January 16, 2019

    Artistic impression of a gas disk feeding a massive black hole while emitting radiation. Image: NASA
    How black holes can become gigantic - space short science news

    Black holes have been observed to swallow gas from its surroundings, which is now thought to underlie the fast pace at which black holes can keep growing for a long period of time.

    Astronomers concluded this on the basis of abnormally bright light emitted around a black hole.

    They think that they now better understand of how black holes, lying at the heart of essentially every galaxy including the Milky Way, can grow to such enormous proportions.

    Read the full story: Tel Aviv University
    Scientific publication: Nature Astronomy


    Some white dwarf stars slow down their cooling process and turn into crystals. Credit: NASA
    The sky is filled with stars turning into crystals - daily short science news

    A new study provides the first direct evidence that white dwarf stars solidify and turn into crystals. White dwarfs are the dead remnants of stars like our Sun and they have a core of solid oxygen and carbon.

    The researchers identified an excess in the number of stars at specific colors and luminosities that do not correspond to any single mass or age as evidence that white dwarfs crystallize, or transition from liquid to solid. Moreover, they estimate there are thousands of such stars within around 300 light years from Earth.

    Interestingly, this means that some of the stars are much older than previously thought, in some cases by billions of years. It is estimated that our own sun will become a crystal white dwarf in about 10 billion years.

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


    Illustration of one of the exotic super-Earth candidates, 55 Cnc e, which are rich in sapphires and rubies. These are aluminum oxides that are abundant on these planets. Image: Thibaut Roger
    Exotic class of super-Earths found - space short science news

    Rocky planets normally form in a dispersing disc of gas (the proto-planetary gas disc) that surrounds a star, in regions rich in iron, magnesium and silicon. This gives rise to Earth-like planets with an iron core.

    Now, astronomers have found three super-Earths that do not have an iron core, but rather one that is made of calcium and aluminum. They will therefore not have a magnetic field as Earth has.

    Also, they have formed close to their star under very hot conditions. This gives these exotic super-Earths (five times the mass of Earth) a range of unique properties, such as 10-20% lower density than Earth.

    Read the full story: University of Zürich
    Scientific publication: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society


    Within the gas in the (blue) filaments connecting the (orange) galaxies lurk rare pockets of pristine gas that are formed immediately after the Big Bang. Image: TNG Collaboration
    A relic from the early universe: a cloud of unpolluted gas - space short science news

    Using the world’s most powerful optical telescope in Hawaii, astronomers have observed a cloud of gas that seems not to have been contaminated by heavy metals from exploding stars.

    The complete absence of heavy metals indicates that this cloud of gas is a relic of the Big Bang.

    This observation helps astronomers to better understand the development of the universe and how the first galaxies have formed.

    Read the full story: W.M. Keck Observatory
    Scientific publication: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society


    Solar system distances to scale showing the newly discovered 2018 VG18 compared to other known solar system objects. Image: Roberto Molar Candanosa and Scott S. Sheppard, Carnegie Institution for Science.
    Pushing the boundaries: discovery of the most distant solar system object ever observed - space short science news

    For the first time, astronomers have observed an object in our solar system at a distance of more than 100 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun, at 120 astronomical units (AU) to be precise.

    For comparison, the distance from Earth to Pluto is “only” 34 AU, and the second-most distant object, Eris, is 96 AU away from us.

    Researchers have observed that the newly discovered object, a planet with the provisional name of 2018 VG18, orbits very slowly, making a full orbit in about 1,000 years.

    Read the full story: Carnegie Institution for Science


    This graphic plots exoplanets (dots) based on their size and distance from their star. Planets the size of Jupiter and super-Earths are found both close to and far from their star. Planets the size of Neptune are scarce close to their star (Neptune desert). Image: NASA, ESA and A. Feild (STScI)
    A fast evaporating exoplanet found - space short science news
    Astronomers have been puzzled for a long time by the near-absence of big, Neptune-sized gas planets in the proximity of their star.

    New observations with the Hubble Space Telescope have indicated that the hot Neptune-like exoplanet GJ 3470b, that resides at the border of the empty zone, is fast losing its atmosphere. Thus hot Neptunes closer to the star might have lost their atmosphere as well, and could have eroded down to smaller, rocky super Earths that are found close to the star.

    These observations give more insight into planetary evolution.

    Read the full story: NASA and University of Geneva
    Scientific publication: Astronomy and Astrophysics


    ALMA's high-resolution images of nearby protoplanetary disks, which are results of the Disk Substructures at High Angular Resolution Project (DSHARP). Image: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), S. Andrews et al.; NRAO/AUI/NSF, S. Dagnello
    Looking at the birth of planets - space short science news

    Astronomers have acquired new insights into the speed with which planets can form by studying protoplanetary disks, the belts of dust and gas around young stars. The observations were made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile.

