Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Small Asteroid to Swoosh by Earth on Thursday

A newly discovered near-Earth object (NEO), known as 2017 TD6, is slated to pass by our planet on Thursday, October 19 at 18:52 UTC. The asteroid will miss the Earth at a distance of about 0.5 lunar distances (LD), what corresponds to 192,000 kilometers.

Microbes Leave 'Fingerprints' on Martian Rocks

Biotransformed synthetic Martian Regolith after Metallosphaera sedula cultivation. Credit: University of Vienna

Scientists around Tetyana Milojevic from the Faculty of Chemistry at the University of Vienna are in search of unique biosignatures, which are left on synthetic extraterrestrial minerals by microbial activity. The biochemist and astrobiologist investigates these signatures at her own miniaturized "Mars farm" where she can observe interactions between the archaeon Metallosphaera sedula and Mars-like rocks. These microbes are capable of oxidizing and integrating metals into their metabolism. The original research was currently published in the journal "Frontiers in Microbiology".

Noxious Ice Cloud Found on Titan

This view of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is among the last images the Cassini spacecraft sent to Earth before it plunged into the giant planet’s atmosphere. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Researchers with NASA’s Cassini mission found evidence of a toxic hybrid ice in a wispy cloud high above the south pole of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. The finding is a new demonstration of the complex chemistry occurring in Titan’s atmosphere—in this case, cloud formation in the giant moon’s stratosphere—and part of a collection of processes that ultimately helps deliver a smorgasbord of organic molecules to Titan’s surface.

Study Shows How Water Could Have Flowed on ‘Cold and Icy’ Ancient Mars

Extensive valley networks spidering through the southern highlands of Mars suggest that the planet was once warmer and wetter, but new research shows that water could still have flowed intermittently on a cold and icy early Mars. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University

For scientists trying to understand what ancient Mars might have been like, the red planet sends some mixed signals. Water-carved valleys and lakebeds leave little doubt that water once flowed on the surface. But climate models for early Mars suggest average temperatures around the globe stayed well below freezing.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Small Asteroid Passes Very Close to Earth

A newly discovered small asteroid, designated 2017 TH5, gave Earth a close shave on Monday, October 16, passing by our planet at a relatively close distance of about 0.26 lunar distances (LD), or 99,800 kilometers. The fly-by occurred approximately at 17:15 UTC.

Tiangong-1 Space Laboratory to Crash to Earth within Months

Artist's impression of the Tiangong-1 space laboratory in orbit. Image Credit: CMSA

It could be just a matter of few weeks or months when China’s Tiangong-1 space laboratory will fall to Earth. The spacecraft is continuing its gradual descent towards the surface after control over the mission was lost in early 2016.

Webcam on Mars Express Surveys High-Altitude Clouds

Example of dust clouds imaged by ESA’s Mars Express Visual Monitoring Camera and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Mars Colour Imager (MARCI) in November 2007 over the Utopia region. Arrows indicate the dust front in each image. Credit: MARCI: NASA/JPL/MSSS; VMC: ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

An unprecedented catalog of more than 21 000 images taken by a webcam on ESA’s Mars Express is proving its worth as a science instrument, providing a global survey of unusual high-altitude cloud features on the Red Planet. The low-resolution camera was originally installed on Mars Express for visual confirmation that the Beagle-2 lander had separated in 2003. In 2007 it was switched back on and used primarily for outreach, education and citizen science, with images automatically posted to a dedicated Flickr page, sometimes within just 75 minutes of being taken at Mars.

To Keep Saturn’s A Ring Contained, Its Moons Stand United

A team of Saturn moon keeps Saturn's A ring from spreading. This image from NASA's Cassini mission clearly show the ring's density waves created by the small moons. The waves look like the grooves in a vinyl record.

For three decades, astronomers thought that only Saturn’s moon Janus confined the planet’s A ring – the largest and farthest of the visible rings. But after poring over NASA’s Cassini mission data, Cornell astronomers now conclude that the teamwork of seven moons keeps this ring corralled.

