Monday, May 2, 2016

Three Potentially Habitable Planets Found Orbiting a Tiny Nearby Star

Artist’s impression of the ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 from close to one of its planets. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Astronomers using the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory have discovered three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth. These worlds have sizes and temperatures similar to those of Venus and Earth and are the best targets found so far for the search for life outside the Solar System. They are the first planets ever discovered around such a tiny and dim star. The new results were published in the journal Nature on May 2, 2016.

The Dew Drop of Saturn

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The water-world Enceladus appears here to sit atop Saturn's rings like a drop of dew upon a leaf. Even though it appears like a tiny drop before the might of the giant Saturn, Enceladus reminds us that even small worlds hold mysteries and wonders to be explored. By most predictions prior to Cassini's arrival at Saturn, a moon the size of Enceladus (313 miles, 504 kilometers across) would have been expected to be a dead, frozen world.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

NASA’s WFIRST Spacecraft Expected to Be a Huge Step Forward in Our Understanding of Dark Matter

An artist's rendering of NASA's Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Conceptual Image Lab

NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) could be a space observatory of the future, destined for great discoveries in the field of astrophysics. With a view about 100 times bigger than that of the iconic Hubble Space Telescope, WFIRST is expected to yield crucial results about the still-elusive dark matter and dark energy.

Rare Transit of Mercury to Take Place on May 9

The transit of Mercury of November 2006. Mercury appears as a small circle in the lower half of the image, and has quite a different appearance to the sunspot groups on the right and left hand limbs of the Sun. Credit: TheBrockenInAGlory.

On May 9 there will be a rare transit of Mercury, when the smallest planet in our Solar System will pass directly between the Earth and the Sun. The last time this happened was in 2006, and the next two occasions will be in 2019 and 2032. During the transit, which takes place in the afternoon and early evening in the UK, Mercury will appear as a dark silhouetted disk against the bright surface of the Sun.

ESA Astronaut Tim Peake Drove Mars Rover 'Bridget' from Space

'Bridget' the rover. Credit: Airbus Defence and Space

The Mars Yard Test Area at Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage was the location for a very special test: European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Tim Peake on Friday, Apr. 29, drove the rover prototype “Bridget” from the International Space Station (ISS). This experiment is part of the ESA METERON program (Multi-Purpose End-To-End Robotic Operation Network) which is validating autonomous and real-time telerobotic operations from space to ground.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Back from the Deep Freeze: A Piece of the Early Solar System Returns

Artist's impression of the unique rocky comet C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS). Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Astronomers have found a unique object that appears to be made of inner Solar System material from the time of Earth's formation, which has been preserved in the Oort Cloud for billions of years. Originally identified by the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS1 telescope, C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS) is a weakly active comet a little over twice as far from the Sun as the Earth. Its current long orbital period (around 860 years) suggests that its source is in the Oort Cloud, and it was nudged comparatively recently into an orbit that brings it closer to the Sun.

New Insights into How the Moon Got 'Inked'

This is an image of the Reiner Gamma lunar swirl from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credits: NASA LRO WAC science team

A powerful combination of observations and computer simulations is giving new clues to how the moon got its mysterious "tattoos" -- swirling patterns of light and dark found at over a hundred locations across the lunar surface. "These patterns, called 'lunar swirls,' appear almost painted on the surface of the moon," said John Keller of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "They are unique; we've only seen these features on the moon, and their origin has remained a mystery since their discovery." Keller is project scientist for NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission, which made the observations.