universe, remains a mystery. Astronomers think that mapping the presence of dark matter might help them understand it better.By combining observations from many telescopes, including Hubble, the Very Large Telescope in Chile, and a variety of radio and infrared telescopes, astronomers created a three-dimensional map of the distribution of dark matter in the universe. Interestingly, normal matter appears to accumulate along the densest concentration of dark matter.
Hubble has found stars clusters where no star clusters should be -- cast adrift in the open space between galaxies. The clusters may give hints about the nature of the early universe.Scientists hit the jackpot with a remarkably lucky find - a double Einstein ring. A rare alignment of a trio of galaxies distorts light, forming a duo of rings that could reveal information about a host of galactic mysteries.A new book opens the universe of modern telescope images to the blind. "Touch the Invisible Sky" combines Braille with embossed pictures to show visually impaired students what astronomical objects look like in different types of radiation, or the "invisible" light referred to in the title.
Weather predictions in space are even trickier than forecasts on Earth. Space weather forecasting largely deals with the pattern of the Sun's activity, or solar cycle.Scientists monitor Sun activity by counting sunspots. These spots are associated with magnetic storms and the ejection of huge plasma plumes from the Sun. Plasma plumes take about three days to reach Earth.Space weather is important in part because of its effect on satellites. A strong solar cycle can expand the Earth's atmosphere, slowing down orbiting satellites - including the Hubble Space Telescope.
Talk of building bases on the Moon has revived interest in the lunar environment. Scientists are trying to determine whether there are any sources of water on the Moon. Those sources would be ice, probably located in craters. Unfortunately, the prospects don't look good. Radar observations of Shackleton Crater at the Moon's south pole have shown no signs of water. Scientists plan to keep looking.
As we begin the year 2007, it's time for a look back at Hubble's accomplishments in 2006. Join us for Hubble highlights on dark matter and dark energy, planetary discoveries, and the news on the mission to prolong Hubble's life.
The population of known stars in our stellar neighborhood ? within about 33 light years ? has increased by 16 percent in six years. That?s not because the number of stars has increased, but because astronomers are working hard to find these stars, conducting a kind of cosmic census of our region of space. By finding all the stars in our stellar neighborhood, scientists identify possible targets for planetary systems.
On Jan. 4, 2006, the Earth reached perihelion, or the closest point in its elliptical orbit to the Sun. Yet the Northern Hemisphere isn't exactly toasty in the beginning of January. What gives?It's actually the tilt of the Earth that causes the changes in the seasons, not the proximity of the Earth to the Sun. Right now the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the Sun, meaning less sunlight hits the surface. The less sunlight, the colder it is.How sunlight affects the Earth depends on where it hits. Ground heats more quickly than water, so continents react more swiftly to changes in the amount of sunlight than oceans.
Comets travel to Earth and the Sun on orbits that originate in the far reaches of our solar system. From observations and samples collected from a few comets, it seemed that the icy realm far beyond the orbit of Pluto was their birthplace. Comets have been called "dirty snowballs" because they?re composed mostly of ice and some grainy material.The results emerging from the Stardust mission, which snatched a material sample from an actual comet, suggests that some of comet material formed in an intensely hot environment. Scientists believe comets, planets, asteroids and other objects formed from the disk of gas and dust that collected around the Sun. Perhaps the Sun spewed jets of hot material to the far reaches of the disk, giving the comets their blistering background.
NASA plans to delay the launch of the next space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, until 2013. JWST is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, but differs from it in many ways. JWST will not be serviceable - instead, it will orbit a million miles from Earth, and its goal will be to see the first galaxies that formed in the early universe. Its instruments are designed to see primarily in infrared, perceived by humans as heat.
In 2002, an ordinary star in the night sky suddenly flashed to a brightness 600,000 times that of the Sun. No one knows why the eruption occurred, but since then, astronomers have monitored the star, known as V838 Monocerotis (V838 Mon), with the Hubble Space Telescope. An interesting nebula has formed and appears to be expanding around the central object. The nebula isn't really expanding though. The light from the intense brightening of the star is traveling through space, reflecting as it goes off the dust surrounding the star. This effect is called a "light echo." It's something like listening to a shout in the mountains as it reflects off of various surfaces.
Could microbes survive on Mars? Along with microbiologists at the University of Maryland, astronomers from the Space Telescope Science Institute have been studying how microbes adapt to frigid temperatures by clustering together to protect each other from the cold.It's good news for the Hubble Space Telescope - NASA has decided to launch another servicing mission to repair and update the telescope. Four previous servicing missions have kept Hubble at peak performance, but the last one was canceled after the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003. In addition to fixing degraded components, astronauts will provide Hubble with a new camera and other instruments to make it more powerful than ever.
A mission to Mars would be fraught with difficulties. For instance, the intense radiation of the Sun could cause long-term damage to the astronauts who would have to travel for months to reach the distant planet. Now a student at the University of Arizona has come up with a unique way of using asteroids to shield astronauts from this dangerous radiation. Daniella Della-Guistina of the University of Arizona won a NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts fellowship to study the concept.
Astronomers are trying to understand the true nature of "dark energy," the repulsive force that appears to be accelerating the expansion of the universe. Some of the questions: has dark energy always been around? Has it been consistent in its behavior? With the Hubble Space Telescope researchers have been able to find very distant supernovae similar to the nearby supernovae used to measure the acceleration. These distant supernovae indicate that the acceleration was present in the early universe, and the rate of acceleration is consistent with what would be expected from dark energy.
