News




  Astronomers have finally uncovered water vapor in the atmosphere of a super-Earth exoplanet orbiting within the habitable zone of its star. The find means that liquid water could also exist on the rocky world's surface, potentially even forming a global ocean. The discovery, made with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, serves as the first detection of water vapor in the atmosphere of such a planet. And because the planet, dubbed K2-18 b, likely sports a temperature similar to Earth, the newfound water vapor makes the world one of the most promising candidates for follow-up studies with next-generation space telescopes. "This is the only planet right now that we know outside the solar system that has the correct temperature to support water, it has an atmosphere, and it has water in it, making this planet the best candidate for habitability that we know right now," lead author Angelos Tsiaras, an astronomer at University College London, said in a press confer...

Read More



Giant bubbles spotted rushing out from Milky Way’s center

Thursday, September 12th 2019 11:29 AM

The Milky Way is blowing bubbles. Two giant radio bubbles, extending out from the galaxy for over 1,400 light years, were just discovered in X-ray data. Astronomers think the bubbles started forming a few million years ago due to some type of cataclysmic event near the galaxy’s central supermassive black hole.  The bubbles’ location also closely matches the range of over 100 narrow, magnetized filaments of radio emissions that stretch for tens of light years in length. First discovered 35 years ago, these filaments’ origins have remained a mystery, but the bubbles’ discovery may now provide an answer.    “The filaments have been a mystery for a long time,” said Ian Heywood, astronomer at the University of Oxford and lead author on the new discovery. He says their results hint that the event that created the bubbles could have also produced high-energy charged particles that created the filaments.  The symmetry of the...

Read More



Something mysterious swirls amidst the clouds of Venus.The planet’s hot, harsh atmosphere is thick with carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid. Atmospheric gases circulate amid cloud layers according to patterns that scientists don’t fully understand. And Venusian clouds also contain strange, dark patches, called “unknown absorbers” because they absorb large amounts of solar radiation.No one has yet determined what these dark patches are, but scientists have speculated that they might be forms of sulfur, ferric chloride or even microscopic life.Now, a team of scientists led by Yeon Joo Lee, a researcher in the Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Technical University of Berlin, has shown that the unknown absorbers are affecting Venus’s weather. On Venus, as on Earth, the energy that drives the atmosphere’s winds comes from the Sun. By studying more than a decade of data from Venus Express, Akatsuki, Messenger and the Hubble Space Telescope, the re...

Read More



A star is dead: Hubble sees aftermath of a sun's death

Thursday, August 29th 2019 01:04 PM

  Over in the Gemini constellation, the Hubble Space Telescope has captured a new image of the remnants of a dying star system called NGC 2371/2.At first, astronomers thought the dying star system was two objects instead of just one. The planetary nebula -- a shell of gasses surrounding the star -- has a symmetrical structure that makes it look like two suns died. You can see that duality in the upper left and the lower right on the photo. NGC 2371/2 consists of a Sun-like star, which blasted off its outer layers after its death. The outer layers pushed out into space, leaving behind the star’s hot remains. And the entire system glows as the dying star’s radiation interacts with galactic dust. Eventually this star will cool, forming a white dwarf, and the lobes will dissipate completely. One day, our own Sun is fated to turn into a dying white dwarf as well.

Read More



  Fast radio bursts are one of the most puzzling phenomena in astrophysics. But a new discovery of eight new sources for them might help scientists figure out what’s causing these intense outbursts of energy coming from distant galaxies.The newly discovered bursts are from repeating sources, meaning they were observed to burst multiple times. Previously, only two repeating fast radio bursts had been observed. The new observations suggest that repeating bursts are more common than previously thought.“It was certainly on the table that [repeaters] were pretty uncommon and you weren’t going to see many of them,” said Deborah Good, a co-author on the study and Ph.D. student at the University of British Columbia. “Having another eight sources is a good sign that it’s not terribly rare to have a repeater.”   Fast radio bursts are intense flashes of electromagnetic energy that last just fractions of a second. Finding repeaters is valuab...

