In 2005, NASA's Cassini probe revealed a plume of ice particles and water vapor shooting out from the south pole region of Saturn's moon, Enceladus. It's thought the moon may hold ocean of liquid water beneath surface and be a potential habitat for extraterrestrial life. Cassini could be used to look for organic chemicals in the plume.
Hubble recently took the first image of a planet around another star. Planets are typically found by looking for changes in their parent stars that indicate the presence of a planet -? a wobble that shows a gravitational tug, a dimming that shows something is passing in front of the star. But this giant planet was bright enough, and far enough away from its star, for Hubble to capture a picture.
Future lunar bases could be built from concrete made directly from Moon dust, which would be much cheaper than transporting materials from Earth to Moon. NASA hopes to send four astronauts to Moon for seven days by 2020. The plan is to eventually build long-term Moon bases.
We talk about "habitable zones" around stars being confined to predictable regions, where temperatures are not too cold and not too hot, so that planets can retain liquid water and support life as we know it. But perhaps there?s more leeway than we thought. A new study has discovered that some extrasolar planets that we assumed were too cold to host life could in fact be livable.
Amino acids are organic molecules that form proteins. Proteins, essential to cells, are one of the first steps in the creation of life. Several -- but not all -- types of amino acids have also been found in meteorites ? chunks of rock that reached Earth from space. Scientists are studying meteorites, like the Murchison meteorite that fell in Australia in 1969, to see if they can give clues to how amino acids link to form the structure of proteins.
Game developer Richard Garriott recently paid $30 million to spend some time on the International Space Station, where he participated in NASA experiments. Creator of the Ultima gaming series, Garriott is the son of retired astronaut Owen Garriott. Part of his 12 days on the space station was spent undergoing a series of microgravity experiments, including analysis of sleep patterns.
Astronomers using Hubble recently came across a mysterious object in the direction of the constellation Boötes that slowly brightened over 100 days then dimmed back to invisibility. Astronomers are used to supernovae -? exploding stars -? brightening the sky, but that flash happens quickly. This slow change in brightness doesn't match anything on the books. Nor does the object's spectrum line up with anything that could help identify it.
Astronomers have found almost 300 planets outside our solar system, but they haven't been able to take pictures of any of them -? the planets are too small, dim and distant. But the Gemini Observatory recently took a picture of a star and a nearby object -? could it be the first picture of an extrasolar planet?
The planet Venus is now visible very low in western sky right after sundown. This evening appearance of Venus will become even better in coming weeks as the planet rises higher and higher each night throughout the fall and winter. The brilliant "evening star" will be at its brightest on Feb. 19.
The Milky Way galaxy is part of a group of galaxies, including several small "dwarf galaxies," that interact with one another. The outer portion of the Milky Way, called its "halo," is filled with clouds of gas, star clusters, dark matter and streams of stars gathered from those dwarf galaxies by the power of the Milky Way's gravity. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) revealed these multiple, previously unknown streams.
About 54 million light-years from Earth, roughly 2,000 galaxies have ganged up in a gravitational grouping called the Virgo Cluster. Centering that cluster is a massive galaxy that is itself surrounded by many clusters?in this case, star clusters. But this massive galaxy has more of these star clusters than astronomers expected it to have. Could it be stealing from its neighbors?
In August, the Hubble Space Telescope completed its 100,000th orbit around Earth. Understandably, the venerable observatory is due for a little maintenance. In October, astronauts will be returning to Hubble to install two new science instruments, repair two other instruments, and upgrade other critical components on the telescope.
The Cassini spacecraft performed a daring flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus on March 12, flying about 15 kilometers per second (32,000 mph) through a geyser-like jet spurting from the moon's surface. It captured sample molecules from the jet. In August, it used special techniques to get pictures of the jets. Scientists want to know where the jets come from and whether Enceladus has water.
Hubble celebrated a new milestone in August ? 100,000 orbits around the planet Earth. Scientists think they know why a certain galaxy has more globular clusters than its neighbors. And a black hole-inhabited galaxy is sending tendrils into the universe.
The Kuiper Belt is a region past Neptune, full of icy, comet-like objects. Pluto is the most famous Kuiper Belt object. Some of these objects have odd orbits that don't fit with our knowledge of the solar system. A computer model suggests that the region may contain a really large body -- 30 to 70 percent as massive as Earth -- that affects the orbits of objects around it.
The Moon may be younger than originally thought - by about 30 million years. The Moon is thought to have formed after an object hit the Earth, partially melting the planet and propelling material into space. Because the Earth and Moon formed around the same time, this also brings up questions about our planet's formation.
The Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project scans the skies for asteroids in an attempt to find 90% of all the asteroids larger than 0.6 mile (1 km) in diameter by the end of 2008. In January 2008, LINEAR found an object now called Asteroid 2008 BT18. Original calculations suggested the asteroid was going to pass nearby the earth. Asteroid orbits can be altered by the Earth's gravity, so the trajectory was uncertain. Luckily the object passed almost six times the distance between the Earth and Moon. But astronomers got a good look at the object, which turned out to be a lot more interesting than originally thought -- it's a binary asteroid.
A cluster of stars boasts no less than three different ages. Open clusters of stars are usually easy to date, but this one is confusing scientists with mixed messages. Scientists have new information about the bars of stars that develop in the centers of galaxies. Barred spiral galaxies are common in today's cosmos, but were scarce in the universe's early history.