Globular clusters, groups of hundreds of thousands of stars held together by gravity, formed in the early universe. Astronomers have predicted that, due to the force of gravity over millions of years, the most massive stars would migrate to the center of the cluster, while the "lighter" stars would drift to the outer parts. The Hubble Space Telescope recently discovered evidence that this theory was true by measuring the speed of stars in 47 Tucanae - one of the densest globular clusters in the Southern hemisphere.
Titan is the largest moon orbiting Saturn. New images from the Cassini spacecraft show the frigid moon has features very similar to some on Earth. The new radar images show a bright region about the size of Australia, called Xanadu. Discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1994, Xanadu is surrounded by dark terrain and contains sand dunes, hills, valleys and possibly even rivers and lakes.
Hubble captured an eclipse on Uranus, as the icy moon Ariel cast its shadow onto the planet?s cloudy atmosphere. It?s the first such eclipse viewed. Uranus orbits the Sun so slowly that a single season lasts 42 years.On the opposite end of the spectrum, Hubble found a planet that orbits its star every 10 hours. The Jupiter-size planet, 3000 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature, is extremely close to its star.Hubble has found a rare example of a galaxy under construction. A recent image shows a group of smaller galaxies merging into a massive galaxy over 10 billion years away. Astronomers believe this is how today?s galaxies formed.
The expansion rate and scale of the universe are fundamental quantities that astronomers strive to nail down. As of 2001, the expansion rate of the universe, and therefore the distance scale, was pretty well determined.New observations of a binary star system in a nearby galaxy, M33, has highlighted the difficulty of measuring vast distances. The stars' dimness indicates that the system is 15 percent farther away than expected - about 3 million light-years away, instead of 2.6 million light-years. The discovery could call into question the rate of expansion of the universe, known as the Hubble constant. If the new analysis survives the test of time, it could be that the universe is 15% larger and older than previously thought.
The United States space policy recently underwent a somewhat controversial revision. The new Bush administration policy stresses protecting US interests in space and denying "freedom of action" in space to adversaries. The policy says "freedom of action in space" is as important as air power and sea power to the United States.The policy also supports the administration's previously stated Moon and Mars agenda, as well as such traditional concerns as space debris, but some are concerned that the new policy will fuel other countries' suspicions that the US intends to leave the door open for placing weaponry in space.
Astronomers studying two of Hubble?s deepest views of the universe have discovered 500 dwarf galaxies that existed when the universe was about a billion years old. These tiny galaxies have unusual rates of star formation, making stars 10 times faster than the galaxies we see today. Astronomers think the radiation from these furiously active galaxies may have led to the re-heating of the cold hydrogen gas that existed between galaxies in the early universe, a major turning point in the evolution of the cosmos.
What would happen if astronauts traveling to the Moon or Mars were in need of serious medical attention? They might not be able to return to Earth in time for treatment. So recently a team of French surgeons performed the first zero-gravity surgery aboard a specially outfitted plane, removing a benign tumor from the arm of a volunteer. This is the first time such an operation has been carried out on human being. The chief surgeon said operation, conducted as the plane went through maneuvers meant to simulate the weightlessness of space, "went ahead without any particular difficulty."
Searching for planets, Hubble is finding strange, immense objects that fall in between planets and stars. Hubble recently found an object orbiting a red star that is about the size of Jupiter, but weighs 12 times more. The object could be a planet, or it could be a star that was unable to achieve fusion - an object also known as a brown dwarf.Hubble has uncovered a number of galaxies that existed less than a billion years after the Big Bang. Astronomers believe the new observations help show that galaxies grew from smaller star clusters that drew together and merged. Many of the galaxies are obvious around 900 million years after the Big Bang, but scientists can find very few only 200 million years earlier, indicating a lot of small-galaxy collision and merging during those 200 million years.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, Chinese astronomers spotted a new star in the night sky. This particular ?guest star,? as they were then called, was catalogued in Chinese records with its exact location noted. The star eventually faded over the eight months time. And now astronomers have found what they think is the remains of that exploded star, the oldest on record.
More and more planets! A recent Hubble Space Telescope survey of over 180,000 stars turned up 16 new planets, very far away from the Sun. These systems are about a quarter of the way across our Milky Way galaxy. The planets found are larger than Jupiter and orbit around their stars very quickly, very close to the star.Early planet searches involved looking for a ?wobble? in the motion of stars caused by large planets. A new technique is to look for the slight dimming of a star?s light caused by a planet passing, or ?transiting,? in front of the star. To use this technique, the orbit of the planet has to be just right, and the planet needs to be fairly large to block out enough light.The results of the search are good news for NASA?s Kepler Mission, which will search for smaller planets using the transit technique.
In the dusty center of the Milky Way lies the Quintuplet Cluster - five bright stars surrounded by hundreds of lesser stars.The cluster was discovered in 1990 by peering through the dust with infrared telescopes. Since then scientists have debated the character of this odd object - were the stars old or young, and how did they form?Scientists using the Keck Telescope - the largest optical telescope in the world - have taken a closer look at the cluster's brightest stars. They discovered that the stars are at the end of their lives and about to go supernova. The bright, massive stars burn through their fuel quickly, so they won't be terribly old when they finally explode.Scientists found spiral shapes around two of the stars in the cluster. The stars' mutual gravity pulls material from each other's atmosphere, causing fiery pinwheel shapes to form within the cluster. These spiral shapes are the size of our entire solar system.
