The Worlds of David Darling > Recent News: 2

Galaxy positions pinned down to amazing accuracy

Pandora's Cluster

(Jan 9, 2014) Astronomers have measured the distances between galaxies, across 6 billion light-years, to an accuracy of just 1%. This extremely precise survey - the so-called BOSS (Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey), using the Sloan Foundation Telescope in New Mexico -- will be used, among other things, to help determine the nature of dark energy.

Read more (BBC)

Living the lid on Pandora's Cluster

Pandora's Cluster

(Jan 8, 2014) The "deepest ever" image of a group of galaxies – "Pandora's Cluster" – has been captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. The blue arcs in the picture are distant galaxies as they appeared 12 billion years ago – not long after the Big Bang.

Read more (BBC)

Supervolcano alert ...

Yellowstone hot spring

(Jan 6, 2014) "The eruption of a supervolcano hundreds of times more powerful than conventional volcanoes – with the potential to wipe out civilization as we know it – is more likely than previously thought, a study has found. An analysis of the molten rock within the dormant supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park in the United States has revealed that an eruption is possible without any external trigger, scientists said." (The Independent) In our book Megacatastrophes, Dirk Schulze-Makuch and I gave supervolcanoes a 4 on our 0 to 10 catastrophe risk scale. Maybe it should have been higher!

Read more (The Independent)

Perihelion day!

Dundee sunset

(Jan 4, 2014) Today the Earth passed through perihelion – the closest we ever get to the Sun. Friends in Australia will have less trouble believing that than those in the mid-West who are down around -35°C at the moment!

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Sun does a magnetic flip at the start of a new cycle

Active Sun

(Jan 2, 2014) The Sun has "flipped upside down", with its north and south poles reversed to reach the midpoint of Solar Cycle 24. "At the height of each magnetic flip, the sun goes through periods of more solar activity, during which there are more sunspots, and more eruptive events such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections," said NASA’s Karen C. Fox.

Read more (The Independent)

Space highlights in 2014

Rosetta lander

(Dec 30, 2013) Among the space highlights of 2014 will be the launch in June of a Spanish team's robotic lunar rover aboard a Chinese rocket, in an attempt to win the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize. This will be followed in September by the first test flight of NASA's Orion manned spacecraft, and mid-October by the near passage of C/2013 A1 to Mars. For me, the space highlight of next year will be ESA's Rosetta probe going into orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in mid-2014, followed (hopefully) by the deployment of the Philae lander on the comet's surface in November.

Read more (Worlds of DD Facebook page)

Earthrise, from Apollo 8, 1968

Earthrise from Apollo 8

(Dec 24, 2013) On this day in 1968, the first picture of an "Earthrise" was taken from Apollo 8 in lunar orbit. The one shown here is the famous color photo taken by William Anders which Nature photographer Galen Rowell called "the most influential environmental photograph ever taken." But it was not the first Earthrise picture. That was snapped in black & white a little earlier, before Anders got the 70mm color film ready, by mission commander Frank Borman.

Read more (Wikipedia)

The human problems of getting to, and living on, Mars (part 2)

Artwork of a crewed Mars mission

(Dec 22, 2013) The closest Mars ever gets to Earth is more than 100 times the distance between the Earth-Moon distance (about 250,000 miles), so crewed trips to and from the Red Planet involve far more than mere extensions of Apollo-type missions. The closest approximations are long-term stays aboard space stations but even these can hardly prepare astronauts for the hardships and dangers that interplanetary travel pose.

Read more (Spaceflight Insider)

First exomoon found?

Artist's impression of a free-floating planet

(Dec 20, 2013) Forget what you saw in Avatar. The first real exomoon may have been found – and it's weirder than anything we'd imagined. If the discovery is confirmed, this moon is half the size of Earth and circles around a giant rogue planet at a distance of 20 million kilometers.

Read more (New Scientist)

ESA's Gaia mission successfully launched

Launch of the Gaia mission

(Dec 19, 2013) Well done the European Space Agency! One of the most important astronomical space missions in years began from the Guiana Space Centre today with the launch of Gaia by a Soyuz/Fregat rocket. Over the coming months and years, Gaia will measure with unprecedented precision the position, movements, and properties of a billion stars and other objects within the Milky Way Galaxy and beyond.

Read more (BBC)

Cooling problem aboard space station will require emergency repairs


(Dec 18, 2013) NASA has ordered a series of emergency spacewalks to carry out repairs on a broken cooling line at the International Space Station. The work to replace a faulty pump module would require two astronauts and three spacewalks – the first of which is planned for Saturday. The repairs would take priority over the launch of a supply ship from Virginia, which has now been postponed until January.

