Space

Scientists were startled when they discovered in 2004 that the center of our galaxy is emitting gamma rays with energies in the tens of trillions of electronvolts.

Now astrophysicists at The University of Arizona, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of Adelaide (Australia) have discovered a mechanism that might produce these high-energy gamma rays.

Comet McNaught, the Great Comet of 2007, has been delighting those who have seen it with the unaided eye as a spectacular display in the evening sky. Pushing ESO's New Technology Telescope to its limits, a team of European astronomers have obtained the first, and possibly unique, detailed observations of this object.

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has captured for the first time enough light from planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets, to identify signatures of molecules in their atmospheres. The landmark achievement is a significant step toward being able to detect possible life on rocky exoplanets and comes years before astronomers had anticipated.

"This is an amazing surprise," said Spitzer project scientist Dr. Michael Werner of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

The ESO Very Large Telescope Interferometer, which allows astronomers to scrutinise objects with a precision equivalent to that of a 130-m telescope, is proving itself an unequalled success every day. One of the latest instruments installed, AMBER, has led to a flurry of scientific results, an anthology of which is being published this week as special features in the research journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

"With its unique capabilities, the VLT Interferometer (VLTI) has created itself a niche in which it provide answers to many astronomical questions, from the shape of stars, to discs around stars, to the surroundings of the supermassive black holes in active galaxies," says Jorge Melnick (ESO), the VLT Project Scientist.

Integral's latest survey of the gamma-ray universe continues to change the way astronomers think of the high-energy cosmos. With over seventy percent of the sky now observed by Integral, astronomers have been able to construct the largest catalogue yet of individual gamma-ray-emitting celestial objects. And there is no end in sight for the discoveries.

Integral is the European Space Agency's latest orbiting gamma-ray observatory. Ever since Integral began scientific operations in 2003, the project team has been devoting a substantial proportion of its observing time to a survey of the gamma-ray universe.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, some say, but they would be wrong. In fact, the entirety of the universe defies them. According to Stanford physics Professor Andrei Linde, one of the architects of the inflationary theory, our universe (and all the matter in it) was born out of a vacuum.

"Recent developments in cosmology have irreversibly changed our understanding of the structure and fate of our universe and of our own place in it," says Linde, who will discuss the inflationary view of the universe at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Feb.

A powerful jet from a super massive black hole is blasting a nearby galaxy, according to new findings from NASA observatories. This never-before witnessed galactic violence may have a profound effect on planets in the jet's path and trigger a burst of star formation in its destructive wake.

Known as 3C321, the system contains two galaxies in orbit around each other. Data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory show both galaxies contain super massive black holes at their centers, but the larger galaxy has a jet emanating from the vicinity of its black hole. The smaller galaxy apparently has swung into the path of this jet.

This "death star" galaxy was discovered through the combined efforts of both space and ground-based telescopes.

Imagine two stars with winds so powerful that they eject an Earth's worth of material roughly once every month. Next, imagine those two winds colliding head-on. Such titanic collisions produce multimillion-degree gas, which radiates brilliantly in X-rays. Astronomers have conclusively identified the X-rays from about two-dozen of these systems in our Milky Way. But they have never seen one outside our galaxy — until now.

Thanks to the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton X-ray observatory, with help from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, an international team led by Dr Yaël Nazé of the Université de Liège in Belgium has found such a system in a nearby galaxy. This galaxy, the Small Magellanic Cloud, orbits the Milky Way and is located about 170 000 light-years from Earth.

Liquid or gas flowed through cracks penetrating underground rock on ancient Mars, according to a report based on some of the first observations by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. These fluids may have produced conditions to support possible habitats for microbial life.

These ancient patterns were revealed when the most powerful telescopic camera ever sent to Mars began examining the planet last year. The camera showed features as small as approximately 3 feet (one meter) across. Mineralization took place deep underground, along faults and fractures.

A strong wind blows sand and dust across the Mediterranean Sea from the Libyan Desert, located in the northeast section of the Sahara Desert, to Sicily and the southern tip of the Italian Peninsula on 10 February 2007 in this Envisat image.

Sandstorms are usually the result of atmospheric convection currents, which form when warm, lighter air rises and cold, heavier air sinks. The cold air in this image is visible stretching from the top left side of the image down to the centre and swirling back towards the north just above Libya (represented by the blue arrow in the image below), while the warm air current is seen blowing sand from south to north (represented by the red arrow).