Blog Roll

NASAs Kepler Marks 1,000th Exoplanet Discovery, Uncovers More Small Worlds in Habitable Zones

NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has, to date, offered scientists more than 4,000 candidate planets -- the 1,000th of which was recently verified.

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MAVEN Finds New Particles, Ion Plume

NASA's MAVEN mission has discovered a new population of particles in Mars's upper atmosphere. It's also found a plume of particles escaping from the planet's poles, confirming atmospheric loss is happening today.

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Curiosity Finds Methane, Other Organics

NASA's Curiosity rover has detected both methane in Mars's atmosphere and carbon-bearing organic compounds in its rocks.

Organics are molecules made up of carbon atoms linked to other elements, especially combinations of hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. But they don’t automatically signal “life.” Dozens of different organic molecules occur abiotically in interstellar clouds, and they can rain down from space as micrometeoritic dust. Either way, organics would break down fast in the hostile Martian environment, destroyed by solar ultraviolet rays or by the strongly oxidizing soil, so missions have had trouble detecting them.

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10 must-see stargazing events in 2015

Look to the skies in 2015 to see total eclipses, amazing planets and meteor showers.

Here are some of the most noteworthy skywatching events coming next year. will provide more extensive coverage of most of these events as they draw closer.

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Warm Gas Pours 'Cold Water' on Galaxys Star-Making

Some like it hot, but for creating new stars, a cool cosmic environment is ideal. As a new study suggests, a surge of warm gas into a nearby galaxy -- left over from the devouring of a separate galaxy -- has extinguished star formation by agitating the available chilled gas.

The unique findings illustrate a new dimension to galaxy evolution, and come courtesy of the European Space Agency's Herschel space observatory, in which NASA played a key role, and NASA's Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes.

Astronomers want to understand why galaxies in the local universe fall into two major categories: younger, star-forming spirals (like our own Milky Way), and older ellipticals, in which fresh star making has ceased. The new study's galaxy, NGC 3226, occupies a transitional middle ground, so getting a bead on its star formation is critical.

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Dawn Snaps Its Best-Yet Image of Dwarf Planet Ceres

The Dawn spacecraft has delivered a glimpse of Ceres, the largest body in the main asteroid belt, in a new image taken 740,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from the dwarf planet. This is Dawn's best image yet of Ceres as the spacecraft makes its way toward this unexplored world.

Dawn will be captured into Ceres' orbit in March, marking the first visit to a dwarf planet by a spacecraft. To date, the best images of Ceres come from the Hubble Space Telescope. In early 2015, however, Dawn will begin delivering images at much higher resolution.

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Carbon Stars Will Make You See Red

Go treasure hunting for carbon stars, the rubies of the night sky.

Color can be tough to come by in the deep sky, especially if you own a small telescope. Planets serve up a medley of subtle hues, as do a few planetary and bright nebulae. Stars show tints of blue, yellow, and orange, but there's nothing quite like the color red. Show a yellow star to someone at a star party and you might hear a polite "that's nice."

But point the scope at a smoldering ruby like T Lyrae? Watch their faces light up. We react with instinctive pleasure at seeing radiant reds, and there's no better place to get our fill than carbon stars.

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Mars and Two Nebulas Shine in Stunning Skywatcher Photos

These amazing images show the planet Mars passing below two nebulas.

Astrophotographer Derek Demeter took the images from the Stardust Ranch in Okeechobee, Florida. Demeter is the director of the Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust Planetarium at Seminole State College of Florida.

The photos capture Mars passing below two objects known as the Lagoon and Trifid nebulas.  Both are located in the constellation Sagittarius and are found in the central region of our Milky Way galaxy.

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Planet Neptune: Facts About Its Orbit, Moons & Rings

Neptune is the eighth planet from the sun. It was the first planet to get its existence predicted by mathematical calculations before it was actually seen through a telescope on Sept. 23, 1846. Irregularities in the orbit of Uranus led French astronomer Alexis Bouvard to suggest that the gravitational pull from another celestial body might be responsible. German astronomer Johann Galle then relied on subsequent calculations to help spot Neptune via telescope. Previously, astronomer Galileo Galilei sketched the planet, but he mistook it for a star due to its slow motion. In accordance with all the other planets seen in the sky, this new world was given a name from Greek and Roman mythology — Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.

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Birth of Alien Solar System

Talk about your ultimate baby picture! Astronomers have snapped the best image ever seen of the actual birth of new planets around a young, sunlike star.

The astonishingly detailed photo reveals the planet-forming dust disk around the infant star HL Tau. Only one million years old, HL Tau sits in the constellation Taurus, the Bull, and is some 450 light-years from Earth. (Related: "Newborn Star Is Youngest Ever Found.")

Our own Earth was born more than 4.5 billion years ago from a similar "protoplanetary" disk, explaining astronomers' interest in witnessing planetary origins around a nearby star.

