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Top Stories

Earthshine used to test life detection method
...By imagining the Earth as an exoplanet, scientists observing our planet's reflected light on the Moon with ESO's Very Large Telescope have demonstrated a way to detect life on other worlds...

Solid buckyballs discovered in space
...Astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have detected a particular type of molecule, given the nickname “buckyball”, in a solid form for the first time...

Steamy water-world gets the Hubble treatment
...Hubble Space Telescope observations of a 7 Earth-mass planet find an unusual water-rich world swathed in a thick, steamy atmosphere...

Organic conundrum in Large Magellanic Cloud
Posted: 23 June 2014

A group of organic chemicals that are considered carcinogens and pollutants today on Earth, but are also thought to be the building blocks for the origins of life, may hold clues to how carbon-rich chemicals created in stars are processed and recycled in space.

This vibrant image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy to our own Milky Way galaxy. The Large Magellanic Cloud, located 160,000 light-years from Earth, is one of a handful of dwarf galaxies that orbit the Milky Way. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI
Scientists have studied how polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are created in an aging population of stars in the Milky Way's satellite galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. They have found that the types of PAH found in the atmospheres of these stars are much more varied than the PAHs observed in our own galaxy. The results will be presented by Dr. Mikako Matsuura of UCL on Monday, 23 June, at the National Astronomy Meeting in Portsmouth.

"We were surprised because previous measurements of PAHs in interstellar dust in the Large Magellanic Cloud were very similar to those in the Milky Way," said Matsuura. "Our studies suggest these organic molecules are processed and change their composition soon after they are ejected by dying stars to fill the matter within the galaxy. Dying stars in the neighboring galaxy are richer in carbon than the Milky Way's stars, so are more likely to trigger these wide varieties of organic compounds." Matsuura and an international team observed 24 carefully selected stars with the Spitzer Space Telescope and analyzed the light to find features linked to PAHs. Stars are powered by nuclear fusion in their cores, converting hydrogen to helium. Towards the end of their life, low-mass stars like the Sun consume all their hydrogen in the stellar core and start to convert helium to oxygen and carbon. Eventually, they run out of fuel and expel their outer layers, creating a nebula around a central white dwarf. The gas and molecules from this nebula are mixed over time into the interstellar medium. The team focused their study on stars that appeared to be in the process of fusing carbon. "We think that, as the central star evolves, the increasingly energetic radiation effects the compositions of the PAHs, leading to more varieties. However, once the PAHs are mixed into the interstellar medium, this variability decreases," said Matsuura. "One possibility for this contrast is that ultraviolet radiation might change the profiles of the PAHs. Another is that PAHs are re-processed further in the interstellar medium, changing their composition."

The Planets
From tiny Mercury to distant Neptune and Pluto, The Planets profiles each of the Solar System's members in depth, featuring the latest imagery from space missions. The tallest mountains, the deepest canyons, the strongest winds, raging atmospheric storms, terrain studded with craters and vast worlds of ice are just some of the sights you'll see on this 100-page tour of the planets.

Hubble Reborn
Hubble Reborn takes the reader on a journey through the Universe with spectacular full-colour pictures of galaxies, nebulae, planets and stars as seen through Hubble's eyes, along the way telling the dramatic story of the space telescope, including interviews with key scientists and astronauts.

3D Universe
Witness the most awesome sights of the Universe as they were meant to be seen in this 100-page extravaganza of planets, galaxies and star-scapes, all in 3D!


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