When the Cassini-Huygens mission's Huygens probe landed in 2005 on Titan, Saturn's largest moon, it dropped into a puddle of mud.Titan experiences a constant drizzle of liquid methane. On Earth, methane is a flammable gas, but Titan has no oxygen in its atmosphere, preventing combustion. The frigid Titan temperatures of minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 148 degrees Celsius) allow the methane to pour down in liquid form from Titan's methane-nitrogen clouds.
Scientists have a theory about the size of stars. Stars must be about 80 times the mass of Jupiter in order to shine. It's the limit at which fusion can occur.Below that limit, scientists think, fusion occurs briefly before the object turns into a cool cinder called brown dwarf.New observations of nearby globular cluster NGC 6397 are helping confirm the theory. Globular clusters — compact groups of stars — are especially useful for this test since they contain hundreds to thousands of stars and are billions of years old. By studying the cluster until they found all the hydrogen-burning stars, scientists found the dimmest stars in the cluster, including the lowest-mass stars capable of sustaining fusion.The scientists also examined the burned out remains of stars that died long ago, called white dwarfs. In doing so, they discovered an effect that was predicted, but never witnessed. As a rule of thumb, the hottest stars are known to burn blue, while cooler stars burn red. The dimmest of the cluster's white dwarf stars have such low temperatures that they are undergoing a chemical change in their atmospheres that makes them appear bluer rather than redder as they cool.
Hubble has found the dimmest stars in the galaxy. The faint red dwarfs, about as bright as a birthday cake candle viewed on the Moon from Earth, are located in the ancient globular star cluster NGC 6397. Globular star clusters are compact groups of hundreds of thousands of stars.Dark matter has long been a mystery to astronomers. Now Hubble has helped astronomers find conclusive proof of the existence of dark matter. Hubble and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory found that dark matter and normal matter were wrenched apart by a collision of two clusters of galaxies. The observations showed that most of the matter in the galaxy cluster IE 0657-556 is separate from the normal matter. Most of the matter in the cluster, in fact, is dark matter.The complex and intricate structure of an exploded star is on display in one of Hubble?s latest pictures, an image of supernova remanant Cassiopeia A. The remnant is young - only about 340 years old - and Hubble has viewed it repeatedly to look for changes in the filaments of gas cast off in the initial explosion.
About 10,000 light years from Earth, embedded in heart of a "supernova remnant" — the remains of an exploded star — lies a stellar object unlike any ever seen in our galaxy. The object looks like a densely packed neutron star surrounded by a bubble of ejected stellar material, just what would be expected in wake of a supernova explosion. But observations by an orbiting x-ray satellite revealed a strange pattern of x-ray emissions. The object is less than 2,000 years old, but behaves like a neutron star that has been around for several million years old.
Pluto has lost its planet status, according to a recent decision by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).Before 1930, when Pluto was found, everyone knew there were only eight planets. Pluto was considered an oddball even at the time of its discovery. The solar system has four rocky planets - Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars — followed by four large, gaseous planets - Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Astronomers expected any other planets further than that to also be gas giants. Instead they found Pluto, a tiny ball of ice with an odd orbit.Many astronomers now feel they simply made a mistake by classifying Pluto as a planet. The discovery of objects like Xena, very similar to Pluto, sharpened the debate. If Pluto had remained a planet, dozens of new planets might have been added to the solar system.
Recent evidence from X-ray telescopes reveals thousands of black holes in our galaxy and beyond. While many have formed in the collapse of massive stars, others are far more massive and contain millions to billions of times the mass of a single star. Scientists are still trying to understand how matter behaves around black holes.
NASA, just like the rest of us, must balance a checkbook. Sometimes the unexpected occurs, requiring adjustments. A lot of input goes into deciding the finances for science missions. Scientists construct plans that span 10 years. NASA must balance its priorities and come up with realistic costs for the missions. Then Congress enters the act, placing constraints. Recently, the Bush administration mandated an exploration program, and the space shuttle program experienced a tragedy and numerous related problems. Budgeting became particularly complex.Earlier this year, NASA submitted a budget to Congress that eliminated the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a telescope mounted in a plane. On July 7, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin announced SOFIA would be restored, but at the cost of the Space Interferometry Mission (SIM), designed to measure the distances between stars.
The presence of two disks of dust around the star Beta Pictoris signals the possible existence of a Jupiter-sized planet around the distant star. A picture of disk galaxy NGC 5866 shows a crisp dust lane dividing the galaxy in two halves. Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys is back on track after a power failure took it out of service for two weeks. One of its latest images will help astronomers study the mysterious force known as dark energy.Get the details on these topics in this month?s HubbleWatch, your roundup of the latest Hubble Space Telescope science and discoveries.
Schedule some time outside on the evening of Aug. 12 to catch the annual Perseid meteor shower. The most-watched annual shower features 100 meteors per hour, but the light of this year?s full Moon will probably cut that down to 20 to 30 meteors per hour. Meteorites are bits of comet dust that burn up as they enter the Earth?s atmosphere.
Meteorites crash into the Moon all the time. NASA is trying to find out more about the impacts.Astronomers at Marshall Space Flight Center have monitoring the Moon?s nighttime side. The nighttime side is visible when the Moon is almost in its new moon phase — that is, when the sunlit side of the Moon faces away from Earth.The observations are not easy. They can only be taken about 10 times per month.But the astronomers were lucky enough to observe a meteoroid strike in November 2005. They were also able to record a movie of another strike in May 2006.
