Space


3753 Cruithne's wacky orbit around the Sun. Image: YouTube, CC BY-SA

We all know and love the moon. We’re so assured that we only have one that we don’t even give it a specific name.

It is the brightest object in the night sky, and amateur astronomers take great delight in mapping its craters and seas.

To-date, it is the only other heavenly body with human footprints.

Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt, and NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will arrive at this dwarf planet on March 6, 2015. Pluto is the largest object in the Kuiper belt, and NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will arrive at this dwarf planet on July 15, 2015.
What is hiding in the large disk of gas and dust encircling the 20 million-year-old star Beta Pictoris?  In 1984 Beta Pictoris was the very first star discovered to be surrounded by a bright disk of dust and debris. Since then, Beta Pictoris has been an object of intense scrutiny with Hubble and ground-based telescopes.
Plumes that reached over 100 miles above the surface of Mars, reported by citizen scientist astronomers in March and April 2012, continue to puzzle scientists. In the past, similar events had been seen, but only up to around 50 miles.  

The features developed in less than 10 hours, covering an area of up to 1000 x 500 kilometers, and remained visible for around 10 days, changing their structure from day to day. None of the spacecraft orbiting Mars saw the features because of their viewing geometries and illumination conditions at the time but citizen scientists and their telescopes did. 

Jupiter’s icy moon Europa puzzles astrobiologists and sparks the imagination of extraterrestrial life seekers.

It is believed that the moon has a subsurface ocean of liquid water, where life could possibly be similar to microbial life forms on Earth.

The likely presence of liquid water has ignited persisting calls to send a probe there. Currently NASA and ESA plan their own missions to the potentially habitable moon. Europa Clipper mission has just got approved for $30 million in the 2016 NASA budget and ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) is scheduled for launch in 2022.

Most people don't realize it, but the majority of stars in our galaxy arrive in pairs. These fraternal twins tend to be somewhat equal partners when it comes to mass, but in a quest to find mismatched star pairs called extreme mass-ratio binaries, astronomers have discovered a new class of binary stars: One star is fully formed while the other is still in its infancy.

The Planck collaboration has released data from four years of observation by the European Space Agency (ESA)'s Planck spacecraft. The aim of the Planck mission is to study the Cosmic Microwave Background, the light left over from the Big Bang.

The measurements, taken in nine frequency bands, were used to map not only the temperature of the radiation but also its polarization - a property of light like color or direction of propagation - which provides additional information about the very early Universe, around 380,000 years old, and our Galaxy's magnetic field. 

Yesterday, phys.org posted a story titled, “No Big Bang? Quantum equation predicts universe has no beginning.” Coauthors Ahmed Farag Ali and Saurya Das, “have shown in a paper published in Physics Letters B that the Big Bang singularity can be resolved by their new model in which the universe has no beginning and no end.” (Read the full article here.)

On the other hand, Alexander Vilenkin says the universe probably did have a beginning:

Some people believe we are in a new Enlightenment, with science making food plentiful and likely to make energy cheap enough to be unnoticeable in the next few decades as well. We share one other thing in common with the 18th century - solar activity.

Scientists have been counting sunspots with small telescopes since 1610 so it was quickly learned that the Sun’s activity increases every eleven years, according to the interval in the growth of the number of darker and colder spots in comparison with the rest of its surface. The more spots that appear, the more luminous the surrounding areas are, and our star shines brighter. 

Spot the biggest star. Rutherford Observatory

By Jillian Scudder, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Astrophysics at University of Sussex

The universe is such a big place that it is easy to get baffled by the measurements that astronomers make. The size of UY Scuti, possibly one of the largest stars we have observed to date, is certainly baffling.