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  • Mystery Solved

    Enigmatic 17th century nova wasn’t a nova at all

    In 1670, European astronomers were all talking about a hot “new” star near the head of the swan constellation, Cygnus. Later dubbed Nova Vul 1670, the star burned bright for two years and then mysteriously vanished. Modern astronomers have long speculated that their 17th century counterparts had observed a nova — an exploding white dwarf. That would make it the oldest recorded observation of a...

    03/27/2015 - 08:00 Astronomy
  • Science Ticker

    NASA has a plan for putting rock from asteroid in moon’s orbit

    Okay, here’s the plan: In 2020, we’ll fly a probe to an asteroid, look for a boulder to steal, pluck it off the asteroid with robotic arms, try to deflect the asteroid using our spacecraft’s gravity, fly back home, deposit the boulder in orbit around the moon, and wait for humans to visit the space rock around 2025.

    This is the concept NASA has selected for its...

    03/25/2015 - 17:46 Planetary Science, Astronomy
  • Editor's Note

    What’s in a name? In science, a lot

    Sorting things into categories is one of the first scientific skills that children can learn. Categorizing, be it socks, rocks or plants, just seems to be an innate human urge. Categories help organize the world around us. Naming those categories allows us a simpler way to...

    03/25/2015 - 10:30 Astronomy, Archaeology
  • News

    Unlikely nursery for new planets is next to massive black hole

    As if the menagerie of known worlds in the Milky Way weren’t strange enough, now there might be solar systems forming within three light-years of the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. This harsh environment is a dangerous place for planets, which risk getting torn away by the black hole if they even form at all.

    A newfound cache of 44 blobs of gas sits in a sea of...

    03/24/2015 - 13:42 Astronomy
  • Science Ticker

    Potentially life-friendly nitrogen compounds found on Mars

    Mars’ surface contains a form of nitrogen required for building biological molecules such as DNA and proteins. In samples of fine-grained deposits and drilled mudstone, the Mars rover Curiosity discovered “fixed” nitrogen – a chemical form in which the ultrastrong bond in nitrogen gas, or N2, has broken....

    03/23/2015 - 15:53 Planetary Science, Astrobiology
  • News

    Earth, neighbors weren’t the first rocky planets in the solar system

    Earth and its neighbors aren’t the first rocky planets to circle the sun, a new study suggests. Jupiter might have had a hand in flushing an earlier generation of rocky worlds into the sun to their doom, clearing the way for the current planets to form.

    A rain of asteroids hurled into the inner solar system by a wandering Jupiter could have swept up a family of large rocky planets...

    03/23/2015 - 15:00 Planetary Science, Exoplanets
  • Feature

    Solo planets may be surprisingly common

    View the slideshow

    Out among the stars, toward the constellation Capricornus, a red sphere floats freely through space. It doesn’t have enough mass to fuse atoms for fuel, as stars do, and it’s too small to be a failed star. In nearly every way, this drifter, known as PSO J318.5-22, is like a planet. Except it fails one key test for planethood: It does not orbit...

    03/20/2015 - 14:00 Astronomy, Planetary Science, Exoplanets
  • Science Ticker

    Bright patches on Ceres are plumes of water, maybe

    Two bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres might be plumes of water vapor, not patches of ice as is commonly suspected. The spots appear in images from the Dawn spacecraft even when the crater floor...

    03/20/2015 - 10:49 Planetary Science
  • News in Brief

    Space dust is tough enough to survive supernova aftermath

    Dust still lingers in the leftovers of a supernova that exploded thousands of years ago. Its existence demonstrates that the material can survive the reverse shock waves of stellar explosions, researchers report online March 19 in Science.

    Ryan Lau of Cornell University and fellow astronomers found the...

    03/19/2015 - 14:00 Astronomy, Cosmology
  • News

    Martian aurora, high-altitude dust clouds surprise scientists

    Martian auroras! Mystery dust clouds! Just a few months into its mission, NASA’s newest Mars orbiter is finding an assortment of oddities in the Martian atmosphere, researchers report March 18 at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas....

    03/19/2015 - 13:00 Planetary Science