June 2009

‘Blobs’ Flag Early Galaxy Formation

June 30, 2009

Look back far enough in time (and hence far enough in distance) and you see things that don’t correspond to nearby cosmic objects. The so-called ‘Lyman-alpha blobs’ that astronomers have found associated with young, distant galaxies are a case in point. Huge collections of hydrogen gas (some of them the largest single objects yet found […]

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Finding Life in the Ice

June 29, 2009

As we contemplate using long-range tools like spectroscopy to examine distant exoplanets for life, we’re also developing the hands-on equipment we’ll need for seeking it out in our own Solar System. Project SLIce (Signatures of Life in Ice) is a case in point, an attempt to study how organic material behaves in ice on other […]

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A Cometary Closeup for NExT

June 26, 2009

By Larry Klaes Apropos of yesterday’s story on the possible cometary origin of the Tunguska Event in 1908, Tau Zero journalist Larry Klaes looks at the NExT (New Exploration of Tempel) mission, which gives us a second crack at observing comet Tempel 1. Ancient artifacts of the early Solar System, comets can tell us much […]

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Comet Implicated in Tunguska Blast

June 25, 2009

Back in my flying days, I found myself becoming absorbed with meteorology, enough to wind up teaching the subject in various flight school settings. I was no expert, but looking for clues on flying conditions in the next few hours by studying cloud formation and movement was fascinating. In all that time, the one cloud […]

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Enceladus: Riddle of the Plumes

June 24, 2009

Is there really an underground ocean on Enceladus? The Cassini spacecraft’s striking images have created a cottage industry in speculation, with spectacular glimpses of erupting plumes composed of ice and water vapor. This week, however, we get two contrasting views on what all this means. In one, a paper in Nature by a European team […]

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SETI: A Detectable Neutrino Signal?

June 23, 2009

Somehow I never thought of the IceCube neutrino telescope as a SETI instrument. Deployed in a series of 1,450 to 2,450 meters-deep holes in Antarctica and taking up over a cubic kilometer of ice, IceCube is fine-tuned to detect neutrinos. That makes it a useful tool for studying violent events like galactic collisions and the […]

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TESS Mission Fails to Make the Cut

June 22, 2009

NASA has made its choices, and TESS is not one of them. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite would have used six telescopes to observe the brightest stars in the sky, a remarkable 2.5 million of them, hoping to find more than 1,000 transiting planets ranging in size from Jupiter-mass down to rocky worlds like our […]

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Brute-Force Engineering and Climate

June 19, 2009

The eruption of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia in 1815 pumped so much sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere that New England farmers found their fields frosted over in July. Climate change, it seems, can be quick and overwhelming, at least on short scales. The eruption of the Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 cooled global […]

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Huge Outburst from a Magnetar

June 18, 2009

We get yet another example of space-based observatories complementing each other with the recent outburst of X-rays and gamma rays detected last August. The Swift satellite first noted the event on August 22, while the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton satellite began making detailed spectral studies of the radiation twelve hours later, followed by the Integral […]

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Two Angles on Meteorites

June 17, 2009

Meteorites are in the news in two starkly different ways this week, but I’ll lead with a story that has implications for how planetary systems like ours are born. Philipp Heck (University of Chicago) and colleagues have been analyzing interstellar grains from the Murchison meteorite, a large object that fell near the town of Murchison, […]

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