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NASA Issues Remastered View of Jupiters Moon Europa

Scientists have produced a new version of what is perhaps NASA's best view of Jupiter's ice-covered moon, Europa. The mosaic of color images was obtained in the late 1990s by NASA's Galileo spacecraft. This is the first time that NASA is publishing a version of the scene produced using modern image processing techniques.

This view of Europa stands out as the color view that shows the largest portion of the moon's surface at the highest resolution.

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Dark Galaxies Discovered in Coma Cluster

The Coma Cluster, visible in the evening skies of spring and summer, reveals its jewel box to large backyard telescopes: several thousand galaxies sardine-packed into a space only 20 million light-years across.But there’s more to the Coma Cluster than meets the eye — or the backyard telescope.

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Planet Uranus: Facts About Its Name, Moons and Orbit

Uranus is the seventh planet from the sun and the first to be discovered by scientists. Although Uranus is visible to the naked eye, it was long mistaken as a star because of the planet’s dimness and slow orbit. The planet is also notable for its dramatic tilt, which causes its axis to point nearly directly at the sun.

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Geologic Maps of Vesta from NASAs Dawn Mission Published

Images from NASA's Dawn Mission have been used to create a series of high-resolution geological maps of the large asteroid Vesta, revealing the variety of surface features in unprecedented detail. These maps are included with a series of 11 scientific papers published this week in a special issue of the journal Icarus.

Geological mapping is a technique used to derive the geologic history of a planetary object from detailed analysis of surface morphology, topography, color and brightness information. A team of 14 scientists mapped the surface of Vesta using Dawn spacecraft data

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Color of Jupiters Great Red Spot Comes from Epic Sunburn

The Great Red Spot on Jupiter's face is secretly dull in color. But the swirling storm looks crimson thanks to something like a cosmic "sunburn," scientists say.

New experiments show that the gases in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter turn a reddish hue when they're hit with sunlight. Underneath, the Great Red Spot probably looks gray or white.

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Eight Billion Asteroids in the Oort Cloud?

A fresh look at a nagging problem — asteroids moving in comet-like orbits — concludes that asteroids must make up about 4% of the vast, distant Oort Cloud of comets.

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Follow the Dust to Find Planets

Researchers studying what appears to be a beefed-up version of our solar system have discovered that it is encased in a halo of fine dust. The findings are based on infrared data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory, in which NASA is a partner.

The dusty star system, called HD 95086, is located 295 light-years from Earth in the constellation Carina. It is thought to include two belts of dust, which lie within the newfound outer dust halo. One of these belts is warm and closer to its star, as is the case with our solar system's asteroid belt, while the second belt is cooler and farther out, similar to our own Kuiper belt of icy comets.

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NASA Rocket Experiment Finds Flood of Cosmic Light

A NASA sounding rocket experiment has detected a surprising surplus of infrared light in the dark space between galaxies, a diffuse cosmic glow as bright as all known galaxies combined. The glow is thought to be from orphaned stars flung out of galaxies.

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Stunning ALMA Image Reveals Planetary Genesis

An ALMA submillimeter-wavelength image unveils the dawn of planet formation around a surprisingly young star in unprecedented detail.

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Galactic Wheel of Life Shines in Infrared

It might look like a spoked wheel or even a "Chakram" weapon wielded by warriors like "Xena," from the fictional TV show, but this ringed galaxy is actually a vast place of stellar life. A newly released image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the galaxy NGC 1291. Though the galaxy is quite old, roughly 12 billion years, it is marked by an unusual ring where newborn stars are igniting.

"The rest of the galaxy is done maturing," said Kartik Sheth of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory of Charlottesville, Virginia. "But the outer ring is just now starting to light up with stars."

NGC 1291 is located about 33 million light-years away in the constellation Eridanus. It is what's known as a barred galaxy, because its central region is dominated by a long bar of stars (in the new image, the bar is within the blue circle and looks like the letter "S").

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Barnstorming Titan

When the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft flew by Saturn in 1980 and 1981, they were able to pay only fleeting attention to Titan, the second largest moon in the solar system (larger even than the planet Mercury) and the only solar system moon with an appreciable atmosphere. Titan’s atmosphere has long intrigued scientists, who speculated that it created conditions sufficient to support lakes of liquid methane on Titan’s surface. Ten years ago this week, the Cassini spacecraft, orbiting Saturn, made the first of what would be dozens of flybys of Titan, some bringing the spacecraft and its cloud-penetrating radar to within 880 km (547 mi) of the moon and confirming the presence of lakes of liquid hydrocarbons on the surface. These images are from subsequent Titan flybys in 2005 and 2006.

(Geologically) Recent Volcanoes on the Moon?

