Heavens

GREENBELT, Md. -- Listening to the early universe just got harder. A team led by Alan Kogut of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., today announced the discovery of cosmic radio noise that booms six times louder than expected.

Astronomers may have solved a cosmic chicken-and-egg problem -- the question of which formed first in the early Universe -- galaxies or the supermassive black holes seen at their cores.

"It looks like the black holes came first. The evidence is piling up," said Chris Carilli, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). Carilli outlined the conclusions from recent research done by an international team studying conditions in the first billion years of the Universe's history in a lecture presented to the American Astronomical Society's meeting in Long Beach, California.

NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has discovered 12 new gamma-ray-only pulsars and has detected gamma-ray pulses from 18 others. The finds are transforming our understanding of how these stellar cinders work.

"We know of 1,800 pulsars, but until Fermi we saw only little wisps of energy from all but a handful of them," says Roger Romani of Stanford University, Calif. "Now, for dozens of pulsars, we're seeing the actual power of these machines."

LONG BEACH, CA--The brilliant afterglow of a powerful gamma-ray burst (GRB) has enabled astronomers to probe the star-forming environment of a distant galaxy, resulting in the first detection of molecular gas in a GRB host galaxy. By analyzing the spectrum of light emitted in the GRB afterglow, the researchers are gleaning insights into an active stellar nursery in a galaxy so far away it appears as it was 10 billion years ago.

Two new efforts have taken a famous supernova remnant from the static to the dynamic. A new movie of data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory shows changes in time never seen before in this type of object. A separate team will also release a dramatic three-dimensional visualization of the same remnant.

Nearly ten years ago, Chandra's "First Light" image of Cassiopeia A (Cas A) revealed previously unseen structures and detail. Now, after eight years of observation, scientists have been able to construct a movie that tracks the remnant's expansion and changes over time.

Fasten your seat belts -- we're faster, heavier, and more likely to collide than we thought. Astronomers making high-precision measurements of the Milky Way say our home Galaxy is rotating about 100,000 miles per hour faster than previously understood.

That increase in speed, said Mark Reid, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, increases the Milky Way's mass by 50 percent, bringing it even with the Andromeda Galaxy. "No longer will we think of the Milky Way as the little sister of the Andromeda Galaxy in our Local Group family."

The planet Jupiter gained weight in a hurry during its infancy. It had to, since the material from which it formed probably disappeared in just a few million years, according to a new study of planet formation around young stars.

The center of the Milky Way presents astronomers with a paradox: it holds young stars, but no one is sure how those stars got there. The galactic center is wracked with powerful gravitational tides stirred by a 4 million solar-mass black hole. Those tides should rip apart molecular clouds that act as stellar nurseries, preventing stars from forming in place. Yet the alternative – stars falling inward after forming elsewhere – should be a rare occurrence.

Life on a planet ruled by two suns might be a little complicated. Two sunrises, two sunsets. Twice the radiation field.

In a paper published in the December 2008 issue of Astronomy and Astrophysics, astronomer Joel Kastner and his team suggest that planets may easily form around certain types of twin (or "binary") star systems. A disk of molecules discovered orbiting a pair of twin young suns in the constellation Sagittarius strongly suggests that many such binary systems also host planets.

AMES, Iowa – Iowa State University's Martin Pohl is part of a research team that has developed the first complete map of the Milky Way galaxy's spiral arms.

The map shows the inner part of the Milky Way has two prominent, symmetric spiral arms, which extend into the outer galaxy where they branch into four spiral arms.

In recent years, the possible applications for double-walled carbon nanotubes have excited scientists and engineers, particularly those working on developing renewable energy technologies. These tiny tubes, just two carbon atoms thick, are thin enough to be transparent, yet can still conduct electricity. This combination makes them well-suited for advanced solar panels, sensors and a host of other applications.

A research group led by graduate student Violette Impellizzeri from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy has used the 100 m Effelsberg radio telescope to detect water at the greatest distance from Earth so far. The water vapour was discovered in the quasar MG J0414+0534 at redshift 2.64, which corresponds to a light travel time of 11.1 billion years, a time when the Universe was only a fifth of the age it is today. The water vapour is thought to exist in clouds of dust and gas that feed the supermassive black hole at the centre of the distant quasar.

Venus Express has made the first detection of an atmospheric loss process on Venus's day-side. Last year, the spacecraft revealed that most of the lost atmosphere escapes from the night-side. Together, these discoveries bring planetary scientists closer to understanding what happened to the water on Venus, which is suspected to have once been as abundant as on Earth.

Black holes can now be thought of as donut holes. The shape of material around black holes has been seen for the first time: an analysis of over 200 active galactic nuclei—cores of galaxies powered by disks of hot material feeding a super-massive black hole—shows that all have a consistent, ordered physical structure that seems to be independent of the black hole's size.

Solar flares are the most powerful explosions in the solar system. Packing a punch equal to a hundred million hydrogen bombs, they obliterate everything in their immediate vicinity. Not a single atom should remain intact.

At least that's how it's supposed to work.

"We've detected a stream of perfectly intact hydrogen atoms shooting out of an X-class solar flare," says Richard Mewaldt of the California Institute of Technology. "What a surprise! If we can understand how these atoms were produced, we'll be that much closer to understanding solar flares."