February 19, 2019

    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


    This colossal structure in the early universe is a galaxy proto-supercluster, named Hyperion; the image is based on real data. Image: ESO/L. Calçada & Olga Cucciati et al.
    Largest galaxy proto-supercluster found - space science news

    An international team of astronomers, using the VIMOS instrument of ESO’s Very Large Telescope, has found an enormous proto-supercluster forming in the early universe, 2.3 billion after the Big Bang. Its mass has been calculated to be more than one million billion times that of the sun. Unlike other superclusters and the supercluster of which our galaxy, the Milky Way, is part, mass is evenly distributed throughout the newly found proto-supercluster, which is due its relatively young age. These observations give more insight into the formation of the universe’s superclusters.

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


    In this artist's representation, an electron orbits an atom's nucleus, spinning about its axis as a cloud of other subatomic particles are constantly emitted and reabsorbed. Image: Nicolle R. Fuller, National Science Foundation
    The electron is still round - short science news

    Researchers have measured the shape of an electron’s charge with stunning precision, and found that it is perfectly spherical. This observation is in line with the so-called « Standard Model » of particle physics. However, the Standard Model is known be wrong, because it cannot explain why the universe exists. Several theories to replace the Standard Model have therefore been forwarded, that posit that there could be heavy particles in the electron’s presence. The current experiments, in which a beam of cold thorium-oxide molecules was fired into a chamber, and the emitted light from the molecules was measured, found no evidence for such heavy particles, as this would have distorted the emitted light pattern. Thus, the current alternative theories need rethinking, and the Standard Model, although not correct, is still the best we have to describe electrons and the universe’s mysteries.

    Read the full story: Northwestern University
    Scientific publication: Nature


    One day, astronauts could hoover Venus using airships flying in the atmosphere of the planet. Credit: HAVOC/NASA
    NASA wants to send manned missions to Venus - space science news

    Planet Venus is one of the most inhospitable places one could imagine, with temperatures on the surface of 460 degrees Celsius, a toxic atmosphere and crushing pressure. However, this doesn’t stop NASA from planning a manned mission to Venus.

    The plan is to use ships that are able to hover the planet in its dense atmosphere. Between 50 and 60 km from the surface, the conditions in the atmosphere are similar to the ones found on Earth’s surface. Moreover, its density can protect astronauts from radiations.

    The imagined airship would float around Venus allowing the exploration of the planet. Overall, such a mission would require less time to complete than sending people to Mars.

    Read the full story: The Conversation
    Scientific publication: HAVOC Mission, NASA


    Stellar systems could exchange the building elements of life. Credit: NASA
    Panspermia at galactic scale: could Milky Way spread life? - science news

    The Panspermia theory claims that life may be spread throughout the universe by astronomical objects, such as asteroids.

    Now, a new study tried to understand if panspermia could be possible on a galactic scale.
    The study used a theoretical model to determine how likely it is that objects are being exchanged between star systems on a galactic scale. The model predicted that, even in the worst cases scenarios, Milky Way could be exchanging biotic components across vast distances.

    Thus, the study concluded that panspermia is viable on galactic scales, and even between galaxies. In principle, life could even be transferred between galaxies, since some stars escape from the Milky Way,” said Abraham Loeb, one of the authors.

    Read the full story: Universe Today
    Scientific publication: Arxiv


    The three panels represent moments before, during, and after the faint supernova iPTF14gqr, visible in the middle panel, appeared in the outskirts of a spiral galaxy located 920 million light years away. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt
    The death of a star and the birth of a particular neutron star configuration - space science news

    Astronomers have observed the death of a massive star that exploded in a rapidly faiding supernova. This observation gives rise to think that the dying star had an undetected companion, and that the exploded star became a neutron star orbiting this companion, according to the researchers. Thus, the death of the massive star gave birth to a compact neutron binary system, a phenomenon that had never been observed before.

    Read the full story: Caltech
    Scientific publication: Science


    Model of a planet with a rocky core and a gaseous atmosphere. Image: UZH
    Planet size puts limits on its chemical composition - space science news

    A computational analysis has revealed that the chemical composition and structure of exoplanets has a so-called “threshold radius”, that sets limits as to what a planet can be made off. For instance, planets with a radius of 1.4 times that of the Earth can be earth-like, i.e. have a similar chemical composition than our planet. Planets with a radius above this will contain more silicates or other light materials, planets with a radius of more 1.6 times that of the Earth will have more hydrogen-helium gas and a rocky core. Big planets (with 2.6 times the radius of the Earth) cannot contain water, and the giant planets (with 4 or more times the radius of the Earth) would be very gaseous, much like Jupiter and Neptune in our solar system. Thus, this analysis provides an estimation of whether a planet is earth-like, is made of gas or rock, or is a water-world.