Hubble?s Advanced Camera for Surveys, out of commission for almost two weeks after its primary power supply failed, is back to normal. NASA engineers were able to switch the camera to a backup power supply.The Advanced Camera for Surveys, or ACS, is Hubble?s newest instrument, installed in 2002. Its expanded wavelength range allows it to see in light ranging from ultraviolet to infrared. It was designed to study some of the earliest activity in the universe.
Astronomers combing through the archives of x-ray observations taken by the XMM-Newton telescope have found the most distant cluster of galaxies ever seen. The objects, embedded in hot gas that glows with x-rays, are located nearly 10 billion light years away. They offer a tantalizing glimpse of what galaxy clusters would have been like at the earliest stages of their formation.Strangely, though the cluster — named XMM 2215-1738 — must have formed when the universe was relatively young, its galaxies' colors indicate old age.
So what is a planet, exactly? Sure, we're familiar with Earth and Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. But recently astronomers have been discovering strange, small worlds at the far edges of our solar system. Some are close to Pluto in size - one is actually bigger. Do they all get to be called planets? If so, improving detection techniques could leave us with hundreds, even thousands, of "planets." At an upcoming meeting, astronomers hope to finally decide the definition of "planet."
Pluto's two newly discovered moons now boast the names of Nix and Hydra, after the goddess of the night and the nine-headed snake that guards the entrance of Hades. The gravitational power of a group of galaxies magnifies the light of a distant quasar and multiplies it into five distinct images. All the lights are on in the region of Arp 220, where a merger between two galaxies has birthed a multitude of new stars. Get the details on these topics in this month?s HubbleWatch, your roundup of the latest Hubble Space Telescope science and discoveries.
A rock carving discovered in Arizona might depict an ancient star explosion seen by Native Americans a thousand years ago. The carving, or "petroglyph" by the Hohokam people was discovered in White Tanks Regional Park just outside Phoenix. It could be the only known American record of the famed supernova of 1006 A.D., seen by stargazers in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The 1006 supernova was possibly the brightest stellar event in human history, though little remains visible today.
Astronomers like to see galaxies at various angles, since certain angles present better views of galaxies' structures. Recently, Hubble took a picture of NGC 5866, an "edge-on" galaxy. Our view of the galaxy is almost level with its edge.The galaxy was imaged in a variety of filters so that its tight, dark dust lane, flattened disk of blue stars and extended halo can be identified. Close examination of the image shows a small red bulge surrounding the nucleus of NGC 5866 and numerous globular clusters in an extended region around the halo. Had the galaxy been seen face-on, it would have revealed little more detail than a flat disk.NGC 5866 is a spectacular example of an "S0" galaxy. S0 galaxies have features of both smooth, uniform elliptical galaxies and complex spiral galaxies. They were originally thought to be transition objects between the two types of galaxies. Scientists now believe they may actually form in a variety of ways.
Our Milky Way belongs to a cluster of about a dozen galaxies known as the Local Group. New discoveries keep increasing that cluster's number. Astronomers are finding more of the small dwarf galaxies that hover around our Milky Way. These dwarf galaxies, hidden among the stars, gas and dust of our own galaxy, are difficult to detect. But a new survey of the sky is helping astronomers pick out more of our galaxy's little companions.
An international team of professional and amateur astronomers, using simple, off-the-shelf equipment to search the skies for planets outside our solar system, has struck gold. The astronomers discovered a Jupiter-sized planet, named XO-1b, orbiting a Sun-like star 600 light-years from Earth in the constellation Corona Borealis. Using modest telescopes to search for extrasolar planets could create a collaboration between professional and amateur astronomers that would accelerate the quest to find extrasolar planets.
A comet the size of a city shatters into house-sized fragments under the Sun's caress. Supernova-sparked gamma ray bursts have the power to fry planets, but don't panic yet - our galaxy seems an unlikely candidate for such an explosion. Amateur astronomers, break out those telescopes; you can help locate planets beyond our solar system. Jupiter's renowned Great Red Spot has company - Red Spot Junior, another hurricane-like storm roaring through the atmosphere. Get the details on these topics in this month's HubbleWatch, your roundup of the latest Hubble Space Telescope science and discoveries.
A new meteorite the size of a beach ball has been discovered a half-mile below a giant crater in South Africa. The meteorite fragment has unusual qualities. First, it's largely unchanged by the extreme heat from its impact, while most giant meteorites are believed to vaporize or melt seconds after striking the Earth. Second, its chemical makeup is different from any other meteorite collected on Earth in the past. This new meteorite had to have been much larger when it crashed into Earth. At 10 inches, it would have created a crater only three miles across, but it was found in a crater 43 miles across.
A single, distant quasar can be seen five times in a recent Hubble Space Telescope picture, thanks to an effect called "gravitational lensing."The gravity of a cluster of foreground galaxies bends and amplifies the light from the more-distant quasar. Light from the quasar, the core of a galaxy powered by a supermassive black hole, is both magnified and bent, creating the five separate images.
Sunspots are dark regions, cooler than the rest of the Sun's surface, that appear and disappear. Every 11 years, the Sun cycles from spotty to clear and then back again. Sunspots bring increased solar storms, which can harm Earth satellites, communications and power, so understanding their cycles and strengths would be beneficial.But the Sun's 11 year cycle of sunspots and solar storms has always been difficult to predict accurately. Now scientists using new technology and new models may have done just that. Helioseismology, for instance, is a new technique that tracks sound waves reverberating inside the Sun to reveal details about its interior.
