At first, it was just another bright, fuzzy speck in the sky. But it may turn out to be something much more exciting: the second known object to hurtle through our solar system after leaving another system. Astronomers will need a lot more observations before they can be confident giving the comet that title, but early data about the object seems promising.
About 110 light years away is a planet twice Earth’s size with water vapour in its atmosphere, and it may be the best place to look for alien life that we have yet seen. The detection of water there marks the first time astronomers have characterised the atmosphere of a planet of this size.
A half-century after the first Moonwalks, talk of travel beyond low-Earth orbit has become so fanciful that it’s almost as if we were back on a quest for the Holy Grail. It shouldn’t be. Let’s don’t over-romanticize space travel. If we’re ever truly going to move off-world, a trip from Earth to the Moon needs to become as mundane as a commercial flight from New York to Paris.
Thirty years ago, NASA's Voyager 2 mission flew by Neptune, capturing the first close-up images of the blue gas giant. Before this, the eighth planet in our solar system was only known as a fuzzy dot in the distance. And the end of Voyager 2's planetary tour on August 25, 1989, concluded with a dazzling display of Neptune and it's moon, Triton. The images and scientific data returned by Voyager 2 would change our understanding of the solar system.
The Moon is a hot destination right now -- especially for NASA, which wants to send people back to the lunar surface, but also for the private space industry. The most ambitious private lunar exploits are still many years off, but already, three companies claim they’ll be putting small robotic landers on the Moon in the next two years, amping up a small space race.
Earth seems like the perfect hub for life because it's the only planet known so far to host it -- but new research suggests that other planets could have oceans that are even more hospitable, offering life that is more varied than we know it.
The Milky Way galaxy is enormous, and we’ve scanned only the tiniest fraction of it in search of planets. We’ve spotted a few thousand of them orbiting distant stars, and now a team of researchers from Penn State University has used that data to estimate the number of Earth-like exoplanets in the entire galaxy -- they peg that number between 5 and 10 billion. That’s a lot of places to look for alien life.
The twin Voyager spacecraft took off in 1977, carrying scientific instruments and golden records stuffed with information. Millions of miles away, they still communicate with Earth. They still collect data. But they are aging. The spacecraft, traveling in slightly different directions, weaken every year. Their thrusters, which keep them steady, are degrading. Their power generators produce about 40 percent less electricity than they did at launch.
The conventional wisdom is that if you want to look at more distant objects in the universe, you need a bigger telescope. What if you didn’t have to build one, though? A new analysis claims it may be possible to use the Earth’s atmosphere as a giant lens to observe far-away stars and galaxies on the cheap. The process may even work in reverse to send signals to distant locales.
All is not what it seems in the world of lunar samples. If you put a moon rock alongside one from Earth, they usually don't have a lot in common. So when Curtin University planetary scientist Professor Alexander Nemchin looked closely at a moon rock in his laboratory, he realized something wasn't right.