Filling the Early Universe with Knots Can Explain Why the World Is Three-Dimensional

Credit: Keith Wood / Vanderbilt

The next time you come across a knotted jumble of rope or wire or yarn, ponder this: The natural tendency for things to tangle may help explain the three-dimensional nature of the universe and how it formed. An international team of physicists has developed an out-of-the-box theory that shortly after it popped into existence 13.8 billion years ago the universe was filled with knots formed from flexible strands of energy called flux tubes that link elementary particles together. The idea provides a neat explanation for why we inhabit a three-dimensional world and is described in a paper titled “Knotty inflation and the dimensionality of space time” accepted for publication in the European Physical Journal C and available on the arXiv preprint server.

Monday, October 16, 2017

First Observations of Merging Neutron Stars Mark a New Era in Astronomy

Artist’s illustration of two merging neutron stars. Credit: NSF/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet

For the first time, scientists have directly detected gravitational waves — ripples in space-time — in addition to light from the spectacular collision of two neutron stars. This marks the first time that a cosmic event has been viewed in both gravitational waves and light. The discovery was made using the U.S.-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO); the Europe-based Virgo detector; and some 70 ground- and space-based observatories.

Progress MS-07 Freighter Docks with International Space Station

Progress MS-07 on final approach to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

After spending two days catching up with the International Space Station, an automated Russian cargo freighter rendezvoused and docked with the outpost to supply the Expedition 53 crew with food and supplies.

No Aliens Found Yet, But 'Heartbeats' in Universe Heard

Five Hundred Meter Aperture Spherical Telescope  Image Credit & Copyright: Jeff Dai (TWAN)

One is rapid and strong, and the other is slow and weak, like the heartbeats of a youth and an old man passing through a distance of thousands of light years, and then heard by the most sensitive "ear" on Earth. The "ear" is the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), the world's largest radio telescope, with a dish as large as 30 football fields. It is located in a valley deep in southwest China's mountainous Guizhou Province.

Atlas V Successfully Launches NROL-52 Mission for the National Reconnaissance Office

An Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 with the National Reconnaissance Office's NROL-52 payload. Credit: United Launch Alliance/Jeff Spotts

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 on Oct. 15 at 3:28 a.m. EDT. Designated NROL-52, the mission is in support of national security.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Crash Scene Investigation: Resting Place of ESA’s First Lunar Mission Found

Artist's impression of ESA's SMART-1 mission at the Moon. Image Credit: ESA–J. Huart

By analyzing high-resolution images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), researchers have identified the final resting place of European Space Agency’s (ESA) first lunar mission, known as SMART-1. The spacecraft was deliberately crashed into the Moon 11 years ago.

Progress MS-07 Launches Toward the International Space Station

A Soyuz-2.1a with Progress MS-07 launches on Oct. 14, 2017. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

Russia’s Progress MS-07 cargo craft launched toward the International Space Station (ISS) at 4:46 a.m. EDT (08:46 GMT) Oct. 14, 2017, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome located in Kazakhstan. The cargo vessel was sent aloft atop a Soyuz 2.1a rocket with liftoff taking place two days later than originally planned as the first attempt was scrubbed because of an undisclosed issue within the final minute of the countdown.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Meteorite Treasure Hunt Begins After Fireball Sighted in Shangri-La

Fireball seen over China's Yunnan Provinceon Oct. 4. Credit: CGTN/Youtube

Scientists and collectors are arriving in the city of Shangri-La in southwest China's Yunnan Province, to search for meteorites after a fireball was seen in the area on Oct. 4. The fireball was a bright meteor that entered the Earth's atmosphere at a velocity of 14.6 kilometers per second and carried an impact energy equivalent of .54 kilotonnes, according to NASA.

