February 19, 2019

    Artistic representation of a black hole shredding a passing star. Image: Sophia Dagnello, NRAO / AUI / NSF; NASA, STScI
    Astronomers see how a black hole rips a star apart - space science news

    Never before have astronomers seen how the gravity of a black hole rips a star apart, until now. The event happened at a distance of 150 million light years away from Earth, and was visible because of the emission of intense X-rays and visible light. Also, when the star was being shredded, there was a jet of material launched into space at nearly the speed of light. Scientists think that shredding of starts by black holes occurs more frequently, but these events are not easy to spot. If more could be observed, this would increase our understanding of the environment in which galaxies developed billions of years ago.

    Read the full story: National Radio Astronomy Observatory
    Scientific publication: Science


    Organic molecules (blue) on Ceres may be more abundant than previously thought. Image: NASA / H. Kaplan
    Organic molecules on the dwarf planet Ceres - space science news

    Like Mars, Ceres harbours organic molecules that are the chemical building blocks of life. By re-analysing data from NASA’s previous Dawn mission, scientists believe that the concentration of organic molecules on Ceres is much higher than thought on the basis of earlier analyses. It is unclear, however, whether Ceres has made these molecules by itself, or that they have been brought there by a comet. While the presence of organic molecules does not prove the existence of life, not even on Ceres that is rich in water ice, the dwarf planet continues to fascinate and gives more insight the distribution of organic molecules in space.

    Read the full story: Brown University
    Scientific publication: Geophysical Research Letters


    Formation of a planetary system
    Young planets observed around a newborn star - space science news

    Astronomist have found evidence for the existence of three young planets that are in orbit around a young star known as HD163296. The scientists base their conclusions on disturbances in the young star’s gas-filled disk. The analysis of gas in disks around stars is a new technique which makes the discovery of young planets possible. Also the technique is expected to lead to a better understanding of how planets are born and how atmospheres are formed.

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


    The microscopic dust particles around Earth were created at the beginning of the solar system. Credit: Hope Ishii/University of Hawaii
    Space dust around Earth dates back to the formation of the solar system - science news in short

    The interplanetary space from our solar system contains many dust particles, but little is known about their origin. In a new experiment, scientists collected some of these particles from the Earth’s upper atmosphere and studied them. The samples were analyzed using infrared light and electron microscopy. The study supports the idea that the dust particles are, in fact, leftovers from the formation of our solar system. The results provide insights into the properties of the building blocks of the planets.

    Read the full story: Berkeley Lab
    Scientific publication: PNAS


    Curiosity found organic molecules on Mars. Image: NASA
    Organic molecules found on Mars - space science news

    No, the presence of organic molecules on Mars is not proof of life, but does show that the ingredients for making life possible are there. The organic molecules have been found in sedimentary rocks near the surface of the planet by NASA’s Curiosity rover. Curiosity has a built-in oven to heat the samples to release the organic molecules from the rock powder. Also, seasonal variations in methane in the Martian atmosphere were detected, with high levels in the summer and low levels in the winter. Again, while methane can be of biological origin, it is probably formed by chemical processes. Thus, the new findings cannot rule out the possibility that life once existed on Mars, but are far from sufficient to prove it.

    Read the full story: NASA
    Scientific publication: Science - Organic molecules
    Scientific publication: Science - Methane


    This artist's concept of lightning distribution in Jupiter's northern hemisphere incorporates a JunoCam image with artistic embellishments. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/JunoCam
    The mystery of Jupiter lightning solved - science news in brief

    Ever since NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft flew past Jupiter in March 1979, scientists have wondered about the origin of Jupiter's lightning. A new study now shade light on the properties of this phenomenon. In many aspects, they are similar to those on Earth. But they are also different. For example, on Earth the lightning activity is more concentrated around the equator. On Jupiter, the flashes occur more frequently around the poles, opposite to Earth. This is because on Jupiter, unlike Earth, there is more heat at the poles compared to the equator. The study was based on data provided by the Juno mission of NASA.

