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What Happened After the Lights Came On in the Universe?

09/20/2016 05:44PM

What Happened After the Lights Came On in the Universe?

An experiment to explore the aftermath of the cosmic dawn, when stars and galaxies first lit up the universe, is underway at the University of California - Berkeley. According to Robert Sanders of UC - Berkeley, the HERA collaboration will explore the billion year period after hydrogen gas collapsed into the first stars (perhaps 100 million years after the Big Bang) igniting stars and galaxies throughout the universe. These first brilliant objects flooded the universe with ultraviolet light that split or ionized all the hydrogen atoms between galaxies into protons and electrons to create the universe that we see today. That's the theory, anyway. HERA hopes for the first time to observe this key cosmic milestone and then map the evolution of re-ionization to about 1 billion years after the Big Bang.

NASA's THEMIS Sees Auroras Move to the Rhythm of the Beat

09/15/2016 05:51PM

NASA's THEMIS Sees Auroras Move to the Rhythm of the Beat

Majestic auroras have captivated humans for thousands of years. But their nature -- the fact that the lights are electromagnetic and respond to solar activity -- was only realized in the last 150 years. Thanks to coordinated multi-satellite observations and a worldwide network of magnetic sensors and cameras, close study of auroras has become possible over recent decades. Using data from NASA's five THEMIS spacecrafts, scientists have been able to observe and measure Earth's vibrating magnetic field in relation to the northern lights dancing in the night sky over Canada to what up to now has been an undetected rhythm.

Closeby Brown Dwarfs are Hiding in Plain Sight

09/09/2016 01:56PM

Closeby Brown Dwarfs are Hiding in Plain Sight

Brown dwarfs, sometimes called failed stars, are a hot topic in astronomy right now. Smaller than stars and bigger than giant planets, they hold promise for helping us understand both stellar evolution and planet formation. New work by a team of astronomers has discovered several ultra-cool brown dwarfs in our own solar neighborhood. In essence, they are hiding in plain sight.

Earth-mass World Found in Habitable Zone of Alpha Centauri Star System

08/26/2016 09:38AM

Earth-mass World Found in Habitable Zone of Alpha Centauri Star System

As we all learned in elementary school, Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to the Solar System. At a distance of 4.37 light-years (25 trillion miles), it consists of three stars -- the pair Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B and a small and faint red dwarf, Proxima Centauri, which may or may not be gravitationally bound to the other two stars. Astronomers using ESO telescopes have found clear evidence of a planet orbiting this third star, Proxima Centauri. This long-sought world, designated Proxima b, orbits its cool red parent star every 11 days and has a temperature suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. This rocky world is a little more massive than the Earth and is the closest exoplanet to us. It may also be the closest possible abode for life outside the Solar System.

No Cure for the Summertime Blues -- Ten Trillionths of Your Suntan Comes From Beyond Our Galaxy

08/20/2016 10:09AM

No Cure for the Summertime Blues -- Ten Trillionths of Your Suntan Comes From Beyond Our Galaxy

Lie on the beach this summer and your body will be bombarded by about one sextillion photons of light per second. Most of these photons originate from the Sun. But a very small fraction have traveled across the Universe for billions of years before ending up on your skin. Astronomers have now accurately measured the light hitting the Earth from outside our galaxy over a very broad wavelength range and it amounts to about only ten trillionths of your suntan.

Crab Pulsar Sets New Record for High Energy Photons

08/12/2016 10:27AM

Crab Pulsar Sets New Record for High Energy Photons

The Crab Nebula is the remnant of a supernova explosion that was observed on Earth in the year 1054. The pulsar at the center of the Crab Nebula is extremely small, with a diameter of just around ten kilometers, and rotates around its own axis at approximately 30 times per second. Thus, it emits light pulses like a lighthouse and these pulses stretch across the entire electromagnetic spectrum -- from long radio waves, to visible light, to the short waves of energetic gamma rays. Recent observations show that the Crab Pulsar has now set a new record. It is sending out the most energetic light radiation, in the form of photons, that has ever been measured from a star. This could challenge our current understanding of pulsars.

Do Black Holes Have a Back Door?

08/05/2016 07:50AM

Do Black Holes Have a Back Door?

One of the biggest problems when studying black holes is that the laws of physics as we know them cease to apply. The conventional wisdom is that in a black hole, large quantities of matter and energy concentrate in an infinitely small space (known as a gravitational singularity), space-time curves towards infinity, and all matter is destroyed... Or is it? New research at the Universitat de Valencia in Spain suggests that if the singularity is treated as an imperfection in the geometric structure of space-time, matter may indeed survive its foray into the black hole and come out the other side -- And by doing so, resolve the problem of the infinite, space deforming, gravitational pull.

Unlocking the Mysteries of Jupiter's Great Red Spot

07/31/2016 10:51AM

Unlocking the Mysteries of Jupiter's Great Red Spot

Jupiter's Red Spot is the greatest storm on the grandest planet in the Solar System -- a colossal hurricane with 400 mile per hour winds that makes Earth's worst gales look positively tranquil. Discovered within years of Galileo's introduction of telescopic astronomy in the 17th Century, its swirling pattern of colorful gases is often called a "perpetual hurricane." The Red Spot has varied in size and color over the centuries and spans a distance equal to three earth diameters. It has winds that take six days to complete one spin. Now, a team of astronomers from Boston University and the University of Leicester in the UK think they have found the solution to some of the mysteries surrounding Jupiter's iconic Great Red Spot.