    Read the full story: University of Zürich
    Scientific publication: The Astrophysical Journal


    One of the oldest stars in our galaxy has an odd chemical composition and it allows scientists to understand more about the beginning of the universe. Credit: EPFL
    Newly discovered star allows study of early universe - space science news

    Astrophysicists discovered a rare star, very old and extremely low in metals. Called Pristine 221, it is among the 10 most metal-poor stars known to date in our Galaxy. Moreover, the star is almost carbon-free.

    The scientists believe that it belongs to the early generation of stars formed in the galaxy. The discovery will allow us to learn more about the early universe and to understand how the first stars were formed.

    The discovery questions our present understanding about the formation of the early stars. It was thought that carbon was needed as a cooling agent, however, the low carbon content of Pristine 221 suggests the current model has to be revised.

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


    The atmospheric haze of Titan, Saturn's largest moon (pictured here along Saturn's midsection), is captured in this natural-color image (box at left). Image: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Space Science Institute, Caltech
    New clues about how Titan’s haze was formed - space science news

    In a multidisciplinary approach including laboratory experiments, computer simulations and modeling, scientists found that the complex carbon structures found in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan could have been formed through chemical reactions under low temperature. This is contrary to current views that assume that the complex carbon structures, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), require high temperatures. The laboratory experiments formed the chemicals that have been observed in the atmosphere of Titan, the precise reaction mechanisms were revealed by the computer simulations, and the modeling showed how gases should flow so that they mix properly to produce the PAHs that form the brownish haze in Titan’s atmosphere.

    Read the full story: Berkeley National Laboratory
    Scientific publication: Nature Astronomy


    Phobos and Deimos, the moons of Mars, could be pieces ripped away from the planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems/Texas A&M Univ.
    The two moons of Mars could be pieces of the planet itself - space science news headlines

    A new study about the origin of the two Martian moons contradicts previous long-lasting theories claiming that Phobos and Deimos, were asteroids captured in Mars’ gravitational pull.

    According to the new research study, the moons are made up of pieces of planet Mars itself. Most likely they were blasted off of Mars at some point in the history of the planet.

    The conclusion was based on comparing the spectral properties of the Tagish Lake meteorite (coming from the asteroid belt) with those of the Martian moons. This hypothesis is similar to the current theories about the origin of the Earth’s moon.

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


    Artist's impression of the exoplanet Kepler-1625b with the candidate exomoon orbiting it. Image: Dan Durda
    Evidence for a moon outside our solar system - space science news

    For the first time, astronomers have obtained compelling evidence for the existence of an “exomoon”, a moon outside our solar system. It is orbiting the planet Keppler 1625b, and is unusual because of its big size, roughly that of the planet Neptune. Unlike exoplanets, exomoons have not been observed until today, and even the evidence obtained in the current study needs further validation. If confirmed, the finding of the exomoon could shed light on the development of planetary systems, and on the question of how moons are formed around planets.

    Read the full story: Columbia University New York
    Scientific publication: Science Advances


    Glowing hydrogen (blue) as detected with the MUSE spectrograph around galaxies. Image: ESA/Hubble & NASA, ESO/ Lutz Wisotzki et al.
    The night sky is glowing, but you cannot see it - space science news

    With the aid of the MUSE spectrograph on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, astronomers have observed abundant Lyman-alpha emission (a spectral line of hydrogen) around distant galaxies. This observation was only possible because of improved sensitivity of the spectrograph to detect dim hydrogen glowing. The hydrogen clouds, the first building blocks of the universe, were observed in the constellation of Fornax, that has been mapped by the Hubble telescope in 2004. Extrapolation of the data indicate that most of the night sky is invisibly aglow.

    Read the full story: European Southern Observatory (ESO)
    Scientific publication: Nature


    After studying the shape of 10 million galaxies, scientists built a detailed map of dark matter. Credit: Hyper Suprime-Cam Survey
    Researchers create detailed map of dark matter in the universe - science news - space

    Using a cosmic phenomenon called gravitational lensing, scientists have created a detailed 3D map of the distribution of the elusive dark matter. This allows scientists to see where the dark energy acts in space and this, in turn, allows them to better understand its properties. The research team had to study over 10 million galaxies in order to obtain the information for building the map. The data gathered during the study suggest that dark matter might behave differently, in some aspects, then the existing models predict.

    Read the full story: LiveScience
    Scientific publication: Arxiv


    An artist's impression of a strong magnetic field of a neutron star launching a jet. Image: ICRAR/University of Amsterdam
    Surprise: neutron star with strong magnetic field launches radio jets - space science news

    Astronomers have detected radio jets coming from a neutron star with a strong magnetic field. Neutron stars are formed when a massive star runs out of energy and develops supernova that creates a strong magnetic field. At times, a companioning star, in orbit with the neutron star gives material and energy to the neutron star, that is then blasted out in powerful jets. Current theory beholds that the strong magnetic field prevents material of the companion star from entering the neutron star, so that no radio jets should be emitted. However, these new observations of radio jets being launched by neutron stars clearly show that the current theory needs to be revised, and indicate that our understanding of neutron stars is far from complete.

    Read the full story: International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research
    Scientific publication: Nature


    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


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