Most powerful blast ever seen in the universe:
A gamma ray burst that occurred 7.5 billion years ago was visible on Earth by the naked eye this week. It was “2.5 million times brighter than the most powerful supernova ever seen.”
The size of 18 billion Suns – Largest black hole in the universe discovered:
The biggest black hole beats out its nearest competitor by six times. Fortunately, it’s 3.5 billion light years away, forming the heart of a quasar called OJ287. Quasars are extremely bright objects in which matter spiraling into a giant black hole emits large amounts of radiation.
The smaller black hole, which weighs about 100 million Suns, orbits the larger one on an oval-shaped path every 12 years. It comes close enough to punch through the disc of matter surrounding the larger black hole twice each orbit, causing a pair of outbursts that make OJ287 suddenly brighten.
300 baby stars in our nearst star factory:
Newborn stars are surrounded with dust in the Rho Ophiuchi dark cloud, in this new image from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Only about 407 light years from Earth, Rho Oph is one of the closest star-forming regions to us. There are more than 300 young stellar objects within the central cloud, which contains the crucial molecular hydrogen needed to form new stars from cosmic gas.
Building blocks of life common in other star systems?
That’s the promising possibility (if you like the idea of extraterrestrial life) raised by the discovery by astronomers at the Carnegie Institution of highly complex organic molecules in the disk of red dust surrounding a young star (one very different from the sun) thought to be in the late stages of planet formation. Observations of light from the star via one of the instruments on the Hubble Space Telescope reveal that the light scattered by the dust disk is very red, matching the spectrum of large organic carbon molecules called tholins that no longer exist on Earth but are hypothesized to have been precursors to the biomolecules that make up living organisms.
Hubble finds first organic molecule on exoplanet:
Astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to detect methane — the first organic molecule found on an extrasolar planet. Hubble also confirmed the presence of water vapour in the Jupiter-size planet’s atmosphere, a discovery made in 2007 with the help of the Spitzer Space Telescope. They made the finding by studying how light from the host star filters through the planet’s atmosphere.
Ingredients for life found on Saturn’s moon:
The basic ingredients for life — warmth, water and organic chemicals — are in place on Saturn’s small moon Enceladus, scientists said on Wednesday, detailing the content of huge plumes erupting off its surface.
The scientists described observations made by the Cassini spacecraft when it flew over the surface of Enceladus (pronounced en-SELL-ah-dus) on March 12 as part of an ongoing exploration of Saturn and its moons.
Scientists working on the US-European mission did not say they had detected any actual evidence of life on this moon, where geysers at its south pole continuously shoot watery plumes some 500 miles (800 km) off its icy surface into space.
But they said the building blocks for life were there, and described the plumes as a surprising organic brew, sort of like carbonated water with an essence of natural gas.
Alpha Centauri may have Earth-like, habitable planets:
University of California researcher Javiera Guedes developed the simulations of the system’s first 200 million years.
“In each instance, despite different parameters, multiple terrestrial planets formed around the star. In every case, at least one planet turned up similar in size to the Earth, and in many cases this planet fell within the star’s habitable zone.”
Co-author and Professor Gregory Laughlin said, “We’re advocating that there’s a strong possibility a planet could be there.”
Images of Mercury:
The striking new images released Wednesday show giant, steep cliffs, fault lines and double craters surrounded by starburst patterns, among other surprises.
Doorway structure found on Mars:
It’s amazing the things you can find in the universe. Images of our neighbouring red planet by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter picked up this little space oddity: a teardrop shaped mountain with a rectangular dark patch that, to the human observer, looks like a door.
New carbon dioxide molecule heats Venus:
The molecule, which is believed to have two additional neutrons in one of its oxygen atoms, allows it to absorb an additional infrared wavelength of 3.3 microns, which is what tipped the teams off to the discovery. They believe this is part of the reason Venus has such a hot atmosphere – the bigger percentage of these molecules creates an even bigger Greenhouse Gas effect than normal CO2.
Two planets merge into one:
An extrasolar planet about one-fourth the heft of Jupiter might have formed from the collision and merger of two planets, astronomers announced today.
Known as 2M1207B, the object orbits a brown-dwarf star called 2M1207A located 170 light-years from Earth and seen in the direction of the constellation Centaurus.
Astronomers have long puzzled over the mysterious object, which seems to fall outside the spectrum of physical possibility. Its temperature, age and brightness don’t match up with what astrophysical theory would predict.
Million degree plasma flows through the galaxy:
On a large scale, the Milky Way is considered to be a vast cold region punctured with isolated hot clouds and star clusters. While much of this space is cold and empty, researchers have recently discovered the phenomenon of funneling hot plasma. Flowing plasma may funnel from one region to another through empty space, connecting otherwise isolated clouds and clusters throughout the galaxy.
Pictures of space fireworks:
The Tokushima-Kainan Observatory took some terrific photos of Japan’s space fireworks show.
Potentially life-supporting planet found:
Astronomers have discovered a planet in the 55 Cancri system that orbits constantly in what is know as the ‘habitable zone’ of the solar system. Although the planet is a gas giant some 45 times the size of Earth, there’s a good chance one of its moons might have liquid water and hence encourage the development of earth-like life.
New type of planet discovered:
Astronomers announce this morning that the planet is bigger than Jupiter but doesn’t weigh as much. It has a cork-like density and would float if placed in water.
New planets are found every month:
More than 260 planets have already been discovered orbiting other stars, and new ones are found almost every month. Having trouble keeping track? Help is on the way.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., has revamped its award-winning PlanetQuest website with improved tools to help users stay on top of the latest discoveries, at http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov.