Introducing Google Wind
Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the TV series "Star Trek," which first aired September 8th,1966, this infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope may remind fans of the historic show. Just as one might see the shapes of animals or other objects in clouds -- a phenomenon called pareidolia -- iconic starships from the series may seem to emerge in these nebulae.
Read more at JPL
When wind blows over sand on Earth, it can produce two types of patterns: small ripples or large dunes. On Mars, there also appears to be a unique category in the middle: large ripples, with crests separated by a meter or more (seen here in this Curiosity rover "selfie"). Researchers discovered the pattern when the NASA rover stopped at a set of dunes in Gale crater in late 2015 and early 2016, and they first reported the discovery in March at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas. In a paper published online today in Science, they say the formations are fluid drag ripples, similar to those seen underwater in streambeds on Earth, and that their size is controlled by the thickness of the martian atmosphere. That means that the ripples, if preserved as patterns after the sand turns to stone, could be a "paleobarometer". The scientists found ripple patterns in ancient rocks that are slightly smaller than the ones found across the planet today. That, they say, suggests that the ancient atmosphere was slightly thicker.
Astronomers today announced the latest - and largest - batch of confirmed exoplanets from 4 years of observations made by NASA's Kepler satellite. With the help of a new automated validation technique, they revealed an enormous haul: 1284 new worlds in total, more than doubling the number that Kepler has found so far. To find the planets (some of which are shown in the artist's rendition above), Kepler stared at a single patch of the sky from 2009 to 2013, monitoring the brightness of 150,000 stars. If one of the stars briefly dimmed before returning to its original level of brightness, it could signify that an orbiting planet had passed in front of the star, blocking some of its light. But other things orbiting a star can affect its brightness, including stars. That means every one of the thousands of detections had to be validated by another means. NASA researchers sped up the process with an automated technique that considers first whether the detected light curve bears the marks of an exoplanet, and second how likely it is that the results are a false-positive. The analysis takes just a few minutes per candidate. As the NASA team describes in a paper published today in The Astrophysical Journal, when they applied the technique to their nearly 4700 candidates, they found 1284 with a reliability score greater than 99%. Nine of the new exoplanets are roughly Earth-sized and could host liquid water - and hence life. This brings the total of potentially habitable planets discovered by Kepler to 21. But they are, sadly, too far away for us to learn much more about - for now, at least.
Credits to xkcd
The brightest object in a nearby star cluster, thought for decades to be a single star, is actually two massive stars in the process of merging. The pair lies about 13,000 light-years from Earth in the minor Northern Hemisphere constellation of the Giraffe. Astronomers have long known the object as MY Camelopardalis. (Camelopardalis is Latin for giraffe.) Detailed analyses of light from the object suggest that, as seen from Earth, the binary system is seen edge on, with each bright blue star eclipsing the other on a regular basis. The system, containing one star about 38 times the mass of our sun and another about 32 times our solar mass, rotates once each 28 hours, the researchers report in the December issue of Astronomy & Astrophysics. The stars, which formed only about 2 million years ago, orbit each other so closely that their outer layers are in contact (artist's concept shown). It's not clear how long it will take for the stars to fully merge, or what will happen when that occurs: Some models of stellar evolution suggest the merged star could explosively release a massive amount of energy, while others hint it could simply burn through its fuel more quickly than each star would on its own. Regardless, the researchers say, MY Camelopardalis is the first known example of a binary system on its way toward creating a supermassive star.