Astronomers Snap Supernova’s Baby Pictures

Images of an exploding dying star taken just a few hours after its detonation are revealing new details of stellar death


Supernova remnants—like this one first observed more than 400 years ago—are typically only noticed by Earthbound researchers well after the initial explosion of the progenitor star. Now, astronomers have caught and closely studied a supernova when it was merely a few hours old. Credit: NASA, CXC, SAO

Baby pictures of a newborn supernova have captured this stellar explosion after the first half-dozen hours of its life, shedding light on how these giant explosions happen, a new study finds.

This newly discovered cosmic baby is the type of supernova that occurs when a giant star runs out of fuel and explodes. Supernovas are so bright that they can briefly outshine all of the other stars in their home galaxy.

Astronomers have previously seen glimpses of supernovas within the first minutes after they explode. However, until now, researchers had not captured light from a newborn supernova across the so many wavelengths—including radio waves, visible light and X-rays. The new images add to evidence that suggests that these dying stars may signal their upcoming demise by spewing a disk of material in the months before their deaths, according to a paper describing the finding. [Know Your Novas: Star Explosions Explained (Infographic)]

Much remains unknown about how and why dying stars can detonate with such violence. Studying the final years of a star that is destined to die as a supernova could reveal key details about the way in which these explosions happen, but stars in these brief, final stages are rare—statistically, it is very likely that none of the 100 billion to 400 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxyare within one year of dying as a supernova, according to the new paper.

Now scientists report the discovery of a supernova just 3 hours after it exploded, helping them capture “the earliest spectra ever taken of a supernova explosion,” said study lead author Ofer Yaron, an astrophysicist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. A light spectrum is essentially detailed look at the wavelengths of light emitted by an object. Because chemical elements can absorb certain wavelengths, stellar spectra can be used to reveal the composition of a star.

“Until several years ago, catching a supernova a week after explosion was regarded as early,” Yaron told “This is not the case anymore.”


The astronomers detected the supernova known as SN 2013fs on Oct. 6, 2013, using the data from the Intermediate Palomar Transient Factory (iPTF) based at the Palomar Observatory in California. Its star was likely a red supergiant about 10 to 17 times heavier than the sun and several hundred times wider than the sun, Yaron said.

The supernova detonated about 160 million light-years away in a spiral galaxy called NGC 7610. This galaxy is relatively close to the Milky Way, making it easier for scientists to aim more telescopes at it and detect signals from it that span almost the entire the spectrum of light, from radio waves to X-rays. Observations of the supernova were made with telescopes at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii and NASA’s Swift satellite starting about 6 hours after the explosion, Yaron explained.

SN 2013fs was the most common variety of supernova: a Type II. This kind of supernova happens when the core of a massive star runs out of fuel, collapses to an extraordinarily dense nugget in a fraction of a second and then bounces and blasts its material outward.

The astronomers captured pictures of the newborn supernova early enough to spot a disk of matter the star expelled just before its demise. Normally supernovas are seen after the shockwave from the explosions have swept away such material and any secrets that the disk might have contained.

The researchers found that a year or so before this star died, it rapidly spewed out vast amounts of material, equal to about one-thousandth of the sun’s mass, at speeds of nearly 224,000 mph (360,000 km/h). Previous research had seen cases where such early eruptions occurred among unusual subgroups of Type II supernovas, but these new findings suggest that such outpourings also precede more common kinds of Type II supernovas.

“It’s as if the star ‘knows’ its life is ending soon, and puffing material at an enhanced rate during its final breaths,” Yaron told “Think of a volcano or geyser bubbling before an eruption.”

These findings suggest that a star may be unstable months before its turns into a Type II supernova. As such, “the structure of the star when it explodes may be different than that assumed so far,” Yaron said. For instance, the core of a star may experience upheavals during its final days, causing strong winds to travel from the depths of the star all the way to its surface and beyond.

New, automated surveys of the sky such as the iPTF have begun capturing supernovas a day or less after they explode.

“With the help of new sky surveys coming up in the very near future, we expect to significantly increase the number of supernova events for which we are able to obtain early observations within hours and maybe minutes from explosion,” Yaron said.

