September 25, 2018

    Phobos, the larger of Mars' two tiny satellites, pictured near the limb of Mars by the robot spacecraft Mars Express in 2010. Image: G. Neukum (FU Berlin) et al., Mars Express, DLR, ESA; Acknowledgement: Peter Masek
    New study explains how the Martian moon Phobos was formed - space science news

    By comparing mid-infrared spectra from Phobos (that had been collected already in 1998 by the Mars Global Surveyor) with those of an asteroid found near Tagish Lake in British Columbia, scientists believe that Phobos is not an asteroid captured by the gravity of Mars, as had been argued before, but has formed after a huge impact during early Martian history. The spectra have no similarity with the asteroid, and revealed that Phobos is made of basalt. Basalt is volcanic rock, and one of the major components of the surface of Mars. Thus, scientists have found evidence for the origin of Phobos that might be further confirmed once the Martian Moon eXploration spacecraft and the OSIRIS-Rex and Hayabusa2 asteroid explorers complete their missions to collect samples and return them to Earth for analysis.

    Read the full story: AGU 100
    Scientific publication: Journal of Geophysical Research – Planets


    Perturbations in the Milky Way. Image. ESA
    Milky Way was shaken by near-collision 500 million years ago and is still vibrating - space short science news

    The Milky Way has been shaken by the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy that came passing buy some 500 million years ago. Research carried out with the European Gaia satellite revealed that this near-collision has caused groups of stars to move. These starts are still moving after all these years in a circular “snail-house pattern”. It was already known that Sagittarius came along the Milky Way, but because the mass of that system was so much smaller than that of the Milky Way, it was always assumed that it had little effect on the Milky Way. The new observations give reason to reconsider some assumptions about the Milky Way, including those about black matter, researchers say.

    Read the full story: Universitat de Barcelona
    Scientific publication: Nature


    Proxima Centauri b could be a highly habitable planet. Credit NASA
    A highly habitable exoplanet in our neighbourhood - science news space

    We hear about new exoplanets being discovered almost daily, but how habitable are they after all? Using computer models similar to those used to study climate change on Earth, researchers looked at the habitability of Proxima Centauri b, the closest exoplanet, located “just” 4.2 light-years from us. The study showed that, under a wide range of conditions, this planet can sustain enormous areas of liquid water on its surface, potentially raising its prospects for harboring living organisms. “The major message from our simulations is that there's a decent chance that the planet would be habitable," said Anthony Del Genio, the lead author of a paper describing the new research.

    Read the full story: Space.com
    Scientific publication: Astrobiology


    SwRI scientists studied the binary asteroid Patroclus-Menoetius, shown in this artist’s conception, to determine that a shake-up of the giant planets likely happened early in the solar system’s history, within the first 100 million years.
    Evidence for very early migration of solar system planets - space science news

    By studying a pair of asteroids, astronomers have been able to illuminate the history of our solar system. It turns out that there has been a period of instability, involving the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, which pushed Uranus and Neptune outwards within the first 100 million years after the solar system had been formed. These two planets met with smaller bodies that are now in the Kuiper belt, at the edge of our solar system, but a few of them scattered inwards. Two of those are the asteroids that have now been studied, and are in fact targets of NASA’s upcoming Lucy mission.

    Read the full story: Southwest Research Institute
    Scientific publication: Nature Astronomy


    The beautiful “lunar swirls” were created by erupting lava, billions of years ago. Credit: NASA/GSFC/ASU
    The mystery of ‘lunar swirls’ - science news - space

    Lunar swirls are features on the surface of the moon, not found on any other body in our solar system, whose origin is not completely understood. A new theory about how they formed was developed by a team of researchers. Using complex mathematical models, the scientists concluded that the swirls were probably caused by the interaction, some 3 billion years ago, between erupting lava and the moon’s strong magnetic field. According to the models, each swirl must stand above a magnetic object that is narrow and buried close to the moon’s surface. These objects are most likely lava tubes or disks.

    Read the full story: University of California Berkeley
    Scientific publication: Journal of Geophysical Research


    Exclusion of Pluto as a planet was based on an unvalid definition
    Pluto should be back as a planet - short science articles and news

    Pluto lost its planet status in 2006, since a group of astronomy experts, defined a planet as a body, which clears its orbit i.e. be the largest gravitational force in its orbit. However, since Neptune’s gravitational pull influences Pluto and the fact that Pluto shares it orbit with objects in the Kuiper belt, it lost it planet status. However, now researchers state that this criterion to define a planet is not supported in literature. Interestingly, there is only one publication in the last 200 years, back in 1802, which used this definition, and it has been since disproven. They further state that a planet should be defined based on its intrinsic properties and not on external dynamics like the planet’s orbit.

