Jan 12

NASA's Kepler announces 11 planetary systems hosting 26 planets

Source: NASA Kepler

Kepler's Planetary Systems' Orbits.
Image credits: NASA Ames/Dan Fabrycky,
University of California, Santa Cruz

NASA's Kepler mission has discovered 11 new planetary systems hosting 26 confirmed planets. These discoveries nearly double the number of verified planets and triple the number of stars known to have more than one planet that transits, or passes in front of, the star. Such systems will help astronomers better understand how planets form.

The planets orbit close to their host stars and range in size from 1.5 times the radius of Earth to larger than Jupiter. Fifteen are between Earth and Neptune in size. Further observations will be required to determine which are rocky like  Earth and which have thick gaseous atmospheres like Neptune. The planets orbit their host star once every six to 143  days. All are closer to their host star than Venus is to our sun. (learn more)

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Jan 12

The Wild Early Lives of Today's Most Massive Galaxies

Source: ESO Science Release eso1206

Distant star-forming galaxies in the early Universe
Image credits: ESO, APEX (MPIfR/ESO/OSO),
A. Weiss et al., NASA Spitzer Science Center

Using the APEX telescope, a team of astronomers has found the strongest link so far between the most powerful bursts of star formation in the early Universe, and the most massive galaxies found today. The galaxies, flowering with dramatic starbursts in the early Universe, saw the birth of new stars abruptly cut short, leaving them as massive — but passive — galaxies of aging stars in the present day. The astronomers also have a likely culprit for the sudden end to the starbursts: the emergence of supermassive black holes. (read more)

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Jan 12

Robot competition in zero-gravity

Source: ESA

The astronauts Don Pettit (left) and André Kuipers
(right) watch two SPHERES robots in competition.
Image credit: NASA

School teams from Europe and America have been commanding robots competing in the Spheres ZeroRobotics tournament in space. The arena: 400 km above Earth on the International Space Station.(read more)

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Jan 12

Solar storm strikes Earth

Source: ESA

Large M8.3-class solar flare seen by ESA/NASA SOHO satellite 23 January.
Image credits: ESA/NASA.

A large solar flare yesterday triggered a coronal mass ejection travelling at 1400 km/s that will reach Earth today. An energetic eruption of this level can disrupt satellites, so operation teams at ESA and other organisations are closely monitoring the storm. (read more)

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Jan 12

The two faces of Titan's dunes

Source: ESA

Dune fields on Titan (Belet and Fensal)compared with two
similar dune fields on Earth in Rub Al Khali, Saudi Arabia.
Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/ASI/ESA and USGS/ESA
A new analysis of radar data from the international Cassini spacecraft has revealed regional variations amongst Titan's sand dunes. The result yields new clues to the giant moon's climatic and geological history.(read more)
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Jan 12

Comet Corpses in the Solar Wind

Source: NASA Science News

Comet C/2011 N3 fragments as it passes through the sun's atmosphere on July 6, 2011.
Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/K. Schrijver et al

A paper published in today's issue of Science raises an intriguing new possibility--the presence of abundant comet corpses in the solar wind. The new research is based on dramatic images of a comet disintegrating in the sun's atmosphere last July.(learn more)

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Jan 12

The Helix in New Colours

Source: ESO Photo Release eso1205

VISTA has captured this unusual view of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293).
Image credits: ESO/VISTA/J. Emerson.
Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit

ESO’s VISTA telescope, at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, has captured a striking new image of the Helix Nebula. This picture, taken in infrared light, reveals strands of cold nebular gas that are invisible in images taken in visible light, as well as bringing to light a rich background of stars and galaxies. (read more)

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Jan 12

NASA clears the runway for Open Source software

Source: code.NASA

The NASA Open Government Initiative has launched a new website to expand the agency's open source software development.

Open source development, which invites the public access to view and improve software source code, is transforming the way software is created, improved and used. NASA uses open source code to address project and mission needs, accelerate software development and maximize public awareness and impact of research.

"The site represents a natural extension of NASA's efforts to inform, educate and include the public in our mission to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research," said Deborah Diaz, NASA's Deputy Chief Information Officer. "Citizen involvement in our work is a critical component of our success."

NASA Open Government launched the new site as part of its Open Source Software Flagship Initiative with the goal showcasing existing projects, providing a forum for discussion, and guiding internal and external groups in open development, release and contribution.

"We released the site on Jan. 4 and since have received an overwhelming response from people interested in using our code," said Nick Skytland, Program Manager of NASA's Open Government Initiative. "Our goal is to provide the public direct and ongoing access to NASA technology."

