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debris disk around a pulsar, artist's impression
NASA's Spitzer finds hints of planet birth around dead star
(Apr 6, 2006)

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has uncovered new evidence that planets might rise up out of a dead star's ashes. The infrared telescope surveyed the scene around a pulsar, the remnant of an exploded star, and found a surrounding disk made up of debris shot out during the star's death throes. The dusty rubble in this disk might ultimately stick together to form planets. This is the first time scientists have detected planet-building materials around a star that died in a fiery blast.

Read more. Source: NASA/JPL

Hardcore Mercury had soft edges smashed away
(Apr 5, 2006)

A jolting collision between Mercury and a large planetesimal in the solar system's formative years could have left the planet unusually dense, according to a new simulation. And as much as 16 million billion tonnes of the material kicked up by the impact might have rained down on the proto-Earth. Jonathan Horner and colleagues at the University of Bern, Switzerland, created the model to see whether a collision between an early Mercury – about 2.25 times its current size – and a planetesimal of half Mercury's current size could have produced the first rock from the Sun that we see today.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Impact of Deep Impact probe with Comet Tempel 1. Credit: NASA
Impactor ejects mighty water mass
(Apr 5, 2006)

The NASA projectile that slammed into Comet Tempel 1 last year kicked out at least 250,000 tonnes of water. The figure comes from UK/US scientists on the Swift telescope, one of many observatories called on to study the US space agency's Deep Impact event. Swift's X-ray data shows more water was released and over a longer time scale than had previously been thought.

Read more. Source: BBC

Debris disk surrounding a white dwarf. Credit: Gemini Observatory / Jon Lomberg
Rocky planets may circle many white dwarfs
(Apr 4, 2006)

Astronomers have found five stellar corpses that appear to be swallowing asteroids that once orbited them. The discoveries suggest terrestrial planets are common in the universe and that future missions should be able to image planets around the faint, dead stars. The first hint of the kamikaze asteroids came about 40 years ago, when astronomers discovered heavy elements such as magnesium in the spectra of some white dwarf stars.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Two magnetised neutron stars, or magnetars, falling on to each other
Merged stars whip up super fields
(Apr 3, 2006)

The collision of two superdense stars would produce the strongest magnetic fields in the Universe, scientists say. These would be more than a thousand million-million times the strength of Earth's magnetic field, the UK-German team reports in Science magazine. Its computer simulations fit with the theory that mergers of neutron stars drive some of the bursts of high-energy radiation that sweep across space.

Read more. Source: BBC

Fermilab MINOS experiment
Light shed on mysterious particle
(Apr 2, 2006)

Physicists have confirmed that neutrinos, which are thought to have played a key role during the creation of the Universe, have mass. This is the first major finding of the US-based Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search (Minos) experiment. The findings suggest that the Standard Model, which describes how the building blocks of the Universe behave and interact, needs a revision.

Read more. Source: BBC

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