This fuzzy orb of light is a giant elliptical galaxy filled with an incredible 200 billion stars. Unlike spiral galaxies, which have a well-defined structure and boast picturesque spiral arms, elliptical galaxies appear fairly smooth and featureless. This is likely why this galaxy, named Messier 49 (M49), was discovered by French astronomer Charles Messier in 1771. At a distance of 56 million light-years and measuring 157,000 light-years across, M49 was the first member of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies to be discovered, and it is more luminous than any other galaxy at its distance or nearer.
Looking to the future, NASA and other space agencies have high hopes for the field of extra-solar planet research. In the past decade, the number of known exoplanets has reached just shy of 4000, and many more are expected to be found once next-generations telescopes are put into service. And with so many exoplanets to study, research goals have slowly shifted away from the process of discovery and towards characterization.
Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are cooking up an alien atmosphere right here on Earth. In a new study, JPL scientists used a high-temperature "oven" to heat a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide to more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,100 Celsius), about the temperature of molten lava. The aim was to simulate conditions that might be found in the atmospheres of a special class of exoplanets (planets outside our solar system) called "hot Jupiters."
Hidden in one of the darkest corners of the Orion constellation, this Cosmic Bat is spreading its hazy wings through interstellar space two thousand light-years away. It is illuminated by the young stars nestled in its core — despite being shrouded by opaque clouds of dust, their bright rays still illuminate the nebula. Too dim to be discerned by the naked eye, NGC 1788 reveals its soft colours to ESO's Very Large Telescope in this image — the most detailed to date.
Just as dust gathers in corners and along bookshelves in our homes, dust piles up in space too. But when the dust settles in the solar system, it’s often in rings. Several dust rings circle the Sun. The rings trace the orbits of planets, whose gravity tugs dust into place around the Sun, as it drifts by on its way to the center of the solar system.
Shortly after the big bang, the universe was an energetic mixture of particles with strong mutual interaction. The first particles that managed to free themselves from this dense primordial soup were the neutrinos, the lightest and weakest interacting particles from the standard model of elementary particles. These neutrinos are still all around us today, but are very difficult to observe immediately because their interaction is so weak. An international team of cosmologists, including Daniel Baumann and Benjamin Wallisch from the University of Amsterdam, has now succeeded in measuring the influence that this 'cosmic neutrino background' has had on the way galaxy clusters formed during the evolution of the universe. The research was published in Nature Physics.
The outer region of the solar system may be the least explored, but scientists have managed to unravel several of its mysteries in recent weeks. On New Year’s Day, the NASA spacecraft New Horizons encountered the icy object Ultima Thule for the first time, shedding light on how it formed. Astronomers have also just discovered a previously unknown moon orbiting Neptune, which has been dubbed “Hippocamp”.
WFIRST ain’t your grandma’s space telescope. Despite having the same size mirror as the surprisingly reliable Hubble Space Telescope, clocking in at 2.4 meters across, this puppy will pack a punch with a gigantic 300 megapixel camera, enabling it to snap a single image with an area a hundred times greater than the Hubble.
A compilation of scientific results from The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, reveal new clues to how stars form and galaxies evolve, and closer to understanding the environment of Europa and its subsurface ocean. The airborne observatory carries a suite of instruments, each sensitive to different properties of infrared light, that gives astronomers insights into the flow of matter in galaxies.
In this image, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured the smoking gun of a newborn star, the Herbig–Haro objects numbered 7 to 11 (HH 7–11). These five objects, visible in blue in the top center of the image, lie within NGC 1333, a reflection nebula full of gas and dust found about a thousand light-years away from Earth.
According to widely-accepted theories, the Solar System formed roughly 4.6 billion years ago from a massive cloud of dust and gas (aka. Nebular Theory). This process began when the nebula experienced a gravitational collapse in the center that became our Sun. The remaining dust and gas formed a protoplanetary disk that (over time) accreted to form the planets.
For some small minority of humans, Death By Asteroid is a desirable fate. The idea probably satisfies their wonky Doomsday thinking. But for the rest of us, going out the same way the dinosaurs did would just be embarrassing. Thankfully, the ESA’s Hera mission will visit the smallest spacerock ever, and will help us avoid going the way of the dinosaurs.
NASA’s Kepler space telescope may be retired, but the discoveries continue to rack up for this historic planet-hunting mission. Kepler rang in the new year with several new planet discoveries, including a previously overlooked planet of an unusual size, as well as a super Earth and a Saturn-sized world orbiting a Sun-like star.