"We believe tomorrow's space and science systems will be built in the open, and that code.nasa.gov will play a big part in getting us there," said William Eshagh, NASA Open Government co-lead on the project at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California. (learn more)

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Jan 12

A new view of the Eagle Nebula

Source: ESA

Stunning new Herschel and XMM-Newton image.
Image credits: X-ray: ESA/XMM-Newton/EPIC/XMM-Newton-SOC/Boulanger
Far-infrared: ESA/Herschel/PACS/SPIRE/Hill, Motte, HOBYS Key Programme Consortium;

The Eagle Nebula as never seen before. In 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope's 'Pillars of Creation' image of the Eagle Nebula became one of the most iconic images of the 20th century. Now, two of ESA's orbiting observatories have shed new light on this enigmatic star-forming region. (read more)

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Jan 12

Planck's HFI completes its survey of early Universe

Source: ESA

Planck's Instruments.
Image credits: ESA (images by AOES Medialab)

The High Frequency Instrument on ESA's Planck mission has completed its survey of the remnant light from the Big Bang. The sensor ran out of coolant on Saturday as expected, ending its ability to detect this faint energy. (read more)

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Jan 12

Planet Population is Plentiful

Source: ESO Science Release eso1204

Planets everywhere (artist's impression).
Image credits: ESO/M. Kornmesser

An international team, including three astronomers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO), has used the technique of gravitational microlensing to measure how common planets are in the Milky Way. After a six-year search that surveyed millions of stars, the team concludes that planets around stars are the rule rather than the exception. The results appeared in the journal Nature on 12 January 2012. (read more)

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Jan 12

Some Comets Like it Hot

Source: NASA Science News

Astronomers are still scratching their heads over Comet Lovejoy, which plunged through the atmosphere of the sun in December and, against all odds, survived. The comet is now receding into the outer solar system leaving many mysteries behind.

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Jan 12

Kepler Mission Finds Three Smallest Exoplanets

Source: NASA News

Artist's impression of the mini planetary system.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomers using data from NASA's Kepler mission have discovered the three smallest planets yet detected orbiting a star beyond our sun. The planets orbit a single star, called KOI-961, and are 0.78, 0.73 and 0.57 times the radius of Earth. The smallest is about the size of Mars.

All three planets are thought to be rocky like Earth, but orbit close to their star. That makes them too hot to be in the habitable zone, which is the region where liquid water could exist. Of the more than 700 planets confirmed to orbit other stars - called exoplanets - only a handful are known to be rocky. (read more)

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Jan 12

Hubble solves mystery on source of supernova in nearby galaxy

Source: NASA Hubble Release 12-012

Emergence of an exploding star, called a supernova in Hubble Deep Field.
Image credits: NASA, ESA, A. Riess (Space Telescope Science Institute and The
Johns Hopkins University), and S. Rodney (The Johns Hopkins University)

Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have solved a longstanding mystery on the type of star, or so-called
progenitor, which caused a supernova seen in a nearby galaxy. The finding yields new observational data for pinpointing one of several scenarios that trigger such outbursts.

Based on previous observations from ground-based telescopes, astronomers knew the supernova class, called a Type Ia, created a remnant named SNR 0509-67.5, which lies 170,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy.

Theoretically, this kind of supernova explosion is caused by a star spilling material onto a white dwarf companion, the compact remnant of a normal star, until it sets off one of the most powerful explosions in the universe.

Astronomers failed to find any remnant of the companion star, however, and concluded that the common scenario did not apply in this case, although it is still a viable theory for other Type Ia supernovae. (read more)

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Jan 12

Fermi Space Telescope explores new energy extremes

Source: NASA Fermi

New sources emerge and old sources fade as the LAT's view extends into higher energies.
Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration and A. Neronov et al.

After more than three years in space, NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is extending its view of the high-energy sky into a largely unexplored electromagnetic range. Today, the Fermi team announced its first census of energy sources in this new realm.

Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT) scans the entire sky every three hours, continually deepening its portrait of the sky in gamma rays, the most energetic form of light. While the energy of visible light falls between about 2 and 3 electron volts, the LAT detects gamma rays with energies ranging from 20 million to more than 300 billion electron volts (GeV).

At higher energies, gamma rays are rare. Above 10 GeV, even Fermi's LAT detects only one gamma ray every four months. (read more)

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Jan 12

Chandra finds largest galaxy cluster in early Universe

Source: NASA Chandra

Composite image of the El Gordo galaxy cluster.
Image credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/J. Hughes et al;
Optical: ESO/VLT & SOAR/Rutgers/F. Menanteau;
IR: NASA/JPL/Rutgers/F. Menanteau )

An exceptional galaxy cluster, the largest seen in the distant universe, has been found using Chandra X-ray Observatory and the National Science Foundation-funded Atacama Cosmology Telescope (ACT) in Chile.

Officially known as ACT-CL J0102-4915, the galaxy cluster has been nicknamed "El Gordo" ("the big one" or "the fat one" in Spanish) by the researchers who discovered it. The name, in a nod to the Chilean connection, describes just one of the remarkable qualities of the cluster, which is located more than 7 billion light years from Earth. This large distance means it is being observed at a young age. (read more)

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