    Read the full story: ScienceBriefss
    Scientific publication: Nature


    Colliding burnt remaining of dead stars creates most of the heavy elements found in the universe
    Gold and other heavy elements are created by exploding dead stars - science news in short

    The origin of the heaviest chemical elements, including gold, has been a debate amongst scientists for a long time. Now, a new study provides evidence that pairs of neutron stars (the core of stars that have exploded) can merge and during the process, the majority of the heavy elements is formed. To discover this, scientists analyzed two dwarf galaxies using the W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea in Hawaii. The results have been presented at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Denver and have been submitted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

    Read the full story: California Institute of Technology (Caltech)


    Sedna is one of the biggest objects at the edge or our solar system and appears reddish in telescope images. Image: artist's rendering, NASA
    Planet Nine may not exist after all - space science news

    Astronomers have come up with a new theory to explain why a minor planet called Sedna and a handful of other bodies look separated from the rest of the solar system. While previous theories posited the existence of an as yet undiscovered planet at the outer edges of our solar system, Planet Nine, the new theory states that the odd orbits of Sedna and the other objects are the result of these objects colliding with each other. In other words, the gravity of all the objects together is the determining factor here, and not a mysterious planet.

    Read the full story: University of Colorado Boulder
    Scientific publication: American Astronomical Society – 232nd Meeting, Denver


    121 distant planets very likely have moons that could host extraterrestrial life
    Over 100 planets have moons that could support life - science news

    A research team scrutinized the data obtained by the Kepler space telescope, looking for exoplanets located in habitable zones. They discovered 121 giant gas planets, like Saturn and Jupiter, located just right for life to develop. The planets themselves are unlikely to support any life, but their moons might. The presence of the moons has not been yet confirmed due to technological limitations. However, considering that in our solar system alone, there are 175 known moons orbiting the planets, it is very likely the moons are there, and they are promising candidates for life to develop.

    Read the full story: University of California, Riverside
    Scientific publication: The Astrophysical Journal


    Analysis of images captured in July 2015 by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft and subsequent computer modelling revealed the presence of dunes on Pluto. The dunes are formed by a process of sublimation of nitrogen (solid nitrogen of Pluto’s surface converting into gas), which pushes sand-sized grains of methane ice cristals into the atmosphere. These are then transported by the moderate winds on Pluto to the border of the Sputnik Planitia ice plain and mountain range to form the dunes.

    Read the full story: University of Plymouth
    Scientific publication: Science


    Using supercomputers researchers are trying to achieve realistic simulations of black holes
    Supercomputer helps scientists better understand black holes - science news in brief

    We now know a lot about black holes, however, there are still many mysteries surrounding them. In order to shed some light on the unknown behaviors in different scenarios, scientists turned to supercomputers. They are using a new generation of “exascale” computers able to calculate the gravitational waves of black holes with high accuracy and speed. This is a step forward for realistic simulations that will eventually allow scientists to understand what happens during particular astronomical events, like the collision of two black holes.

    Read the full story: ScienceBriefss
    Scientific publication: Physical Review D


    Physicists plan to use the International Space Station to test the effects of gravity of entangled quantum particles
    Scientists to test fundamental nature of quantum mechanics in space - science news in brief - space

    An international team of scientists is planning to investigate some important aspects of the quantum mechanics in space. More precisely, they want to use the International Space Station (ISS) to understand whether gravity can affect a quantum state of light over large distances by firing entangled pairs of photons from a ground station to the ISS. The experimental space mission, named QUEST, has been submitted as a research proposal to the European Space Agency (ESA). If approved, the tests could begin by early 2020s.

    Read the full story: PhysicsWorld
    Scientific publication: New Journal of Physics


    The SOFIA flying laboratory will be equipped with a new type of laser and sent to detect infrared signals. Credit: NASA/USRA
    The SOFIA flying laboratory will be equipped with a new type of laser and sent to detect infrared signals. Credit: NASA/USRA - science news in brief

    A team of researchers has developed a special laser able to detect weak signals from space. Called a quantum cascade laser, the device can pick up infrared signals and separate them from the background noise. Normally, these types of signals are very weak, thus difficult to detect. The laser system has been loaded on a modified Boeing 747SP which is a NASA flying laboratory. The plane will fly in the stratosphere of our planet aiming to detect infrared signals from space, in a quest to gain insight into how stars are forming in our galaxy.

