News, Observations, Space

The most detailed topography of a comet

The topography of comet 67P. Photo: ESA

Ten years ago, the European Space Agency launched the Rosetta probe tasked to orbit a comet for the very first time and study it up close with unprecedented detail. Six billion miles later, the probe reached its target, the four-kilometer wide 67P comet, and has beamed back some of the most breathtaking images of a comet science has witnessed. The most recent shot released by ESA captures the comet so close that we can even see its intricate topography. Captioned below, the photograph in question was captured while Rosetta was hovering only 65 miles (104 kilometers) away from the 2.5-mile-wide (four-kilometer) comet. We can clearly distinguish the three sections of…

News, Observations, Space

Supernova study might change how speed of light in vacuum is measured

SN 1987A

Einstein’s theories suggest that light can not travel faster than c, a constant equal to the speed of light in a vacuum, which is 299,792,458 metres per second (by definition) or about 186,282.4 miles per second. All of our standing physical models are based on this assumption, and so far this idea has yet to be proven wrong, despite the neutrino incident from CERN which was later found to be false (at some time neutrinos were found to travel slightly faster than photos, but this was later proven to be due an error in measuring). A study of a 25-year old supernova may lead to a revision of “c”, if…

Astrophysics, Observations

Light from huge explosion 12 billion years ago reaches Earth


Intense light from a huge explosion (a gamma ray burst) that took place shortly after the birth of the Universe (12 billion years ago) has reached Earth, and was observed by researchers. Gamma Ray bursts are the strongest explosions since the Big Bang – in just 10 seconds, they release more energy than our sun in its entire life time; read this a few times, and let it sink in. So far, they have only been observed in distant galaxies, because, well, if they would take place in nearby galaxies, let’s just say there wouldn’t be much around to observe them. Because of the immense distance of most gamma-ray burst sources from…

News, Observations, Space

Astronomers find the sun’s first sibling: a star made of the same stuff

A star like our Sun is shown with an orbiting planet in the foreground in this artist's impression. Image credit: Illustration by Gabriel Perez Diaz, Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (MultiMedia Service)

In what’s considered the first find out of a slew to follow, a team of astronomers have identified a star that originated out of the same matter as our own sun. In lack of a better analogy, the two are siblings and probably share many more sisters. Apart from telling us where in the galaxy our solar system first formed some 4.3 billion years ago, by finding and studying more of the sun’s siblings, certain secrets might become unraveled, even those pertaining to the origin of life. Made from the same star stuff From studies of other stars which astronomers can see in many different stages of their ‘life cycle’,…

Observations, Science

Dusty rovers and weather on Mars

Nine images from the Mars rover Opportunity’s Navcam show the types of clouds seen over the first 9 years of the mission. The cirrus clouds are seen against a moderately dusty background sky. Most or all of the clouds are water ice, with images showing clouds occurring only during the “aphelion cloud belt season” when water ice clouds are expected. The top row shows images from inside Endurance crater. All images were taken during the Martian winter. (Photos: NASA / JPL /Texas A&M) )

Mark Lemmon is an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University and a camera operator for numerous Mars missions, especially those involving the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. These two rovers are considered nothing short of heroes by the men and women at mission control who were part of the projects. Spirit, for instance, was launched 2004 and was expected to last only about 90 “sols,” which is a day on Mars but slightly longer than an Earth day at 24 hours and 39 minutes long. It continued to roam Mars and transmit valuable images and data until 2010. Opportunity is still alive to this day. As one of…

Alien life, Biology, News, Observations, Space

Vitamin B may have come from space – what does this mean for origin of life?

Residue from a laboratory experiment simulating the conditions of interstellar space. The residue contained vitamin B3 (and related compounds) and may help explain meteorite chemistry. Image Credit: Karen Smith

After analyzing samples from eight different carbon-rich meteorites, researchers at Pennsylvania State Universities found these contained niacin, also known as vitamin B3 and the more pristine the meteorite, the higher the concentration. What this means is that the ancient Earth had a steady supply of vitamin B3 during its early years when it was frequently bombarded by cosmic objects, possibly aiding in the creation of life as we know it. Previously, researchers proved that ancient Earth had the right conditions for vitamin B3 to form natively, however the present findings suggest that the extraterrestrial B3 could have provided a nice kick and boost life forming processes. Niacin or nicotinic acid…

Astrophysics, News, Observations, Space

First possible evidence of an exomoon

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Until just a few decades ago, there wasn’t any proof that there were any planets beyond those in our solar system, although of course everybody expected them to exist somewhere. After the Kepler Space Telescope was deployed, astronomers found not one, but a couple hundred exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars). In fact, our galaxy is supposed to harbor some 50 billion Earth-like planets.  Now, after observational techniques have become more refined, a joint  Japan-New Zealand-American team   spotted the first signs of an “exomoon,” and though they say it’s impossible to confirm its presence, the finding is a tantalizing first step toward locating others. First moon outside our solar system? The…

Alien life, News, Observations, Space

Curiosity spots what looks like a Martian camp fire, alas it’s nothing of the sorts

curiosity rover imaging camera

The photo right above was captured by the Curiosity Rover’s right-hand navigation camera , currently deployed on Mars and on route to Mount Sharp, which shows a striking flare of light seemingly torching near the horizon. Taken on April 4th, the photo somehow made its way to the general public (bad idea NASA) and stirred international turmoil back on Earth, where ufologists dissected and scrambled the photo on all its sides. Clearly, this is proof that artificial light sources exist on Mars, and who else than Martian could have made them? The truth may actually be much simpler. [READ] Mars covered in water: what the planet must have looked like billions…

Astrophysics, Observations

Astronomers discover the oldest known star

The spectrum of SMSS J031300.36-670839.3 hardly contains any absorption lines in its spectrum: the strong lines are from hydrogen, and carbon – at 4300A, and from the Earth atmosphere – at 5800 and 6300A; not from the star itself. Image credit: Anna Frebel.

A team led by astronomers at The Australian National University has discovered what they believe to be the oldest star in the known Universe – forming shortly after the Big Bang, some 13.7 billion years ago. This is the first time astrophysicists get the chance to study the chemistry of the oldest stars, giving scientists a clearer idea of what the Universe was like in its infancy. “This is the first time that we’ve been able to unambiguously say that we’ve found the chemical fingerprint of a first star,” said lead researcher, Dr Stefan Keller of the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics. “This is one of the first…

Hubble, News, Observations, Science, Space

New images of Tarantula Nebula may help refine star formation theory


NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope recently completed one of its most thorough and ambitious mozaic projectes. Astronomers at Hubble, stitched together some 438 separate images, both in visible and infra-red light, to complete the most accurate picture of the Tarantula Nebula so far, spanning across no less than 600 light-years. The Tarantula nebula contains some 800,000 newly born or developing stars, and these latest developments will hopefully help scientists answer some puzzling questions on star formation. One such question is whether super-massive stars – stars with mass at least 50 times greater than the sun – form exclusively in star clusters or not. The Tarantula Nebula, located 170,000 light-years away in…