Countless astronomers, both amateur and professional, have spent untold hours scrutinizing the Moon through telescopes for hints of volcanic activity. Numerous claims of "transient lunar phenomena" (TLP) have been made over the past two centuries, many involving the curious complex of features in and near the crater Aristarchus. But while amateur cameras occasionally record small asteroidal strikes, a volcanic event has never been conclusively witnessed.

And yet, according to an article published in October 12th's Nature Geoscience, scores of small volcanoes on the Moon have likely erupted within the past 100 million years and could be younger than 50 million years.

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No Big Black Hole for Two ULXs

The surprisingly bright objects known as ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs) are not all alike, new research shows. ULXs spew out X-rays at luminosities millions of times the Sun’s total luminosity, and roughly a trillion times the Sun’s luminosity in X-rays. When they were first discovered three decades ago, astronomers thought they might be the glow from gas-gobbling intermediate-mass black holes. These theoretical objects have masses of hundreds to thousands of Suns and would fill the no-man’s land between stellar-mass black holes and supermassive black holes. Subsequent research has failed to conclusively settle the question.

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Slow-Growing Galaxies Offer Window to Early Universe

What makes one rose bush blossom with flowers, while another remains barren? Astronomers ask a similar question of galaxies.

A new study published in the Oct. 16 issue of the journal Nature addresses this question by making some of the most accurate measurements yet of the meager rates at which small, sluggish galaxies create stars. The report uses data from the European Space Agency's Herschel mission, in which NASA is a partner, and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX).

The findings are helping researchers figure out how the very first stars in our universe sprouted. Like the stars examined in the new study, the first-ever stars from billions of years ago took root in poor conditions. Growing stars in the early cosmos is like trying to germinate flower seeds in a bed of dry, poor soil. Back then, the universe hadn't had time yet to make "heavy metals," elements heavier than hydrogen and helium.

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Galactic 'Mega City' Shows Mysterious Spots of Star Formation

A new photo of a huge galactic "mega city" under construction in the early universe shows star formation happening in unexpected places, scientists have found.

The new image of the Spiderweb Galaxy (also known as MRC 1138-262) shows blobs of dust that are actually galaxies, captured by a European Southern Observatory telescope in Chile. The entire galaxy cluster surrounds a radio galaxy that has a supermassive black hole at its center. ESO also released a video flythrough of the galaxy image, and you can see it on

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NASA Mission Provides Its First Look at Martian Upper Atmosphere

NASA's MAVEN spacecraft orbiting Mars sees a solar-particle storm, gets ultraviolet images of tenuous oxygen, hydrogen and carbon coronas, and yields a map of variable ozone.

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has provided scientists their first look at a storm of energetic solar particles at Mars, produced unprecedented ultraviolet images of the tenuous oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon coronas surrounding the Red Planet, and yielded a comprehensive map of highly variable ozone in the atmosphere underlying the coronas.

The spacecraft, which entered Mars' orbit Sept. 21, now is lowering its orbit and testing its instruments. MAVEN was launched to Mars in November 2013, to help solve the mystery of how the Red Planet lost most of its atmosphere.

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Saturns Weird Hexagon Vortex Stuns in NASA Photo

Forget Saturn's rings. The jewel of the solar system has another stunning feature that only faraway spacecraft can see clearly: a weird hexagon-shaped vortex that's been swirling above Saturn's north pole for at least 30 years.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured this dramatic portrait of Saturn's geometric jet stream in July 2013 from about 605,000 miles (973,000 kilometers) away from the planet. The image — which NASA released this week — has a scale of 36 miles (58 km) per pixel and faces the sunlit side of the rings, from about 33 degrees above the ringplane.

The puzzling, hexagonal cloud pattern was first spotted by NASA's Voyager mission in the early 1980s. It was still there after Cassini arrived in orbit around Saturn in 2004 after a long journey from Earth than began in 1997.

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Gamma-ray Novae Explained

A few months ago, researchers with NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope reported that they’d detected gamma rays from several classical novae. These thermonuclear eruptions happen on the surfaces of white dwarfs that are guzzling too much gas off a companion star.

The gamma rays baffled researchers: classical novae shouldn’t produce these high-energy photons. Gamma rays come from particles accelerated at shock fronts. That implies that stuff in the burst’s outflow is slamming into other stuff in the outflow. But there was no good explanation for why the ejecta would do that.

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NASA's NuSTAR Telescope Discovers Shockingly Bright Dead Star

Astronomers have found a pulsating, dead star beaming with the energy of about 10 million suns. This is the brightest pulsar - a dense stellar remnant left over from a supernova explosion - ever recorded. The discovery was made with NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR.

"You might think of this pulsar as the 'Mighty Mouse' of stellar remnants," said Fiona Harrison, the NuSTAR principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "It has all the power of a black hole, but with much less mass."

The discovery appears in a new report in the Thursday, Oct. 9, issue of the journal Nature.