    Read the full story: ETH Zurich


    The NASA/German Research Centre for Geosciences GRACE Follow-On spacecraft launch onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls
    Space mission launched to study water movement on Earth - science news in brief

    NASA just launched a twin spacecraft in space to track how water moves on Earth and how the mass of our planet changes. Including the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) modules, this is a joint NASA/German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) mission. Over its five-year mission, GRACE-FO will monitor the movement of mass around our planet by measuring where and how the moving mass changes Earth's gravitational pull. The gravity changes cause the distance between the two satellites to vary slightly. Although the two satellites orbit 137 miles (220 kilometers) apart, advanced instruments continuously measure their separation to within the width of a human red blood cell.

    Read the full story: ScienceBriefss


    Study finds evidence that water could escape from the ocean below the surface of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons
    Eruptions of water vapors occur on Jupiter’s moon Europa - science news in brief - space

    A new study analyzed some old data about the Europa moon, collected in 1997 by NASA Galileo spacecraft. Using modern techniques, scientists showed evidence that on the frozen surface of Europa eruptions of water vapors occur. The new study supports the hypothesis that a vast ocean lies beneath the icy surface. Moreover, it shows that an energy source exists inside the moon. Both are requirements for the existence of life, therefore Europa remains one of the main candidate worlds for supporting life in our solar system.

    Read the full story: University of California, Los Angeles
    Scientific publication: Nature Astronomy


    Illustration of NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight). Credit: NASA
    NASA to lunch mission to study Mars’ interior on May 5th - space science news

    On May 5th, NASA’s InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) mission to Mars is scheduled for lunch. This will be the first ever attempt to study the interior of planet Mars. It will scan deep beneath the Martian surface measuring heat output and seismic activity. The ultimate aim of the mission is to understand how rocky planets, like Earth, were created.

    Read the full story: ScienceBriefss


    Solar flares are events involving plasma discharges, but they are difficult to study in space
    Scientists to produce solar flares in the laboratory - short space science news

    Astronomical phenomenon like solar flares are common in space, but the mechanisms that generate them are not well understood. Now, physicists have found a way to reproduces plasma discharges, similar to solar flares, in the laboratory. They used a principle called “magnetic reconnection” which involves pushing together two plasmas with anti-parallel magnetic fields, which produces extremely accelerated plasma particles. Using ultra-short laser pulses, the researchers hope to overcome the energy limitations required by such an experiment. Thus, scientists hope that the secrets of cosmic plasma discharges will soon be unveiled in a laboratory setting.

    Read the full story: Eureka Alert
    Scientific publication: Nature Communication


    On super-Earth planets the gravity is stronger, thus it is more difficult to escape it and fly into space
    Aliens form super-Earth planets may be stuck due to gravity - short science news - space news

    Super-Earths are giant planets, similar in other aspects to our own Earth. Some of them fit the criteria for hosting life, but a new study shows how difficult it would be for an alien race living there to fly into space. Because gravity is much stronger on such a planet, a space rocket needs a lot more fuel to take off. The equivalent of an Apollo moon mission rocket should be as big as the Great Pyramid of Giza, because of the amount of fuel. Such a civilization would be less likely to explore space compared to humans. Unless the hypothetical aliens have developed an alternative for space exploration that we are not aware of!