    The most striking finding was that that large planets the size of Neptune or Saturn from quickly, much faster than current theories hold for possible. Also, rocky planets like Earth can form without falling into their star by finding shelter in de protoplanetary disk.

    These and other observations are described in a series of papers in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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


    Visualization of expanding drops of quark gluon plasmas in three geometric shapes. Image: Javier Orjuela Koop
    Early universe matter created in the laboratory - space short science news

    Scientists have created tiny droplets of extremely hot matter that are thought to have filled the early universe, i.e. the first microseconds after the Big Bang.

    The matter was in a liquid-like state called quark gluon plasma, and took the form of circles, ellipses and triangles.

    Scientists have never been closer before to answering the question of what the smallest amount of early universe matter could have been.

    Read the full story: University of Colorado – Boulder
    Scientific publication: Nature Physics


    Artist's impression of the exoplanet HAT-P-11b with its extended helium atmosphere blown away by the star, an orange dwarf star smaller, but more active, than the Sun. Image : Denis Bajram
    Helium found in the atmosphere of an exoplanet - space short science news

    An international team of researchers has detected helium in the atmosphere of exoplanet HAT-P-11b, located 124 light years away from Earth. Helium was found to escape from the planet’s atmosphere at high speed, at over 10,000 km an hour as it is blown away from the day side of the planet to its night side.

    As helium is a very light gas, it can escape easily from the attraction of the exoplanet and forms a cloud around it. That is why HAT-P-11b has an inflated shape.

    These breakthrough observations of helium in a planet’s atmosphere has become possible only through the recent development of the high-precision infrared spectrograph called Carmenes that is installed on the 4-meter telescope at Calar Alto in Spain. This study shows that the observation of extreme atmospheres of explanets is possible from the ground with the right instrumentation, and not necessarily from space.

    Read the full story: Universities of Geneva and Exeter
    Scientific publication: Science


    Map of the entire sky, with the plane of the Milky Way running along the middle, showing the location of 739 blazars used for measurements in the study. Image: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration
    Tracing the history of starlight across the universe - space short science news

    NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has measured all the starlight produced over 90% of the universe’s history. The telescope measures gamma-ray output from distant galaxies, especially from blazars (galaxies with a massive black hole in their center).

    When these high energy rays collide with starlight, they can transform into matter (an electron and a positron), according to Einstein’s famous E=mc2 formula.

    As starlight continues to travel through space even after stars have burned out, it is possible to assess the formation rate and evolution of stars, without observing the stars themselves.

    Read the full story: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
    Scientific publication: Science


    InSight just landed on Mars and it will be the first ever probe to study the interior of the planet
    NASA InSight lander just landed on planet Mars - space science news in short

    What’s inside planet Mars? Well, we are about to find out! InSight, a NASA Mars lander module just landed on the red planet.

    The probe will peer below the surface to gather data about the structure and composition of the red planet. To do so, it has been equipped with two main instrument packages: a seismometer and a "mole".

    Landing on Mars was not easy, but it was successfully achieved! The cost of the Insight mission was $850 million. The mission is expected to provide scientific data about how planet Mars formed.

    Read the full story: ScienceBriefss
    Scientific publication: NASA


    Huge magma oceans of Super-Earth exoplanets could produce a strong magnetic field. Credit: NASA
    Super-Earths’ magnetic fields generated by magma oceans - science news space

    Super-Earths are very common among the newly-discovered exoplanets. But, do they have magnetic fields, like Earth?

    Using computer simulations researchers concluded that they do, indeed, possess magnetic fields, however, they are generated differently. On Earth, the source is the molten-iron outer core acting as a dynamo. On Super-Earths, the field is likely produced by the planets’ magma oceans.

    The magma oceans generate a strong magnetic field and maybe the same phenomenon happened in the early days of Earth when our planet was covered by melted rock.

    Read the full story: University of California Berkeley
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications


    The binary star system Alep with a spiral-shaped dust cloud circling it. The bright dot contains the two stars, the tiny one above it is a third star that does not influence the other two. The two stars are dying massive stars observed in the Milky Way. Image: Joseph Callingham, ASTRON
    Spectacular dust cloud reveals how massive stars die - space short science news

    Astronomers have discovered a special pair of stars and a spiral dust cloud whose form is best understood by assuming that one of the stars in this binary system is spinning extremely fast.

    The existence of such star constellations has been suspected to exist before, but have never been confirmed by observations.