Astronomers Find Potential Solution into How Planets Form

This image shows V1247 Orionis, a young, hot star surrounded by a dynamic ring of gas and dust, known as a circumstellar disc. The disc can be seen in two parts: a clearly defined central ring of matter and a more delicate crescent structure located further out. Credit: Stefan Kraus

A new study by an international team of scientists, led by Stefan Kraus from the University of Exeter, has given a fascinating new insight into one of the most respected theories of how planets are formed. Young stars start out with a massive disk of gas and dust that over time, astronomers think, either diffuses away or coalesces into planets and asteroids.

Asteroid Named After ESA Astronaut

Asteroid (376227, Lucaparmitano), discovered in 1993, is named after ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano by Vincenzo Silvano Casulli, the Italian astronomer who first  identified the object. Credit: S. Casulli

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano has been on Earth since his mission to the International Space Station in 2013, but “Lucaparmitano” is now back in space thanks to an Italian astronomer. The International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Centre has confirmed a new name for an asteroid formerly known merely as 1993 TD: (37627) Lucaparmitano.

On the Generation of Solar Spicules and Alfvenic Waves

In the image above obtained with the NASA's spectrograph IRIS, can be seen in the bedge or limbo of the Sun the multitude of jets leaping the surface. In the center image, the numerical model is able to reproduce the jets. In the image below, taken with the Swedish Solar Telescope of the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (La Palma), the jets are observed in the solar disk as filamentous structures of short duration and reflected in the spectrum shifted to blue because they are getting close to the Earth. Credit: Swedish Solar Telescope of the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (La Palma)

At any given moment, as many as 10 million wild snakes of solar material leap from the sun's surface. These are spicules, and despite their abundance, scientists didn't understand how these jets of plasma form nor did they influence the heating of the outer layers of the sun's atmosphere or the solar wind. Now, for the first time, in a study partly funded by NASA, scientists have modeled spicule formation.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Rokot Sends Sentinel‑5P Satellite into Orbit

Sentinel-5P liftoff. Credit: ESA

The first Copernicus mission dedicated to monitoring our atmosphere, Sentinel‑5P, has been launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. The 820 kg satellite was carried into orbit on a Rockot launcher at 09:27 GMT (11:27 CEST) today.

A Star That Devoured Its Own Planets

Planet-eating star HD 240430, nicknamed Kronos, and its binary twin HD240429, nicknamed Krios, are about 350 light-years away from Earth. Astrophysicists estimate that Kronos has consumed around 15 Earth masses of rocky material. Data source: STScI Digitized Sky Survey

A devourer of worlds lurks around 350 light-years away. According to a recent study comparing the chemical composition of a pair of sunlike stars, one of the stars has consumed the rocky equivalent of 15 Earths. “Even if our sun ate the entire inner solar system, it wouldn’t come close to the anomaly we see in this star,” says study coauthor David Hogg, group leader for astronomical data at the Center for Computational Astrophysics (CCA) at the Flatiron Institute.

Intense Storms Batter Saturn’s Largest Moon

Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, photographed by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Titan, the largest of Saturn’s more than 60 moons, has surprisingly intense rainstorms, according to research by a team of UCLA planetary scientists and geologists. Although the storms are relatively rare — they occur less than once per Titan year, which is 29 and a half Earth years — they occur much more frequently than the scientists expected.

Astronomers Discover Unusual Spindle-Like Galaxies

An elliptical galaxy in prolate rotation. The galaxy resembles the shape of a cigar, with its stars rotating around the galaxy's long axis, similar to a spindle. the background image is a snapshot of a simulation by A. Tsatsi and colleagues. Image: J. Chang, PMO / T. Müller, HdA

Galaxies are majestic, rotating wheels of stars? Not in the case of the spindle-like galaxies studied by Athanasia Tsatsi (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy) and her colleagues. Using the CALIFA survey, the astronomers found that these slender galaxies, which rotate along their longest axis, are much more common than previously thought. The new data allowed the astronomers to create a model for how these unusual galaxies probably formed, namely out of a special kind of merger of two spiral galaxies. The results have been published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

VLBA Measurement Promises Complete Picture of Milky Way

Astronomers directly measured the distance to a region on the far side of our Milky Way Galaxy, past the Galaxy's center. Credit: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF; Robert Hurt, NASA.

