Written by Mara Johnson-Groh
Greenbelt, MD – The movements of the stars and the planets have almost no impact on life on Earth, but a few times per year, the alignment of celestial bodies has a visible effect.
One of these geometric events — the spring equinox — is just around the corner, and another major alignment — a total solar eclipse — will be visible across America on August 21st, with a fleet of NASA satellites viewing it from space and providing images of the event.
To understand the basics of celestial alignments, here is information on equinoxes, solstices, full moons, eclipses and transits:
Written by Michele Johnson
Washington, D.C. – On February 22nd, astronomers announced that the ultra-cool dwarf star, TRAPPIST-1, hosts a total of seven Earth-size planets that are likely rocky, a discovery made by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope in combination with ground-based telescopes.
NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope also has been observing this star since December 2016. Today these additional data about TRAPPIST-1 from Kepler are available to the scientific community.
Written by Laura Betz
Greenbelt, MD – With the discovery of seven earth-sized planets around the TRAPPIST-1 star 40 light years away, astronomers are looking to the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to help us find out if any of these planets could possibly support life.
“If these planets have atmospheres, the James Webb Space Telescope will be the key to unlocking their secrets,” said Doug Hudgins, Exoplanet Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “In the meantime, NASA’s missions like Spitzer, Hubble, and Kepler are following up on these planets.”
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – A bumper crop of Earth-size planets huddled around an ultra-cool, red dwarf star could be little more than chunks of rock blasted by radiation, or cloud-covered worlds as broiling hot as Venus.
Or they could harbor exotic lifeforms, thriving under skies of ruddy twilight.
Scientists are pondering the possibilities after this week’s announcement: the discovery of seven worlds orbiting a small, cool star some 40 light-years away, all of them in the ballpark of our home planet in terms of their heft (mass) and size (diameter). Three of the planets reside in the “habitable zone” around their star, TRAPPIST-1, where calculations suggest that conditions might be right for liquid water to exist on their surfaces—though follow-up observations are needed to be sure.
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.
The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water — key to life as we know it — under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.
Written by Andrew Good
Pasadena, CA – Thought your Internet speeds were slow? Try being a space scientist for a day.
The vast distances involved will throttle data rates to a trickle. You’re lucky if a spacecraft can send more than a few megabits per second (Mbps).
But we might be on the cusp of a change. Just as going from dial-up to broadband revolutionized the Internet and made high-resolution photos and streaming video a given, NASA may be ready to undergo a similar “broadband” moment in coming years.
Written by Felicia Chou
Washington, D.C. – Searching for planets around other stars is a tricky business. They’re so small and faint that it’s hard to spot them. But a possible planet in a nearby stellar system may be betraying its presence in a unique way: by a shadow that is sweeping across the face of a vast pancake-shaped gas-and-dust disk surrounding a young star.
The planet itself is not casting the shadow. But it is doing some heavy lifting by gravitationally pulling on material near the star and warping the inner part of the disk. The twisted, misaligned inner disk is casting its shadow across the surface of the outer disk.
Written by Arielle Samuelson
Washington, D.C. – In the “Star Wars” universe, ice, ocean and desert planets burst from the darkness as your ship drops out of light speed. But these worlds might be more than just science fiction.
Some of the planets discovered around stars in our own galaxy could be very similar to arid Tatooine, watery Scarif and even frozen Hoth, according to NASA scientists.
Written by Naomi Seck
Greenbelt, MD – Some 10,500 years ago, hunters gathered each year near the Beaver River in what is now western Oklahoma. There, they funneled bison into narrow, dead-end arroyos — steep gullies cut into the hillside by the river — where they killed them en masse, sliced off the choicest meat and left behind piles of skeletons.
Walk through western Oklahoma today and there is little visible evidence of that ancient landscape, much less the hunting expeditions it hosted. Few bison remain, and dirt and rocks have filled in many of the arroyos.
Written by DC Agle
Pasadena, CA – A new image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was taken by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft shortly before its controlled impact into the comet’s surface on September 30th, 2016. Confirmation of the end of the mission arrived at ESA’s European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany, at 4:19am PDT (7:19am EDT / 1:19pm CEST) with the loss of signal upon impact.
The final descent gave Rosetta the opportunity to study the comet’s gas, dust and plasma environment very close to its surface, as well as take very high-resolution images.
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