Moonquake mystery deepens

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.

19 Aug 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

Benchmarks: July 4, 1054: "Birth" of the Crab Nebula

On July 4, 1054, Chinese and Japanese astronomers observed a new, iridescent yellow point of light in the constellation Taurus. This “guest star,” said to be as bright as the moon, failed to disappear with the rising sun — for a month, it shone both night and day. Even after fading during daytime, it remained in the night sky for nearly two years, by some accounts. Historians and scientists think that this event was likely the supernova that created the Crab Nebula, one of the most spectacular and rare astronomical features in the known universe.
04 Jul 2009

Shell tectonics may explain Mars mysteries

Mars may be mythologically known as the Red Planet, but its topography can be as captivating as its celestial glow. Several striking features stand out with only a glance at a topographic map of Mars: the odd distribution of land on its surface and the equatorial string of giant volcanoes known as the Tharsis Rise. Since Mars has no plate tectonics, how these unique features formed has been a longstanding mystery.

16 Jan 2009

Phoenix takes a bow

Blogging on EARTH

One of the NASA’s most successful and widely publicized missions has ended.

On Monday, NASA scientists declared that the Phoenix Lander, a solar-powered, stationary robot laboratory designed to explore the habitability of the Red Planet, had stopped communications with Earth.

11 Nov 2008

Electrical failure shuts collider down for the winter

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.

24 Sep 2008

Energy's the hot topic this week on the Hill

UPDATE: The House energy bill, which will allow offshore drilling and gives states incentives by sharing the revenues from drilling leases with them, passed yesterday (Sept. 16). The Senate bill is still pending, but a vote is likely sometime this week.


16 Sep 2008

The Big Turn-On

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.

09 Sep 2008

Of molten iron and magnetism

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.

28 Aug 2008