Hubble maps a double-star system’s outbursts, and a fortuitous alignment of stars will allow us to search for planets around our nearest stellar neighbor.
Pluto's new moons have new names, given by the public via popular vote. P4 and P5, as they were previously known, are now called Styx and Kerberos. The names match Pluto's mythological theme, since Pluto in Greek mythology was the lord of the underworld.
At a distance of 4.2 light-years from Earth, Proxima Centauri is just 0.2 light-years from the more-distant binary star Alpha Centauri A+B. These three stars are considered part of the triple-star system that is closest to Earth, although right now Proxima Centauri is the closest of the three stars. Astronomers would like to know if Proxima has any planets around it. Because Proxima is the closest star, there is a chance in the next two years that as the star passes in front of more distant stars, a tiny perturbation by Proxima, or perhaps one of its planets (if it has any), will distort the positions of the background stars as we see them. This effect is called microlensing and could provide the mass of Proxima as well as information about planets if they are there.
NASA’s twin GRAIL probes were launched in 2011 to fly to the Moon and measure changes in the gravity of that body. The analysis of the data has just been published and shows a detailed map of the gravity variations. Although mass concentrations under the Moon’s surface were known, the new detailed mapping helps understand how these concentrations formed and what their shape is now.
High tides happen every day, but some are higher than others. Some of the highest tides, called “perigean high tides,” occur when the Moon is closest to Earth in its monthly orbit. When coastal storms take place during these tides, major flooding can result.
A new comet discovered in September 2012 is on its way for a close approach to the Sun and perhaps a brilliant appearance in Earth’s skies late in 2013. Called Comet ISON, it will be closest to the Sun in November 28, 2013 and could become visible by eye even in broad daylight.
Radio observations of the region between the two spiral galaxies nearest our own, Andromeda and Triangulum, have verified the presence of hydrogen gas clouds. The clouds are hard to find, since they are mostly composed of ionized gas that is difficult to detect. There is a trace of neutral hydrogen mixed in the clouds, and that material could be observed. The origin of the material is not completely clear – was the gas always there or did it get ripped out during a close encounter of the two galaxies?
New research tells us that water located deep inside both Earth and the Moon may have come from the same source, and that source is likely ancient meteorites, similar to the asteroids now populating the asteroid belt.
Astronomers have discovered signs of rocky debris in the vicinity of white dwarf stars in the Hyades star cluster. It's possible that the debris indicates the presence of Earth-sized planets in the neighborhood.
Hubble studies a strange, ancient visitor to our galaxy. Join HubbleWatch for a discussion of the "Methuselah star" HD 140283, a fast-moving star with a long and odd past.
Using new technology, researchers have discovered an important pair of pre-biotic molecules in interstellar space. The new discoveries indicate that some basic chemicals are key steps on the path to life and may have formed on dusty ice grains floating between stars.
New NASA research shows that hydrogen peroxide is abundant across much of the surface of Jupiter's moon, Europa. If this material could mix into the ocean below the moon’s icy surface, it could be important energy supply for simple forms of life.
Gone but not forgotten, the Russian Mars 3 lander descended to the surface of the red planet in 1971. This first lander on Mars was meant to take images, but it unexpectedly failed and its transmissions were short-lived. Through the power of citizen scientists, the lander may have been found in images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Data from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) appear to have captured objects on the surface of Mars which are consistent with the location, shape and relative positioning of the Mars 3 lander.
The iconic Horsehead nebula has been the subject of astronomical imagery by amateurs and professionals alike. The region has clouds of ionized hydrogen as well as areas of dark dust that obscure new-forming stars. A new image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope shows new features and hidden stars not seen in the other optical images. A 3D movie of the image gives perspective to the structure of the nebula.
The NASA spacecraft WISE has discovered a pair of stars that is now known to be the third-closest star system to Sun. The last closest system to Earth was discovered in 1916. The newly discovered star pair is composed of two cool “brown dwarfs” 6.5 light years away from our Sun.
The solar system -- especially the inner part -- is bathed in charged particles from the Sun and cosmic radiation. Several planets with magnetic fields, including Earth, are somewhat protected from the particles because they become trapped high above the surface by magnetic field lines. The Van Allen belts, discovered in the 1950s, are a pair of radiation belts encircling the Earth. Surprisingly, two new NASA probes discovered a short-lived third belt.
The impact of a meteorite in Russia in February 2013 and the flyby of asteroid debris highlights that the solar system is full of rocky material. While the asteroid has been observed for some time, the smaller meteorite was unexpected. Many meteorites hit the Earth each year, but these events indicate how important it is to develop international plans for threat avoidance and early warning systems. Meanwhile, researchers are digging through the meteorite remains to see what they can learn.
Rock samples collected in February 2013 by NASA's Curiosity rover show ancient Mars could have supported living microbes. The rover found the soil contains sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon – all elements critical for life.
In the three years since NASA launched the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), the spacecraft has provided continuous, high-resolution views of the Sun, helping us better understand our star and its influence on us. Among other accomplishments, SDO also has studied the atmosphere of Venus as the planet passed in front of the Sun, and it revealed how a comet’s tail was buffeted by the solar wind as the comet passed near the Sun.
In Arthur C. Clarke's short story "Sunjammer," a spaceship designer develops a spacecraft with a large "solar sail" that propels it through space using radiation pressure from the Sun. In recent years, solar sails have jumped from the pages of science fiction into real life. In 2014, NASA plans to launch its own Sunjammer spacecraft -- the largest solar sail ever sent to space.