Astronomers using the National Science Foundation’s Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) have directly measured the distance to a star-forming region on the opposite side of our Milky Way Galaxy from the Sun. Their achievement nearly doubles the previous record for distance measurement within our Galaxy.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Minor Geomagnetic Storms Hit Earth

Credit: NOAA

G1 (minor) geomagnetic storms are currently in progress as Earth moves through a stream of fast-moving solar wind. In result, visible auroras are concentrated around Earth's poles and weak power grid fluctuations could occur. The latest storms could also have minor impact on satellite operations.

SpaceX Notches 15th Falcon 9 Launch in 2017 with SES-11 Mission

SpaceX launches the SES-11/EchoStar-105 satellite. Photo Credit: Vikash Mahadeo / SpaceFlight Insider

Hot on the heels of a Falcon 9 launch on the West Coast, SpaceX sent its 15th rocket into space in 2017. The SES-11/EchoStar-105 mission came less than 60 hours after the NewSpace company sent 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit. Liftoff occurred at 6:53 p.m. EDT (22:53 GMT) Oct. 11, 2017, from Launch Complex 39A.

Ring Around a Dwarf Planet Detected

Ringed dwarf: Artistic concept of Haumea and its ring system with correct proportions for the main body and the ring. The ring is located at a distance of 2287 km with respect to the centre of the ellipsoidal main body and it is darker than the surface of Haumea. It was discovered by means of multiple telescopic observations of a stellar occultation in Europe on 21 January 2017. © IAA-CSIC/UHU

Haumea has a narrow and dense ring orbiting the dwarf planet according to the recent observations of a stellar occultation by this dwarf planet. Ten observatories in six European countries were involved in the research campaign. In addition, the astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and more than 50 further institutions were able to constrain the size, shape and density of Haumea. Their findings are closer to theoretical predictions and less puzzling than previous estimates.

Scientists Discover One of the Most Luminous ‘New Stars’ Ever

Left: the nova system before eruption. Right: the nova system in outburst. Credit: OGLE survey

Astronomers have announced that they have discovered possibly the most luminous ‘new star’ ever – a nova discovered in the direction of one of our closest neighboring galaxies: The Small Magellanic Cloud. Astronomers from the University of Leicester contributed to the discovery by using the Swift satellite observatory to help understand what was likely the most luminous white dwarf eruption ever seen.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Astronauts Breeze Through U.S. EVA-45

Mark Vande Hei works to lubricate the end effector of the robotic Canadarm2 during U.S. EVA-45. Photo Credit: NASA

Less than a week after completing one spacewalk, International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 53 astronauts Randy Bresnik and Mark Vande Hei set out on another extravehicular activity (EVA). This excursion, U.S. EVA-45, lasted about 6.5 hours.

China's FAST Telescope Finds Two Pulsars During Trial Operation

Details of the pulsar #1 discovered by China's 500m FAST radio telescope. Chinese Academy of Sciences

After one year of trial operation, the China-based FAST, the world's largest single-dish radio telescope, has identified two pulsars, the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC) said Tuesday.

Scientists Discover More About the Ingredients for Star Formation

Comparison between the stellar (top) and molecular hydrogen (bottom) distribution in very gas-rich galaxies three billion years younger than the Milky Way. Optical data is from the Sloan Digital Survey whereas molecular hydrogen maps have been obtained using the Atacama Large Millimetre Array.

