Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Absence of Sunspots Make Scientists Wonder

For the past two years, the normal sunspots have mostly been missing. Their absence, the most prolonged in nearly 100 years, has taken even seasoned sun watchers by surprise. "This is solar behavior we haven't seen in living memory," says David Hathaway, a physicist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The sun is under scrutiny as never before, thanks to an armada of space telescopes. The results they beam back are portraying our nearest star, and its influence on Earth, in a new light. Sunspots and other clues indicate that the sun's magnetic activity is diminishing and that the sun may even be shrinking. Together, the results hint that something profound is happening inside the sun. The big question is: What?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Partial Lunar Eclipse Visible in Western Skies

Skygazers got a treat Saturday when a portion of the moon crossed into the Earth's shadow during a partial lunar eclipse visible in the western United States and Canada, the Pacific and eastern Asia.

NASA says that the eclipse occurred in the pre-dawn hours on the West Coast. It began at 3:17 a.m. PDT and ended about three hours later.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"Shocking" Superstorm Seen on Exoplanet

Record-breaking supersonic winds are blasting through the atmosphere of the hot gas giant HD209458b, which orbits a distant star. By studying the "fingerprints" of carbon monoxide gases racing between the planet's day and night sides, astronomers are getting a rare glimpse into the storm.

"We were shocked to find that the resulting pressure and temperatures differences between the hotter light side and cooler dark side triggers such fierce winds," said study leader Ignas Snellen, an astronomer at Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands. "Incredibly this tempest encompasses the entire planet, blowing at speeds of 5,000 to 10,000 kilometers [about 3,100 miles to 6,200 miles] per hour."

Widespread Glacial Meltwater Valleys Found on Mars

A research team led by Brown University has documented dozens of channels carved by melted water from glaciers located in the midlatitude region of Mars. The glaciofluvial valleys were carved in Mars' most recent epoch, the team reports, supporting the idea that the Red Planet was home to diverse watery environments in its recent past.

The evidence for water grows much more scant after the Noachian era, which ended 3.5 billion years ago. Now Brown University planetary geologists have documented running water that sprang from glaciers throughout the Martian middle latitudes as recently as the Amazonian epoch, several hundred million years ago.

Was Venus Once a Habitable Planet?

The European Space Agency's Venus Express is helping planetary scientists investigate whether Venus once had oceans. If it did, it may even have begun its existence as a habitable planet similar to Earth.

"Everything points to there being large amounts of water on Venus in the past," says Colin Wilson, Oxford University, UK. But that does not necessarily mean there were oceans on the planet's surface. If Venus ever did possess surface water, the planet may possibly have had an early habitable phase.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Scientists Discover Heavenly Solar Music

Musical sounds created by longitudinal vibrations within the Sun's atmosphere have been recorded and accurately studied for the first time by experts at the University of Sheffield, shedding light on the Sun's magnetic atmosphere.

Using state-of-the-art mathematical theory combined with satellite observations, a team of solar physicists from the University have captured the music on tape and revealed the harmonious sounds are caused by the movement of giant magnetic loops in the solar corona -- the outermost, mysterious, and least understood layer of the Sun's atmosphere.

7th-Graders Discover Mysterious Cave on Mars

A group of seventh-graders in California has discovered a mysterious cave on Mars as part of a research project to study images taken by a NASA spacecraft orbiting the red planet.

The intrepid students were participating in the Mars Student Imaging Program at the Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University. The program allows students to frame a research question and then commission a Mars-orbiting camera to take an image to answer their question.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bright Green Comet Easy to See This Week

Comet McNaught C/2009 R1 has been steadily gaining brightness and will be most brilliant through June 16, during its closest approach to Earth at about 105 million miles (170 million kilometers) away.

C/2009 R1, already visible to the naked eye as a faint, fuzzy ball low in the northeastern sky, is best seen in the hour before the sun rises, said Anthony Cook, an astronomical observer at Los Angeles's Griffith Observatory.

US-Russian crew blasts off to space station

Two U.S. astronauts and a Russian crewmate blasted off successfully Wednesday on a mission to the international space station that will see the last ever shuttle visit to the orbiting lab.

With the shuttle being phased out, the venerable Soyuz will take over as the only means by which astronauts will be able to travel to the space station, which has raised some concern about over-reliance on the Soviet-designed craft.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hayabusa Spacecraft Returns With Fiery Show

A Japanese spacecraft containing what could be the first rock samples taken directly from an asteroid returned to Earth in a showy fireworks display over the weekend.

Arriving right on schedule, the Hayabusa spacecraft streaked across the skies above a vast desert in central Australia on June 13 at 11:51 p.m. local time. The probe jettisoned a small sample return capsule before breaking up and disintegrating in a shower of sparks in Earth's upper atmosphere.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ancient Ocean May Have Covered Third of Mars

A vast ocean likely covered one-third of the surface of Mars some 3.5 billion years ago, according to a new study conducted by University of Colorado at Boulder scientists.

The CU-Boulder study is the first to combine the analysis of water-related features including scores of delta deposits and thousands of river valleys to test for the occurrence of an ocean sustained by a global hydrosphere on early Mars.