October 20, 2019

    Cosmology and Exoplanets
    Nobel Prize for Physics 2019: Universe evolution and exoplanet discovery - short science news and articles

    James Peebles’ contribution to understanding the physical cosmology which spurred the research of the entire field over the last 50 years earned him the Nobel Prize for Physics this year. The theoretical framework which he developed in 1960 forms the basis of our current ideas of the universe.

    His models predicted that while only 5% of the Universe is matter such as Stars, planets etc, the rest 95% is an unknown dark matter and dark energy which continues to challenge modern physics.

    The other half of the Nobel Prize for Physics this year is shared by Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz who discovered the first exoplanet (planet outside our solar system). This discovery revolutionized astronomy and since then 4000 exoplanets have been found in our Milky Way.

    Read the full story: The Nobel Prize


    Protostar Orion KL Source I, where aluminium has been discovered. The star is in the center of the image, surrounded by a gas disk (red). Image: ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO), Hirota et al.
    Aluminium discovered around a young star - space short science news

    Researchers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) discovered for the first time an aluminium-bearing molecule around a young star.

    Aluminium is part of the oldest objects formed in our Solar System, but until now it was not known how aluminium-rich materials contributed to star and planet formation.

    The discovery of aluminium oxide around a young star offers new possibilities to study early phases of meteorite and planet formation, researchers say.

    Read the full story: ALMA
    Scientific publication: The Astrophysical Journal Letters


    The irregular galaxy NGC 4485, captured by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). Blue dots on the right: new stars, pink, nebulas. Left, intact remaining part of NGC 4485 with hints of its ancient spiral structure. Image: NASA, ESA
    New insight in galaxy evolution - space short science news

    Hubble Telescope images indicate that the irregular galaxy NGC 4485 has been sideswepped by a larger galaxy, NGC 4490. This has led to the formation of new stars, and perhaps even planets.

    This observation might serve as an example of this kind of interactions between galaxies when the universe was smaller, and galaxies were closer together, billions of years ago.

    NGC 4485, 25 million light years away from us in the northern constellation Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs) shows some aspects of the complex evolution of galaxies.

    Read the full story: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center


    NGC 2903 is located about 30 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo (the Lion), and was studied as part of a Hubble survey of the central regions of roughly 145 nearby disk galaxies. Image: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Ho et al.
    The universe continues to amaze: look at this stunning spiral galaxy - space short science news

    The NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope has photographed a perfect spiral galaxy, known as NGC 2903.

    This galaxy is located about 30 million light years away in the constellation of Leo (Lion).

    Hubble was used for a survey of about 145 disk galaxies nearby, with the aim to better understand the relationship between the black holes at the core of these galaxies, and the stars, gas and dust at the galaxy’s center, as pictured by the Hubble Telescope.

    Read the full story: NASA


    January’s total lunar eclipse saw a rare event. A short flash was seen on the moon surface due to a meteorite, which hit it at 61,000 km/hr creating a crater 10-15 meters across.

    Scientists used 8 telescopes to monitor the lunar surface during the eclipse and filmed the first ever impact flash, which lasted for 0.28 seconds.

    It is estimated that the impact energy is equivalent to 1.5 tonnes of TNT and the debris ejected could have reached 5400 degree Celsius, which is roughly same as the Sun surface.

    Read the full story: Royal Astronomical Society


    This is a ground-based telescope's view of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. The inset image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, reveals one of many star clusters scattered throughout the dwarf galaxy. Credit: NASA, ESA, Adam Riess, and Palomar Digitized Sky Survey
    Universe expanding faster than previously expected - interesting science news

    The Universe keeps on throwing curve balls. New measurements from the Hubble Space Telescope have indicated than the universe is expanding 9% faster than previous thought based on its trajectory after the Big Bang.

    Scientists analyzed light from 70 stars coming from our neighboring galaxies and used this information to further strengthen the cosmic distance ladder which is used to determine distances in the space. This helped in calculating the Hubble constant which is the value of hoe fast the cosmos is expanding over time. And this shows that the Universe is expanding much faster.