The scientists detailed their findings online Feb. 13 in the journal Nature Physics.

A Strange Green Comet Is Heading Our Way

An unusual green comet reaches maximum brightness on Saturday, providing a sweet treat for early-morning risers.

Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova (named after three astronomers who discovered it in 1948) travels into the inner solar system every 5.25 years. On Saturday, 45P will pass just 7.4 million miles from Earth, a stone’s throw by celestial yardsticks.

With binoculars or a small telescope, comet-watchers should be able to spot 45P in the pre-dawn skies between Thursday and Sunday. “The comet will be racing through the constellation Hercules high in the eastern sky,” notes

Comet 45P will look like fuzzy bluish-green ball with a fan-shaped tail. Its distinctive color comes from vaporizing diatomic carbon, a gas which glows green in the near-vacuum of space.

RELATED: Flyby Comet Was WAY Bigger Than Thought

The Minor Planet Center reports 45P’s upcoming pass as the eighth closest comet since modern tracking technologies began around 1950. It made an even closer approach during its last visit in 2011, pictured above, but it won’t be as near to Earth again this century.

“Proximity makes the comet bright despite its small size,” said “Forecasters say 45P could be on the verge of naked eye visibility… when it emerges into the pre-dawn sky later this week.”

WATCH VIDEO: Could Life On Earth Have Come From A Comet?

Originally published on Seeker.

The first white dwarf pulsar in the Universe has been found after half a century

A one-of-a-kind star in the known Universe.


Scientists have finally laid eyes on the first white dwarf pulsar in the known Universe, and while the star is roughly the size of Earth, it’s got 200,000 times more mass, and an electromagnetic field 100 million times more powerful.

Until now, the thousands of pulsars that have been discovered all formed the same way – the core of a massive star explodes, and collapses into a spinning neutron star. But this new pulsar is something completely different, and it’s been eluding astronomers for over half a century.

The first pulsar was identified by accident back in the 1960s when astronomers were looking for extragalactic radio sources.

At the time, the team expected the pulsar to be a type of white dwarf star, but when they analysed a pulsar at the centre of the famous Crab Nebula, they realised no white dwarf could vibrate or spin that fast – it had to be a neutron star.

The difference between neutron stars and white dwarfs stems from the way they’re formed – both are burnt-out stellar remnants, but white dwarfs are the result of low mass stars quietly collapsing, and neutron stars are formed in the catastrophic collapse and supernova explosion of a massive star.

Due to the difference in their initial mass, neutron stars have higher temperatures at formation, spin faster, and have stronger magnetic fields than white dwarfs.

The discovery of the first pulsar not only confirmed that they were a type of neutron star, but that neutron stars actually do exist – something astronomers had predicted 30 years prior.

Since then, researchers have theorised that pulsars could also play a role in binary systems – a system of two astronomical bodies that are so close, their gravitational attraction causes them to orbit each other around a common centre of mass.

Within these binary systems, it was predicted that a neutron star, a main sequence star (like our Sun), or a white dwarf star could be involved, and now astronomers have finally identified a real life example of the latter.

The team from the University of Warwick in the UK and the South African Astronomical Observatory identified the star AR Scorpii (AR Sco) as the first white dwarf version of a pulsar, and at 380 light-years from Earth, it’s a fairly close neighbour to us – in astronomical terms.

“The new data show that AR Sco’s light is highly polarised, showing that the magnetic field controls the emission of the entire system, and a dead ringer for similar behaviour seen from the more traditional neutron star pulsars,” Tom Marsh from the University of Warwick explains.

And although white dwarfs came from much lower mass stars than neutron stars do, this thing is anything but a shrinking violet.

The researchers describe the binary system as a white dwarf pulsar blasting its red dwarf neighbour – a class of dim or failed stars – with powerful beams of electrical particles and radiation relentlessly every 2 minutes.

No one’s seen anything quite like it in the Universe before.

“AR Sco is like a gigantic dynamo: a magnet, [the] size of Earth, with a field that is ~10,000 stronger than any field we can produce in a laboratory, and it is rotating every 2 minutes,” says another of the Warwick team, Boris Gänsicke.

“This generates an enormous electric current in the companion star, which then produces the variations in the light we detect.”

