Recently, two Earth-sized planets were discovered around a dying star. The star has passed beyond its red giant stage, in which it would have engulfed the planets, and the planets survived. The discovery provides new information about how planets affect the course of a star's evolution.
Hubble discovers a strange variety of blue star in our galactic neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy. And astronomers learn the reason behind a nearby stellar explosion.
Astronomers have found a huge, alien planet that turns somersaults as it moves through space and actually drags its four neighboring planets along with it. The system gets tugged by the gravity of a far-off companion star and, over the course of millions of years, flips itself over.
Two large programs -- the Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey (CANDELS) and the Cluster Lensing and Supernova Survey with Hubble (CLASH) -- are being used to find distant supernovae, or exploding stars. Supernovae are used to map the expansion and acceleration of the universe and probe the nature of dark energy. A new, far-away supernova has been found, pushing the mapping even further back in time.
NASA's Voyager 1 is now 11 billion miles from Earth. The spacecraft has entered a new region between our Solar System and interstellar space. The data from Voyager over the past year reveals a new region where the wind of charged particles from Sun has diminished, and particles from inside the solar system seem to be "leaking" out into interstellar space.
Two new discoveries about Stonehenge indicate an even longer history of solar significance and a connection with a site in Wales where builders quarried stones.
Astronomers apply a new technique to old Hubble data to discover planets. And Hubble finds a multitude of stars arising from minute galaxies.
NASA's Kepler mission, launched in March 2009, is observing 150,000 stars to discover planets. The ultimate goal is to discover Earth-sized planets, and in particular, Earth-sized planets in the zone around the parent star that is the right temperature for water. Over 1,000 planet candidates from Kepler have been cataloged, mostly planets larger than Earth. Now Kepler has announced the discovery of several nearly, Earth-sized planets, one right in the habitable zone. It's a new, exciting milestone in the search for an Earth twin.
NASA's New Horizons mission reaches Pluto in 2015, after a 9.5 year journey. Images from the spacecraft may help determine if an ocean hides under the dwarf planet's frigid surface. At this great distance from the Sun, water would be unexpected, but new research indicates a possible surprise.
Giant planets are home to giant storms. Jupiter's ongoing storm, the Great Red Spot, is well-known, as are other vortices on that planet and Saturn. A giant Saturn weather system, originating deep in the layers of the planet's atmosphere, emerged as a violent storm that disrupted much of Saturn's atmosphere. The storm, discovered by NASA's Cassini telescope, was also monitored by amateurs and other telescopes as the storm evolved.
Carbon atoms bond to each other to make a variety of materials, such as diamond and graphite. For more than 25 years, scientists have been experimenting with creating carbon structures. One interestingly stable structure is called Buckminsterfullerene, or Buckyballs. This carbon structure contains 60 carbon atoms bonded together in a shape like a soccer ball. Since carbon is abundant in space, astronomers have searched for such giant molecules occurring naturally, and found some in planetary nebulae outside the Milky Way.
Venus has graced evening sky for months now, and in the next few weeks, it approaches its highest (Jan. 14) and brightest (Feb. 20) in evening sky. But Venus is always brighter than the brightest stars -? it can cast shadows on dark nights, and it's bright enough to be seen even in the middle of the day, if you know where to look. To find Venus at a more standard hour, look toward the southwest sky after sunset. Venus appears above the location where the Sun has set and looks like a brilliant white star.
Over 3 billion years ago, comets bombarded the inner solar system, scarring and cratering the Moon. The comets also struck Earth, delivering water and carbon to our planet. Crucial ingredients for life were deposited on the surface, and the first evidence for life appears shortly after this period. New data from the Spitzer Space Telescope suggests that the system around a star called Eta Corvi may be undergoing this type of event now, giving us a look at what may have happened early in the history of our solar system.
A giant crater on Mars has been chosen for landing site of NASA's next rover, the Mars Science Laboratory. Its suite of sophisticated instruments could provide some intriguing new discoveries. The rover, about the size of a small car, launched in November 2011 and will land on Mars in August 2012.
Finding extrasolar planets seems to be routine these days, with a variety of telescopes using different techniques to find them. In some cases, once the planets are found, it pays to go back and see if the planets were unknowingly detected in earlier data. Recently, analysis of data taken with the Hubble Space Telescope in 1998 revealed extrasolar planets that were discovered years later by another observatory. Why bother? Well, scientists now have additional observations that show the slow movement of the planets around their parent star. Knowing the orbits of the extrasolar planets tells us a lot about those systems.
In 2011, the National Research Council named a mission to Uranus as the third priority behind a Mars sample return and a Jupiter Europa Orbiter. Imaged and studied close-up only once -? in 1986 by Voyager -? the planet was not as striking as its neighbors Jupiter and Saturn. But we have discovered more about this unique planet that makes it worth studying more closely.
Radio astronomers are keen to build the next big radio telescope, one that will probe deep into the universe, map the material between stars and galaxies, and hunt for emissions from new stars and planetary systems. The new telescope, called the Square Kilometer Array, will consist of thousands of antennae combined to collect radio waves. But where will this large facility be located? There are two contenders, an African consortium led by South Africa, and a team from Australia and New Zealand. The decision, to be made in 2012, may extend beyond cut-and-dried science and technology issues.
Astronomers discover another moon around Pluto, the smallest body to yet be found around the Kuiper Belt object. And Hubble reaches its millionth science observation while studying the atmosphere of an extrasolar planet.
The source of the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs and many other species 65 million years ago remains a mystery. Some researchers thought that the asteroid was the child of a much larger space rock that broke apart 160 million years ago. New research from NASA's WISE satellite seems to indicate otherwise.
Extra-solar planets abound. Each week, more planet discoveries are being reported, including those from NASA's Kepler mission and the European Southern Observatory's HARPS instrument. A planet that orbits two stars and a collection of Super-Earths -? planets with mass higher than Earth but lower than that of gas giants -- all were discovered recently. The number of extrasolar planets to date is about 690, but at this rate that won't be the case for long.