Astronomers have shed fresh light on the importance of hydrogen atoms in the birth of new stars. Only hydrogen molecules are thought to directly fuel star formation but research published today shows there are more hydrogen atoms than molecules even in young galaxies that are making a lot of stars.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Close Approach of Asteroid 2012 TC4 Poses no Danger to Earth

On Oct. 12, 2017, asteroid 2012 TC4 will safely fly past Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The house-sized asteroid 2012 TC4 is slated to give Earth a close shave on Thursday, October 12, swooshing by our planet at approximately 5:41 UTC (1:41 a.m. EDT) at a distance of about 31,000 miles (50,000 kilometers). Although there were some worries that this rocky object could hit the Earth, latest observations confirm that it poses no danger to our home planet at all.

JAXA Launches Michibiki-4 Satellite

H-IIA 202 (F36) launch with Michibiki-4. Photo Credit: @naritamasahiro / Twitter

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched the Michibiki-4 satellite aboard an H-IIA rocket at 7:01 a.m. Japan Standard Time on Oct. 10 (6:01 p.m. EDT / 22:01 GMT Oct. 9), 2017, from the Tanegashima Space Center. The satellite is the fourth in the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS), which is a satellite-based positioning system similar to the U.S. operated GPS.

Monday, October 9, 2017

SpaceX Launches 10 Iridium NEXT Satellites on Iridium-3 Mission

Launching before dawn, a Falcon 9 sends 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into space for the Iridium-3 mission. Photo Credit: Vandenberg Air Force Base

SpaceX flew the first Falcon 9 rocket in what could be a launch doubleheader for the NewSpace company. The Iridium-3 mission lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base and saw the third set of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites placed into space.

Geology of the Victoria Quadrangle on Mercury

Credit: V. Galluzzi et al. (2016)

Mercury, the innermost planet of our Solar System is a grey, barren world to our human eyes. In stark contrast, this map shows a portion of the surface in a patchwork of color, each shade corresponding to a different type of geological feature.

Long March 2D Blasts Off with VRSS-2 Earth-Observing Satellite

The launch of a Long March 2D rocket with the VRSS-2 satellite from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 12:13 p.m. local time on October 9, 2017. Photo Credit: China Spaceflight

A Long March 2D booster lifted off from Launch Area 4 at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu Province, China, carrying Venezuela’s second remote sensing satellite known as VRSS-2. The launch took place at 04:13 UTC (0:13 a.m. EDT) on Monday, October 9, 2017.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Sun Erupts with a Coronal Mass Ejection Toward Mercury

Archival image of a coronal mass ejection. Credit: NASA

Magnetic fields near the sun's western limb criss-crossed and exploded, sending a coronal mass ejection (CME) into space toward Mercury. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that this CME will miss both Mercury and Earth, therefore no major geomagnetic storms are expected as a result of the explosion.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Newly Discovered House-Sized Asteroid Passes by Earth

A newly detected house-sized asteroid, designated 2017 TA, whizzed by Earth on Friday, October 6 at 21:32 UTC with a velocity of 11.32 km/s. The object missed our planet at a distance of approximately 2.66 lunar distances (LD), or 1.02 million kilometers.

Long March 2D to Deliver Venezuelan VRSS-2 Earth-Observing Satellite into Orbit

The assembly of the VRSS-2 satellite. Photo Credit: Bolivarian Agency for Space Activities

China is preparing for its second orbital mission after a three-month long period with no launches. This time it will send a Long March 2D rocket into space carrying the VRSS-2 Earth-observing satellite for Venezuela. Liftoff is planned between 4:05 and 4:33 UTC (0:05 and 0:33 EDT) on Monday, October 9, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China’s Gansu Province.

Mars Study Yields Clues to Possible Cradle of Life

This view of a portion of the Eridania region of Mars shows blocks of deep-basin deposits that have been surrounded and partially buried by younger volcanic deposits. The image was taken by the Context Camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and covers an area about 12 miles wide. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The discovery of evidence for ancient sea-floor hydrothermal deposits on Mars identifies an area on the planet that may offer clues about the origin of life on Earth. A recent international report examines observations by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) of massive deposits in a basin on southern Mars. The authors interpret the data as evidence that these deposits were formed by heated water from a volcanically active part of the planet's crust entering the bottom of a large sea long ago.