Read more (BBC)

Meteorite older than the Earth found in private collection

The Diepenveen meteorite

(Dec 16, 2013) A rare meteorite that formed soon after the origin of the solar system has been discovered in a private geological collection – 140 years after it fell to Earth. The stone, which is around 4.6 billion years old, was officially handed over to Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, the Netherlands, earlier this week.

Read more (New Scientist)

China puts lander and rover on the Moon

Artist's inpression of Yutu on the Moon

(Dec 14, 2013) China says it has successfully landed a craft carrying a robotic rover on the surface of the Moon, a major step in its program of space exploration. On Saturday afternoon (GMT), a landing module underwent a powered descent, using thrusters to perform the first soft landing on the Moon in 37 years. Several hours later, the lander will deploy a robotic rover called Yutu.

Read more (BBC)

Cassini maps Titan's lakes and seas in unprecedented detail

Ligeia Mare on Titan

(Dec 13, 2013) Measurements of a big sea on Titan, a moon of Saturn, show that it contains about 9,000 cubic km of mostly liquid methane. This huge volume is equivalent, say scientists, to about 40 times the proven reserves of oil and gas on Earth.

Read more (BBC)

Crab springs a surprise

Composite view of the Crab nebula, as viewed by the Herschel Space Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope

(Dec 13, 2013) Astronomers have found the noble gas argon in the famous Crab Nebula – the remnants of a recent and relatively nearby supernova. But, unusually, the argon is combined with hydrogen in the form of molecules of argon hydride.

Read more (NASA)

Clay-like minerals found on Europa

Clay-like minerals have been found in the region of Europa highlighted

(Dec 12, 2013) A new analysis of data from NASA's Galileo mission has revealed clay-type minerals at the surface of Jupiter's icy moon Europa that appear to have been delivered by a spectacular collision with an asteroid or comet. This is the first time such minerals have been detected on Europa's surface. The types of space rocks that deliver such minerals typically also often carry organic materials.

Read more (NASA)

Found: the coldest spot on Earth


(Dec 11, 2013) The coldest place on Earth has been measured by satellite to be a bone-chilling minus 93.2°C (-135.8°F). Not surprisingly, it is in the heart of Antarctica, and was recorded on Aug 10, 2010.

Read more (BBC)

Yellowstone supervolcano is even more super

Yellowstone hot spring

(Dec 11, 2013) The supervolcano that lies beneath Yellowstone National Park in the US is far larger than was previously thought, scientists report. A study shows that the magma chamber is about 2.5 times bigger than earlier estimates suggested. A team found the cavern stretches for more than 90km (55 miles) and contains 200-600 cubic km of molten rock.

Read more (BBC)

The mystery of the Mima mounds – solved

Mima mounds

(Dec 9, 2013) The mystery of one of the strangest landscape features on the planet – the Mima mounds – has been solved, scientists say. These geological anomalies are circular hillocks that cover great swathes of land. But scientists have been puzzled about what causes them. Now new research suggests that tiny burrowing animals are their architects.

Read more (BBC)

Did life start right after the Big bang?

Artist's impression of the early universe

(Dec 8, 2013) Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb has just published a paper about how life might have flourished when our 13.8-billion-year-old universe was a mere 15 million years old. Back then, the whole universe was warmer – which means liquid water could exist even on planets that were distant from their stars.

Read more (io9)

Best views yet of Saturn's amazing hexagon

Saturn's hexagon

(Dec 7, 2013) NASA's Cassini spacecraft has obtained the highest-resolution movie yet of a unique six-sided jet stream, known as the hexagon, around Saturn's north pole. This is the first hexagon movie of its kind, using color filters, and the first to show a complete view of the top of Saturn down to about 70 degrees latitude. Spanning about 20,000 miles (30,000 km) across, the hexagon is a wavy jet stream of 200-mile-per-hour winds with a massive, rotating storm at the center. There is no weather feature exactly, consistently like this anywhere else in the solar system.

Read more (NASA/JPL)

Supermassive black hole duo in faraway galaxy

Two black holes are entwined in a gravitational tango in this artist's conception.

(Dec 4, 2013) Astronomers have spotted what appear to be two supermassive black holes at the heart of a remote galaxy in orbit around each other. The incredibly rare sighting was made with the help of NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). Follow-up observations with the Australian Telescope Compact Array near Narrabri, Australia, and the Gemini South telescope in Chile, revealed unusual features in the galaxy, including a lumpy jet thought to be the result of one black hole causing the jet of the other to sway.

Read more (NASA)

Europa's choppy ocean looks friendly to life

Surface of Europa

(Dec 2, 2013) A new study of surface features on Europa suggests that ocean inside this moon of Jupiter is extremely turbulent, with three strong ocean jets. A turbulent ocean would be beneficial for any life there because it would help shift nutrients from the sea floor into the rest of the ocean.

Read more (New Scientist)