Now that we’ve identified our first white dwarf pulsar, scientists will be better equipped to search for others like it.

At this stage, it’s not clear how rare these things actually are, but it might be time to go back and investigate the white dwarfs we do know about, to check for that tell-tale spin.

The study has been published in Nature Astronomy.

A bridge of stars connects two dwarf galaxies

A bridge of stars connects two dwarf galaxies

The white line gives the approximate (average) track of the stellar bridge and the blue line shows the track of the gaseous bridge. The stars and the gas do not follow the same path. Credit: V. Belokurov, D. Erkal and A. Mellinger

The Magellanic Clouds, the two largest satellite galaxies of the Milky Way, appear to be connected by a bridge stretching across 43,000 light years, according to an international team of astronomers led by researchers from the University of Cambridge. The discovery is reported in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS) and is based on the Galactic stellar census being conducted by the European Space Observatory, Gaia.

For the past 15 years, scientists have been eagerly anticipating the data from Gaia. The first portion of information from the was released three months ago and is freely accessible to everyone. This dataset of unprecedented quality is a catalogue of the positions and brightness of a billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy and its environs.

What Gaia has sent to Earth is unique. The satellite’s angular resolution is similar to that of the Hubble Space Telescope, but given its greater field of view, it can cover the entire sky rather than a small portion of it. In fact, Gaia uses the largest number of pixels to take digital images of the sky for any space-borne instrument. Better still, the Observatory has not just one telescope but two, sharing the one metre wide focal plane.

Unlike typical telescopes, Gaia does not just point and stare: it constantly spins around its axis, sweeping the entire sky in less than a month. Therefore, it not only measures the instantaneous properties of the stars, but also tracks their changes over time. This provides a perfect opportunity for finding a variety of objects, for example stars that pulsate or explode – even if this is not what the satellite was primarily designed for.

The Cambridge team concentrated on the area around the Magellanic Clouds and used the Gaia data to pick out pulsating stars of a particular type: the so-called RR Lyrae, very old and chemically un-evolved. As these stars have been around since the earliest days of the Clouds’ existence, they offer an insight into the pair’s history. Studying the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (LMC and SMC respectively) has always been difficult as they sprawl out over a large area. But with Gaia’s all-sky view, this has become a much easier task.

Around the Milky Way, the clouds are the brightest, and largest, examples of dwarf satellite galaxies. Known to humanity since the dawn of history (and to Europeans since their first voyages to the Southern hemisphere) the Magellanic Clouds have remained an enigma to date. Even though the clouds have been a constant fixture of the heavens, astronomers have only recently had the chance to study them in any detail.

Whether the clouds fit the conventional theory of galaxy formation or not depends critically on their mass and the time of their first approach to the Milky Way. The researchers at Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy found clues that could help answer both of these questions.

Firstly, the RR Lyrae stars detected by Gaia were used to trace the extent of the Large Magellanic Cloud. The LMC was found to possess a fuzzy low-luminosity ‘halo’ stretching as far as 20 degrees from its centre. The LMC would only be able to hold on to the stars at such large distances if it was substantially bigger than previously thought, totalling perhaps as much as a tenth of the mass of the entire Milky Way.

An accurate timing of the clouds’ arrival to the galaxy is impossible without knowledge of their orbits. Unfortunately, satellite orbits are difficult to measure: at large distances, the object’s motion in the sky is so minute that it is simply unobservable over a human lifespan. In the absence of an orbit, Dr Vasily Belokurov and colleagues found the next best thing: a stellar stream.

Streams of stars form when a satellite – a dwarf galaxy or a star cluster – starts to feel the tidal force of the body around which it orbits. The tides stretch the satellite in two directions: towards and away from the host. As a result, on the periphery of the satellite, two openings form: small regions where the gravitational pull of the satellite is balanced by the pull of the host. Satellite stars that enter these regions find it easy to leave the satellite altogether and start orbiting the host. Slowly, star after star abandons the satellite, leaving a luminous trace on the sky, and thus revealing the satellite’s orbit.