The surprising find is helping astronomers better understand mysterious sources of blinding X-rays, called ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs). Until now, all ULXs were thought to be black holes. The new data from NuSTAR show at least one ULX, about 12 million light-years away in the galaxy Messier 82 (M82), is actually a pulsar.

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Keplers Supernova

A new star appeared in the night sky 410 years ago this week, a star that was visible during the day and dimmed over several weeks. Witnesses to this supernova explosion included the famous astronomer Johannes Kepler, who observed and documented the object for a year and wrote a book about the new star. Today, the debris from this exploded star in the constellation Ophiuchus is known as the Kepler supernova remnant. In this image, the result of eight days of observations with the orbiting Chandra X-ray telescope, colors represent a range of increasing energies: red (low), yellow, green, blue, and purple (high). The newly-revealed asymmetrical shape of the expanding debris leads scientists to believe it is farther away than previously thought, perhaps 13,000 to 23,000 light-years.

Fomalhaut: A Crazy-Wide Triple Star

Quick! Name the widest double star in the sky. If you chose Alpha Centauri and its faint, distant companion Proxima (separation 2.2°), you would have been correct ... prior to 2013. That year, Eric Mamajek (University of Rochester) and his colleagues announced the discovery of Fomalhaut C, a companion star located a whopping 5.7° northwest of Fomalhaut (Alpha Piscis Austrini) in a different constellation, Aquarius.

Fomalhaut (FO-mal-ought) stands out as the only 1st-magnitude star among the fall constellations. For observers at mid-northern latitudes, it crouches low in the southern sky in the dim constellation Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish, and stands due south around 11:00 p.m. local time in early October (10:00 p.m. at mid-month).

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Mergers Create Disk Galaxies

Observations from several radio telescopes reveal that, when two galaxies merge, their progeny often have gaseous disks — a hypothesis that before now didn’t have solid observational evidence.When it comes to merging galaxies, a crash doesn’t always create a mess. For a long time, astronomers thought it did. Conventional wisdom (based on computer simulations from the 1970s) said that when two big disk-shaped galaxies merged, they’d create a big elliptical, a fairly featureless spheroid of stars.

But about a decade ago, new-and-improved simulations by several teams suggested that, if the disk galaxies have a lot of gas, the object their merger creates will also be a disk galaxy, with spiral arms or maybe even a bar in the center.

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Citizen Scientists Probe Early Galaxies

The Hubble Space Telescope peers across the universe — imaging everything from the exquisite details of “nearby” galaxies millions of light-years away, to the blurry galaxies that formed only a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. Imaging the whole shebang allows astronomers to study the origin and evolution of galaxies, gaining insight into our own Milky Way Galaxy.

But many mysteries remain. Most spiral galaxies in the nearby universe, for example, have a bar in their center, with the spiral arms coming off it like streamers off the ends of a twirling baton. Although astronomers agree that these bars form when a galaxy passes from youth into adulthood, they disagree on the point in cosmic history at which this typically happens.

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Swirling Cloud at Titans Pole is Cold and Toxic

Scientists analyzing data from NASA's Cassini mission have discovered that a giant, toxic cloud is hovering over the south pole of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, after the atmosphere there cooled dramatically.

The scientists found that this giant polar vortex contains frozen particles of the toxic compound hydrogen cyanide, or HCN.

"The discovery suggests that the atmosphere of Titan's southern hemisphere is cooling much faster than we expected," said Remco de Kok of Leiden Observatory and SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, lead author of the study published today in the journal Nature.

Titan is the only moon in the solar system that is cloaked in a dense atmosphere. Like our home planet, Earth, Titan experiences seasons. As it makes its 29-year orbit around the sun along with Saturn, each season lasts about seven Earth years. The most recent seasonal switch occurred in 2009, when winter gave way to spring in the northern hemisphere, and summer transitioned to autumn in the southern hemisphere.

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NASA Mission Points to Origin of Ocean of Storms on Earths Moon

Using data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), mission scientists have solved a lunar mystery almost as old as the moon itself.

Early theories suggested the craggy outline of a region of the moon's surface known as Oceanus Procellarum, or the Ocean of Storms, was caused by an asteroid impact. If this theory had been correct, the basin it formed would be the largest asteroid impact basin on the moon. However, mission scientists studying GRAIL data believe they have found evidence the craggy outline of this rectangular region -- roughly 1,600 miles (2,600 kilometers) across -- is actually the result of the formation of ancient rift valleys.

"The near side of the moon has been studied for centuries, and yet continues to offer up surprises for scientists with the right tools," said Maria Zuber, principal investigator of NASA's GRAIL mission, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. "We interpret the gravity anomalies discovered by GRAIL as part of the lunar magma plumbing system -- the conduits that fed lava to the surface during ancient volcanic eruptions."

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NASA Exoplanet Mission to Hunt Down Earth-sized Worlds

Set to launch in 2017, NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will monitor more than half a million stars over its two-year mission, with a focus on the smallest, brightest stellar objects.