    The two stars, also called massive « Wolf-Rayet stars », are thought to produce the most powerful explosions in the universe, emitting gamma-ray bursts when they die and explode as supernovae. Explosion of this star system, which the astronomers have baptized « Apep » is imminent, and as it was found in the Milky Way, it provides much insight into the final phase of the life of stars in our galaxy.

    Read the full story: ASTRON – Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy
    Scientific publication: Nature Astronomy


    Jezero crater is a paleolake, the outlet canyon of which is at the upper right side of the crater. Ancient rivers carving the inlets are on the left. Image: NASA/Tim Goudge
    Ancient lakes and canyons on the surface of Mars - space short science news

    Scientists have found that lakes on Mars contained at times so much water that they overflowed and burst from the sides of their basins. This created catastrophic floods that carved canyons extremely rapidly, possibly even in the matter of weeks.

    These observations suggest that disastrous geological processes may have shaped the surface of Mars in the past, before the water became frozen and confined in ice caps.

    Read the full story: University of Texas at Austin
    Scientific publication: Geology


    This is what the sunset on the newly discovered planet Barnard's star b may look like. Image: Martin Kornmesser/ESO
    Meet Barnard’s star b, an exoplanet only six lightyears away - space short science news

    By combining old measurements with new techniques, scientists have found a planet that orbits the star Barnard, only six lightyears away. Barnard’s star is the closest single star to the Sun. Its newly discovered planet, named Barnard’s star b, has a mass of three times that of the Earth, and completes its orbit in 233 days. It is a frozen planet, as Barnard’s star, being a red dwarf, does not provide much energy to make higher temperatures, or life, possible. However, the finding of the new exoplanet in our neighborhood is encouraging, providing the impetus to look for other nearby exoplanets that may sustain life.

    Read the full story: Institut d'Estudis Espacials de Catalunya (IEEC)
    Scientific publication: Nature


    Strange metals could be responsible for the dynamo effect responsible for the magnetic field of Earth. Credit: NASA
    Unusual metals might explain how Earth’s magnetic field formed - space science news in short

    The magnetic field of Earth is created by a dynamo effect, but scientists do not fully understand how this is possible. A recent study suggests that strange metals, called Weyl metals, could generate the dynamo effect that creates the magnetic field.

    The behavior of these metals is governed by topology and their electrons move bizarrely as if they had no mass. The scientists calculated that it should be possible to create a dynamo from solid Weyl metals.

    The study is purely theoretical. However, there are plans to test the hypothesis by creating a Weyl metals dynamo in the lab to better understand the magnetic field.

    Read the full story: Sciencenews.org
    Scientific publication: Physical Review Letters


    Spaceflight could alter the brain and the fluid around it
    How spaceflight changes the brain of astronauts - daily science news headlines - space

    According to a recent international study, flying into space may change the brain of the cosmonauts. The study was conducted on ten Russian cosmonauts that had their brain scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), before and after spaceflights.

    The scans showed changes in several brain regions. The volume of grey matter was decreased and the balance of the cerebrospinal fluid looked disturbed. After a few months, the changes in grey matter resolved themselves but the fluid was still changed.

    The reasons for these modifications are not completely understood and the investigations continue to understand their impact on the astronauts’ health.

    Read the full story: University of Antwerp
    Scientific publication: The New England Journal of Medicine


    Gale Crater on Mars, the place where sedimentary deposits suggest water was present in the past. Credit: NASA
    Discovery of flood deposits suggests early Mars had abundant water - science news - space

    New evidence that planet Mars used to have water is provided by a recent study that analyzed the images of sedimentary rocks taken by Curiosity Rover.

    The researchers identified four different units that represent different types of deposition in the sedimentary rocks. After analyzing the data, the scientists concluded this was the result of flooding.

    Moreover, it appears that ancient Mars appears to have been very similar to Earth during Pleistocene (2 million to 12,000 years ago). This study adds to many others that suggest that Mars was covered in water in its early history.

    Read the full story: The Geological Society of America
    Scientific publication: Geological Society of America Annual Meeting 2018


    Artistic rendering of Enceladus being devoured by a Milky Way-like galaxy. Image: René van der Woude, Mixr.nl
    Milky Way merged with a large galaxy ten billion years ago - space short science news

    Some ten billion years ago, the still young Milky Way merged with another large galaxy that astronomers have baptized Gaia-Encladus. The stars of Gaia-Encladus make up most the Milky Way’s halo and also shaped its thick disk, giving it its inflated form. The data used for this study were provided by the second mission of the Gaia satellite, giving information about 1.7 billion stars. The researchers found that the chemical signature of many halo stars was clearly different from original Milky Way stars, and that both formed a rather homogenous group. Thus, the Milky Way was formed by the fusion of two galaxies, rather than by fusion of many small ones.

