Galaxy

Ancient Habitat for Life

May 21, 2015 // 0 Comments

By The Daily Galaxy Wide view of sunset over Gusev Crater taken by NASA’s Spirit Rover in 2005. Both blue aureole and pink sky are seen. Because of the fine nature of Martian dust, it can scatter blue light coming from the Sun forward towards the observer. The “Pot of Gold” rock outcrop inGusev Crater that Spirit Mars Rover examined in late 2005 revealed high concentrations of carbonate, which originates in wet, near-neutral conditions, but dissolves in acid. The ancient water indicated by this find was not acidic; hence, it was favorable as a habitat for life.”This is one of the most significant findings by the rovers,” said Steve Squyres of Cornell University a principal investigator for the Mars twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. “A substantial carbonate deposit in a Mars outcrop tells us that conditions that could have been quite favorable for life were present at one time in that place.” Spirit inspected rock outcrops, striking a bonanza at [...]

Extremely Rare

May 7, 2015 // 0 Comments

By The Daily Galaxy Oxygen is the third most common element in the universe, after hydrogen and helium, and in the 1970s astronomers predicted that molecular oxygen would be the third most common interstellar molecule, after molecular hydrogen (H2) and carbon monoxide (CO). In fact, astronomers have detected interstellar molecular oxygen in only two places: the Orion Nebula and the Rho Ophiuchi cloud (above). But even there the molecule is much rarer than theory predicts. For example, hydrogen molecules in the Orion Nebula outnumber oxygen molecules a million to one. In 1998, NASA even launched a satellite that was supposed to find lots of molecular oxygen but never did—except when scientists, worried that the instrument was faulty, aimed it at Earth. Now, a ground-based experiment has revealed why this life-giving molecule is so rare in the cosmos: because oxygen atoms cling tightly tostardust, preventing them from joining together to form oxygen molecules. The discovery should [...]

Diamond Planet

May 6, 2015 // 0 Comments

By The Daily Galaxy Astronomers have detected wildly changing temperatures on a super Earth – the first time any atmospheric variability has been observed on a rocky planet outside the solar system – and believe it could be due to huge amounts of volcanic activity, further adding to the mystery of what had been nicknamed the ‘diamond planet’. “This is the first time we’ve seen such drastic changes in light emitted from an exoplanet, which is particularly remarkable for a super Earth,” said Dr Nikku Madhusudhan of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, a co-author on the new study. “No signature of thermal emissions or surface activity has ever been detected for any other super Earth to date.”For the first time, researchers led by the University of Cambridge have detected atmospheric variability on a rocky planet outside the solar system, and observed a nearly threefold change in temperature over a two year period. Although the researchers are quick to point out that [...]

Rippled Structure

May 5, 2015 // 0 Comments

By The Daily Galaxy The Milky Way galaxy is at least 50 percent larger than is commonly estimated, according to new findings that reveal that the galactic disk is contoured into several concentric ripples. The research, conducted by an international team led by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Heidi Jo Newberg, revisits astronomical data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey which, in 2002, established the presence of a bulging ring of stars beyond the known plane of the Milky Way. “In essence, what we found is that the disk of the Milky Way isn’t just a disk of stars in a flat plane—it’s corrugated,” said Heidi Newberg, professor of physics, applied physics, and astronomy in the Rensselaer School of Science. “As it radiates outward from the sun, we see at least four ripples in the disk of the Milky Way. While we can only look at part of the galaxy with this data, we assume that this pattern is going to be found throughout the disk.” Importantly, the findings show [...]

Mystery

May 3, 2015 // 0 Comments

By The Daily Galaxy “We can see a completely new component of the center of our galaxy with NuSTAR’s images,” said Kerstin Perez of Columbia University in New York, lead author of a new report on the findings in the journal Nature. “We can’t definitively explain the X-ray signal yet — it’s a mystery. More work needs to be done.” Peering into the heart of the Milky Way, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) has spotted a mysterious glow of high-energy X-rays that, according to scientists, could be the “howls” of dead stars as they feed on stellar companions.The center of our Milky Way galaxy is bustling with young and old stars, smaller black holes and other varieties of stellar corpses – all swarming around a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A*. The image above reveals what cannot be seen in visible light: cooler stars (blue), heated dust (reddish hue), and Sgr A* supermassive black hole as [...]

Lava Lake

May 2, 2015 // 0 Comments

By The Daily Galaxy With the first detailed observations through imaging interferometry of a lava lake on Io, a moon of Jupiter and the volcanic epicenter of our Solar System, the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory places itself as the forerunner of the next generation of Extremely Large Telescopes. Io, the innermost of the four moons of Jupiter discovered by Galileo in January 1610, is only slightly bigger than our own Moon but is the most geologically active body in our solar system. Hundreds of volcanic areas dot its surface, which is mostly covered with sulfur and sulfur dioxide. The largest of these volcanic features, named Loki after the Norse god often associated with fire and chaos, is a volcanic depression calledpatera in which the denser lava crust solidifying on top of a lava lakeepisodically sinks in the lake, yielding a rise in the thermal emission which has been regularly observed from Earth. Loki, only 200km in diameter and at least 600 million km from Earth, was, up [...]

In Depth Look

May 1, 2015 // 0 Comments

By The Daily Galaxy Using the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have produced the first complete three-dimensional view of the famous Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula, Messier 16. The new observations demonstrate how the different dusty pillars of this iconic object are distributed in space and reveal many new details — including a previously unseen jet from a young star. Intense radiation and stellar winds from the cluster’s brilliant stars have sculpted the dusty Pillars of Creation over time and should fully evaporate them in about three million years. The original NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of the famous Pillars of Creation was taken two decades ago and immediately became one of its most famous and evocative pictures. Since then, these billowing clouds, which extend over a few light-years, have awed scientists and the public alike.The jutting structures, along with the nearby star cluster, NGC 6611, are parts of a [...]

Mission Is Set to Crash Into Mercury

April 30, 2015 // 0 Comments

By KENNETH CHANG Photo A Messenger image of Mercury’s surface. The image was color-coded to highlight the variations in topography. Red areas are higher than those shown in blue. Credit NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, via Carnegie Institution of Washington NASA’s Messenger spacecraft, in orbit around Mercury the past four years, will come to an abrupt end on Thursday. Messenger’s path will intersect with the surface of the planet. The impact of the 1,100-pound spacecraft at 8,750 miles per hour is expected to gouge a crater some 50 feet wide. That will bring to a close a mission that has painted an unexpected portrait of Mercury, once thought a boring round rock not much different from Earth’s moon. Mercury, the smallest planet in our solar system, is only slightly larger than the moon, although it has more drastic temperature swings — 800 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, minus 300 degrees at night. “It’s really been exciting to see a planet [...]