During its observations, TESS is expected to find more than 3,000 new planets outside of our solar system, most of which will be possible for ground-based telescopes to observe.

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How Viewing Earth as an Exoplanet Can Help Search for Alien Life

An extraterrestrial spacecraft lurking in a satellite's orbit near Earth would be able to see city lights and pollution in our atmosphere. But what if it searched for signs of life on Earth from afar?

This question has great pertinence to those searching for other Earths outside of our solar system. NASA's Kepler space telescope is among a fleet of telescopes and spacecraft searching for rocky planets similar to our own. Once the size and location of these worlds are plotted, the next step is examining the chemical composition of their atmospheres.

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This Huge Alien Planet Is Making Its Host Star Age Prematurely

A nearby star is not acting its age, thanks to the influence of a massive exoplanet.

The close-orbiting alien planet, known as WASP-18b, is apparently disrupting the magnetic field of its host star so much that the object is behaving like a much older star, researchers said.

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NASA Telescopes Find Clear Skies and Water Vapor on Exoplanet

Astronomers using data from three of NASA's space telescopes -- Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler -- have discovered clear skies and steamy water vapor on a gaseous planet outside our solar system. The planet is about the size of Neptune, making it the smallest planet from which molecules of any kind have been detected.

"This discovery is a significant milepost on the road to eventually analyzing the atmospheric composition of smaller, rocky planets more like Earth," said John Grunsfeld, assistant administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Such achievements are only possible today with the combined capabilities of these unique and powerful observatories."

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20-Year-Old Supernova Mystery Finally Solved

A star-explosion mystery that puzzled astronomers for more than two decades has finally been solved.

Researchers using data gathered by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have determined that the supernova SN 1993J — which was first observed in 1993, as its name suggests — occurred because one star nabbed hydrogen from another.

“This is like a crime scene, and we finally identified the robber," study co-author Alex Filippenko, a professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement. "The companion star stole a bunch of hydrogen before the primary star exploded."

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Small Galaxy Boasts Big Black Hole

Astronomers have detected a supermassive black hole in the center of a tiny galaxy — where it has no right to be.

Don't be fooled by the small size of the ultracompact dwarf galaxy M60-UCD1 — it harbors a supermassive black hole, according to research published in the September 18th Nature. The new finding makes M60-UCD1 the smallest and least massive galaxy known to contain such a gargantuan black hole and is the first concrete evidence for how ultracompact dwarf galaxies form.

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NASA Mars Spacecraft Ready for Sept. 21 Orbit Insertion

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft is nearing its scheduled Sept. 21 insertion into Martian orbit after completing a 10-month interplanetary journey of 442 million miles (711 million kilometers).

Flight Controllers at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colorado, will be responsible for the health and safety of the spacecraft throughout the process. The spacecraft's mission timeline will place the spacecraft in orbit at approximately 6:50 p.m. PDT (9:50 p.m. EDT).

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Surprise! Monster Black Hole Found in Dwarf Galaxy

Astronomers have just discovered the smallest known galaxy that harbors a huge, supermassive black hole at its core.

The relatively nearby dwarf galaxy may house a supermassive black hole at its heart equal in mass to about 21 million suns. The discovery suggests that supermassive black holes may be far more common than previously thought.

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The Quasar Main Sequence

Astronomers are edging closer to understanding why some quasars look different from others. Quasars are the most powerful active galactic nuclei, blazing beacons in distant galaxies’ centers powered by supermassive black holes chowing down gas. Their visible-light emission comes from two main sources: the hot accretion disk around the black hole, and gas clouds orbiting nearby that are ionized by the radiation coming from the disk.

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NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover Arrives at Martian Mountain

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has reached the Red Planet's Mount Sharp, a Mount-Rainier-size mountain at the center of the vast Gale Crater and the rover mission's long-term prime destination.

"Curiosity now will begin a new chapter from an already outstanding introduction to the world," said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "After a historic and innovative landing along with its successful science discoveries, the scientific sequel is upon us."

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Jupiters Moon Europa May Have Plate Tectonics Just Like Earth

Jupiter's icy moon Europa, regarded as perhaps the solar system's best bet to host alien life, keeps getting more and more interesting.

Big slabs of ice are sliding over and under each other within Europa's ice shell, a new study suggests. The Jovian satellite may thus be the only solar system body besides Earth to possess a system of plate tectonics.

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Do Exoplanets Transform Between Classes?

Most alien planets are unlike any planet in our solar system. Hot Jupiters, for example, are broiling gas giants circling closer to their stars than Mercury orbits the Sun. Astronomers suspect that the star-planet tidal interaction will ultimately drag a hot Jupiter inward toward its doom.More recently, astronomers have discovered a second class of star-hugging planets in the wealth of data from NASA’s crippled Kepler space telescope. These so-called hot super-Earths are rocky or icy planets that can be up to 10 times Earth’s mass and also orbit extremely close to their host stars.