Ten billion miles away lies an object officially called 2003 UB313, but commonly known as Xena. Xena was discovered a few years ago, and since then, it's been carefully observed by a variety of telescopes.The Hubble Space Telescope recently nailed down the diameter of Xena at 1,490 miles, larger than Pluto's 1,422 miles. Xena is very reflective, almost like a mirror. From detailed observations of the reflected sunlight, it looks like Xena has a methane surface. It's possible that methane froze out of Xena's atmosphere, since it is so far away from the Sun.Xena also has a moon in orbit around it. The moon may help astronomers figure out the density of the object and draw further comparisons with Pluto.
Astronomers have discovered a tiny galaxy that appears to have an extremely energetic black hole at its center. It's not unusual for black holes to inhabit galactic centers, but this one is generating as much energy as those found in much larger galaxies. This rare find may help us better understand how galaxies evolve.
- A story from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
- The Very Large Array and the Apache Point Observatory?s 3.5 meter telescope studied the galaxy.
- Apache Point is home to the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which also studied the tiny galaxy.
The Sun will be around for about another 5 billion years. After that, the Sun will have exhausted the hydrogen fuel it uses for fusion. Its outer atmosphere will swell, vaporizing the Earth's atmosphere and boiling the seas. Scientists wonder if there is a way to extend the Sun's life.Hydrogen is converted to helium during fusion, releasing energy in the Sun's core. This energy is transported through the surface. When the fuel is exhausted, a lot of hydrogen will still be left throughout the structure of the Sun. Perhaps scientists could figure out how to transport that unused hydrogen into the Sun's core.Alternately, smaller-mass stars burn their fuel more slowly. Is there a way to remove mass from the sun? Both ideas are pretty tricky since the Sun is comprised of hot plasma.
How small can an object be and still be called a star? Or, how big can an object be and still be considered a planet?Stars form from large, swirling clouds of gas and dust that have so much mass that they collapse. As the star forms, its interior becomes so hot that fusion begins. The star shines with its own fuel.Planets seem to form around stars. They seem to coalesce from the clumps of the material left over from the star formation process. Planets shine by reflecting light from their parent star.Somewhere in between planets and stars are brown dwarfs. Astronomers are trying to find these objects to help them better understand how stars and planets form. Current theory suggests that brown dwarfs form like stars, but never obtain enough mass to ignite the fusion process.New observations of two brown dwarfs orbiting together allowed scientists to measure the masses of the objects. The observations confirm the theory that brown dwarfs start out as star-sized objects, but shrink and cool, becoming increasingly planet-sized as they age.
Some scientists believe gullies running along the inner edges of some Martian craters were carved by liquid water, but new findings suggest they might instead be the result of landslides triggered by wind and meteor impacts. Researchers recently noticed similar gullies on a crater of Earth's Moon, where no water exists. The Moon gullies were likely caused by dry flows of dust and sand.
Our Milky Way galaxy and one of our closest galactic neighbors, the Andromeda galaxy, appear to have had similar beginnings, and even evolved in similar ways over the first billion years of their lives. Astronomers found evidence of this when they recently used Hawaii's Keck Telescope to survey stars in Andromeda's halo, the fainter corona of stars and gas that extends well beyond the brighter visible familiar in photos.
We may not have seen the end of the Stardust mission.The mission, whose probe scooped up samples of comet material before returning to Earth in January 2006, still has a mothership in space. Analysis of the samples offers enticing clues about the formation of comets and our solar system.Researchers are considering whether the Stardust mothership, now in hibernation, could be used to take pictures of Comet Tempel 1 - specifically, the part blown open in July 2006 by another comet mission, Deep Impact.Lots of ideas are submitted to NASA for creating new missions and reusing old ones. The agency convenes a panel to fairly review all these ideas and see which ones are affordable.
When galaxies merge, gemstone-like crystals form in the entangled hearts.Galaxy collisions trigger huge amounts of star formation. Some of the stars are extremely massive and burn through their fuel quickly, eventually exploding as supernovae. The supernovae spew out silicate material. The dust and crystals envelope the nuclei of the galaxies for a short time before the crystals are destroyed by radiation.Scientists using the Spitzer Space Telescope observed 77 galaxies in the process of merging. These galaxies are distributed across the sky and located at a variety of distances, from 240 million light years to 5.9 billion light years away. Twenty-one of the galaxies showed these crystal cocoons around their centers.
Usually planets orbiting a star all orbit in the same direction. But a newly discovered system may have planets orbiting both ways. The new system isn't a true solar system yet, but has two disks of material rotating in opposite directions around a central star. The disk provides the material that will eventually form into planets.This is the first time anything like this has been seen in a forming solar system. It means that the process of forming planets from disks is more complex than previously expected.
In our search for life on other worlds, where do we look among the billions of stars in our own Milky Way galaxy? Scientists can listen for radio transmissions from nearby stars where intelligent civilizations might be, or they can try to recognize planets similar to ours in habitable zones around nearby stars. Either method is tricky and depends on choosing the right targets out of the thousands of stars that lie relatively close to our own solar system.Recently, astronomer Margaret Turnbull identified the top 10 stars that may harbor habitable zones where life - either primitive or advanced - might exist. Earth-based telescopes may be able to examine five of the stars, while the other five would be good targets for a future "planet finder" mission.
More than 8,000 objects orbit the Earth, so the competition is pretty fierce for the weirdest thing out there. That said, SuitSat has to take top honors.On Feb. 3, astronauts at the International Space Station threw overboard an empty Russian space suit equipped with batteries, a radio transmitter and internal sensors. SuitSat transmitted its condition as it floated through space. Students and ham radio operators listened in on the transmissions until its batteries wore out.