    Read the full story: University of Groningen
    Scientific publication: Nature


    Simulation of material orbiting close to a black hole. Image: ESO/Gravity Consortium/L. Calçada
    ESO: Material orbiting close to a black hole observed - space science short news

    With the aid of ESO’s GRAVITY instrument on the Very Large Telescope, scientists have observed flares of infrared radiation coming from the accretion disk (belt of gas) around Sagittarius A*, the massive object in the center of the Milky Way. The flares provide further evidence that the massive object is indeed a supermassive black hole. They originate from material orbiting in close proximity of the black hole, and thus provide the most detailed observations yet of objects in its vicinity.

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


    The first planet hunter is now retired. Credit: NASA
    Kepler Space Telescope retired  - space science news in brief - daily headlines

    Kepler Space Telescope was the NASA’s first planet-hunting mission. After nine years of collecting data in deep space, the telescope has run out of fuel and NASA decided to retire it.

    The Kepler mission provided humanity with invaluable information showing us that space is filled with billions of hidden planets, more planets that the number of stars we know. It discovered 2,600 planets outside our solar system.

    The spacecraft will be left on its current orbit, far away from Earth, which NASA estimates to be safe.

    Read the full story: ScienceBriefss
    Scientific publication: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology


    An Illustration of a compact, multi-planet system. Researchers have found that such systems are more likely to form around stars with lower amounts of heavy elements than our own Sun.
    Some planetary systems form in the absence of high amounts of heavy metal - space science news

    Small compact planetary systems are more likely to form around stars that have lower amounts of heavy metals than our own Sun. This new insight, based on the observation of 700 stars, is very different from results of earlier research that focused on stars with higher levels of heavy metal. Low-metallicity stars are older than the ones with high heavy metal content, and the first planets have therefore likely formed around these. Thus, the formation of planets does not always follow the current model, which is based on the development of gas giant planets such as Jupiter around higher metallicity stars.

    Read the full story: Yale University
    Scientific publication: Astrophysical Journal Letters


    The Borexino instrument located deep beneath Italy's Appenine Mountains detects neutrinos as they interact with the electrons of an ultra-pure organic liquid scintillator at the center of a large sphere surrounded by 1,000 tons of water. Image: Borexino
    Shining light on how the sun shines - space science news

    Scientists have found that 99% of the solar energy emitted as neutrinos is produced through nuclear reaction sequences starting with proton-proton fusions, in which hydrogen is converted into helium. The neutrinos were detected with the Borexino instrument, which is located in the ground under the Appenine Mountains in Italy to isolate it from background radiation. Solar neutrinos travel at almost the speed of light, and as many as 420 billion of them hit each square inch of the Earth’s surface every second. As they pass through matter essentially unaffected, it has been hard to detect them, but the Borexino neutrino detector has made it possible to detect them, and increase our understanding of how the sun shines.

    Read the full story: UMassAmherst
    Scientific publication: Nature


    Scientists estimate that they could have an extremely precise measurement of the universe's rate of expansion within five to ten years. Image: Robin Dienel/The Carnegie Institution for Science
    On the way to measuring the universe’s expansion - space science news

    How big is the universe, and how fast is it expanding? Scientists believe they can answer these questions, which are at the core of today’s astronomy research, within five to ten years. They base this optimistic expectation on last year’s (2017) capture of gravitational waves radiating form a collision between neutron stars. This allows scientists to estimate mass and energy of the colliding stars, and by comparing this with the strength of the gravitational waves, they can infer how far away the stars are. This makes a precise measurement of distance possible. With optimized telescopes, astronomers think they will be able to observe more neutron star collisions to make their analysis complete in five to ten years from now.

    Read the full story: University of Chicago
    Scientific publication: Nature


    Violent outbursts of seething gas from young red dwarfs (right) may make conditions uninhabitable on orbiting planets (left). Image: NASA, ESA, and D. Player (STScI)
    Powerful blasts of radiation by young stars detected - space science news

    Astronomers have observed a red dwarf star in a violent outburst, which was more powerful than ever detected from the sun. This powerful blast would likely prevent the habitability of any planets orbiting the red dwarf. The blast is likely powered by intense magnetic fields that get tangled by the roiling motions of the stellar atmosphere. When tangling gets too intense, the fields break, reconnect and unleash a tremendous amount of energy. The observation was made as part of a Hubble Telescope observing program.

    Read the full story: Arizona State University
    Scientific publication: Astrophysical Journal


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