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Building Big Elliptical Galaxies’ Cores

Astronomers like galactic runts. It’s not that they’re cute — although the Large Magellanic Cloud is vaguely reminiscent of a fuzzy caterpillar. It’s that runts were likely the building blocks of the big galaxies we see today.The largest, most massive galaxies in the local universe are ellipticals, big golden clouds of stars that have burned through their star-forming gas reservoirs and now sit “quiescent,” enjoying old age. But about a decade ago, astronomers looking into the early universe discovered that quiescent galaxies 10 or 11 billion years ago were actually the smallest galaxies around, roughly one-tenth the size of today’s ellipticals and one-third (or less) that of the other star-forming galaxies at that epoch.

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Detecting neutrinos, physicists look into the heart of the Sun

Using one of the most sensitive neutrino detectors on the planet, an international team of physicists, including Andrea Pocar, Laura Cadonati, and Keith Otis at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, report that for the first time they have directly detected neutrinos created by the “keystone” proton-proton (pp) fusion process going on at the Sun’s core.

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New Galactic Supercluster Map Shows Milky Way's 'Heavenly' Home

A new cosmic map is giving scientists an unprecedented look at the boundaries for the giant supercluster that is home to Earth's own Milky Way galaxy and many others. Scientists even have a name for the colossal galactic group: Laniakea, Hawaiian for "immeasurable heaven."

The scientists responsible for the new 3D map suggest that the newfound Laniakea supercluster of galaxies may even be part of a still-larger structure they have not fully defined yet.

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Icy Aquifers on Titan Transform Methane RainfallIcy Aquifers on Titan Transform Methane Rainfall

The NASA and European Space Agency Cassini mission has revealed hundreds of lakes and seas spread across the north polar region of Saturn's moon Titan. These lakes are filled not with water but with hydrocarbons, a form of organic compound that is also found naturally on Earth and includes methane. The vast majority of liquid in Titan's lakes is thought to be replenished by rainfall from clouds in the moon's atmosphere. But how liquids move and cycle through Titan's crust and atmosphere is still relatively unknown.

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Sniffing Out Alien Life: Stinky Chemicals May Be Key

Domagal-Goldman and other researchers spend a lot of time thinking about the best biosignatures, or signs of life, to look for in the atmospheres of faraway planets.

Two good candidates are oxygen and methane, both of which disappear from atmospheres without replenishment. While each substance can be created by geological as well as biological processes, detecting both oxygen and methane in an exoplanet's skies simultaneously would be strongly suggestive of alien life, many scientists say.

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NASA Telescopes Uncover Early Construction of Giant Galaxy

Astronomers have for the first time caught a glimpse of the earliest stages of massive galaxy construction. The building site, dubbed "Sparky," is a dense galactic core blazing with the light of millions of newborn stars that are forming at a ferocious rate.

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Resolving the Pleiades Distance Problem

A new measurement, made using radio interferometry, argues that the distance to the Pleiades star cluster measured by ESA's Hipparcos satellite really is wrong - and that ground-based astronomers had it right all along.

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NASA's Spitzer Telescope Witnesses Asteroid Smashup

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted an eruption of dust around a young star, possibly the result of a smashup between large asteroids. This type of collision can eventually lead to the formation of planets.

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NASA Pluto-Bound Spacecraft Crosses Neptune's Orbit

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has crossed the orbit of Neptune, as it prepares to rendezvous with Pluto less than a year from now.

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Rosetta: Landing Site Search Narrows

The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission has chosen five candidate landing sites on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for its Philae lander.

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It's Confirmed! Black Holes Do Come in Medium Sizes

Black holes do indeed come in three sizes: small, medium and extra large, a new study suggests.

Astronomers have studied many black holes at either size extreme — "stellar-mass" black holes, which are a few dozen times as weighty as the sun, and supermassive black holes, which can contain millions or billions of times the mass of the sun and lurk at the heart of most, if not all, galaxies.

Researchers have spotted hints of much rarer medium-size black holes, which harbor between 100 and several hundred thousand solar masses. But it's tough to weigh these objects definitively — so tough that their existence has been a matter of debate.

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The First Planetary Nebula Spectrum

Celebrate the anniversary of a revolutionary discovery by gathering with other astronomers to observe planetary nebulae in August's evening sky.
August 29, 2014 will mark the 150th anniversary of Sir William Huggins’s first observation of the spectrum of a planetary nebula. He was the first to split apart the light coming from these stellar death shrouds, using a newfangled instrument he called a star-spectroscope.

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GRBs: A New Standard Candle?

