Even 15 years after the release of “Good Will Hunting,” there remains something appealing about watching the title character, a mathematically inclined janitor at MIT, scribble the solution to an unsolved mathematics problem on a hallway blackboard. In reality, there are a number of unsolved problems in mathematics, seven of which were designated in 2000 by the Clay Mathematics Institute as “Millennium Prize Problems,” each with a purse of $1,000,000. To date, only one has been solved.
The search for Earth-like planets has never looked better. Scientists say they have discovered a water-rich planet that is only 2.7 times larger than Earth. Although positioned just outside the habitable zone for life, the planet gives scientists their best hope yet that other Earth-like planets exist in our universe.
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.
Even before the birth of the planets, our solar system was hardly a lonely place. Small rocky bodies, called planetesimals, filled the inner solar system, eventually colliding together to form the planets. Now a new look at a group of ancient meteorites shows that at least some planetesimals generated their own magnetic fields — a feat many scientists thought extremely difficult for such small astronomical bodies. The work also has scientists rethinking how planets formed.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first step taken on the moon on July 20, 1969. Since that historic small step — which 600 million people around the world watched breathlessly — other space missions have captured headlines: NASA’s Space Shuttle program, the International Space Station, the intrepid Mars rovers. But none, perhaps, has had quite the impact on our imagination as the giant leap that Neil Armstrong took for mankind.
Jason Marsh is done waiting around for someone else to transport him into space.
Marsh, a system administrator near Washington, D.C., is preparing to launch a new website for his Open Space Movement (OSM — currently here), a nonprofit project that aims to be a platform for developing and funding aerospace technology — and will be open to anyone who wants to join in.
Today NASA released new Hubble images of dwarf planet Pluto — and far from being just an icy colorless rock, the images show a mottled, dynamic, orangey-black world that changes color with the seasons (on Pluto, the change of seasons lasts 248 Earth years — and although on Earth the seasons change due to the axial tilt of the planet, Pluto's eccentric, non-circular orbit plays a big role in its seasonal variations).
Next time you’re unhappy with the weather, be glad it’s not raining rocks. That seems to happen on CoRoT-7b, a hot, Earth-like planet about 500 light-years away from us. A new modeling study suggests that the exoplanet’s atmosphere is filled with the chemical components of rock, such as oxygen, sodium and silicon monoxide, and whenever these gases condense into clouds, rocky rain likely hammers down onto CoRoT-7b’s sweltering surface.
Today, the surface of Venus is a hellhole, seared by scorching temperatures, crushing pressures and a toxic atmosphere of carbon dioxide with occasional clouds of sulfuric acid. But evidence is mounting that billions of years ago, Earth’s evil twin planet was a much more pleasant place — a second blue marble covered by water. The latest data come from the European Space Agency’s Venus Express spacecraft, which has spent three years constructing a detailed map of the surface of the planet’s southern hemisphere and finding new evidence for Earth-like plate tectonics and a watery past.
Between 1969 and 1972, five Apollo missions installed seismic stations at their landing sites on the nearside of the moon. Because the moon was thought to be seismically dead, the instruments were left almost as an afterthought to detect meteor strikes. But from the time the stations were switched on until they were decommissioned in 1977, they recorded hundreds of internally generated moonquakes, some as strong as magnitude 5.5 on the Richter scale.
Like any aging planet, Jupiter’s face has undergone a few changes over time. And even as the gas giant’s most famous feature — the colossal storm known as the Great Red Spot — appears to be shrinking, other spots have appeared.
Well, it had a short run: Only nine days after going online Sept. 10, CERN's Large Hadron Collider has already gone south for the winter, due to an electrical failure Friday. The LHC was always scheduled for winter shutdown and maintenance, due to the costs of fuel, but that wasn't supposed to happen until the end of November. Now, CERN says, the necessary inspections and repairs will likely not be completed much before that scheduled shutdown date.
Tuesday, Sept. 9, 11:30 a.m. EDT — Fourteen years in the making, the $8 billion Large Hadron Collider comes online Wednesday at last (although, when you think about it, that's not really that long to wait for a machine that may reveal some of the mysteries of the universe).
The switch-on is provoking strong public reaction: Scientists are excited and eager to see what the LHC can do; alarmists are worried about the end of the world. And one person made a funny rap.
Since 1999, the German satellite CHAMP (CHAllenging Mini-satellite Payload) has swirled around Earth, keeping watch as the planet’s magnetic field waxes and wanes over time. CHAMP’s continuous measurements of Earth’s field have created a finely detailed picture of how the field changes both in space and in time — and by extension, how the movement of the molten iron in Earth’s outer core ebbs and flows. And thanks to these data, researchers report, they can now track even small-scale, rapid fluctuations in the field’s strength around the planet.
During the Apollo missions, NASA astronauts shoveled, bagged and sent back to Earth close to 400 kilograms of lunar rocks and soil. But researchers studying these samples never found water. Now, after decades of coming up dry, scientists have found evidence that the moon’s interior once held — and perhaps still holds — water.