Read More



3 Earth-sized exoplanets found just 12 light-years away

Thursday, August 22nd 2019 12:57 PM

  There is a triplet of Earth-sized planet candidates orbiting a star just 12 light-years away, a new study has found. And one appears to be in the habitable zone. All three candidates are thought to be at least 1.4 to 1.8 times the mass of Earth, and orbit the star every three to 13 days, which would put the entire system well within Mercury’s 88 day orbit of the Sun. The planet orbiting the star every 13 days, dubbed planet d, is most interesting to scientists — it falls within the star’s habitable zone where liquid water could exist on the surface.     Exploring our neighborhood “We are now one step closer [to] getting a census of rocky planets in the solar neighborhood,” said Ignasi Ribas, co-author on the new paper and researcher at the Institute of Space Sciences in Barcelona, Spain. The planets’ host is GJ 1061, a type of low-mass star called an M dwarf that is the 20th nearest star to the Sun. The star is simi...

Read More



Spitzer spots a sideways galaxy in infrared

Tuesday, August 20th 2019 11:52 AM

The lightsaber looking galaxy lives 44 million lightyears away   The force seems to be strong in this galaxy far, far away. NGC 5866 sits 44 million lightyears from Earth, and, from our vantage point, looks uncannily like a Star Wars-worthy lightsaber. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope recently captured the picture, catching the galaxy exactly edge-on.Astronomers see most galaxies head-on, but NGC 5866 just happens to be positioned in a way that it appears to us as a straight line, rather than a spiral or ellipse. Spitzer sees in infrared light, and because of the dust surrounding the galaxy, NGC 5866 glows red, giving it the appearance of a Sith-like lightsaber. Due to its orientation, it’s hard for astronomers to learn much about this galaxy, but they can gather clues. For example, the galaxy’s ring of dust is very flat, indicating that it likely hasn’t collided with any other galaxies during its life.     

Read More



The death blast of a star some 200 times the mass of the Sun, challenges theories about how such massive stars die.   Supernova 2016iet is an example of one of the most extreme types of stellar explosions, though it has some odd features. Gemini Observatory/NSF/AURA/ illustration by Joy Pollard   In November of 2016, the sharp-eyed Gaia spacecraft spied a supernova that exploded some billion light-years from Earth. Astronomers followed up with more telescopes, and quickly realized that this supernova – dubbed SN2016iet – was an odd one in many ways.For one, the star that caused the supernova seemed to orbit far in the hinterlands of its tiny, previously unknown dwarf galaxy, some 54,000 light-years from its center. Most massive stars are born in denser clusters of stars, and it’s a puzzle how this one came to form so far out.And this star was extremely massive, starting life as some 200 times the mass of the Sun, near the upper l...

Read More



Hubble captures dance of two merging galaxies

Thursday, August 15th 2019 03:46 PM

The iconic space telescope caught UGC 2369 as gravity pulls the galaxies together. By Hailey Rose McLaughlin  |  Published: Monday, August 12, 2019   ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Evans NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope caught two galaxies merging in a dance-like fashion. The pair, dubbed UGC 2369, have been pulled together by gravity for quite some time now. And this pull creates the woven fabric of the blues and browns seen in the photo, which are actually dust, gas, and stars being pulled into the space between the galaxies.   Once the galaxies get close enough, the actual merger takes millions of years. But the process is quite common. When galaxies merge, they create new, bigger galaxies. For example, when two spiral galaxies come together, they can create an elliptical galaxy. One day in the distant future, some 4.5 billion years from now, the Milky Way and our nearby neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy, will likely merge as well.  ...

Read More



Pulsars usually spin with clockwork precision, but sometimes they glitch in a strange sort of stellar hiccup. And astronomers just caught Vela pulsar in the act.   The Vela pulsar is known to glitch something like once every three years, when it speeds up for a few seconds. X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Toronto/M.Durant et al; Optical: DSS/Davide De Martin When a massive star dies, it leaves behind a dense core called a neutron star. Many of these exotic suns spin rapidly, sending out beams of radiation like lighthouses, and these are called pulsars. They can rotate thousands of times a second, and spin so steadily that they can be used as cosmological clocks – except sometimes, when they glitch. Some five percent of pulsars are known to glitch, when they spin faster for only a few seconds. It’s a puzzling hiccup in their otherwise precise spin rates. One example is the Vela pulsar, which sits roughly 1,000 light-years away from Earth and glitches a...

Read More