    Read the full story: University of Central Florida
    Scientific publication: Icarus


    Artistic impression of a red supergiant star surrounded by a veil of circumstellar material before explosion. Image: NAOJ
    Bright light emitted by dying stars - space science news

    Astronomers found that supernovae generated from red supergiants (big, old stars) flash a bright light before the main explosion. This flash of light is caused by the collision of the expanding gas of the supernova and unidentified material surrounding the dying star. This discovery was made possible by new algorithms for big data analysis techniques of real-time observations with the Victor Blanco Telescope in Chili. The occurrence of the bright light flash was not predicted by current conceptual models, and therefore sheds new light on supernovae explosions.

    Read the full story: Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory
    Scientific publication: Nature Astronomy


    Artist impression of the monster galaxy that might be the ancestor of elliptical galaxies in today's universe. Image: National Astronomical Observatory of Japan
    Monster galaxy giving nonstop birth to stars - space science news

    Using the ALMA telescope, astronomers have obtained a detailed anatomy of a monster galaxy located 12.4 billion light years away. Its clouds are extremely unstable, leading to star formation at a rate that is a thousand times faster than in other galaxies. Monster galaxies are thought to be ancestors of the “normal” elliptical galaxies in the universe, so that the observations on the monster galaxy (COSMOS-AzTEC-1) help to understand how elliptical galaxies have formed.

    Read the full story: ALMA / National Astronomical Observatory of Japan
    Scientific publication: Nature


    Jupiter's southern hemisphere photographed by NASA's Juno spacecraft. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/GeraldEichstaedt/Sean Doran
    How Jupiter grew so big - space science news

    Mathematical modelling reveals that Jupiter has known three distinct phases of growth. During the first phase, the embryo-planet accreted small, centimeter-sized pebbles and grew quickly for one million years. The following two million years, the planet grew slower by accretion of larger, kilometer-sized rocks to 50 Earth masses. Finally, Jupiter grew really big, to the size we know today of 300 Earth masses, by accumulation gas. This model is in agreement with a previous analysis of meteorite data, and explains why Jupiter grew so surprisingly slow in the second phase.

    Read the full story: University of Bern
    Scientific publication: Nature Astronomy


    Water ice (green spots) has been found on the south (left) and north pole (right) of the moon. Image: NASA
    Direct proof of water ice on the surface of the moon - space news

    Astronomers have for the first time obtained direct evidence for the presence of water ice on the north and south pole of the moon. Using data from NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument, ice was detected in lunar craters on the south pole, while ice is more widely, but sparsely, spread on the north pole. As the ice is located in the top few mm of the moon’s surface, this frozen water is probably accessible as a resource for future expeditions to the moon.

    Read the full story: NASA – Jet Propulsion Laboratory
    Scientific publication: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA


    Composite ALMA image of NGC 6334I, with a heavy water jet in blue, and organic molecules-rich region in orange. Image: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO): NRAO/AUI/NSF, B. Saxton
    Cosmic steam jets observed in newly-forming stars - space science news

    The ALMA telescope in Chile detected high frequencies bands in the Cat’s Paw Nebula (or NGC 6334I) that indicated jets of warm water vapor streaming away from a newly forming star. This observation was only possible because of the extreme precision and sensitivity of ALMA, and the low concentrations of water vapor in the arid Chilean desert. Also, astronomers observed glycoaldehyde, the simplest sugar-related molecule. These observations are at the limit what ground-based astronomy can reveal, and fundamentally changes our understanding of the universe.

    Read the full story: National Radio Astronomy Observatory
    Scientific publication: The Astrophysical Journal Letters


    The red planet with the white south pole at the bottom. Image: ESA and Max Planck Institute / OSIRIS team
    Enormous liquid water lake discovered under the surface of Mars - space science news

    Data obtained with the radar system of the Mars Express suggest that there is liquid water under the surface of Mars. This underground water reservoir is 20 km wide and up to 1.5 km deep. It is located under Mars’ south pole under a thick ice sheet. While water temperature in the reservoir is -68 degrees Celcius, it remains liquid due to the extremely high salt content. Also, the pressure from the ice sheet may contribute to this. Due to the high salt content, high pressure, and low temperature, researchers think it is unlikely that there are any life forms in the water reservoir, but the discovery of the permanent presence of liquid water is nevertheless spectacular and exceeds astronomer’s highest expectations.

    Read the full story: Sciencemag.org
    Scientific publication: Science


    Part of the Medusae Fossae Formation, with clear marks of erosion. Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
    One unique source of Martian dust identified - space science news

    The dust that is storming over Mars at the moment has been formed over the course of a few billion of years at one specific location: the Medusae Fossae Formation. Scientists have reached this conclusion after analysis of data obtained by the landers and rovers on the Red Planet, and by the spacecraft Mars Odyssey. It appeared that the chemical composition of the dust on the entire planet is exactly the same as found on the surface of the Medusae Fossae Formation. The formation is of volcanic origin, and once was of the size equal to 50% of the US. Because of erosion, it has shrunk to 20%, and the lost 30% has formed the dust that coats much of the surface of Mars today.