Hot Gas in the Milky Way Halo Appears to be Rotating Almost as Fast as the Disk

07/26/2016 01:32PM

Hot Gas in the Milky Way Halo Appears to be Rotating Almost as Fast as the Disk

Astronomers at the University of Michigan have discovered that the hot gas in the halo of the Milky Way galaxy is spinning in the same direction and at a comparable speed to the galaxy's spiral-shaped disk. Until now, people have assumed that the disk of the Milky Way spins at a high speed, while the enormous reservoir of hot gas in the halo is stationary. But that is wrong -- The hot gas in the halo appears to be rotating almost as fast as the disk.

Hubble Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Star Trek by Boldly Going Where No One Has Gone Before

07/22/2016 06:03PM

Hubble Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Star Trek by Boldly Going Where No One Has Gone Before

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the TV series "Star Trek" captured the public's imagination with the signature phrase "To boldly go where no one has gone before." As we all know, the Hubble Space Telescope simply orbits Earth and doesn't "boldly go" anywhere. But it looks deeper into the universe than ever before to explore the fabric of time and space and find the farthest objects ever seen. This is epitomized in this Hubble image that is part of its Frontier Fields program to probe the far universe. This view of a massive cluster of galaxies unveils a very cluttered-looking universe filled with galaxies near and far. Some are distorted as in a funhouse mirror through gravitational lensing -- a warping of space phenomenon first predicted by Einstein a century ago.

The Curious Case of Earth's Leaking Atmosphere

07/16/2016 05:59PM

The Curious Case of Earth's Leaking Atmosphere

Earth's atmosphere is leaking. Every day, around 90 tons of material -- consisting primarily of oxygen, hydrogen, and helium ions -- escapes from our planet's upper atmosphere and streams out into space. Although missions such as ESA's fleet of four Cluster spacecraft flying in formation around Earth have long been investigating this leakage, there are still many open questions. How and why is Earth losing its atmosphere. How do the ions escape? Where do they originate? What processes are at play?

First-ever Evidence of an Exoplanet System was Discovered in 1917

05/09/2016 12:43PM

First-ever Evidence of an Exoplanet System was Discovered in 1917

You can never predict what treasure might be hiding in your own basement. The Carnegie Institution for Science didn't know it, but it turns out that a 1917 image on an astronomical glass photographic plate from the Carnegie Observatory archives shows the first-ever evidence of a planetary system beyond our own Sun. This accidental (and highly unexpected) find was recognized by Jay Farihi of University College in London, while researching an article about planetary systems surrounding white dwarf stars.

Mercury Transit of the Sun to be Visible on Monday, May 9th

05/05/2016 07:42PM

Mercury Transit of the Sun to be Visible on Monday, May 9th

Mercury passes between Earth and the Sun only about 13 times a century, with its last trek taking place in 2006. Due to its diminutive size, viewing this event safely requires a telescope or high-powered binoculars fitted with solar filters made of specially-coated glass or Mylar. Mercury will appear as a small black dot as it crosses the edge of the Sun and into view at 7:12 AM EDT. The planet will make a leisurely journey across the face of the Sun, reaching mid-point at approximately 10:47 AM EDT, and exiting the golden disk at 2:42 PM EDT. The entire 7.5 hour path across the Sun will be visible across the United States, Canada, Europe, South America, Africa, and most of Asia.

Relativity and Quantum Mechanics in the Universe -- At What Point Does Space-Time Become Discrete?

04/22/2016 10:35AM

Relativity and Quantum Mechanics in the Universe -- At What Point Does Space-Time Become Discrete?

Our senses experience space-time in a continuous way, without gaps or discontinuities, just as described by classical physics. In quantum physics however, the texture of space-time is granular at tiny scales (below the so-called Planck scale of 10^-33 cm), as if it were a variable mesh of discrete solids and voids. What happens at the classical physics to quantum physics boundary of space-time? Is there an abrupt change or is there a gradual transition? A recent theoretical study led by the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) in Trieste, Italy, has developed a model to help find this transition boundary. What makes this model most unique, and no doubt highly precious, is that it is formulated in such a way as to make experimental testing possible. The team is already collaborating on developing an experiment, which will take place at the European Laboratory for Non-linear Spectroscopy (LENS) in Florence, Italy.

Looking for a Hook-up -- Young, Unattached Jupiter-like Planet Found in the Solar System Neighborhood

04/14/2016 05:52PM

Looking for a Hook-up -- Young, Unattached Jupiter-like Planet Found in the Solar System Neighborhood

A team of astronomers has discovered one of the youngest and brightest free-floating, planet-like objects in relatively close proximity to the Sun. Only 95 light years away and at an age of only 10 million years, which means it's practically a baby on a galactic time scale, the object is between four and eight times the mass of Jupiter, and hence falls in the mass range between a large planet and a small brown dwarf star. Free-floating exo-planet analogs such as this are much easier to scrutinize than planets orbiting around stars since they are drifting in space all alone and observations are not overwhelmed by the brightness of a host star sitting right next door.