Comets are made of the most primitive stuff in the solar system. As hunks of rock and ice that never coalesced into more planets, they give researchers clues to the evolution of solar systems.
In February, during its mission to study the sun's polar regions, the spacecraft Ulysses flew through McNaught's ion tail 160 million miles from the comet's core.
Instrument readings showed there was "complex chemistry" at play, said University of Michigan space science professor George Gloeckler. Gloeckler is the principal investigator on the Solar Wind Ion Composition Spectrometer (SWICS) aboard Ulysses, which measured the composition and speed of the comet tail and solar wind.
Astronomers at the University of Rochester are pointing to three nearby stars they say may hold "embryonic planets"—a missing link in planet-formation theories.
As scientists try to piece together how our own planet came to be, they look to the forming planets of other star systems for clues.
Using ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer and its unique ability to see small details, astronomers have uncovered a flat, nearly edge-on disc of silicates in the heart of the magnificent Ant Nebula. The disc seems, however, too 'skinny' to explain how the nebula got its intriguing ant-like shape.
The Ant Nebula is located about 5 000 light-years away. The central star is as bright as 10,000 Suns and has a temperature of 35, 000 degrees Celsius. It is the last phase before this solar-like star will become a white dwarf.
The Ant Nebula is one of the most striking planetary nebulae known.
NASA's Dawn spacecraft is on its way to study a pair of asteroids after lifting off Thursday from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 7:34 a.m. EDT.
Mission controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., received telemetry on schedule at 9:44 a.m. indicating Dawn had achieved proper orientation in space and its massive solar array was generating power from the sun.
"Dawn has risen, and the spacecraft is healthy," said the mission's project manager Keyur Patel of JPL.
Stars in galaxies are similar to people: during the first phase of their existence they grow rapidly but they slow later, and we can see it, says Dutch astronomer Mariska Kriek with the Gemini Telescope on Hawaii and the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile.
Her research shows that a part of the heavy galaxies stopped forming stars when the universe was still a toddler, about 3 billion years old. Astronomers suspect that black holes exert an influence on this halt in births.
So how does that happen and why are fewer stars being born?
This "baby picture" of the universe shows small changes in temperature from more than 13 billion years ago. That's not long after the big bang would have taken place.
An international team of astronomers wants to answer the question, "Will the world end with a bang or a whimper?"
Using an array of telescopes around the globe, a team of 23 researchers led by Italian astronomer Dr. Roberto Silvotti of the Observatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte in Naples has spent seven years investigating the pulses of the star V391 Pegasi. This international collaboration has resulted in the discovery of a new planet — Peg V392b – the oldest planet known so far in the universe.
Prof. Elia Leibowitz, of Tel Aviv University's School of Physics and Astronomy was a member of the team. To date, astronomers around the world have discovered more than 200 planets outside our solar system, but Prof.
Astronomers have found evidence that stars have been forming in a long tail of gas that extends well outside its parent galaxy. This discovery suggests that such "orphan" stars may be much more prevalent than previously thought.
The comet-like tail was observed in X-ray light with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and in optical light with the Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) telescope in Chile. The feature extends for more than 200,000 light years and was created as gas was stripped from a galaxy called ESO 137-001 that is plunging toward the center of Abell 3627, a giant cluster of galaxies.
"This is one of the longest tails like this we have ever seen," said Ming Sun of Michigan State University, who led the study.
Magnetars are small neutron stars that occasionally suffer extraordinarily powerful outbursts which shine X-rays across the galaxy.
In 2003, astronomers saw a neutron star brighten to around 100 times its usual faint luminosity. This outburst allowed them to discover XTE J1810-197. Detecting pulsations from the source helped classify it as the first transient anomalous X-ray pulsar (AXP). The massive outburst moved it to the rank of magnetar.
Magnetars are perplexing objects. Each one is the highly magnetic core of a star that was once at least eight times more massive than the Sun. When it exploded as a supernova, the core was compressed into a highly compact object, a neutron star, roughly fifteen kilometres in diameter, but containing about as much mass as the Sun.
Every now and then a space rock hits the world's media – sometimes almost literally. Threatening asteroids that zoom past the Earth, fireballs in the sky seen by hundreds of people and mysterious craters which may have been caused by impacting meteorites; all make ESA's planned mission Don Quijote look increasingly timely.
The uncertainty surrounding whether a meteorite impacted in South America recently highlights the need to know more about these pieces of natural space debris and their trajectories. ESA has always been interested in such endeavours and conducted a number of studies into how it might best help.
An international team of astronomers using ESO's Very Large Telescope has discovered that the south pole of Neptune is much hotter than the rest of the planet. This is consistent with the fact that it is late southern summer and this region has been in sunlight for about 40 years.
The scientists are publishing the first temperature maps of the lowest portion of Neptune's atmosphere, showing that this warm south pole is providing an avenue for methane to escape out of the deep atmosphere.
"The temperatures are so high that methane gas, which should be frozen out in the upper part of Neptune's atmosphere (the stratosphere), can leak out through this region," said Glenn Orton, lead author of the paper reporting the results.