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View of a cluster of galaxies spread along a dark matter filament (Photo: SDSS-III)

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) is little known to the public, but represents one of the most-challenging efforts in observational cosmology ever attempted. The most recent phase, SDSS-III, began in 2008 and includes the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), a part of SDSS-III aimed at mapping the cosmos. Its goal is to map the physical locations of all major galaxies back to seven billion years ago, and bright quasars back to 12 billion years ago – two billion years after the Big Bang. This is being done so we can gain a better understanding of dark matter and energy, and hopefully encounter a few surprises.  Read More

Galaxy BX442 and its companion dwarf galaxy, on the top-right side (Image: Joe Bergen/Dunl...

When astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to scout a remote patch of the sky and investigate the early stages of galaxy formation, they stumbled upon something which they did not expect. They realized that the distant spiral galaxy BX422, appearing to us as it was only three billion years after the Big Bang, seems to be uncharacteristically well-formed for its young age. By studying its features, which are in direct contrast with our current knowledge of galaxy formation, scientists hope to shed more light on how spiral galaxies – including our own – are formed.  Read More

A view of the distribution of dark matter in our universe, based on the Millennium Simulat...

For the first time, a team of astronomers has "observed" a filament of dark matter connecting two neighboring galaxy clusters. Dark matter is a type of matter that interacts only very weakly with light and itself. Its very nature is mysterious. Mapping the dark matter filament's gravity was the key observation. The result is considered a crucial first step by scientists - it provides the first direct evidence that the universe is filled by a lacework of dark matter filaments, upon which the visible matter in the universe is distributed like small beads. This groundbreaking observation is consistent with modern cosmological models, but the story of dark matter actually starts some 80 years ago.  Read More

Upon completion, the E-ELT is expected to be the largest optical telescope in the world

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) council met on Monday in Garching, Germany and approved the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) program, pending the confirmation of ad referendum votes from the authorities of four member states before the next council meeting. Assuming all goes according to plan, the E-ELT is expected to begin operation early in the next decade.  Read More

A composite image of the Whirlpool Galaxy (also known as M51) - the green image from the H...

Although it might sound like an oxymoron, the newly unveiled SCUBA-2 camera housed at the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, is the world’s largest submillimeter camera. Submillimeter refers not to the physical size of the new camera itself, but to the submillimeter waveband between the far-infrared and microwave wavebands that the telescope observes. Being far more sensitive and powerful than its predecessor, SCUBA-2 will be able to map areas of the sky faster than ever before and provide information about the early life of stars, planets and galaxies.  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

Amateur astronomers wanting to observe celestial bodies soon won’t be limited to just their own personal telescopes, or visits to the local public observatory. Starting next year, the first in a worldwide network of robotic telescopes will be going online, which users from any location on the planet will be able to operate for free via the internet. Known as Gloria (GLObal Robotic telescopes Intelligent Array for e-Science), the three-year European project will ultimately include 17 telescopes on four continents, run by 13 partner groups from Russia, Chile, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland and Spain. Not only will users be able to control the telescopes from their computers, but they will also have access to the astronomical databases of Gloria and other organizations.  Read More

ESA has selected the first two missions in its Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 Plan, which is desi...

The European Space Agency (ESA) this week announced the first two missions selected for its Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 Plan. The first, known as Solar Orbiter, will see a spacecraft operating closer to the Sun than any previous mission with a particular focus on examining the solar wind. The second, Euclid, is essentially a space telescope whose primary goal is to study the accelerating expansion of the universe in an attempt to provide an understanding of the exact nature of dark matter.  Read More

The Nobel Prize in Physics for 2011 has been awarded to three scientists, whose research p...

For almost a hundred years, it has been widely accepted that the Universe is expanding, and that it’s been doing so ever since the Big Bang occurred approximately 14 billion years ago. It was initially assumed that the rate of expansion was slowly declining. What came as a surprise to many scientists, however, was the relatively recent announcement that the rate is in fact increasing. That was the remarkable conclusion reached by three physicists located in two countries, and it has just earned them the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2011.  Read More

A high resolution slice of the whole 250Mpc box of Bolshoi (Made by Stefan Gottlober (AIP)...

The Bolshoi cosmological simulation is by far the most ambitious project of its kind. It harnesses the power of supercomputing to bring cosmology into the realm of experimental sciences. Based on observable input data, the Bolshoi simulation allows scientists to see what the higher structure of our universe might have looked like at particular points in time throughout its formation, arming them with tools that should make cracking the mysteries of dark matter, dark energy and galaxy formation much more feasible.  Read More

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