Greenbelt, MD – NASA says the behavior of one of nature’s humblest creatures is helping astronomers probe the largest structures in the universe.
The single-cell organism, known as slime mold (Physarum polycephalum), builds complex filamentary networks in search of food, finding near-optimal pathways to connect different locations. In shaping the universe, gravity builds a vast cobweb structure of filaments tying galaxies and clusters of galaxies together along faint bridges hundreds of millions of light-years long.
Washington, D.C. – The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, studies the universe with infrared light. That’s a range of wavelengths on the infrared spectrum, from those measuring about 700 nanometers, too small to see with the naked eye, to about 1 millimeter, which is about the size of the head of a pin.
Other observatories, such as the Spitzer Space Telescope and Herschel Space Observatory, also studied infrared light. But each telescope observes different wavelengths of infrared light, filling in puzzle pieces that are essential to learning what makes the universe tick.
Pasadena, CA – The universe’s earliest galaxies were brighter than expected according to NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope data. The excess light is a byproduct of the galaxies releasing incredibly high amounts of ionizing radiation.
The finding offers clues to the cause of the Epoch of Reionization, a major cosmic event that transformed the universe from being mostly opaque to the brilliant starscape seen today.
In a new study, researchers report on observations of some of the first galaxies to form in the universe, less than 1 billion years after the big bang (or a little more than 13 billion years ago).
Washington, D.C. – Astronomers using the NASA Hubble Space Telescope say they have crossed an important threshold in revealing a discrepancy between the two key techniques for measuring the universe’s expansion rate. The recent study strengthens the case that new theories may be needed to explain the forces that have shaped the cosmos.
The universe is getting bigger every second. The space between galaxies is stretching, like dough rising in the oven. But how fast is the universe expanding?
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, European Space Agency’s Gaia Space Observatory Measure the Universe’s Expansion Rate
Space Telescope Science Institute
Baltimore, MD – Using the power and synergy of two space telescopes, NASA says astronomers have made the most precise measurement to date of the universe’s expansion rate.
The results further fuel the mismatch between measurements for the expansion rate of the nearby universe, and those of the distant, primeval universe — before stars and galaxies even existed.
This so-called “tension” implies that there could be new physics underlying the foundations of the universe. Possibilities include the interaction strength of dark matter, dark energy being even more exotic than previously thought, or an unknown new particle in the tapestry of space.
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – What is our universe made of, and has its composition changed over time? Scientists have new insights about these fundamental questions, thanks to an international collaboration of more than 400 scientists called the Dark Energy Survey (DES).
Three scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are part of this group that is helping to further our understanding of the structure of the universe.
The advances in astrophysics from DES are crucial to preparations for two upcoming space missions that will probe similar questions about the nature of the universe: ESA’s Euclid mission (which has significant NASA participation) and NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope mission, both expected to launch in the 2020s.
Written by Francis Reddy
Greenbelt, MD – Astronomers have discovered a vast cloud of high-energy particles called a wind nebula around a rare ultra-magnetic neutron star, or magnetar, for the first time. The find offers a unique window into the properties, environment and outburst history of magnetars, which are the strongest magnets in the universe.
A neutron star is the crushed core of a massive star that ran out of fuel, collapsed under its own weight, and exploded as a supernova. Each one compresses the equivalent mass of half a million Earths into a ball just 12 miles (20 kilometers) across, or about the length of New York’s Manhattan Island.
Written by Whitney Clavin
Pasadena, CA – After years of preparatory studies, NASA is formally starting an astrophysics mission designed to help unlock the secrets of the universe — the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).
With a view 100 times bigger than that of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, WFIRST will aid researchers in their efforts to unravel the secrets of dark energy and dark matter, and explore the evolution of the cosmos. It also will discover new worlds outside our solar system and advance the search for worlds that could be suitable for life.
Written by Kimm Fesenmaier
Pasadena, CA – Caltech researchers have found evidence of a giant planet tracing a bizarre, highly elongated orbit in the outer solar system.
The object, which the researchers have nicknamed Planet Nine, has a mass about 10 times that of Earth and orbits about 20 times farther from the sun on average than does Neptune (which orbits the sun at an average distance of 2.8 billion miles). In fact, it would take this new planet between 10,000 and 20,000 years to make just one full orbit around the sun.
The researchers, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown, discovered the planet’s existence through mathematical modeling and computer simulations but have not yet observed the object directly.
Written by Whitney Clavin
Pasadena, CA – Astronomers have used data from three of NASA’s Great Observatories to make the most detailed study yet of an extremely massive young galaxy cluster. This rare cluster, which is located 10 billion light-years from Earth, weighs as much as 500 trillion suns. This object has important implications for understanding how these megastructures formed and evolved early in the universe.
The galaxy cluster, called IDCS J1426.5+3508 (IDCS 1426 for short), is so far away that the light detected is from when the universe was roughly a quarter of its current age. It is the most massive galaxy cluster detected at such an early age.
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