Deep in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans lies evidence of a massive cosmic dust storm over 8 million years ago.Scientists found helium-3, an element rarely found on Earth, in a layer of ocean sediment dating to that time period. The dust storm, the biggest of the past 80 million years, was likely caused by an asteroid that broke apart in space. As the Earth traveled its orbit around the Sun, it eventually scooped up tons of the material.
Scientists now have samples of comet dust. On Jan. 15, 2006, the Stardust capsule successfully returned to Earth. Stardust was an ambitious mission to use a satellite to robotically intercept a comet and collect its material for analysis.Stardust encountered Comet Wild 2 in January 2004. The satellite then flew back to Earth and dropped the capsule with the samples. The capsule deployed a parachute and safely streaked through the atmosphere to the Utah desert.Scientists are busy analyzing the comet dust from the samples collected. Since comets contain material from the outer reaches of the solar system, scientists hope that the analysis will help us better understand the formation of the solar system.
The North Star, that friendly, constant guide to sailors and travelers, is actually the North Stars. Scientists have known for some time that Polaris, though it looks like a single bright light from our perspective, is really a star system. The latest images from the Hubble Space Telescope show for the first time a third star, long hidden in the glare of the other two stars in the system.Polaris is a supergiant star more than 2,000 times brighter than Sun. Its distance from Earth makes Polaris only a medium-bright star in our sky - not the brightest by a long shot. Fifty other stars are brighter. The newly photographed companion star is a little more massive than Sun, as well as a little brighter, and a little hotter.
Scientists are finding evidence that the black holes in the centers of galaxies grow over time as galaxies collide and merge with one another.Data from the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, an image that shows galaxies from an early period in the universe, can be compared with computer simulations to uncover clues that point toward black holes in young galaxies.Black holes seem to grow by pulling in stars, gas and dust from surrounding regions of the galaxy. Simulations show the centers of the young galaxies fluctuate in brightness. The fluctuations suggest that black holes may be gobbling stars and dust that spiral near the centers of the host galaxies. More of this material becomes available when the galaxies merge.
A new mystery is afoot in our solar system. Scientists at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Hawaii's Mauna Kea have discovered an object, about a fifth to half the size of Pluto, traveling in an orbit tilted about 47 degrees to most of the other objects in the solar system.The strange orbit is confounding astronomers. In addition to the tilt, the orbit is close to circular - odd in a solar system with mostly elliptical orbits. Scientists have tentatively named the object 2004 XR190, but nicknamed it "Buffy," after the TV show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."Kuiper Belt objects like Buffy can acquire strange orbits by interacting with other objects - but those common explanations don't seem to apply in this case. Buffy's distance and strangely shaped orbit help rule out a close encounter with the usual suspect, Neptune. Likewise, a passing star would have given its orbit a different shape.
Scientists have discovered additional rings around the planet Uranus. Uranus has been known to have a ring system since 1977, but recent Hubble observations show that its ring system is much bigger than thought. The newly discovered rings are very diffuse and twice the diameter of the planet's previously known rings.In addition to this "secondary" ring system, more satellites, or moons, were discovered orbiting Uranus. These satellites are near the rings, giving rise to speculation that dust from the moons could be the basis for the distant rings.
The mass of Earth's nearest white dwarf has finally been measured. White dwarf stars are the collapsed remains of low- to medium-mass stars that have burned out. For over 140 years, astronomers have known that Sirius, the brightest star in the northern sky, is actually a pair of stars: a bright blue-white star and a dim white dwarf.Unfortunately, Sirius A, the brighter of the two, overwhelms the light of Sirius B, the white dwarf.Using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have been able to separate the light of the two stars. They measured Sirius B's mass by studying the effect its strong gravity has on the light it emits. Measuring the mass of white dwarfs is critical to understanding how stars like our Sun evolve.
Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity are celebrating two years of exploring Mars. These golf cart-sized vehicles were only expected to last 3 months, so they have long outlasted their warranties.Spirit landed on Mars on Jan. 3, 2004, and Opportunity on Jan. 24, 2004. Together, the rovers have traveled a total of seven miles - not very impressive until you consider average temperatures well below zero and 100-mph dust devils blowing across the landscape.The rovers accomplished their main mission - to uncover geologic evidence that water once flowed on Mars. They continue to explore the rocky alien terrain.
It's difficult to study our closest star, the Sun. Its brilliance blinds as well as illuminates. Fortunately, for the past decade, we've had Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, monitoring the Sun on a daily basis.SOHO, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in December, studies the Sun's internal structure and far-reaching outer atmosphere, and the stream of gases called the solar wind. Its observations help us better understand the interactions between the Sun and the Earth's environment.SOHO is a joint project of the European Space Agency and NASA. It was built in Europe with instruments provided by European and American scientists.
Preparing a holiday dinner is complicated enough at home. Imagine what it must be like to throw a feast in space. Luckily, times have changed and meals have come a long way from the first applesauce tubes that John Glenn dined on.Holiday meals now consist of favorites - turkey and cranberry sauce and lots of goodies that appeal to astronauts' sweet tooths. Technology has lead to new packaging and better methods for reconstituting food, making dining in space more appealing and fun.
