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ESA's Planck mission is yielding some surprising findings along with a beautiful new map of the Milky Way that breaks down some of the key elements of our galaxy. The telescope spent four years studying the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB), a relic from the birth of the universe. The resulting data from this endeavor is now helping us refine how we measure matter, how we understand dark matter and generally just unraveling the secrets of the universe. Read More
There are all sorts of apps available for smartphones to show atmospheric phenomena like wind speed, temperature, and rainfall along with other observations for tides and phases of the moon. But how about something really cool like an app for measuring the amount of interstellar cosmic radiation hitting the earth? A professor of physics from the University of Wisconsin thought that would be cool as well, and created an app to turn your smartphone into a cosmic ray detector that works in a similar way to those instruments found in high-tech observatories and mega-expensive laboratories. Read More
What is the Moon good for? Aside from inspiring poets, helping you see at night, and giving Neil Armstrong some place for a stroll, what can you do with it? If you ask scientists at the University of Southampton, they’ll tell you that it makes a cracking particle detector. With the help of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope, the team hopes to use the mass of the satellite to detect the most energetic particles known; Ultra-High-Energy (UHE) cosmic rays. Read More
That the Universe is largely composed of a cosmic web consisting of narrow filaments upon which galaxies and intergalactic gas and dust are concentrated has been known for more than a decade. While a great deal of evidence for this has accumulated, visual evidence has been difficult to find. Astronomers have now photographed what appears to be a segment of a cosmic filament stimulated into fluorescence by irradiation from a nearby quasar. Read More
Fans of Doctor Who will be very familiar with the stupefied phrase uttered by all new visitors to his Tardis: "It's...bigger...on the inside." As it turns out, this apparently irrational idea may have something to contribute to our understanding of the universe. A team of cosmologists in Finland and Poland propose that the observed acceleration of the expansion of the universe, usually explained by dark energy or modified laws of gravity, may actually be the result of regions of spacetime that are larger on the inside than they appear from the outside. The researchers have dubbed these "Tardis regions." Read More
The size and age of our Universe is not only a critically important issue in cosmology, but is also among the most controversial and delicate of the cosmological questions. Infrared observations made using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have now given us the most precise estimate yet of the rate at which our Universe is expanding. The key was not the discovery of a new method for measuring distance. Rather, astronomers discovered how to measure brightness more accurately. The new value for the Hubble constant, good to within three percent, is 74.3 kilometers per second per megaparsec (km/s/Mpc). Read More
Over the course of a year, NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) scans the entire sky. During February, its instruments are aligned in the correct direction to intercept atoms that have crossed the boundary from interstellar space into our solar system, become caught by the Sun's gravity and slung around the star. This has now allowed IBEX to capture the most complete glimpse of the material that travels in the galactic wind in the space between star systems. The results indicate this material doesn't look like the same material that makes up our solar system. Read More
After five years of construction, an international team has put the finishing touches on the University of Wisconsin’s IceCube Neutrino Observatory. Located in Antarctica, the observatory is looking specifically for high-energy neutrinos, which are created in violent cosmic events such as super novae and gamma ray bursts. As neutrinos collide with water molecules in the pitch black, ultra-clear ice, a blue flash of light results, which is detected by the sensors. Ever since neutrinos were discovered in 1956, scientists have hoped to decipher the information these astronomical messengers carry about distant cosmic events and the completion of the observatory marks an important step towards tracing their origins. Read More
After two decades of planning, the world’s first kilometer-scale neutrino observatory should finally be completed by this December. Named IceCube, it will consist of an array of 5,160 optical sensors embedded within one cubic kilometer of the Antarctic ice shelf – to put the accomplishment in perspective, one of the next-largest such observatories is just 40 cubic meters in size. Its main purpose will be to try to establish, once and for all, the source of cosmic rays. Read More
Dark energy has been described as the greatest puzzle of our universe. This mysterious force, discovered in 1998, is pushing the universe apart at ever-increasing speeds and astronomers have now devised a new method of measuring it. Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers were able to take advantage of a giant magnifying lens in space – a massive cluster of galaxies – to narrow in on the nature of dark energy. Their calculations, when combined with data from other methods, significantly increase the accuracy of dark energy measurements and may eventually lead to an explanation of what the elusive phenomenon really is. Read More