Astronomers Observe Primitive Comet 1.5 Billion Miles from the Sun

The orbit of comet K2, which has been traveling for millions of years from its home in the frigid outer reaches of the solar system and is currently beyond Saturn’s orbit. Credit: NASA, ESA and A. Field/STScI

A team of astronomers led by UCLA professor David Jewitt has identified a “special comet” 1.5 billion miles from the sun. No other comet heading toward our sun has ever been seen at such a great distance. Jewitt said the discovery will enable scientists to monitor the developing activity of a comet over an extraordinary range of distances.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Vice President Pence Leads First National Space Council Meeting, Outlines Moon as Priority

Vice President Mike Pence delivers opening remarks during the National Space Council's first meeting, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017 at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. Credits: NASA

The newly re-established National Space Council had its first meeting on October 5, 2017, at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, the group heard testimony from experts across all sectors of the space industry in an effort to refocus U.S. space policy.

New Telescope Attachment Allows Ground-Based Observations of New Worlds to Rival Those from Space

Left: Light from a laser pointer is shaped into a wide and stable output using a beam-shaping diffuser. A carefully designed pattern is precisely molded into plastic polymers or directly into a glass substrate, creating micro-structures on the surface of the diffuser (inset). Right: The diffuser installed at the ARC 3.5m Telescope at Apache Point Observatory (image credit left: RPC Photonics; right: Gudmundur Stefansson).

A new, low-cost attachment to telescopes allows previously unachievable precision in ground-based observations of exoplanets -- planets beyond our solar system. With the new attachment, ground-based telescopes can produce measurements of light intensity that rival the highest quality photometric observations from space. Penn State astronomers, in close collaboration with the nanofabrication labs at RPC Photonics in Rochester, New York, created custom “beam-shaping” diffusers -- carefully structured micro-optic devices that spread incoming light across an image -- that are capable of minimizing distortions from the Earth’s atmosphere that can reduce the precision of ground-based observations.

Spacewalkers Replace ‘Hand’ on Space Station Robotic Arm

NASA astronauts Randy Bresnik, bottom, and Mark Vande Hei work to replace a Latching End Effector for the station’s robotic arm. Photo Credit: NASA

Expedition 53 Commander Randy Bresnik and Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei wrapped up the first of three spacewalks planned for the next two weeks. The October 5, 2017, spacewalk was nearly seven hours long and saw the replacement of one of the two Latching End Effectors (LEE) on the International Space Station’s robotic arm.

Phobos Examined in a Different Light

Temperature gradients: This image combines two products from the first pointing at the Martian moon Phobos by the THEMIS camera on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter on Sept. 29. Surface-temperature information from observation in thermal-infrared wavelengths is overlaid on a more detailed image from a visible-light observation. Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

NASA's longest-lived mission to Mars has gained its first look at the Martian moon Phobos, pursuing a deeper understanding by examining it in infrared wavelengths. The Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter observed Phobos on Sept. 29. THEMIS Principal Investigator Philip Christensen and THEMIS Mission Planner Jonathon Hill of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration combined visible-wavelength and infrared data to produce an image color-coded for surface temperatures of this moon, which has been considered for a potential future human-mission outpost.

The Super-Earth that Came Home for Dinner

An artist's illustration of a possible ninth planet in our solar system, hovering at the edge of our solar system. Neptune's orbit is shown as a bright ring around the Sun. Credit: ESO/Tom Ruen/nagualdesign

It might be lingering bashfully on the icy outer edges of our solar system, hiding in the dark, but subtly pulling strings behind the scenes: stretching out the orbits of distant bodies, perhaps even tilting the entire solar system to one side. If a planet is there, it's extremely distant and will stay that way (with no chance -- in case you're wondering -- of ever colliding with Earth, or bringing "days of darkness").It is a possible "Planet Nine" -- a world perhaps 10 times the mass of Earth and 20 times farther from the sun than Neptune. The signs so far are indirect, mainly its gravitational footprints, but that adds up to a compelling case nonetheless.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Surface Helium Detonation Spells End for White Dwarf

