Space

Imagine a planet where you experience constant daylight or even triple sunrises and sunsets each day, because the seasons last longer than human lifetimes. 

That's the case with HD 131399Ab, which has the widest known orbit within a multi-star system. Located about 340 light years from Earth in the constellation Centaurus, HD 131399Ab is believed to be about 16 million years old, making it one of the youngest exoplanets discovered to date, and one of very few directly imaged planets. With a temperature of 850 Kelvin (about 1,070 degrees Fahrenheit or 580 degrees Celsius) and weighing in at an estimated four Jupiter masses, it is also one of the coldest and least massive directly imaged exoplanets. 

If conditions had been just a little different an eon ago, there might be plentiful life on Venus and none on Earth.

In Astrobiology, researchers note that minor evolutionary changes could have altered the fates of both Earth and Venus in ways that scientists may soon be able to model through observation of other solar systems, particularly ones in the process of forming, according to Rice Earth scientist Adrian Lenardic.

The authors suggest that habitable planets may lie outside the "Goldilocks zone" in extra-solar systems, and that planets farther from or closer to their suns than Earth may harbor the conditions necessary for life.

Researchers have discovered a type of dune on Mars intermediate in size between tiny ripples and wavier dunes, and unlike anything seen on Earth.

Because dunes can be preserved in rock over time, these mysterious sedimentary deposits may represent a way to gain insights into the evolution of Mars' atmosphere from a more hospitable realm to the harsh, dry climate observed there today. On Earth, wind and water passing over sand causes the formation of either large dunes or small ripples, collectively called bedforms.

Roughly 90 percent of the biggest black holes are dormant, meaning that they are not actively devouring matter and therefore not giving off any light or other radiation.

Yet dormant is not dead, so when a star wanders too close, the ensuing feeding frenzy - a tidal disruption event - sets off a spectacular fireworks show. 

Venus has an "electric wind" strong enough to remove the components of water from its upper atmosphere, which may have played a significant role in stripping Earth's twin planet of its oceans, according to new results from ESA's Venus Express mission by NASA-funded researchers.

Chiral molecules, compounds that come in otherwise identical mirror image variations, like a pair of human hands--are crucial to life as we know it. Living things are selective about which "handedness" of a molecule they use or produce. For example, all living things exclusively use the right-handed form of the sugar ribose (the backbone of DNA), and grapes exclusively synthesize the left-handed form of the molecule tartaric acid. While homochirality--the use of only one handedness of any given molecule--is evolutionarily advantageous, it is unknown how life chose the molecular handedness seen across the biosphere.

In the race towards the discovery of another planet in our solar system, the ninth or tenth depending on how seriously you take the 2 percent of astronomers who demoted Pluto, scientists are striving to calculate its potential orbit using the tracks left by the small bodies that move well beyond Neptune.  And the calculations may mean even more than 10 exist.

New calculations confirm that the orbits of the six extreme trans-Neptunian objects that served as a reference to announce the existence of Planet Nine are not as stable as it was thought.

When anti-science activists set out to drive astronomy from the state of Arizona by trumping up an environmental hazard, they were failing to prevent a problem that would creep across many places that don't want space science in their neighborhood - light pollution.

Astronomers have used Hubble to measure the distances to stars in nineteen galaxies more accurately than previously possible. They found that the Universe is currently expanding faster than the rate derived from measurements of the Universe shortly after the Big Bang. If confirmed, this apparent inconsistency may be an important clue to understanding three of the Universe's most elusive components: dark matter, dark energy and neutrinos.

I'll be on David Livingston's the Space Show this Friday, 27th May, to talk about my new "Case for Moon". It's main themes are: first, the Moon as our natural first destination in the solar system. Then, planetary protection and biologically reversible human exploration as core principles for human space exploration. Then, the Moon as a gateway for human exploration of the entire solar system, not just Mars.