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Habitable zone distances around various types of stars (Image: Chester Herman)

Researchers at Penn state have developed a new method for calculating the habitable zone around stars. The computer model based on new greenhouse gas databases provides a tool to better estimate which exoplanets with sufficient atmospheric pressure might be able to maintain liquid water on their surface. The new model indicates that some of the nearly 300 possible Earth-like planets previously identified might be too close to their stars to to be habitable.  Read More

An artist's conception of the HD142527 system, with gas streamers being pulled towards the...

Observations made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) in northern Chile, which is scheduled for completion this year, have solved a longstanding mystery in solar system formation. They showed how protoplanets forming around a young star can use their own gravitational pull to slingshot matter in the direction of their host star, fueling its growth.  Read More

Artist's conception of a protostar pulling interstellar gas onto a rotating protoplanetary...

The Sun is a bit over 4.5 billion years old, leading many to think of all stars as billions of years in age. Astronomers have now demonstrated that isn't always the case. Using high-resolution millimeter and submillimeter imaging telescope arrays, John Tobin of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and his collaborators have now discovered an infant star whose age is measured in thousands, rather than billions, of years. While at present the protostar has only about a fifth of the Sun's mass, projections point to the eventual formation of a stellar system broadly similar to our Sun and its planets.  Read More

X-ray pulsars could help interstellar spaceships like this Bussard ramjet to navigate (Ima...

The European Space Agency (ESA) wants to know if it’s possible to use dead stars as a navigational aid for traveling in deep space. To answer that question, ESA has contracted Britain’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and the University of Leicester to investigate whether pulsars can serve as navigational beacons in the far-flung reaches of the outer Solar System or interstellar space.  Read More

SLAC's LCLS is the world's most powerful X-ray laser (Photo: University of Oxford/Sam Vink...

To say things are really heating up at the US Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory isn't just a bad pun, it's one hell (sorry) of an understatement. An Oxford-led team used the Stanford-based facility that houses the world's most powerful X-ray laser to create and probe a 2-million-degree Celsius (or about 3.6 million degrees Fahrenheit) piece of matter. The experiment allowed the scientists the closest look yet at what conditions might be like in the heart of the Sun, other stars and planets.  Read More

A spectrum from the Infrared Space Observatory superimposed on an image of the Orion Nebul...

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) claim to have solved the mystery of “Unidentified Infrared Emission features” that have been detected in stars, interstellar space, and galaxies. For over two decades, the most commonly accepted theory regarding this phenomenon was that these signatures come from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) molecules - simple organic molecules made of carbon and hydrogen atoms. Now HKU researchers say the substances generating these signatures are actually complex organic compounds that are made naturally by stars and ejected into interstellar space.  Read More

Technicians working on the 'billion-pixel array,' which will be used aboard the Gaia space...

At approximately one billion pixels, it’s the largest digital camera ever built for a space mission. Over a five-year period, the “billion-pixel array” will be used aboard the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft, to map upwards of a billion stars. While it will be focusing mainly on our own Milky Way galaxy, Gaia will also be mapping other celestial bodies, including galaxies and quasars near the edge of the observable universe.  Read More

A section of Galactic Globular Cluster M3 as seen without (left) and with (right) Laser Ad...

The verse “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are” could, in fact, refer to the frustration felt by astronomers trying to view celestial objects obscured by turbulence in the earth’s atmosphere. It’s that turbulence that causes stars and other heavenly bodies to twinkle, and it’s one of the reasons that space-based telescopes like the Hubble can see those objects more clearly than telescopes down here on the ground. Recently, however, a team of astronomers from the University of Arizona developed a technique that allows them to effectively turn off the twinkling over a large field of view, allowing them to get Hubble-quality images in a fraction of the usual time.  Read More

Pacman Nebula taken with an SBIG ST-8300M (photo: David Morrow/SBIG)

The Santa Barbara Instrument Group (SBIG) is adding two new models to its line of specialized, high-resolution CCD cameras for astrophotography and spectography. The ST-8300M and ST-8300C both feature an 8.3 megapixel CCD, thermoelectric cooling, and a USB 2.0 interface. The camera bodies accept both standard c-mount and Nikon lenses making them suitable for a variety of applications. SBIG claims the cameras’ antiblooming and microlens technology improves their sensitivity. Both cameras can also be used as autoguiders to control motorized telescope mounts.  Read More

This is an artist's concept of a quasar (bright area with rays) embedded in the center of ...

Global Positioning System (GPS) devices have permeated society to the point where millions of us rely on them daily for directions, locations and traffic avoidance (if only they could tell me where I left my car keys). GPS satellites send signals to a receiver in your handheld or car-based GPS navigator, which calculates your position on the planet based on the location of the satellites and your distance from them. The distance is determined by how long it took the signals from various satellites to reach your receiver. But have you ever thought what tells the GPS satellites where they are in the first place?  Read More

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