    Read the full story: Johns Hopkins University
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications


    A detailed view of the solar corona from the STEREO-A coronagraph after extensive image processing. Image: Craig DeForest, SwRI
    Detailed images of the sun’s corona reveal physical structure - space science news

    New image processing software made it possible to study the structure of the sun’s corona in much more detail before. Pictures taken by the COR2 coronagraph aboard NASA’s Solar and Terrestrial Relation Observatory, which orbits the Sun between Venus and Earth, thus revealed physical structure. Until now it was believed that the corona was homogenous and smooth, but this misinterpretation, as it turns out, is due to poor prior image resolution. Thus, the new observations give more insight in the structure of the corona, which is important for understanding solar winds that embed magnetic fields that we can measure on Earth. The findings of this study will be extended soon, when NASA’s new mission with the Parker Solar Probe, which aims to make measurements from within the corona itself.

    Read the full story: NASA
    Scientific publication: Astrophysical Journal


    A sudden storm covers Mars completely
    Global dust storm engulfs planet Mars - short space science news

    In the past month, astronomers have witnessed planet Mars being completely covered in dust. This is due to a global storm that creates dust clouds so large that they envelop the planet. This phenomenon appears periodically, every 3 – 4 Mars years. Scientists still do not understand how and why these storms are formed. Therefore, the event provides a welcome opportunity for further studies. For the Opportunity rover, this means a sudden drop in visibility from a clear, sunny day to that of an overcast one. Because Opportunity runs on solar energy, scientists had to suspend science activities to preserve the rover’s batteries. As of 18 July, no response has been received from the rover.

    Read the full story: NASA


    HaloSat’s launch for the study of the halo of gas around the Milky Way as part of the search for the universe's missing matter. Image: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
    Where is the missing matter in the universe? - space science news

    A new NASA-sponsored CubeSat mission, deployed from the International Space Station on July 13, will help astronomers to detect where thus far undetected matter is in the universe. Scientists estimate that this amounts to 50% of all the matter that has formed in the early years of the universe. Half of the matter has formed gas, dust, planets, etc, but what happened to the other half is still unknown. With the new mission, astronomers will look for the missing matter in the space between galaxies or in galactic halos that surround galaxies. Scientists suspect that the missing matter is hidden in the gas in these structures of two million degrees Celcius (3.6 million degrees Fahrenheit).

    Read the full story: NASA


    The moon Io has the company of 78 other moons orbiting Jupiter, and twelve of them have now been discovered
    Twelve new moons around Jupiter discovered - space science news

    While trying to find planet X, that scientists suspect to be located behind Pluto, astronomers have accidentally observed 12 new moons that are circling Jupiter. Two of those orbit in the prograde, or in the same direction as Jupiter itself. Nine others are located further away and orbit in the retrograde, or opposite to, the direction of the planet. One is circling in Jupiter’s direction, but will cross the orbits of the nine outer moons, making a head-to-head collision more likely to happen in the future. All in all, there are now 79 known moons orbiting Jupiter, and the 12 newly discovered ones are amongst the smallest, with diameters ranging from 1 to 3 kilometers.

    Read the full story: Carnegie Science


    Even small objects such as subatomic particles obey the Lorentz symmetry, a component of the theory of relativity
    Neutrinos behave just as Einstein’s theory of special relativity predicts - science news in short

    The theory of special relativity states that the universe is a predictably symmetrical place, a principle known as the Lorentz symmetry. Basically, everyone should observe the same laws of physics in any direction, regardless of one’s frame of reference, as long as that object is moving at a constant speed. However, it is not clear if this principle is valid for very small objects, such as neutrino particles. Now, a new study provides convincing evidence that most likely neutrinos follow Einstein’s predictions and they are not excepted from the theory of relativity. The results provide, once again, a confirmation that Einstein was right in his theory.

    Read the full story: MIT
    Scientific publication: Nature Physics


    Artist’s impression of a blazar emitting neutrinos and gamma rays. Image : Icecube/NASA
    Cosmic rays : from mystery to measurement - space science news

    While cosmic rays have been first detected over 100 years ago, it has remained a mystery what creates and launches them. Now, with the aid of the strongest telescopes in the world, astronomers have found evidence that the blazar TXS 0506+056 is a source of high-energy neutrinos, and cosmic rays. Blazars are a special form of quasars, supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies that are actively consuming gas and dust. The detection of the source of cosmic rays has been difficult, as they are charged particles, and their trajectory path is deviated from a straight line by strong magnetic fields in space. However, the blazar also emits neutrinos, uncharged particles that do travel in a straight line, and these can be traced back to their origin.

