Space

While studying the atmosphere on Saturn's moon Titan, scientists discovered intriguing zones of organic molecules unexpectedly shifted away from its north and south poles. These misaligned features seem to defy conventional thinking about Titan's windy atmosphere, which should quickly smear out such off-axis concentrations.

"This is an unexpected and potentially groundbreaking discovery," said Martin Cordiner, an astrochemist working at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the lead author of a study published online today in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. "These kinds of east-to-west variations have never been seen before in Titan's atmospheric gases. Explaining their origin presents us with a fascinating new problem."


Beta Pictoris is a young star, only about 20 million years old, located about 63 light-years from us. It is surrounded by a huge disc of material, a very active young planetary system where gas and dust are produced by the evaporation of comets and the collisions of asteroids.


The surface of Venus can't be seen from orbit in visible light due to its hot, dense and cloudy atmosphere. Instead, radar has been used by spacecraft to penetrate the clouds and map out the surface – both by reflecting radar off the surface to measure elevation and by looking at the radio emissions of the hot surface. The last spacecraft to map Venus that way was Magellan, two decades ago. 

One of the Venusian surprises discovered at that time is that radio waves are reflected differently at different elevations on Venus. Also observed were a handful of radio dark spots at the highest elevations. Both enigmas have defied explanation.



Image: NASA

By Monica Grady, The Open University

A recent model says it provides the first characterization of the progenitor for a hydrogen-deficient supernova. Their simulation predicts that a bright hot star, which is the binary companion to an exploding object, remains after the explosion so they secured observation time with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) to search for such a remaining star.  



Credit: Niall Carson/PA

By Saskia Vermeylen, Lancaster University

Whether you’re into mining, energy or tourism, there are lots of reasons to explore space.

Some “pioneers” even believe humanity’s survival depends on colonizing celestial bodies such as the moon and Mars, both becoming central hubs for our further journey into the cosmos. Lunar land peddlers have started doing deals already – a one-acre plot can be yours for just £16.75.


An artist's impression of a galactic protocluster forming in the early universe. Credit: European Southern Observatory, CC BY

By Nick Seymour, Curtin University

Clusters of galaxies have back-stories worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster: their existences are marked by violence, death and birth, arising after extragalactic pile-ups where groups of galaxies crashed into each other.

On April 23rd, 2014, NASA's Swift satellite detected the strongest, hottest, and longest-lasting sequence of stellar flares ever seen from a red dwarf star - 10,000 times more powerful than the largest solar flare ever recorded.

'Just produced' in the title is cosmologically speaking -  the "superflare" came from one of the stars in a close binary system known as DG Canum Venaticorum (DG CVn), which is 60 light-years away. Both stars are dim red dwarfs with masses and sizes about one-third of our sun's. They orbit each other at about three times Earth's average distance from the sun, which is too close for Swift to determine which star erupted.