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  • Reviews & Previews

    ‘Making Contact’ chronicles an astronomer’s struggle to find E.T.

    Making ContactSarah ScolesPegasus Books, $27.95

    In Carl Sagan’s 1985 sci-fi novel Contact, a radio astronomer battles naysayers and funding setbacks to persist in her audacious plan — scanning the skies for signals from aliens. Sagan had real-life inspiration for his book (and the 1997 movie of the same name): astronomer Jill Tarter, who spearheaded the search for extraterrestrial...

    07/24/2017 - 16:33 Astronomy, History of Science, Science & Society
  • Science Ticker

    New Horizons’ next target caught making a star blink

    With Pluto in its rearview mirror, the New Horizons spacecraft is zipping towards a more far-out object. But it’s not flying blind. Using ground-based telescopes, the New Horizons team has spotted its next destination eclipsing a distant star. The event will reveal the rock’s specs in advance of the spacecraft’s visit in a year and a half.

    The object, called 2014 MU69, lives in the...

    07/20/2017 - 07:00 Planetary Science, Astronomy
  • News

    Giant mud balls roamed the early solar system

    The earliest asteroids were probably made of mud, not rock.

    Radioactive heat in the early solar system could have melted globs of dust and ice before they had a chance to turn to rock, a new simulation published July 14 in Science Advances shows. The results could solve several puzzles about the composition of meteorites found on Earth and may explain why asteroids are different from...

    07/14/2017 - 14:00 Planetary Science, Astronomy
  • News

    Water bears will survive the end of the world as we know it

    Water bears may be Earth’s last animal standing.

    These tough little buggers, also known as tardigrades, could keep calm and carry on until the sun boils Earth’s oceans away billions of years from now, according to a new study that examined water bears’ resistance to various astronomical disasters. This finding, published July 14 in Scientific Reports, suggests that complex life can be...

    07/14/2017 - 11:40 Animals, Astronomy, Astrobiology
  • Science Ticker

    Teeny-weeny star vies for title of smallest known

    An itty-bitty star, with a radius about the size of Saturn’s, is one of the smallest ever found.

    Known as EBLM J0555-57Ab, the star is significantly smaller than the Jupiter-sized TRAPPIST-1, a peewee star famous for hosting a septet of Earth-sized planets. And it’s comparable in size to a previously reported runt, 2MASS J0523-1403.

    Although the star’s girth is similar to Saturn’s...

    07/12/2017 - 07:00 Astronomy
  • Science Ticker

    The most distant star ever spotted is 9 billion light-years away

    The most distant star ever observed has been spotted, and its light comes from across two-thirds of the universe. That puts the star a whopping 9 billion light-years away.

    Patrick Kelly at the University of California, Berkeley and his colleagues found the star in Hubble Space Telescope images of a galaxy cluster called MACS J1149. In April and May 2016, Kelly and his team saw a...

    07/11/2017 - 16:51 Astronomy, Cosmology
  • News

    The moon might have had a heavy metal atmosphere with supersonic winds

    The infant moon may have had a thick metal atmosphere, where supersonic winds raised waves in its magma ocean.

    That’s the conclusion of a new simulation that calculates how heat from the young sun, the Earth and the moon’s own hot surface could have vaporized lunar metals to give the moon an atmosphere as thick as Mars’. The model, reported online June 22 at arXiv.org, offers a way to...

    06/30/2017 - 17:31 Planetary Science, Astronomy, Exoplanets
  • News in Brief

    Gecko-inspired robot grippers could grab hold of space junk

    View the video

    Get a grip. A new robotic gripping tool based on gecko feet can grab hold of floating objects in microgravity. The grippers could one day help robots move dangerous space junk to safer orbits or climb around the outside of space stations.

    Most strategies for sticking don’t work in space. Chemical adhesives can’t withstand the wide range of temperatures, and suction...

    06/28/2017 - 14:08 Robotics, Astronomy, Technology
  • Science Ticker

    Satellite trio will hunt gravitational waves from space

    The hunt for gravitational waves is moving upward. A space-based detector called the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, or LISA, was selected as a mission in the European Space Agency’s science program, the agency announced June 20.

    LISA will consist of three identical satellites arranged in a triangle that will cartwheel through space in orbit around the sun just behind Earth. The...

    06/20/2017 - 16:58 Astronomy, Cosmology, Physics
  • News

    Eclipse watchers catch part of the sun’s surface fleeing to space

    View the video

    For the first time, researchers have watched relatively cool parcels of plasma speed away from the surface of the sun and off into space, all the while cocooned in a million-degree flare.

    Shadia Habbal of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu and colleagues used a specially designed spectrometer to observe the eruption from Svalbard, Norway, during the March 2015...

    06/16/2017 - 14:57 Astronomy, Planetary Science