A team of researchers has proposed a solution to the problematic chemical composition of Neptune and Uranus, perhaps providing clues for understanding their formation.

Uranus and Neptune, which post-Pluto are considered the outermost planets in the Solar System by the International Astronomical Union, each have a mass approximately fifteen times that of the Earth and consist of up to 90% ice, with highly enriched in carbon. 

It's no surprise that water was crucial to the formation of life on Earth. What may surprise you is that water on earth is older than the sun itself.

Identifying the original source of Earth's water is key to understanding how life-fostering environments came into being and how likely they are to be found elsewhere. A new paper in Science says that much of our Solar System's water likely originated as ices that formed in interstellar space. Water is found throughout the Solar System, not just on Earth; on icy comets and moons, and in the shadowed basins of Mercury and in mineral samples from meteorites, the Moon, and Mars. 

Surprises in the dark. Credit: NASA GSFC, CC BY

By Rene Breton, University of Southampton

The nice thing about telescopes is that we can look back in time - light that is reaching us now may have originated a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, which means astronomers can view the universe as it was when it was much younger.

But sometimes we can be fooled by entire galaxies. DDO 68, otherwise known as UGC 5340, a ragged collection of stars and gas clouds, at first was thought to be a recently-formed galaxy in our own cosmic neighborhood.

But it's not as young as it looks. 

A cosmic oddity, dwarf galaxy DDO 68. Credit: NASA, ESA. Acknowledgement: A. Aloisi (Space Telescope Science Institute)

Astronomers have discovered clear skies and steamy water vapor on a planet known as HAT-P-11b - outside our solar system. HAT-P-11b is about the size of Neptune, making it the smallest exoplanet ever on which water vapor has been detected. 

HAT-P-11b is a so-called exo-Neptune, a Neptune-sized planet that orbits another star. It is located 120 light-years away in the constellation of Cygnus (The Swan). Unlike Neptune, this planet orbits closer to its star, making one lap roughly every five days. It is a warm world thought to have a rocky core, a mantle of fluid and ice, and a thick gaseous atmosphere. Not much else was known about the composition of the planet, or other exo-Neptunes like it, until now.

Planck telescope and the Cosmic microwave background. ESA and Planck, CC BY

By Robert Crittenden, University of Portsmouth

It seems that foreground galactic dust could be responsible for all of the signal observed by the BICEP2 team.  Two more shoes are waiting to drop.  Results of cross correlation and comparison of Planck data and BICEP2 data in the region BICEP2 was able to observe, and Planck's own  data  on the B modes.  For now there is reason to doubt BICEP2.  This story is so full of twist that this could change. 

Miranda is a small, icy moon of Uranus and one of the most visually striking and enigmatic bodies in the solar system.

Despite its relatively small size, Miranda appears to have experienced an episode of intense resurfacing that resulted in the formation of at least three remarkable and unique surface features -- polygonal-shaped regions called coronae. 

These coronae are visible in Miranda's southern hemisphere, and each one is at least 200 km across. Arden corona, the largest, has ridges and troughs with up to 2 km of relief. Elsinore corona has an outer belt that is approx. 80 km wide, relatively smooth, and elevated above the surrounding terrain by approx. 100 m. Inverness corona has a trapezoidal shape with a large, bright chevron at its center.

An ultracompact dwarf galaxy known as M60-UCD1 harbors a supermassive black hole – the smallest galaxy known to contain such a massive light-sucking object.

The astronomers used the Gemini North 8-meter optical-and-infrared telescope on Hawaii's Mauna Kea and photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope to discover that M60-UCD1 has a black hole with a mass equal to 21 million suns. Their finding suggests plenty of other ultracompact dwarf galaxies likely also contain supermassive black holes – and those dwarfs may be the stripped remnants of larger galaxies that were torn apart during collisions with yet other galaxies.