Astronomers might be on the brink of developing a new rung on the cosmic distance ladder.
Astronomy is a discipline pursued at unimaginable distances. And yet actually measuring the distance to a nearby exoplanet, or to a galaxy shining at us from the dark depths of the cosmos, seems almost futile.One of the simplest methods is to use standard candles — objects with a known intrinsic brightness — and infer their distances based on how bright they appear to be when seen from Earth.

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Extreme Volcanoes on Jupiter’s Moon Io

Even on Io, a world known for spouting off, the titanic volcanic eruption seen on August 29, 2013, was among the most powerful ever recorded there — or anywhere else in the solar system.This time last year, a trio of volcanoes erupted so violently and powerfully that they would have been "breaking news" had they occurred anywhere on Earth. Fortunately, the towering fountains of fire were more than a half billion miles away, on Jupiter's moon Io.

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Follow the radio waves to find hidden exomoons

Scientists hunting for life beyond Earth have discovered more than 1,800 planets outside our solar system, or exoplanets, in recent years, but so far, no one has been able to confirm an exomoon. Now, physicists believe following a trail of radio wave emissions may lead them to that discovery.

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Question Reopened: How do Galaxies Grow?

Evidence from observations sheds doubt on cosmic cannibalism as a source for galaxy growth, suggesting that instead galaxies grow by pulling in gas from the intergalactic medium.

A quick stroll through Hubble’s archive shows a surplus of massive spiral galaxies — a tapestry of the drama of stellar birth and death across thousands of light-years. But one question remains: how do these galaxies continue forming stars at such a fast clip?

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ScienceCasts: Colliding Atmospheres - Mars vs Comet Siding Spring

Comet Siding Spring is about to fly historically close to Mars. The encounter could spark Martian auroras, a meteor shower, and other unpredictable effects. Whatever happens, NASA's fleet of Mars satellites will have a ringside seat.

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These Bizarre Deep-Space Radio Blasts Have Astronomers Baffled

A split-second burst of energy that erupted in deep space is giving astronomers important new clues about a mysterious class of astrophysical phenomena.

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The truth behind the Super Moon

The year’s closest Full Moon arrives August 10, but it will not blind us, explode, or bring about the apocalypse.

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Rosetta arrives at comet destination

After a decadelong journey chasing its target, the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta has today become the first spacecraft to rendezvous with a comet, opening a new chapter in solar system exploration. Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and Rosetta now lie 252 million miles (405 million kilometers) from Earth, about halfway between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars, rushing toward the inner solar system at nearly 34,000 mph (55,000 km/h). The comet is in an elliptical 6.5-year orbit that takes it from beyond Jupiter at its furthest point to between the orbits of Mars and Earth at its closest to the Sun. Rosetta will accompany it for over a year as they swing around the Sun and back out toward Jupiter again. Comets are considered to be primitive building blocks of the solar system and may have helped "seed" Earth with water, perhaps even the ingredients for life. But many fundamental questions about these enigmatic objects remain, and through a comprehensive, in-situ study of the comet, Rosetta aims to unlock the secrets within.

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How the Moon Got Its Lemon Shape

Earth's powerful gravity tugged the moon into its oddball shape long ago, shortly after both bodies formed, a new study suggests.

Tidal forces exerted during the early days of the solar system can explain most of the moon's large-scale topography, including its slight lemon shape, reports the study, which was published online today (July 30) in the journal Nature.

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Early Earth: A Battered, Hellish World with Water Oases for Life

Asteroids and comets that repeatedly smashed into the early Earth covered the planet's surface with molten rock during its earliest days, but still may have left oases of water that could have supported the evolution of life, scientists say.

The new study reveals that during the planet's infancy, the surface of the Earth was a hellish environment, but perhaps not as hellish as often thought, scientists added.

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Hubble finds three surprisingly dry exoplanets

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have gone looking for water vapor in the atmospheres of three planets orbiting stars similar to the Sun -- and have come up nearly dry. The three planets -- HD 189733b, HD 209458b, and WASP-12b -- are between 60 and 900 light-years away from Earth and were thought to be ideal candidates for detecting water vapor in their atmospheres because of their high temperatures where water turns into a measurable vapor. These so-called "hot Jupiters" are so close to their stars that they have temperatures between 1500° and 4000° Fahrenheit (815° and 2200° Celsius); however, the planets were found to have only one-tenth to one one-thousandth the amount of water predicted by standard planet formation theories.

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Dwarf Galaxies Packed a Mighty Punch

Today, we tend to see dwarf galaxies clinging to the skirts of larger galaxies, or strung out in debris streams engulfed within their larger counterparts. But new observations show that these small, unassuming galaxies played a larger role in creating the conditions in the universe we know today than previously thought.

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New Radio Burst Deepens Mystery

A newly discovered radio burst places these ultrafast, ultrabright pulses on the cosmic map of unknown phenomena. Every so often things go bump in the quiet cosmic night, releasing a rush of energy in a few thousandths of a second and leaving astronomers mystified. One of these bumps came to light last year, when astronomers announced the discovery of four brief but bright bursts of radio waves.