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


    TESS, the new planet-hunter from NASA was launched in the orbit. Credit: NASA
    NASA launches new search for exoplanets - short space news

    NASA just lunched its new satellite TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) into orbit. The mission of the satellite is to search for new planets outside our solar system. The satellite will spend the following two years surveying 200,000 stars in the search for exoplanets the size of Earth, or bigger. Scientists are excited in anticipation of the first results. “We’re going to be able to study individual planets and start talking about the differences between planets,” says Stephen Rinehart, TESS project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

    Read the full story: NASA


    A meteorite that crashed in Sudan in 2008 was a remnant of an embryo planet that had been destroyed 4.5 billion years ago
    Diamonds from a lost planet - space science news

    Detailed electronmicroscopic analyses have revealed that a meteorite that landed in Sudan in 2008 was a remnant of a planet embryo that was destroyed 4.5 billion years ago. This conclusion is based on assessments of inclusions of chemicals in the meteorite’s nano-diamonds (0.1 mm in size) that must have formed under high pressure inside planets. The size of the embryo planet was probably between that of Mercury and Mars. This study proves evidence for the idea that in the early solar system many planets have been formed, and destroyed by collisions with other planets (like the two planets that collided to form the Earth and the moon).

    Read the full story: EPFL
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications


    In space, or during missions on Mars, the human muscle function is impaired due to inactivity and lack of oxygen
    Do long spaceflights have an impact on human muscles? - short science news - space news

    In the light of proposed future missions to the Moon and Mars, scientists tried to assess the effects of long spaceflights on human muscles. They simulated a space trip of 21 days to study how the inactivity and low gravity environments impact these organs. Inactivity induced an impairment of the muscle oxidative process, important for the efficacy of the muscles. Interestingly, inactivity had a stronger negative impact than the hypoxia induced by the low oxygen available during space flights. These results could help develop new strategies to preserve the health of future astronauts during extended space missions.

    Read the full story: Eureka Alert
    Scientific publication: the Journal of Physiology


    A huge number of stars was characterized by scientists to understand their composition
    Fingerprints of 340,000 stars analyzed to learn how galaxies formed and evolved - short science news - space news

    A group of astronomers has undertaken a tremendous task: to analyze the unique “fingerprints” of more than a million stars in an effort to understand how galaxies are formed and how they evolve. The first set of data from the project (GALAH - Galactic Archaeology survey) was just released and it contains information about 340,000 stars. Each star was spectroscopically analyzed to identify the elements from its composition, such as hydrogen, helium, oxygen, aluminum, and iron. Thus, the composition of stars is revealed together with their motion in a galaxy. In total 11 papers have been published using the data (full list in the full story link).

    Read the full story: University of Sydney
    Scientific publication: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society; and Astronomy and Astrophysics
    Scientific publication: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society; and Astronomy and Astrophysics


    The arcs in the center are produced by the light of distant galaxies, twisted by gravity to form an
    Light-bending Einstein ring discovered by Hubble telescope - short science news - space

    The Hubble telescope captured the image of an Einstein ring. This phenomenon is created by the gravitational distortion of light when passing close to an extremely massive structure. In this case, the ring was formed due to a cluster of galaxies, called SDSS J0146-0929. It contains hundreds of galaxies and it is so massive that it can bend the light produced by distant cosmic objects. Einstein rings have been used before to magnify distant parts of the galaxy and to understand the fabric of the Universe.

    Read the full story: Space.com


    Many black holes could be congregated around the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy. Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO
    A dozen black holes discovered in the center of our galaxy  - short space science news

    A team of astrophysicists reported the discovery of a dozen black holes around Sagittarius A, the supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Old theories predict that supermassive black holes in the center of galaxies are surrounded by thousands of smaller black holes. Now, looking at X-rays emitted from the center of the galaxy, scientists uncovered the first proof that this might be true. Many possibilities for better understanding the universe are opened by these findings.

    Read the full story: Chandra X Ray Observatory
    Scientific publication: Nature


    Using a new method, astronomers obtained the highest accuracy ever for measuring the distance to the star cluster called NGC 6397. Credit: NASA, ESA, and T. Brown and S. Casertano (STScI)
    The distance to a globular star cluster measured with the highest precision ever - short science news - space news

    NGC 6397 is the name of one of the closest globular star clusters. The exact distance was previously estimated by two methods that gave results with low accuracy. Using straightforward trigonometry and a novel observational technique to measure very small angles on the sky, scientists now have a precise distance for the cluster: 7,800 light years away, give or take 3%. This sets the age of NGC 6397 at 13.4 billion years.

    Read the full story: Goddard Space Flight Center
    Scientific publication: The Astrophysical Journal Letters


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