March 22, 2019

    A new distant space object has been identified and it is the farthest in our solar system. Credit: Roberto Molar Candanosa and Scott S. Sheppard is courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science.
    FArFarOut - the most distant object in our solar system discovered - short science news

    A team of astronomers reports on the discovery of what is now the most distant known object in the solar system. Nicknamed FarFarOut, the object is located at a distance 140 times farther from the sun than Earth.

    The discovery was made while the scientists were searching the sky for the hypothesized ninth planet. FarFArOut and the other distant objects identified so far could provide clues about the existence of this planet.

    The discovery still needs to be confirmed. Moreover, time is still required to understand its orbit and see if it can provide further information about what lies at the frontier of the solar system.

    Read the full story: Science Mag
    Scientific publication: Carnegie Institution for Science


    This artist's impression shows Neptune and its small moon Hippocamp. Hippocamp was discovered in images taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Image: ESA/Hubble, NASA, L. Calçada
    On the origin of Neptune’s smallest moon, Hippocamp - space short science news

    The Hubble telescope have shed light on the origin of the smallest moon of Neptune that was first discovered in 2013.

    It appears that the small moon, a rock with a diameter of only 34 km and now named "Hippocamp" is a fragment of Proteus, Neptune’s second largest moon that broke off billions of years ago following a comet collision.

    The origin of Hippocamp clearly shows that moons can be broken apart by impacting comets.

    Read the full story: ESA/Hubble Information Centre
    Scientific publication: ESA/Hubble Information Centre


    This star, designated LSPM J0207+3331, is the oldest, coolest white dwarf known to be surrounded by a ring of dusty debris. Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Scott Wiessinger
    White dwarf star with multiple dust rings discovered - space short science news

    A citizen scientist taken part in NASA’s Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 projected found a white dwarf star while sorting through infrared data.

    This white star, an old Earth-sized remnant of a sun-like star that has died, is special because multiple dust rings surround it.

    Current models explaining rings around white dwarfs only work well up to 100 million years ago, but the newly discovered white dwarf appeared to be much older. Thus, this new white dwarf, named J0207, challenges current assumptions of how planetary systems evolve.

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


    Simulation of merging neutron stars calculated with supercomputers. Different colors show the mass density and the temperature after the merger has taken place and before the object collapses to a black hole. Quarks could form where temperature and density are higher. Image: C. Breu, L. Rezzolla
    The fundamental properties of matter revealed by merging neutron stars - space short science news

    Quarks are the smallest building blocks of matter, and are always tightly bound inside protons and neutrons. However, neutron stars are so dense that it is possible for a transition from neutron matter to quark matter can occur.

    Scientists have found envidence for free quarks by measuring gravitational waves that were emitted by merging neutron stars, and using Einstein equations.

    Thus, a cosmic event of merging neutron stars gives insight in the fundemental properties of matter.

    Read the full story: Helmholtz Association (GSI)
    Scientific publication: Physical Review Letters


    Opportunity rover has ended its mission on planet Mars after 15 years of exploration
    Farewell Opportunity! - Latest science and space news

    In the summer of 2003, NASA launched two rovers to explore the planet Mars: Opportunity and Spirit. Spirit ceased to operate in 2010, but Opportunity heroically continued to explore the planet until May 2018, when a massive sand storm covered its solar panels, preventing the batteries from recharging.

    Ever since the rover was in hibernation. NASA tried to contact and revive the explorer hundreds of times, without success. After all the efforts, the agency declared the rover “dead” on February 13, 2019. "I declare the Opportunity mission as complete, and with it the Mars Exploration Rover mission complete," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said.

    Opportunity holds the record for the longest distance traveled on the surface of another world: 28.06 miles (45.16 km). Its mission was a success and carried on long after it was supposed to expire. It helped us to better understand planet Mars and for this, it will never be forgotten.