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Rosetta’s Comet has a Split Personality

As the Rosetta spacecraft approaches its objective, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, astronomers are getting a better view of the nucleus - and it's stranger than anyone suspected.

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NASA Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes have made the most precise measurement yet of the size of a planet beyond our solar system.

Thanks to NASA's Kepler and Spitzer Space Telescopes, scientists have made the most precise measurement ever of the radius of a planet outside our solar system. The size of the exoplanet, dubbed Kepler-93b, is now known to an uncertainty of just 74 miles (119 kilometers) on either side of the planetary body.

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Newfound Alien Planet Has Longest Year Known for Transiting World

A newfound alien planet is one for the record books.

The alien planet Kepler-421b — which crosses the face of, or transits, its host star from Earth's perspective — takes 704 Earth days to complete one orbit, and thus has the longest year known for any transiting alien world.

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Hubble sees spiral bridge of young stars between two ancient galaxies

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has photographed an unusual structure 100,000 light-years long that resembles a corkscrew-shaped string of pearls and winds around the cores of two colliding galaxies. The unique structure of the star spiral may yield new insights into the formation of stellar superclusters that result from merging galaxies and gas dynamics in this rarely seen process. "We were surprised to find this stunning morphology," said Grant Tremblay of the European Southern Observatory in Garching, Germany. "We've long known that the 'beads on a string' phenomenon is seen in the arms of spiral galaxies and in tidal bridges between interacting galaxies. However, this particular supercluster arrangement has never been seen before in giant merging elliptical galaxies."

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Gullies on Mars Carved by Dry Ice, Not Water

Running water didn't create the channels that crisscross the surface of the Red Planet, a new study suggests.

The gullies of Mars remain active and tend to form during cold weather, implicating frozen carbon dioxide — also known as "dry ice" — rather than liquid water, researchers said.

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Supermoon Saturday

The first of three supermoons this summer will rise Saturday night (July 12). Here's why July's full moon is one of the biggest of 2014.

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Mysterious X-rays Might Hint at Dark Matter

A weird spike in X-ray emission from galaxy clusters has some astronomers turning to dark matter for answers.

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NASA | Scientists Create First Full 3D Model of Eta Carinae Nebula

An international team of astronomers has developed a 3D model of a giant cloud ejected by the massive binary system Eta Carinae during its 19th century outburst. Eta Carinae lies about 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina and is one of the most massive binary systems astronomers can study in detail.
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Black Hole Fireworks in nearby Galaxy

Celebrants this Fourth of July will enjoy the dazzling lights and booming shock waves from the explosions of fireworks. A similarly styled event is taking place in the galaxy Messier 106, as seen by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Herschel Space Observatory. Herschel is a European Space Agency mission with important NASA contributions.

Energetic jets, which blast from Messier 106's central black hole, are heating up material in the galaxy and thus making it glow, like the ingredients in a firework. The jets also power shock waves that are driving gases out of the galaxy's interior.

Those gases constitute the fuel for churning out new stars. A new study estimates the shock waves have already warmed and ejected two-thirds of the gas from the center of Messier 106. With a reduced ability to birth new stars, Messier 106 appears to be transitioning into a barren, so-called lenticular galaxy full of old, red stars. Lenticular galaxies are flat disks without prominent spiral arms.

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Astronomers find a new type of planet: the Mega-Earth

Astronomers announced June 2 at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting that they have discovered a new type of planet -- a rocky world weighing 17 times as much as Earth. Theorists believed such a world couldn't form because anything so hefty would grab hydrogen gas as it grew and become a Jupiter-like gas giant. This planet, though, is all solids and much bigger than previously discovered "super-Earths," making it a "mega-Earth."
The newfound mega-Earth, Kepler-10c, circles a Sun-like star once every 45 days. It is located about 560 light-years from Earth in the constellation Draco. The system also hosts a 3-Earth-mass "lava world," Kepler-10b, in a remarkably fast 20-hour orbit. Read more.

Titans building blocks might predate Saturn

A combined NASA- and European Space Agency-funded study has found firm evidence that nitrogen in the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan originated in conditions similar to the cold birthplace of the most ancient comets from the Oort Cloud. The finding rules out the possibility that Titan's building blocks formed within the warm disk of material thought to have surrounded the infant planet Saturn during its formation. The main implication of this new research is that Titan's building blocks formed early in the solar system's history, in the cold disk of gas and dust that formed the Sun. This was also the birthplace of many comets, which retain a primitive, or largely unchanged, composition today. Read more.

Triple Monster Black Hole Discovered

Astronomers reported the discovery of a trio of jumbo black holes circling the center of a distant galaxy. But could the pairs and triples of such monsters actually be common?
Find out more about the surprising discovery.

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