You're off to visit the Moon! It's a long trip, but pack light - the cost of carrying supplies from Earth is extremely expensive.You'll need to find and manufacture much of what you need on the Moon. Fortunately, the Hubble Space Telescope recently confirmed that some of the right materials exist there. It was the first time scientists used Hubble to plan for human space exploration.Hubble observed the Apollo 15 and Apollo 17 landing sites, where astronauts found oxygen-bearing minerals in the 1970s. Hubble also viewed areas that astronauts have never visited - the young Aristarchus impact crater and the adjacent Schroter's Valley.Hubble's ability to see ultraviolet light helped find lunar materials rich in oxygen. Hubble mapped variations in reflections of ultraviolet light off the lunar surface to search for specific minerals.Early measurements of the Hubble observations pinpoint locations of ilmenite at the Apollo 17 landing site. Ilmenite, a titanium material, is potentially a key resource because it contains easily extracted oxygen, which can be used for breathing and rocket fuel.
Scientists believe that gigantic black holes exist in the centers of most galaxies, but only two had actually been confirmed.Now we can bring that number to three. Our neighbor galaxy, Andromeda, was long thought to harbor a black hole at its center. Its core gives off X-rays, the likely product of a disk of gas spiraling into a black hole.But the core also emits a mysterious blue light, a fact known for some time but never really understood.Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph solved the puzzle. The blue glow comes from a flat disk of more than 200 young, hot stars very close to the galaxy's core.All these stars so close to the core is evidence that Andromeda, also known as M31, harbors a black hole twice as large as originally thought. It would contain 140 times the amount of material in our Sun.
What is Pluto?Currently Pluto is embroiled in a controversy over whether it should be called a planet or a Kuiper Belt object. The Kuiper Belt is a group of icy bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune.
Pluto's potential new moonsRecently, scientists discovered two additional moons orbiting Pluto, fueling support for its classification as a planet.Pluto was thought to have only one moon, Charon, which orbits 12,024 miles (19,351 km) from Pluto.The two newly discovered moons are much further away. One orbits 30,000 miles (48,000 km) from Pluto; the other 40,000 miles (64,000 km).Scientists are working to confirm the discovery. And the debate continues over whether Pluto is a planet or a Kuiper Belt object that happens to have three other objects in orbit around it.
Every day, we experience the friendly embrace of gravity. The force of mutual attraction keeps the planets in orbit around the Sun, attaches us firmly to the Earth, and annoys us when we drop something on the floor.But gravity has some other interesting properties. According to Einstein's theory of general relativity, massive objects warp space and time. The force of gravity can cause light to bend toward an object like a giant galaxy.We can watch this happen in an effect called "gravitational lensing," when the gravity of a massive object, like a galaxy, warps and magnifies the images of more distant objects -- much like a giant lens in space.Scientists have found quite a few of these lenses using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Hubble Space Telescope. In fact, 19 new "gravitationally lensed" galaxies have been added to the list of 100 already known.Eight of the objects are so-called "Einstein rings" - beautiful rings produced when two galaxies are almost perfectly aligned.
So what does it take to be a planet? Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have noticed that Ceres, the largest of the asteroids circling the Sun, may contain large amounts of water ice frozen beneath its surface.Ceres is already odd because it's round like a planet, not potato-shaped like most asteroids. Its roundness suggests that its interior likely has a rocky inner core with dense materials, and a thin, dusty and lighter outer crust. Rocky planets like Earth and Mars have a similar structure.So Ceres could be an embryonic planet. It might have formed into a larger sphere if gravity from nearby Jupiter hadn't prevented more material from falling onto Ceres billions of years ago. A new NASA mission called Dawn will launch in 2006 to orbit Ceres and take the first close-up look at the asteroid. Dawn will also visit Vesta, the solar system's second largest asteroid.
For 35 years, the origin of the powerful, split-second flashes of light known as short gamma-ray bursts has been a mystery.Short gamma ray bursts are intense flashes, brighter than a billion suns, that last only a few milliseconds. They're difficult to study because they happen so quickly, without warning, anywhere in the sky. Catching one is like being in a crowd and having a camera flash go off behind your back. You can't turn fast enough to detect where the flash came from.Two years ago, scientists discovered long gamma ray bursts, lasting more than two seconds, that arise from the explosion of massive stars. But about 30 percent of gamma ray bursts are shorter than that.Observations by a number of satellites have helped resolve this puzzle. The recently launched Swift satellite detected a short burst on May 9, 2005, and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory observed -- for the first time ever -- its afterglow. NASA's High-Energy Transient Explorer detected another burst on July 9, 2005.The burst and afterglow suggest a violent collision. Scientists now believe that short gamma ray bursts result from collisions between either a black hole and a neutron star or two neutron stars. In either scenario, the impact creates a new black hole, releasing a terrific amount of energy.
Everyone asks whether the Sun is shining. Hans Bethe asked why it was shining.Bethe, who died in March 2005 at age 98, was the first to explain how the Sun generates energy to shine. In the 1920s, when Bethe was first studying physics, scientists knew that the Sun could release energy by contracting gravitationally. But such shrinking does not produce enough energy to account for the Sun's output.In the late 1930s, Bethe and fellow scientist Charles Critchfield demonstrated how a sequence of nuclear reactions could make the Sun shine. He won the Nobel Prize in 1967 for solving this puzzle and others involving energy production in stars.Bethe was borne on July 2, 1906, in Strasbourg, Germany. He exhibited an early interest in numbers and could do square roots at age 4, and fractions and most other math functions by the age of 5. He fled Europe for America in 1935 under the shadow of Nazism, and joined Cornell University. He worked on the atomic bomb, but became a champion of arms control after World War II.He continued to study stars and the Sun, focusing on supernovae and the high energy physics. Near the end of his long life, at age 95, he saw his theories about solar particles called neutrinos confirmed by difficult, precise measurements made possible with new technology.
