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Funnels on Mars Could Be the Place to Look for Life

11/14/2016 07:25AM

Funnels on Mars Could Be the Place to Look for Life

Strangely shaped depressions on Mars could be new places to look for signs of life on the Red Planet, according to a study at the University of Texas - Austin. The depressions were probably formed by volcanos beneath glaciers and could provide a warm, chemical-rich environment well suited for microbial life. These are similar in many ways to "ice cauldrons" on Earth -- formations found in Iceland and Greenland that are made by volcanos erupting under sheets of ice.

Mark Your Calendar -- "Super Moon" of November 14th Will Be the Largest Since 1948

11/05/2016 05:46PM

Mark Your Calendar -- "Super Moon" of November 14th Will Be the Largest Since 1948

The full Moon has a reputation for trouble. It raises high tides, it makes dogs howl, it wakes you up in the middle of the night with beams of moonlight stealing through drapes. If a moonbeam wakes you up on the night of November 14th, 2016, you might want to get out of bed and take a look. This full Moon is a "Super Moon," and there is something particularly noteworthy about it -- During the moment of perigee, the centers of the Earth and Moon will be only 221,524 miles apart. That is the closest approach of the Moon to the Earth in over 68 years. Moreover, there will not be a closer approach for another 18 years -- November 25, 2034.

Observable Universe Contains Ten Times More Galaxies Than Previously Thought

10/27/2016 06:35AM

Observable Universe Contains Ten Times More Galaxies Than Previously Thought

The universe suddenly looks a lot more crowded, thanks to a deep-sky census assembled from surveys taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories. One of the most fundamental questions in astronomy is: "How many galaxies does the universe contain." The landmark Hubble Deep Field, taken in the mid-1990s, gave the first real insight into the universe's galaxy population. Subsequent sensitive observations such as Hubble's Ultra Deep Field revealed a myriad of even more faint galaxies. This led to an estimate that the observable universe contained about 200 billion galaxies. The new research shows that this estimate is too low and comes to the staggering conclusion that at least 10 times more galaxies exist in the observable universe than astronomers thought.

Is It Time to Discard the Whole Dark Matter Contrivance?

10/14/2016 09:12AM

Is It Time to Discard the Whole Dark Matter Contrivance?

In the late 1970s, astronomers Vera Rubin and Albert Bosma independently found that spiral galaxies rotate at a nearly constant speed. The velocity of the stars and gas inside a galaxy does not decrease with the radius, as one would expect from Newton's laws and the distribution of visible matter. Rather, it remains approximately constant. For lack of a better explanation, such "flat rotation curves" have generally been attributed to a mysterious, invisible, and still undetected dark matter surrounding these galaxies, which provides the additional gravitational attraction required to balance everything out. Now a team led by Case Western Reserve University researchers has found a significant new relationship in spiral and irregular galaxies -- The acceleration observed in rotation curves tightly correlates with the gravitational acceleration expected from the visible mass only. This new work challenges the current understanding (and possibly even the existence) of dark matter.

Our Galaxy's Most Mysterious Star is Even Stranger Than We Thought

10/03/2016 12:36PM

Our Galaxy's Most Mysterious Star is Even Stranger Than We Thought

A star known by the unassuming name of KIC 8462852 in the constellation Cygnus has been raising eyebrows in the scientific community for the past year. In 2015 a team of astronomers announced that the star underwent a series of very brief, non-periodic dimming events while it was being monitored by NASA's Kepler space telescope, and no one could quite figure out what was going on. A new study from the Carnegie Institution of Washington and Caltech has now deepened the mystery.

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.