The Worlds of David Darling > Recent News: 1

NASA's WISE survey finds thousands of new stars, but no 'Planet X'

A nearby star stands out in red in this image from the Second Generation Digitized Sky Survey

(Mar 12, 2014) After searching hundreds of millions of objects across our sky, NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has turned up no evidence of the hypothesized celestial body in our solar system commonly dubbed "Planet X."

Read more (NASA/JPL)

Mystery of planet-forming disks explained by magnetism

Magnetic loops carry gas and dust above disks of planet-forming material circling stars, as shown in this artist's conception.

(Mar 8, 2014) Astronomers say that magnetic storms in the gas orbiting young stars may explain a mystery that has persisted since before 2006. Researchers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to study developing stars have had a hard time figuring out why the stars give off more infrared light than expected. The planet-forming disks that circle the young stars are heated by starlight and glow with infrared light, but Spitzer detected additional infrared light coming from an unknown source.

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Astronaut Bill Pogue (1930-2014)

Bill Pogue

(Mar 4, 2014) Veteran astronaut Bill Pogue, who served on the final Skylab mission and as a support crewmember for several Apollo missions, has passed away; he was 84.

Read more (Spaceflight Insider)

Evidence of water in meteorite revives debate over life on Mars


(Mar 3, 2014) A team of scientists at NASA's Johnson Space Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena has found evidence of past water movement throughout a Martian meteorite (the Yamato meteorite), reviving debate in the scientific community over life on Mars.

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715 new planets announced in one day

Multiplanet systems

(Feb 26, 2014) The science team sifting data from NASA's Kepler space telescope says it has identified 715 new planets beyond our Solar System – a huge new haul. In the nearly two decades since the first exoplanet was first discovered, researchers had claimed the detection of just over 1,000 new worlds.

Read more (BBC)

Biggest lunar impact ever observed

The impact appeared as a bright white flash on Sep 11, 2013

(Feb 25, 2014) Scientists say they have observed a record-breaking impact on the Moon. Spanish astronomers spotted a meteorite with a mass of about half a metric ton crashing into the lunar surface last September.

Read more (BBC)

First rocket to "extraterrestrial space"

Launch of a Bumper-WAC

(Feb 24, 2014) On this day in In 1949, "the first recorded man-made object to reach extraterrestrial space" was launched from the White Sands Proving Grounds, New Mexico. The two-stage rocket, known as Bumper WAC Corporal Round 5 (like the one shown here), had a first stage that was a German V-2 rocket with the warhead replaced by a launching compartment. After the V-2 reached its highest altitude, the second stage – a modified WAC Corporal sounding rocket – separated from it to complete the journey into space. It sent telemetry to groud stations, including high-altitude temperature measurements, and reached a record speed of 5,150 mph and record altitude of 244 miles.

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Speeding star creates showy shock wave

Kappa Cassiopeiae

(Feb 21, 2014) Roguish runaway stars can have a big impact on their surroundings as they plunge through the Milky Way galaxy. Their high-speed encounters create arcs, as seen in this newly released image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. In this case, the speedster star is known as Kappa Cassiopeiae, or HD 2905. It is a massive, hot supergiant moving at around 2.5 million mph relative to its neighbors. But what really makes the star stand out in this image is the surrounding, streaky red glow of material in its path. Such structures are called bow shocks, and they can often be seen in front of the fastest, most massive stars in the galaxy.

Read more (NASA/Spitzer)

A runaway pulsar and its extraordinary jet

Rinaway pulsar IGR J11014-6103 and its jet

(Feb 20, 2014) An extraordinary jet trailing behind a runaway pulsar is seen in this composite image that contains data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory (purple), radio data from the Australia Compact Telescope Array (green), and optical data from the 2MASS survey (red, green, and blue). The pulsar - a spinning neutron star - and its tail are found in the lower right of this image. The tail stretches for 37 light years, making it the longest jet ever seen from an object in the Milky Way Galaxy.

Read more (NASA/Chandra)

2000 EM26: 'potentially hazardous' asteroid to fly close to Earth

Artist's impression of 2000 EM26

(Feb 18, 2014) A "potentially hazardous" asteroid the size of three football fields will pass 2.1 million miles (8.8 the distance of the Moon) from the Earth early on Tuesday (or late Monday evening, depending where you are. Although 2000 EM26 poses no threat, its size (270 meters, or 885ft, across) and speed (27,000 mph) are a reminder of what damage could be inflicted by direct impact of such an object.