    These new measurements indicate that now we need new physics to better understand the cosmos.

    Read the full story: John Hopkins University
    Scientific publication: The Astrophysical Journal


    Moon releases water on meteoroid strikes
    Water from moon released due to meteoroid strike - interesting science news

    Researchers have found that striking of meteoroids on the Moon releases water vapour for a short time into its atmosphere. While previous models had predicted this, the phenomenon was observed for the first time. To release this water the meteoroids have to penetrate atleast 3 inches below the surface.

    While the Moon doesn’t have significant amount water in the atmosphere, there is evidence that it has water (H2O) and hydroxyl (OH) which is the more reactive species of water.

    This new evidence could explain why there are ice deposits at the poles of the Moon. These results are significant since this water could be potential source for sustaining long-term exploration of the Moon and the deep space.

    Read the full story: NASA
    Scientific publication: Nature Geoscience


    NASA's twin study has revealed that a year in space in the International Space Station has little effects on human health
    Little health effects after a year in space - space short science news

    In a twin study carried out by NASA, no or only minor, mostly reversable, effects have been observed on a whole battery of physiological parameters in an astronaut who spent one year in ISS, and his twin brother, also an astronaut but remaining on Earth.

    For example, some minor changes were found in the gut microbiome, but these reversed to normal within a short period of time. Some effects could be attributed to the return to Earth, such as increased inflammation markers and cognitive performance. Some gene expression changes and DNA damage had not normalized until six months after return to Earth.

    Thus, one year in space does not seem to harm astronaut’s health, but the persistent molecular changes should be subject of future studies, scientists say.

    Read the full story: University of Illinois at Chicago
    Scientific publication: Science


    Using the Event Horizon Telescope, scientists obtained an image of the black hole at the center of galaxy M87, outlined by emission from hot gas swirling around it under the influence of strong gravity near its event horizon. Image: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration
    Spectacular breakthrough in space research: the first image of a black hole - space short science news

    Astronomers have captured an image of a black hole for the first time, using the Event Horizon Telescope (EVT). The black hole is at the center of galaxy Messier 87 some 55 million light-years away.

    While the black hole cannot be seen itself (its gravity is so strong that even light cannot escape), the material around it can be seen with the EVT.

    This spectacular new observation is the beginning of a new era in space research, in which the secrets of black holes, the existence of which was only theory until now, will be revealed.

    Read the full story: National Science Foundation


    The first evidence has been obtained for the existence of a giant object in the Cygnus constellation orbiting a binary system of a live star and a white dwarf. Image: Leandro Almeida
    An exoplanet with 13 times the mass of Jupiter - space short science news

    Astronomers have discovered a giant exoplanet in the Cygnus constellation that has a mass 13 times that of Jupiter.

    It is orbiting an old binary system, in which one star is dead (a white dwarf) and the other being a live star (i.e. magnetically active) with small mass (a red dwarf).

    While most exoplanets have been observed in young binaries, consisting of two live stars, the current observations provide the first evidence for a similar organization in an old binary system.

    Read the full story: Fundacao de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de Sao Paulo
    Scientific publication: The Astronomical Journal


    A planetary fragment orbits the white dwarf, leaving a tail of gas in its wake, caused by collisions with debris. Image: University of Warwick/Mark Garlick
    Planet surviving the death of a star - space short science news

    For the first time, astronomers have obtained direct evidence that a planet has survived the destructive forces of a dying star. The planet’s survival might be linked to it being composed of iron and nickle.

    The planet did not survive unharmed, and researchers believe that the planet as has been seen now is only a fragment of the original planet. The planet is situated in a big disk of debris, probably from other planets, surrounding the star.

    The dead star (white dwarf) was of similar size of our Sun, which makes this discovery even more interesting, as it might help to understand what will happen to Earth when the Sun dies some six billion years from now.

    Read the full story: Warwick University
    Scientific publication: Science


    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


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