Exoplanet forecast: Quartz with a chance of feldspar

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.

11 Jan 2010

Crystal Ball EARTH: Space: NASA keeps watch on a changing planet

In 2009, we saw a number of changes on Earth. The average global ocean surface temperature last summer was the warmest on record. Thin seasonal ice has recently replaced thick older ice as the dominant type of ice in the Arctic. And scientists saw that despite a quiet sun with few sunspots, Earth can continue to be bombarded with a high level of solar energy.

11 Dec 2009

NASA's LCROSS crashes on the moon

Blogging on EARTH

Usually, NASA hopes its space probes land safely at their destinations. This morning, the agency was planning for a big explosion on the moon — all in the hopes of confirming the presence of water on our nearest neighbor.

09 Oct 2009

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

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