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.
Written by Guy Webster
Pasadena, CA – NASA is moving forward with a spring 2018 launch of its InSight mission to study the deep interior of Mars, following final approval this week by the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.
The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission was originally scheduled to launch in March of this year, but NASA suspended launch preparations in December due to a vacuum leak in its prime science instrument, the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS).
Greenbelt, MD – As the search for life on distant planets heats up, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is bringing this hunt closer to home. Launching in 2017-2018, TESS will identify planets orbiting the brightest stars just outside our solar system using what’s known as the transit method.
When a planet passes in front of, or transits, its parent star, it blocks some of the star’s light. TESS searches for these telltale dips in brightness, which can reveal the planet’s presence and provide additional information about it.
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – An international team of astronomers has discovered and confirmed a treasure trove of new worlds using NASA’s Kepler spacecraft on its K2 mission. Out of 197 initial planet candidates, scientists have confirmed 104 planets outside our solar system. Among the confirmed is a planetary system comprising four promising planets that could be rocky.
These four planets, all between 20 and 50 percent larger than Earth by diameter, are orbiting the M dwarf star K2-72, found 181 light-years away in the direction of the Aquarius constellation. The host star is less than half the size of the sun and less bright.
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – In 1936, the young star FU Orionis began gobbling material from its surrounding disk of gas and dust with a sudden voraciousness. During a three-month binge, as matter turned into energy, the star became 100 times brighter, heating the disk around it to temperatures of up to 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit (7,000 Kelvin). FU Orionis is still devouring gas to this day, although not as quickly.
This brightening is the most extreme event of its kind that has been confirmed around a star the size of the sun, and may have implications for how stars and planets form. The intense baking of the star’s surrounding disk likely changed its chemistry, permanently altering material that could one day turn into planets.
Written by Steve Koppes
Chicago, IL – The four planets of the Kepler-223 star system appeared to have little in common with the planets of our own solar system today. But a new study using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope suggests a possible commonality in the distant past.
The Kepler-223 planets orbit their star in the same configuration that Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune may have had in the early history of our solar system, before migrating to their current locations.
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