The nuclear detonation of the surface helium layer triggered an inward shock wave, and now carbon nuclear fusion has begun at the center. Credit: Institute of Astronomy, University of Tokyo

Some stars end their lives with a huge explosion called a supernova. The most famous supernovae are the result of a massive star exploding, but a white dwarf, the remnant of an intermediate mass star like our Sun, can also explode. This can occur if the white dwarf is part of a binary star system. The white dwarf accretes material from the companion star, then at some point, it might explode as a type Ia supernova.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Mysterious Dimming of Tabby's Star May Be Caused by Dust

This illustration depicts a hypothetical uneven ring of dust orbiting KIC 8462852, also known as Boyajian’s Star or Tabby's Star. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

One of the most mysterious stellar objects may be revealing some of its secrets at last. Called KIC 8462852, also known as Boyajian’s Star, or Tabby's Star, the object has experienced unusual dips in brightness -- NASA's Kepler space telescope even observed dimming of up to 20 percent over a matter of days. In addition, the star has had much subtler but longer-term enigmatic dimming trends, with one continuing today. None of this behavior is expected for normal stars slightly more massive than the Sun.

James Webb Space Telescope to Witness Galactic Infancy

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field is a snapshot of about 10,000 galaxies in a tiny patch of sky, taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Credits: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI), the HUDF Team

Scientists will use NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to study sections of the sky previously observed by NASA’s Great Observatories, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope, to understand the creation of the universe’s first galaxies and stars.

Geochemist Assesses the Oxidative Environment Inside Asteroids

This is a schematic of the oxygen concentration EMF cell. Credit: Valentin Osadchii

A postgraduate of the Faculty of Geology at Moscow State University working as a part of an international team has assessed the oxidative environment and its changes inside asteroids from the core to the surface. This gives the authors of the study a better understanding of how the planets were formed. The paper was published in Meteoritics and Planetary Science.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The History of the Creation of the Hubble Telescope

For centuries, even with all our discoveries and technological advancements, mankind’s quest for knowledge and understanding of the universe has continually grown. Since the days of Galileo, astronomers have always sought to see farther and understand more. And the launching of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 is somewhat the greatest advances that has been made to this end till date.

2017 Nobel Prize in Physics Awarded to LIGO Scientists

Image credit: LIGO/Caltech/MIT

The first direct observations of gravitational waves have earned the Nobel Prize in Physics for three key players in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) collaboration. Caltech professors emeritus Kip S. Thorne and Barry C. Barish, along with MIT professor emeritus Rainer Weiss, have been named winners of the prize.

Scientists Find Elusive Giant Black Hole Pairs

This graphic shows two of five new pairs of supermassive black holes recently identified by astronomers using a combination of data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Wide-Field Infrared Sky Explorer Survey (WISE), and the ground-based Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona. Credits: X-ray (J122104): NASA/CXC/George Mason Univ./S.Satyapal et al.; X-ray (J140737): NASA/CXC/Univ. of Victoria/S.Ellison et al.; Optical: SDSS; Illustration: NASA/CXC/A.Hobart

Astronomers have identified a bumper crop of dual supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies. This discovery could help astronomers better understand how giant black holes grow and how they may produce the strongest gravitational wave signals in the Universe. The new evidence reveals five pairs of supermassive black holes, each containing millions of times the mass of the Sun. These black hole couples formed when two galaxies collided and merged with each other, forcing their supermassive black holes close together.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Meteorites May Have Brought Building Blocks of Life to Earth

Life on Earth began somewhere between 3.7 and 4.5 billion years ago, after meteorites splashed down and leached essential elements into warm little ponds, say scientists at McMaster University and the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Their calculations suggest that wet and dry cycles bonded basic molecular building blocks in the ponds’ nutrient-rich broth into self-replicating RNA molecules that constituted the first genetic code for life on the planet.