Read more (Guardiam)

Mystery of Mars 'jelly doughnut' solved

Strange donought-shaped rock that 'suddenly' appeared on Mars

(Feb 16, 2014) When a rock suddenly appeared in front of the Opportunity rover on Mars last month, scientists were puzzled. Now, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab say they've solved the mystery. The rover, it seems, rolled over a larger rock, first breaking it, and then kicking a fragment – Pinnacle Island, as the rock eventually became known – over with its wheel to land right in front of the camera at just the right moment.

Read more (io9)

Experiment passes nuclear fusion 'ignition' milestone

National Ignition Facility

(Feb 13, 2014) US researchers have achieved a world first in an ambitious experiment that aims to recreate the conditions at the heart of the sun and pave the way for nuclear fusion reactors. The scientists generated more energy from fusion reactions than they put into the nuclear fuel, in a small but crucial step along the road to harnessing fusion power.

Read more (Guardian)

Best evidence yet for present-day water flows on Mars

This image combines a photo of seasonal dark flows on a Martian slope with a grid of colors based on data collected by a mineral-mapping spectrometer observing the same area. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UA/JHU-APL

(Feb 11, 2014) NASA spacecraft orbiting Mars have provided some of the strongest clues to date that liquid water may exist on the Red Planet today. Dark, finger-like markings have been seen advancing down some Martian slopes when temperatures rise. The new clues include corresponding seasonal changes in iron minerals on the same slopes and a survey of ground temperatures and other traits at active sites. These support a suggestion that brines with an iron-mineral antifreeze, such as ferric sulfate, may flow seasonally, though there are still other possible explanations.

Read more (NASA/JPL)

A history of curious artifacts sent into space

Voyager's Golden Record cover

(Feb 10, 2014) Since the dawn of the Space Age in 1957, thousands of artifacts and memorabilia have been flown into space. Some have been hoisted on brief suborbital flights, while others have been flung out of the solar system, never to return. Here are some of the more unusual and memorable oness.

Read more (Universe Today)

First weather map of a brown dwarf

Weather patterns on nearby brown dwarf

(Feb 8, 2014) ESO's Very Large Telescope has been used to create the first ever map of the weather on the surface of the nearest brown dwarf to Earth. An international team has made a chart of the dark and light features on WISE J104915.57-531906.1B, which is informally known as Luhman 16B and is one of two recently discovered brown dwarfs forming a pair only six light-years from the Sun.

Read more (ESO)

Kepler finds a very wobbly planet


(Feb 6, 2014) Imagine living on a planet with seasons so erratic you would hardly know whether to wear Bermuda shorts or a heavy overcoat. That is the situation on a weird, wobbly world found by NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space telescope (now defunct). The planet, called Kepler-413b, precesses wildly on its spin axis, so that its axis can vary by as much as 30 degrees over 11 years, leading to rapid and erratic changes in seasons.

Read more (NASA/JPL)

Curiosity Mars rover becomes a dune buggy

Dingo Gap

(Feb 4, 2014) The Curiosity Mars rover looks set to try to drive over a 1m-high dune. The sand bank is currently blocking the robot's path into a small valley and a route with fewer of the sharp rocks that lately have been making big dents in the vehicle's aluminium wheels.

Read more (BBC)

Nearest star system may host a 'superhabitable' world

Alpha Centauri Bb

(Jan 31, 2014) Earth may be our home, but another planet even cosier for life could be orbiting the star next door. A detailed analysis of what might make planets suitable for life says that Alpha Centauri B, the star closest to our sun, would be the perfect star to host a "superhabitable" planet – a world of islands, shallow seas, and gentle slopes, where the conditions needed to support a diverse array of life forms would persist for up to 10 billion years.

Read more (New Scientist)

To give you some idea of how far apart stars are ...

Sun modelAlpha Centauri model

(Jan 29, 2014) The distance between stars is hard to grasp. But perhaps this scale model will help. On the left is a plastic ball about 6cm (2½cm) across held by me in our apartment in Dundee, Scotland; on the left is an orange, slightly bigger, held by me a few days later at my son's house near Valencia, Spain. The distance between them, about 1.750km, fairly accurately represents to scale the distance between the Sun and Alpha Centauri A (the brightest member of the nearest star system to the Sun).

RX J1532.9+3021: Extreme power of black hole revealed

RX J1532

(Jan 27, 2014) Astronomers have used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and a suite of other telescopes to reveal one of the most powerful black holes known. The black hole has created enormous structures in the hot gas surrounding it and prevented trillions of stars from forming. The black hole is in a galaxy cluster named RX J1532.9+3021 (RX J1532 for short), located about 3.9 billion light-years from Earth.

