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Want to Find Life? Study a Sunset!

Thu, 05/29/2014 - 08:44

Titan's Smoggy Sunsets Help Scientists Devise Tools to Find Evidence of Life Elsewhere

Cassini at Titan!

Using data collected by Cassini's Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer, or VIMS, while observing Titan's sunsets, researchers created simulated spectra of Titan as if it were a planet transiting across the face of a distant star. The research helps scientists to better understand observations of exoplanets with hazy atmospheres. Courtesy NASA/Cassini Mission


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Sun-Like Stars May Munch on Earth-like Planets

Sat, 05/24/2014 - 04:00

Our Sun Just LOOKS Friendly


What if we could determine if a given star is likely to host a planetary system like our own by breaking down its light into a single high-resolution spectrum and analyzing it? A spectrum taken of the Sun is shown above. The dark bands result from specific chemical elements in the star's outer layer, like hydrogen or iron, absorbing specific frequencies of light. By carefully measuring the width of each dark band, astronomers can determine just how much hydrogen, iron, calcium and other elements are present in a distant star. The new model suggests that a G-class star with levels of refractory elements like aluminum, silicon and iron significantly higher than those in the Sun may not have any Earth-like planets because it has swallowed them. (N.A.Sharp, NOAO/NSO/Kitt Peak FTS/AURA/NSF)


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The Next Mars Lander

Tue, 05/20/2014 - 13:45

Digging Deep to Learn More about Mars

Mars InSight!

NASA/JPL announced this week that it is starting the build the next generation of Mars lander, nicknamed InSight. It will head to the Red Planet on 2016, and spend its time using seismic sensors and other instruments to give planetary scientists a good idea of the interior of Mars. Let's take a look at just how the InSight mission will do its job.


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When Galaxies Collide!

Sun, 05/18/2014 - 04:30

Behemoth Collisions Spur Starbirth

Galaxy collision simulation

A frame from the simulation of the two colliding 'Antennae' galaxies. Here the galaxies are re-shaped after their first encounter. High resolution allows the astrophysicists to explore the smallest details. Stars are formed in the densest regions (yellow and red) under the effect of compressive turbulence. Star formation is more efficient here than in normal galaxies like our Milky Way. Credit: F. Renaud / CEA-Sap


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Discovering and Imaging Alien Worlds

Sat, 05/17/2014 - 21:02

Seeing a Distant World from Earth

Beta Pictoris b

Beta Pictoris b (the small white dot to the lower right of its star (Beta Pictoris) is a giant planet - several times larger than Jupiter, and is approximately ten million years old. These near-infrared images (1.5-1.8 microns) show the planet glowing in infrared light from the heat released in its formation. The bright star Beta Pictoris is hidden behind a mask in the center of the image.


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What's Happening to Jupiter?

Thu, 05/15/2014 - 14:31

Its Great Red Spot is Getting Smaller!

Jupiter and Great Red Spot

The planet Jupiter is a world of superlatives. It is the largest gas giant in the solar system, it is the most massive planet in our neighborhood, it probably has the most moons, its largest moons exhibit ice and rock volcanism, it has a thin ring of dust around it, it may have a rocky core about the size of Earth, its atmosphere is incredibly huge and thick, and it has one of the largest storms of any planet: the Great Red Spot.


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Getting Started in Astronomy

Thu, 05/08/2014 - 08:29

Look Up!  See Stars and More!

Astronomy is one of the easiest sciences to learn about. People have been "doing" astronomy since the first stargazers stepped out under a starry sky and looked up. The astronomer Carl Sagan used to say that we are the descendants of stargazers. If our ancestors hadn't looked up and learned to use the sky, the survival of early people and societies would have been much  more difficult. It's good for us that the first stargazers learned to use the sky to learn the seasons, and use that knowledge to determine hunting seasons and planting times. Because of their knowledge of the stars, they ate better and birthed more stargazers.


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