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MESSENGER mission ends with a bang, and more data

After 11 years in space and more than 4,100 laps around Mercury since entering orbit in 2011, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft was decommissioned in heroic fashion on April 30, slamming into the planet’s surface at more 14,000 kilometers per hour after it had run out of propellant. Fittingly, it gouged a 16-meter-wide crater of its own amid the myriad others it observed there.
12 Sep 2015

Sun shapes Titan's atmospheric makeup

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, has a thick atmosphere composed of 98 percent nitrogen and about 1.4 percent methane, as well as small amounts of other gases. In a new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, astronomers have identified fluctuations in methane levels in Titan’s thermosphere that appear to be in tune with the 11-year solar cycle.
07 Sep 2015

Mysterious rapid radio burst captured live

Last year, astronomers received a signal from the depths of the cosmos: a fleeting pulse of intense electromagnetic radiation known as a fast radio burst (or FRB). First discovered in 2007, these millisecond blasts occur sporadically and continue to baffle astronomers. Now, for the first time, an FRB has been caught red-handed.

29 Apr 2015

Blogging on EARTH: Rarity the only reason for Venus transit fever?

If you read one or more stories leading up to yesterday’s transit of Venus across the face of the sun (or if you followed #VenusTransit on Twitter), you likely learned that the transit is akin to a solar eclipse — when the moon crosses directly between Earth and the sun, temporarily blocking part or all of the latter from our view — with the caveat that Venus only blacks out a small dot of the sun because of its distance from Earth. So what was all the fuss about? What was it about the celestial equivalent of watching a marble roll slowly across a dinner plate that brought people out in droves, from professional and amateur scientists to casual observers and families with young children?

06 Jun 2012

Venus in transit to the transit

5 June 2012 - Reader Elizabeth Talley snapped an iPhone photo of an ice ring around the sun yesterday afternoon in Port Charlotte, Fla., and unexpectedly also captured this image of Venus as it heads toward this evening’s rare celestial event — a transit of the sun. The seven-hour transit, during which the planet will appear as a small black disk moving across the solar face, will begin at 6:03 p.m.

05 Jun 2012

North star loses mass but still shines bright

The North Star, the Pole Star, the Guiding Star, Polaris: Its many names reflect the many centuries humans have gazed northward to it for guidance. Because Earth’s North Pole is aligned with Polaris’ position in the sky, the star appears motionless, providing a steadfast beacon for early sailors and adventurers alike. But the star itself is far from motionless. In fact, Polaris is a specific type of star known as a Cepheid variable, which pulsates, varying in size and luminosity over a period of days and, according to recent observations, also ejects large amounts of mass into space.

03 May 2012

Astronomy under the ice: Scientists use Antarctic ice to study some of the tiniest particles in the cosmos

Deep below the glacial surface at the South Pole, where the Antarctic ice is crystal clear yet pitch black, a 3-D array of more than 5,000 custom-built and precisely positioned sensors, each about the size of a basketball, lies frozen in place. The sensors keep watch for thousands of momentary flashes of blue light that zip by every second, some the result of collisions between neutrinos — nearly massless subatomic particles with no electrical charge — and the relatively large atomic nuclei in the frozen water.

01 Jan 2012

Down to Earth With: Nobel Prize winner Adam Riess

Astronomer Adam Riess and his team made a huge splash in 1998 when they announced the finding of dark energy. That work also included the discovery that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate. Riess and his colleagues were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for their discovery.

03 Oct 2011

Online stargazing with GigaGalaxy Zoom

Blogging on EARTH

In need of a sense of perspective? The European Southern Observatory has a new way to look at the universe: with a zoom button.

16 Sep 2009

Super-Earths: Mirrors of our world?

Fifty light-years from Earth, in the constellation Pegasus, burns a yellow star not unlike our sun. The star, called 51 Pegasi, was one of 142 stars under the watchful gaze of Swiss astronomers Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz of the University of Geneva in 1994. From the La Silla Observatory at the southern end of Chile’s vast Atacama Desert, Mayor and Queloz were tracking how these stars move in the sky, hoping to determine whether the stars were alone — or whether any of them might be accompanied by a planet or two.

31 Jul 2009