“Stellar streams around the Clouds were predicted but never observe,” explains Dr Belokurov. “Having marked the locations of the Gaia RR Lyrae on the sky, we were surprised to see a narrow bridge-like structure connecting the two clouds. We believe that at least in part this ‘bridge’ is composed of stars stripped from the Small Cloud by the Large. The rest may actually be the LMC stars pulled from it by the Milky Way.”

The researchers believe the RR Lyrae bridge will help to clarify the history of the interaction between the clouds and our galaxy.

“We have compared the shape and the exact position of the Gaia stellar bridge to the computer simulations of the Magellanic Clouds as they approach the Milky Way”, explains Dr Denis Erkal, a co-author of the study. “Many of the stars in the bridge appear to have been removed from the SMC in the most recent interaction, some 200 million years ago, when the dwarf galaxies passed relatively close by each other. “We believe that as a result of that fly-by, not only the stars but also hydrogen gas was removed from the SMC. By measuring the offset between the RR Lyrae and hydrogen bridges, we can put constraints on the density of the gaseous Galactic corona.”

Composed of ionised gas at very low density, the hot Galactic corona is notoriously difficult to study. Nevertheless, it has been the subject of intense scrutiny because scientists believe it may contain most of the missing baryonic – or ordinary – matter. Astronomers are trying to estimate where this missing matter (the atoms and ions that make up stars, planets, dust and gas) is. It’s thought that most, or even all, of these missing baryons are in the corona. By measuring the coronal density at large distances they hope to solve this conundrum.

During the previous encounter between the Small and Large Magellanic Cloud, both stars and gas were ripped out of the Small Cloud, forming a tidal stream. Initially, the gas and stars were moving at the same speed. However, as the Clouds approached our Galaxy, the Milky Way’s corona exerted a drag force on both of them. The stars, being relatively small and dense, punched through the corona with no change in their speed. However, the more tenuous neutral hydrogen gas slowed down substantially in the corona. By comparing the current location of the and the gas, taking into account the density of the gas and how long the Clouds have spent in the corona, the team estimated the density of the corona. Dr. Erkal concludes, “Our estimate showed that the corona could make up a significant fraction of the missing baryons, in agreement with previous independent techniques. With the missing baryon problem seemingly alleviated, the current model of galaxy formation is holding up well to the increased scrutiny possible with Gaia.”

Explore further: Stars in the halo of the Milky Way often travel in groups

More information: Vasily Belokurov et al, Clouds, Streams and Bridges. Redrawing the blueprint of the Magellanic System withDR1, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2016). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stw3357

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This epic short film reveals what life will look like once we’ve conquered the Solar System

If the state of the world is getting you down right now, and all you want to do is escape these Earthly shackles, take comfort in the fact that the brightest minds on the planet are trying really, really hard to make that happen.

The dream of leaving Earth behind to set up shop on a lunar or Martian base is far from realised just yet, but in the meantime, this epic short film by digital artist Erik Wernquist gives you a glimpse of what it’s actually going to look like if when humans conquer the Solar System.

In less than 4 minutes, Wanderers takes us on a mind-bending journey through the Solar System, as humans from the future base-jump off the tallest known cliff in the Solar System – Verona Rupes on Uranus’ moon Miranda – and float through the clouds of Saturn.

And just to top it all off, we get to see the incredible sights of human space exploration while Carl Sagan reads us his 1994 book Pale Blue Dot:

Hey, who’s cutting onions in here?

Wanderers is a vision of humanity’s expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens,” Wernquist explains.

“The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available.”

Some creative license has obviously been taken by Wernquist in the film – for example, we don’t really know what it’s going to be like if we started mining asteroids, or viewing Saturn’s rings from the safety of a blimp.

But considering we’re still figuring out what our neighbouring planets even look like, it’s about as accurate a representation as we’re going to get right now of what it would be like to cruise through the dense atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan, or beam light into the darkness from underground moon colonies.

Among Wernquist’s image sources are NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualisation Studio, and the European Space Agency.

“Without any apparent story, other than what you may fill in by yourself, the idea with the film is primarily to show a glimpse of the fantastic and beautiful nature that surrounds us on our neighbouring worlds – and above all, how it might appear to us if we were there,” says Wernquist.

If you missed some of the best bits, or are wondering where some of the incredible scenes are taking place, here are a bunch of annotated stills from the film to bask your imagination in.