    Read the full story: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA


    The MMS spacecraft measuring the solar wind plasma in the interaction region with the Earth's magnetic field. Image: NASA
    Mechanism of solar wind heating discovered - space short science news

    Scientists have shown that a process known as Landau damping is responsible for transferring energy from the electromagnetic plasma turbulence in space to electrons in the solar wind (stream of charged particles, i.e. plasma). This energizes the electrons and produces heat.

    This phenomenon was discovered with high-resolution measurements from NASA’s Magnetospheric Multi-Scale spacecraft, launched in 2015, together with a newly developed data analysis technique.

    Landau damping could explain why the solar corona is hundreds of times hotter than the surface of the Sun.

    Read the full story: Queen Mary University of London
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications


    The Martian South Pole. A new study argues there needs to be an underground source of heat for liquid water to exist underneath the polar ice cap. Image: NASA
    Possible vulcanic activity under the surface of Mars - space short science news

    While a recent study had reported the presence of liquid water under the icecap of the Martian southpole, it is still unknown how water could from there in such a cold environment.

    A new modeling study suggests that high salt concentrations (necessary to lower the freezing point of water) cannot explain the presence of the liquid water. Local temperature should therefore be higher under the icecap, and scientists think that this is because of underground volcanic activity.

    This should heat up the crust enough to melt the ice under the iceshheet of the Martian southpole. More research is needed to confirm this theory, however.

    Read the full story: American Geophysical Union
    Scientific publication: Geophysical Research Letters


    Planetary collisions influence the future of a planet and the formation of its atmosphere. Credit: NASA
    Cosmic collisions shape the atmosphere of planets - science news articles with summaries

    Why are rocky planets around the universe so diverse when it comes to their atmosphere? Astronomers came up with an answer by simulating a variety of cosmic impacts.

    In a new study, they showed that giant collisions between planets and other objects such as meteorites are very efficient at reducing or even removing the atmosphere of a planet. Depending on the outcome, an impact with a rock object can create different types of worlds.

    Such impacts are part of the formation of a planetary system. Earth got its moon following one such monstrous collision. Therefore, collisions can create a wide variety of exoplanets and their results depend on the age of the planet and the speed and mass of the colliding object.

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


    In a selfie taken in mid-January 2019, Mars rover Curiosity prepares to enter a new, clay-mineral-rich unit on its traverse up Mount Sharp in Gale Crater. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
    Curiosity finds that Martian rocks are more porous than expected - space short science news

    New Curiosity Rover data analyses reveal that Mars rocks are less compacted than previously thought. New Curiosity Rover data analyses reveal that Mars rocks are less compacted than previously thought.

    Curiosity measured the density of rock layers in 96-mile-wide Gale Crater with accelerometers (a better version than those used in smartphones to measure orientation and motion) while traversing the Red Planet.

    When ascending Mount Sharp, gravity rose much less as expected, indicating that the rocks at lower levels of the mountain are surprisingly porous. This disproves the theory that the base of the mountain was not once buried under several kilometers of rock.

    Read the full story: Arizona State University
    Scientific publication: Science


    In this illustration of a newly discovered black hole named MAXI J1820+070, a black hole pulls material off a neighboring star and into an accretion disk. Above the disk is a region of subatomic particles called the corona. Image: Aurore Simonnet and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
    NASA’s NICER mission maps ‘light echoes’ of new black hole - space short science news

    Scientists have charted the environment surrounding a stellar-mass black hole that is 10 times the mass of the Sun using NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) payload aboard the International Space Station.

    NICER detected X-ray light from the recently discovered black hole, called MAXI J1820+070 (J1820 for short), as it consumed material from a companion star. Waves of X-rays formed “light echoes” that reflected off the swirling gas near the black hole and revealed changes in the environment’s size and shape.

    These observations give scientists new insights into how material funnels in to the black hole and how energy is released in this process.

    Read the full story: NASA
    Scientific publication: Nature


    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


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