This newest image of Pluto - our most distant planetary neighbor - shows more detail than any taken before. It might not look like much, but keep in mind that Pluto is only 1,400 miles (2,253 km) across - about two-thirds the size of our Moon - and more than 3.5 billion miles (5.6 billion km) away.It took the Hubble Space Telescope a dozen orbits around the Earth for the Hubble Space Telescope to take the picture, and nearly two years of computer processing to stitch all the information together. The image shows most of the spherical surface of Pluto spread out into a flat map.The red areas indicate methane ice, which seems to be everywhere. The dark areas may be dirty water-ice. Lighter areas indicate nitrogen frost. The bright spot near the center of the map could be a sign of carbon monoxide.NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is slated to launch in February 2006 on a mission to Pluto - the only planet never visited by spacecraft. It will take close to 10 years to reach the cold planet.After its arrival in 2015, New Horizons will travel on to investigate Pluto's cousins, the icy bodies known as Kuiper Belt Objects. Many contend that Pluto itself should be classified as a Kuiper Belt Object, not a planet.
Check out the night sky soon for a great view of Mars. The "Red Planet" is putting in its brightest appearance until the summer of 2018. You don't need a telescope - just look for a dazzling, star-like object that doesn't twinkle.Mars and Earth have been slowly approaching each other over the past months as they orbit the Sun, and Mars has been getting brighter as it gets closer. The two planetary neighbors will be 43,137,071 miles (69,422,386 km) apart at their closest on Oct. 29. That's still 180 times farther than the Moon, but less than half the distance to the Sun. Mars' orbit will bring it closer to Earth than any other planet except Venus.Another important date is Nov. 7, when Mars arrives at "opposition" to the Sun. As viewed from Earth, the Sun and Mars will be opposite each other in the sky. Mars will rise at sunset and set at sunrise, and therefore remain in the sky all night long.Happy Mars hunting!
Searching for tiny planets near bright stars is challenging.Astronomers would need incredibly large telescopes to detect small planets near host stars. Alternately, they can use several linked telescopes to detect the planets' faint signals. The telescopes work together as one to create the effect of a single giant telescope.The European Space Agency is planning an ambitious mission, called Darwin, that will fly several telescopes together in space.Sweden is interested in building a small, experimental satellite to test the idea. The satellite, Prisma, consists of a large telescope and a smaller second component, called a nano-satellite, that will work together to collect light from space. It could launch as early as 2008.
NASA's Deep Impact mission has given us our closest look at a comet nucleus, and achieved our first contact with one.The Deep Impact spacecraft ejected a robotic probe that collided with Comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005, causing a huge explosion. The impact smashed free a cloud of material that the nearby spacecraft observed. Scientists are now analyzing the data to determine the makeup of the comet.The old idea of comets being "dirty snowballs" may be changing to "snowy dirtballs," since Tempel 1 seems to contain more dust than ice. In fact, the comet may be "mostly empty," in the words of the mission's chief scientist, Dr. Michael A'Hearn from the University of Maryland.Scientists are also surprised by the number of craters on Comet Tempel 1's surface. Neither of the two comets spacecraft previously observed up close appeared to have any craters. Why would comets be so different?Comets are of great interest to scientists because the ice and other materials deep inside are likely pristine and unchanged from early days of solar system.
Astronomers are often asked to determine the time, date, and plausibility of events based on the appearance of the sky.Texas researchers have been investigating famous historical events, art, and literature by studying the astronomical configurations they can deduce were in force at the time.For example: Ansel Adams took the photograph entitled "Autumn Moon, the High Sierra from Glacier Point" some time in 1948 ? or was it another year, as some have argued?Donald Olson and Russell Doescher say no! It was actually Sept. 15, 1948, at 7:03 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.This scene repeated itself this year at nearly the same time on September 15.An added bonus of the astronomers' investigation: a discovery of a color version Adams took while testing Kodak film.
It might be a lake, but you wouldn't want to vacation nearby. Titan, the largest of Saturn's 34 known moons, could have a lake of liquid methane on its surface.Titan, a moon bigger than the planets Mercury and Pluto, has its own atmosphere. NASA's Cassini mission, which has been orbiting Saturn for more than a year, sent out a probe, called Huygens, to Titan's surface. The probe sent images back as it descended.The images show a feature near Titan's south pole that looks like a lake of approximately 145 miles by 45 miles. It has a smooth shoreline and is reminiscent of Earth's lake shores.The region has methane clouds, so if the feature is a lake, it could have been formed by methane raining onto the surface.The next step is to see if the surface of the "lake" is liquid. Without landing there, how can researchers find this out? One idea is to search for reflections off of the surface of the feature, like the glare of sunlight from a water lake on Earth.
New studies of Martian meteorites that have landed on Earth suggest that Mars has been colder than freezing for an extremely long time.Detailed chemical analysis of the Mars meteorites, including the famous ALH84001 meteorite from Allan Hills in Antarctica, shows the long-term temperature of those rocks as very cold. During the last 4 billion years, Mars was likely never warm enough for water to flow on the surface for extended periods of time.
Mars meteorite ALH84001 [NASA/JSC]Mars has geologic formations that look like they could have been caused by water, including deep canyons and apparent, dried-up river beds. Researchers are trying to understand how much water was on Mars, and for how long.If the meteorite analysis is correct, the environment wouldn't have been right for life to develop on Mars - unless it evolved in the first half-billion years of Mars' existence.