Comment: Exoplanets: Life on the Terminator

New missions are searching for potentially life-bearing exoplanets around small, cool, red dwarf stars. On many of these exoplanets, the habitable zone lies on the line between sunlight and shadow, which, ironically, is called “the terminator.” Would life be able to exist in the terminator zones?

10 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

Earth-like atmosphere enough to set some exoplanets spinning

Earth is “Exhibit A” in showing that planetary rotation — which moderates global climate, keeps a lot of water in liquid form and generally makes the place more livable — is a plus when it comes to sustaining life. But scientists have thought that many of the rocky, Earth-like exoplanets discovered recently, which might otherwise be considered potentially hospitable to life, aren’t so fortunate. On these unlucky worlds, unable to rotate because they’re held too tightly by their parent stars’ gravity, one half of the planet is perpetually roasted by stellar radiation while the other is left frigid and dark. Now, however, a new study suggests that a little atmosphere can go a long way toward helping exoplanets rotate.

22 Aug 2015

Meteorite reveals rare irregular crystals

Scientists have found naturally occurring quasicrystals for the second time in a meteorite recovered from eastern Russia, according to a new study in Scientific Reports. Some of the researchers, including the lead author, Luca Bindi of the University of Florence in Italy, reported the discovery of the first natural quasicrystal, a mineral called icosahedrite, in the same meteorite in 2012. The researchers say that both quasicrystals probably formed under the high temperatures and pressures of a violent cosmic collision about 4.5 billion years ago, shortly after the formation of the solar system.
05 Aug 2015

A pair of moons with underground oceans

Jupiter and Saturn are both gas giants boasting multiple moons. Now, two separate studies have identified another similarity: Each appears to have a moon with hidden underground oceans.
02 Aug 2015

Benchmarks: July 22,1960: Mineral discovery ends Meteor Crater debate

In 1923, Daniel Moreau Barringer stood on the edge of a vast bowl-shaped depression in the Arizona desert, watching a drill rig bore into the floor of the crater. Barringer had spent more than two decades exploring the massive hole, which lies on the Colorado Plateau 65 kilometers east of Flagstaff, Ariz. And although he had sunk dozens of drill holes, collected scores of samples, and carefully mapped the piles of talus that draped its concave walls, Barringer still hadn’t found what he was looking for, and he was getting nervous.
22 Jul 2015

Red Planet Roundup: July 2015

With two rovers patrolling the surface of Mars, five spacecraft in orbit above it, and scientists here on Earth studying the Red Planet from afar, new findings are announced often. Here are a few of the latest updates.
15 Jul 2015

Amateur radio users help scientists study space weather

F5VIH. KM3T. PY1NB. These strings of letters and numbers aren’t license plate numbers but call signs. They belong to a handful of Ham radio operators, just three of the more than 2 million amateur enthusiasts whose chatter fills the global airwaves day and night. Now, research suggests these communications may represent a vast trove of data that could help scientists study and monitor space weather.
03 Jul 2015

Exoplanets could have long-lived oceans

At last count, the Kepler spacecraft had identified more than 1,000 confirmed exoplanets in the Milky Way Galaxy. Some of these bodies orbit their parent stars in the so-called habitable zone, where liquid water, and thus, life, could survive. But scientists say favorable surface temperatures may not be enough to foster life. Exoplanets also need to generate and maintain liquid water at the surface, raising the question: Do exoplanets have stable oceans?

12 Jun 2015

Exploding source of lithium

Trace amounts of lithium are found in all living organisms, and the soft metal is widely used in cellphones and batteries, and as a mood-stabilizing medication. But the galactic source of the element has been unclear.

10 Jun 2015