    Read the full story: Institute for Astronomy – University of Hawaii
    Scientific publication: Science


    Artist's impression of the the triple star system PSR J0337+1715, some 4,200 light years away from Earth
    Einstein’s insights into gravity stand the test - space science news

    Einstein got it right: even objects as dense as a neutron star fall at the same rate as light objects such as feathers. Their mass or composition has no influence whatsoever. While this theory has been tested and confirmed many times over on Earth, astronomers have now found that this aspect of Einstein’s theory of gravity also applies to objects in space. By studying the triple start system PSR J0337+1715, which is located 4,200 light years away from Earth, they found that a dense neutron star and a white dwarf star fell with the same speed toward another white dwarf star. Thus, there is no difference between size, mass and composition in the acceleration due to gravity between these very different objects in space, confirming Einstein’s Strong Equivalence Principle.

    Read the full story: Green Bank Observatory
    Scientific publication: Nature


    Uranus has been tilted following a collision with another planet
    Uranus was hit by a planet twice the size of Earth - space science news

    Some 4 billion years ago, Uranus has probably collided with another planet that was about twice the size of Earth, computer simulations show. This collision would explain why Uranus is tilted, basically rotating on its side. Also, the collision scenario gives more insight into the evolution of Uranus and its moons that might have formed from, or modified by, the debris of the impact. As Uranus has many characteristics of an exoplanet, researchers believe that understanding the evolution of Uranus helps understanding how other planets outside our solar system have evolved and what their chemical composition would be.

    Read the full story: Durham University
    Scientific publication: The Astrophysical Journal


    A merged star passed behind our sun leaving it hidden from astronomers until it remerged from that glare 100 days after the merger event. Credit: University of Warwick
    Scientists see the light of the first confirmed neutron star merger after waiting 110 days - science news in brief

    One of the skills of a good scientist is patience. Great rewards await those who master it. This was the case for a group of astronomers that had to wait for exactly 110 days to see the first of confirmed neutron star merger to re-emerge from behind the glare of the sun. This was the first visual sighting of a jet of material that was streaming out from the merged star after that initial cataclysmic merger event. Their observations confirm a key prediction about the aftermath of neutron star mergers. The binary neutron star merger GW170817 occurred 130 million light-years away in the galaxy named NGC 4993. It was first detected in August 2017.

    Read the full story: University of Warwick
    Scientific publication: Nature Astronomy


    Image of the baby planet (the bright dot on the right). Image: ESO/A. Müller et al.
    Newborn planet captured on film for the very first time - space science news

    Researchers led by astronomers of the Max Planck Institut for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, have made a stunning picture of planetary formation around the young dwarf star PDS70. The research team observed a very young planet, named PDS70b, while it was travelling through the planet-forming material surrounding the young star. The planet was detected with SPHERE instrument on the Very Large Telescope, which is one of the most powerful telescopes available. It is giant gas planet, many times the size of Jupiter, and has a surface temperature of about 1000 degrees C.

    Read the full story: European Southern Observatory
    Scientific publication: Astronomy & Astrophysics
    Scientific publication: Astronomy & Astrophysics


    The artist's concept depicts Kepler-186f. Image credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle
    Earth-like exoplanets might indeed look like the Earth - space science news

    Kepler-186f is the first Eart-like planet that has been discovered outside our solar system, circling around its own star at the optimal distance to make the occurrence of liquid water possible. Now, researchers have established that its axial tilt is very stable, just like the Earth. This suggests that Kepler-186f has seasons and a stable climate. The same is probably true for another planet, Kepler-62f. For comparison, the axial tilt of Mars, which is in the habitable zone of our solar system, varies enormously over time, from 0 to 60 degrees. This instability has probably caused the loss of the Martian atmosphere and the evaporation of surface water.

    Read the full story: Georgia Institute of Technology
    Scientific publication: The Astronomical Journal


    Oumuamua has properties that suggest it is likely a comet, not an asteroid as initially believed. This illustration shows ‘Oumuamua racing toward the outskirts of our solar system. Credits: NASA/ESA/STScI
    Oumuamua is a comet, not an asteroid - science news

    Our Solar System’s first known interstellar object, Oumuamua, got an unexpected boost in speed and shift in trajectory as it passed through the inner solar system last year. Analyzing the trajectory of this interstellar object, scientists found that the speed boost was consistent with the behavior of a comet. “This additional subtle force on ′Oumuamua likely is caused by jets of gaseous material expelled from its surface,” said Davide Farnocchia, one of the authors. Thus, the data suggest that Oumuamua is most likely a comet.

    Read the full story: NASA
    Scientific publication: Nature


    Subscribe to our mailing list

    * indicates required