The space environment around a planet plays a key role in determining what molecules exist in the atmosphere – and whether the planet is habitable for life. New research shows that Venus has an “electric wind” strong enough to remove the components of water from its upper atmosphere, which may have played a significant role in stripping Earth’s twin planet of its oceans.
If you cast your eyes toward the constellation Cygnus, you’ll be looking in the direction of the largest planet yet discovered with the widest orbit around a double-star system. It’s too faint to see with the naked eye, but a team led by astronomers from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and San Diego State University used NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope to identify the new planet.
LISA Pathfinder, a mission led by the European Space Agency with contributions from NASA, has successfully tested key technology needed to build a space-based observatory for detecting gravitational waves. These tiny ripples in the fabric of space, predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago, were first seen last year by the ground-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).
Dark matter is a mysterious substance composing most of the material universe, now widely thought to be some form of massive exotic particle. An intriguing alternative view is that dark matter is made of black holes formed during the first second of our universe’s existence, known as primordial black holes.
Some 4 billion years ago, the Sun shone with only about three-quarters the brightness we see today, but its surface roiled with giant eruptions spewing enormous amounts of radiation into space. These powerful solar explosions may have provided the crucial energy needed to create greenhouse gas in Earth’s atmosphere, warming the planet and incubating life.
Like sending sensors up into a hurricane, NASA has flown four spacecraft through an invisible maelstrom in space, called magnetic reconnection. Magnetic reconnection is one of the prime drivers of space radiation and so it is a key factor in the quest to learn more about our space environment and protect our spacecraft and astronauts as we explore farther and farther from our home planet.
The 2016 transit of Mercury is upon us! With fine weather predicted across a large swathe of the British Isles, many will enjoy clear skies for at least some of this 7½-hour event. But if you don’t have a suitably equipped telescope, or are unable to attend any of the transit-viewing activities organised nationwide, you can still view the phenomenon online.
On 27 April 2016, engineers unveiled the giant golden mirror of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope as part of the integration and testing of the infrared telescope. The 6.5-metre mirror is composed of 18 segments the size of a coffee table. Each is made from beryllium, weighs about 46 pounds (20 kg) and coated with vaporised gold to reflect infrared light.
Now that scientists have confirmed the existence of gravitational waves, a NASA team using a balloon-borne observatory is set to search for a predicted signature of primordial gravitational waves that would prove the infant universe expanded far faster than the speed of light and began growing exponentially almost instantaneously after the Big Bang.
On 14 September 2015, gravitational waves produced by a pair of merging black holes gently rattled space-time in the vicinity of Earth. Less than half a second later, NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope picked up a brief, weak burst of high-energy light consistent with the same part of the sky. Analysis of this burst suggests that the events are connected.