Astronomers Discover Traces of Methyl Chloride around Infant Stars and Nearby Comet

Organohalogen methyl chloride discovered by ALMA around the infant stars in IRAS 16293-2422. These same organic compounds were discovered in the thin atmosphere surrounding 67P/C-G by the Rosetta space probe. The background image of the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex is from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). Credit: B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have detected the faint molecular fingerprint of methyl chloride – a chemical commonly produced by industrial and biological processes here on Earth – around an infant star system known as IRAS 16293-2422. Traces of this organic compound were also discovered in the thin atmosphere of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P/C-G) by the Rosetta space probe.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Small Asteroid to Fly Very Close to Earth on Monday

A newly detected asteroid, designated 2017 SX17, is about to give Earth a close shave on Monday, October 2. The object will pass by our planet at a close distance of about 0.23 lunar distances (LD), what corresponds to 88,300 kilometers.

China Returns to Flight with a Secretive Launch of Three Satellites

Long March 2C lifts off with three Yaogan-30 01 satellites on September 29. Photo Credit: Xinhua/Zhang Wenjun

China performed a secretive launch of a Long March 2C rocket on Friday, September 29, ending the country’s three-month period without any orbital missions. The launch vehicle, carrying three Yaogan-30 01 satellites, lifted off at 4:21 UTC (0:21 a.m. EDT) from the LC3 Launch Complex at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center located in Sichuan province.

UV-Irradiated Amorphous Ice Behaves Like Liquid at Low Temperatures

Bubbling of the UV-irradiated amorphous ice (H2O–CH3OH–NH3) mimicking interstellar ice at around -145C/-229F. (Tachibana S., et al., Science Advances, September 30, 2017)

Ice analogs mimicking interstellar ice behave like liquids at temperatures between –210°C and –120°C according to Hokkaido University researchers. This liquid-like ice may enhance the formation of organic compounds including prebiotic molecules and the accretion of dust to form planets.

Catching the Shadow of a Neptunian Moon

The borders of Triton's shadow across Earth's surface are indicated by black lines on this map, while the orange line is the path of the shadow's center. SOFIA’s flight path is represented by the red line; the point of the crucial, two-minute observation of Triton as it aligns with the star is marked by the airplane. The red and blue dots represent the ground-based telescopes that will also observe Triton. Credit: DSI/ Karsten Schindler (Map data, Google)

Researchers on the flying observatory SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, are preparing for a two-minute opportunity to study the atmosphere of Neptune’s moon Triton as it casts a faint shadow on Earth’s surface. This is the first chance to investigate Triton’s atmosphere in 16 years.

Elon Musk Hopes to Make SpaceX’s Falcon, Dragon Fleet Obsolete with Mars Rocket

The main goal of the Mars rocket would be to support the colonization of the Red Planet, but SpaceX hopes to utilize it for near-Earth markets as well. Image Credit: SpaceX

Just a year after unveiling a design for a mega-booster four times the size of the Saturn V, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk presented an updated version of the Mars rocket his company hopes will enable colonization of the Red Planet. The Sept. 29, 2017, presentation occurred during the 68th International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia.

Supersonic Gas Streams Left Over from the Big Bang Drive Massive Black Hole Formation

These are projected density distributions of dark matter (background and top panel) and gas (bottom three panels) components when the massive star forms. The stellar cradle is extremely assymmetry as a wide wedge-shaped structure (middle panel) due to the initial supersonic gas motions left over from the Big Bang. The circle in the right panel indicates the gravitationally unstable region with mass of 26,000 solar-masses. Credit: Shingo Hirano

An international team of researchers has successfully used a super-computer simulation to recreate the formation of a massive black hole from supersonic gas streams left over from the Big Bang. Their study, published in this week’s Science, shows this black hole could be the source of the birth and development of the largest and oldest super-massive black holes recorded in our Universe.