Read more (Physorg)

Date for first launch of Dream Chaser set

Artwork of Dream Chaser on the launchpad

(Jan 24, 2014) The Sierra Nevada Corporation has set Nov 1, 2016, for the maiden flight of its space shuttle replacement. Known as Dream Chaser, the winged vehicle will launch atop an Atlas V from Florida's Kennedy Space Centre. Though smaller than NASA's famous orbiters, Dream Chaser has still been designed to carry up to seven astronauts into low-Earth orbit.

Read more (BBC)

Ceres seen venting water vapor

Artwork of Ceres venting water vapor into space

(Jan 23, 2014) Observations of the Solar System's biggest asteroid suggest it is spewing plumes of water vapor into space. Ceres has long been thought to contain substantial quantities of ice within its body, but this is the first time such releases have been detected.

Read more (BBC)

Gaia settles into orbit around the L2 point, ready to map the Galaxy

Gaia at the L2 Lagrangian point

(Jan 22, 2014) Gaia – ESA's billion-star surveyor -- is now in its operational orbit around the L2 Lagrangian point, 1.5 million km from Earth. Following closely after the awakening of Rosetta, it's been quite a day for Europe in space.

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Rare type of brown dwarf directly imaged

Direct image detection of a rare brown dwarf companion taken at Keck Observatory. Credit: CREPP ET AL. 2014, APJ

(Jan 21, 2014) A team of researchers led by Justin R. Crepp, the Freimann Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Notre Dame, has directly imaged a very rare type of brown dwarf that can serve as a benchmark for studying objects with masses that lie between stars and planets. HD 19467 B, a T-dwarf, is a very faint companion to a nearby Sun-like star, more than 100,000 times as dim as its host.

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Cosmic web fo dark matter glimpsed

An intense quasar can, like a flashlight, illuminate part of the surrounding cosmic web

(Jan 20, 2014) The hidden tendrils of dark matter that underlie the visible Universe may have been traced out for the first time. Cosmology theory predicts that galaxies are embedded in a cosmic web, most of which is dark matter. Astronomers obtained the first direct images of a part of this network, by exploiting the fact that a luminous object called a quasar can act as a natural cosmic flashlight.

Read more (BBC)

What's happening to the Sun?


(Jan 18, 2014) There's something strange happening with the Sun. It should be just about at the peak of its cycle of activity. Instead, it's a quiet as it's been for a century. The drop off in activity is happening surprisingly quickly, and scientists are now watching closely to see if it will continue to plummet.

Read more (BBC)

Mystery rock spotted by Opportunity on Mars

Mystery rock spotted by Opportunity rover

(Jan 17, 2014) A mysterious rock suddenly appeared in front of the Opportunity rover's cameras on Mars, puzzling scientists who describe the rock as both "a total surprise" and "about the size of a jelly donut." The news of the rock, which NASA scientists have dubbed "Pinnacle Island", came during a talk by Mars Exploration Rover head scientist Steve Squyres during the 10th anniversary celebration for the Mars rovers.

Read more (io9)

Exoplanet found around solar twin in star cluster

Artist's impression of a Sunlike star in a cluster

(Jan 15, 2014) Astronomers have used ESO's HARPS planet hunter in Chile, along with other telescopes around the world, to discover three planets orbiting stars in the cluster Messier 67. Although more than one thousand planets outside the Solar System are now confirmed, only a handful have been found in star clusters. Remarkably one of these new exoplanets is orbiting a star that is a rare solar twin.

Read more (Physorg)

Capturing the 'Hand of God'

Hand of God Nebula

(Jan 13, 2014) A new image of the pulsar wind nebula known as the 'Hand of God' has been captured by NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). The photograph captured by the telescope shows the nebula 17,000 light-years away, which is powered by a dead, spinning star called PSR B1509-58. The pulsar itself is just 19 km long, but spins around nearly seven times every second.

Read more (The Independent)

A new type of hypervelocity star

New type of hypervelocity stars

(Jan 10, 2014) An international team of astronomers has discovered a surprising new class of "hypervelocity stars" – solitary stars moving fast enough to escape the gravitational grasp of the Milky Way galaxy. "These new hypervelocity stars are very different from the ones that have been discovered previously," said Vanderbilt University graduate student Lauren Palladino, lead author on the study. "The original hypervelocity stars are large blue stars and appear to have originated from the galactic center. Our new stars are relatively small -- about the size of the sun – and the surprising part is that none of them appear to come from the galactic core."

Read more (Scienee Daily)