Getting crisp, clear images of objects billions of light years away requires big space telescopes. But the size of telescopes sent into orbit is constrained by the size of the rockets that carry them. NASA's new Ares V rocket may completely change rules of the game. The Ares V, which will carry the next lunar lander to the Moon, is big enough to hold eight school buses. It can haul six times more mass and three times the volume the Space Shuttle can.
NASA's Dawn mission is on its way to the asteroid belt. Once there, the spacecraft will orbit two asteroids, Ceres and Vesta, gathering information with its two cameras. The asteroids are pieces left over from the formation of the solar system, so scientists hope the mission will help us understand how the solar system evolved.
A huge celestial blast spotted 12.2 billion light years from Earth is possibly the biggest gamma-ray burst ever detected. NASA's Fermi Telescope detected a massive explosion in the southern constellation Carina that produced energies ranging from 3,000 to more than 5 billion times that of visible light.
Four hundred years ago, Galileo turned a telescope toward the night sky and launched the field of astronomy. To celebrate this anniversary, 2009 has been declared the International Year of Astronomy (IYA). Events are occurring worldwide at museums, observatories, universities and more to direct attention to the study of the universe. Check your local science center or planetarium for an event near you!
NASA's twin Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft are now showing us the first glimpse side of Sun that faces away from Earth, a perspective never seen before. Launched on October 2006, the twin spacecraft will eventually move until they can monitor the entire surface of the Sun -- both the side facing Earth and the far side, giving us a better view of solar storms as they form and develop.
Young stars may get kicked out of their orbits and race through space, creating arrowhead-shaped "bow shocks" ? similar to ripples in the water created by a speed boat -- in the interstellar medium. The stars are plowing through the gas that drifts through space, bunching it up. Astronomers have not found many of these stars, but there's no set place to look ? so there may be many more out there.
Asteroids that drift around the solar system at nearly the same distance from the Sun as the Earth?s orbit, can "corkscrew" into Earth's vicinity as they pass by. These are not common but they do occur. The most recent one, 2009 BD, passed within 400,000 miles of Earth. It is corkscrewing near Earth, and then in the future may drift away. A similar object, called 2003 YN107, came by in 2003 and departed the vicinity of the Earth in 2008. It might return in 60 years.
A new comet will likely become visible in dark skies in late February. Comet Lulin was discovered in July 2007 and should be just on the edge of naked-eye visibility in dark, moonless skies. It should be easily seen in binoculars, but note that comet brightness estimates are notoriously unreliable since comets can change their appearance dramatically and quickly.
In 1572, a "new star" appeared in the sky, stunning astronomers and challenging ancient theories of the universe. The brilliant supernova, recorded by the astronomer Tycho Brahe, was even visible during the day. Now astronomers have been able to capture faint "light echoes" of original explosion, helping to determine the exact type of supernova Tycho saw. It was likely caused by a white dwarf star undergoing titanic, thermonuclear explosion.
Hyperactive stars are found racing through the galaxy, creating glowing arrowhead-shaped structures in the drifting gas of the universe. Brown dwarfs, odd objects that are neither stars nor planets, prefer an exclusive club. And scientists are stumped by a flash in the sky that matches nothing on record.
Our Milky Way galaxy is known to be massive, but new observations of the speed of star formation along its spiral arms indicate it is much more massive than previously thought. The observations of radio emissions from star formation regions were taken with the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), a suite of radio telescope scattered across the globe that work together to map details of regions in the galaxy.
Those amazing Mars rovers are still at it after their 5th birthday. Although it was a dark and dusty winter for Spirit, the rover appears to still be alive and may have a new destination, since more sunlight is available to power the rover during Martian spring and summer. Opportunity is already off to its new adventure at Victoria Crater, six miles (10 km) away.
Venus has graced the evening sky for months now, and in the next few weeks it approaches its highest (Jan. 14) and brightest (Feb. 20) in evening sky. Venus is always brighter than the brightest stars -- bright enough to be seen even in the middle of the day, if you know where to look. On dark nights, it can be bright enough to cause shadows. Look toward the southwest sky after sunset, and Venus appears above where the Sun has set. It will look like a brilliant white star.
Mars has an extremely thin atmosphere compared to Earth's. But scientists think the red planet once had a thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide. Where did it go? Scientists now think it's possible that Mars' uneven magnetic field may have contributed to the stripping away of the atmosphere by the solar wind.
A series of balloon flights over Antarctica was designed to count up the kinds of cosmic rays that shower through the solar system from distant regions of the galaxy. These cosmic rays are usually produced by violent events such as supernovae explosions. The Advanced Thin Ionization Calorimeter (ATIC) detectors did indeed find lots of high energy particles, but many more high energy electrons than expected. This is curious because it is hard for the electrons to travel over large distances -- they usually hit something along the way. So they must have come from nearby. But from what?
A proposal to learn more about Saturn's fascinating moon, Titan, involves three parts: an orbiting spacecraft, a hot air balloon, and a surface probe. The landing probe could be fitted with a helicopter rotor that would help transport it from area to area, and a scoop to pick up soil and analyze it. The orbiter would map the surface. And the balloon would examine the hazy atmosphere, potentially similar to that of primordial Earth.
Why does a small, nearby, isolated galaxy pump out stars faster than any other galaxy in our local neighborhood? The secret is in the details. Maybe this puzzling galaxy, the loner starburst galaxy NGC 1569, is not as nearby as we thought. Hubble discovered new information about the galaxy using the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 and Advanced Camera for Surveys. Detailed analysis is important for determining accurate distances to galaxies, and therein lies the clue to this mystery.
Future astronauts could benefit from a magnetic "umbrella" that deflects harmful space radiation around a spacecraft. The Sun is a constant source of charged particles that stream into space and pose significant threat to astronauts on any long-duration mission, such as to Moon or Mars. Now researchers have come up with a way to avert these dangerous particles and protect traveling space crews.
Humanity has filled the space near Earth with satellites -? and debris. The flotsam, ranging from large satellite pieces to small nuts and bolts, can impact and severely damage functioning satellites and the International Space Station. What can be done? Since satellites are launched by nations, commercial companies and other private entities, all these organizations need to come together globally to look at how to map and control debris.
Hubble has spied a planet outside the solar system for the first time. The strangely bright planet, three times as big as Jupiter, will likely be a target of future telescopes as well. Astronomers have solved the mystery of an oddly active galaxy. And Hubble is back to work after a temporary technical setback.