Cape Verde – Mars:


A group of people await the arrival of a few dirigibles at the edge of the Victoria Crater on Mars.

Verona Rupes – Miranda, moon of Uranus:


Base jumping off the tallest cliff in the Solar System, located on Uranus’ moon Miranda.

The rings of Saturn:


Iapetus Ridge – Iapetus, moon of Saturn:


Simulating a shot taken in low orbit over Saturn’s moon Iapetus, this scene shows domed settlements along the equatorial ridge that runs along the moon’s circumference.

Europa View – Europa, moon of Jupiter:


A group of people hiking across the icy plains of Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Jupiter and another of its moons, Io, are seen in the background.

A ‘terrarium’ inside an unnamed asteroid in the Main Asteroid Belt:


“This shot shows the inside of [an] asteroid,” says Wernquist.

“[It] is a highly speculative vision of an impressive piece of human engineering – a concept that science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson calls a “terrarium” in his novel 2312. It is also not unlike what Arthur C. Clarke described in his novel Rendezvous with Rama.”

‘Ringsurf’ – the Rings of Saturn:


“There are, as of yet, no real photos from within the rings, so this is my best guess of what it may look like,” says Wernquist.

“This shot is created from scratch (as in, no photos used), but I was very inspired by this photo by the Cassini Spacecraft from 2004.”


Let’s do this, humans.

Here’s more of Wernquist’s work, celebrating NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft:

The 5 Biggest Things in the Universe

The 5 Biggest Things in the Universe

Psst, hey there. We’re about to let you in on a really big secret. You know space? It’s a humongous place filled with enormous stuff.

In space, nothing is measured in football fields. For example, the distance between objects in the universe is typically measured in light years, or the distance that light travels in one year (which is about 6 trillion miles).

And objects are also measured on a grand scale. For example, Earth is kind of small in the cosmic scheme of things. We’re easily dwarfed by the planet Jupiter. More than 1,000 Earths would fit in the planet, according to NASA. And the sun? More than a million Earths would fit in there, according to Cornell University.

But guess what? Jupiter and the sun aren’t really that big. There are objects in the universe that make these familiar giants seem puny. Here are five of them.

UP FIRST: Big, big star


The Biggest Star

The sun is the largest object in our solar system (though some argue that the sun’s heliosphere is actually the largest continuous structure in our corner of the galaxy). But even our sun looks little when it’s compared to the biggest stars we know of.

The sun is a G-type star, a yellow dwarf — pretty average-size on the cosmic scale. But some “hypergiant” stars are much, much larger. Perhaps the biggest star known is UY Scuti, which could fit more than 1,700 of our suns, according to Gizmodo. UT Scuti is only about 30 times more massive than the sun, however, which demonstrates that mass and size don’t necessarily correlate in space.

And while UY Scuti is pretty huge, it isn’t the most massive star out there. That honor goes to a star called R136a1, Gizmodo reports. R136a1 is 265 times more massive than the sun, but its radius is only 30 times that of our nearest star.

In addition to being the most massive star we know of, R136a1 also has the highest luminosity of any known star.

UP NEXT: Big black hole


The Biggest Black Hole Ever


Ok, so stars are pretty huge, but they’re not the only humongous objects in the universe. Progressing up the list of big cosmic objects, other things to consider are black holes and in particular, supermassive black holes that typically reside in the center of a galaxy. (Our Milky Way hosts one that is about 4 million times the mass of the sun.)

The biggest supermassive black hole is roughly 21 billion times the sun’s mass, and lives in the Coma Cluster, which includes more than 1,000 galaxies. (For comparison, the black hole lurking at the center of the Milky Way totals around 4 million solar masses.)

Astronomers discovered another supermassive black hole in April 2016. That giant is located at the center of the galaxy NGC 1600 and contains roughly 17 billion times the mass of the sun. It’s a little strange that this huge black hole resides in NGC 1600, which is something of a cosmic backwater.

The newly spotted black hole lies 200 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Eridanus and belongs to an average-size galaxy group, whereas other monster black holes discovered to date tend to be found in dense clusters of galaxies. So researchers may have to rethink their ideas about where gigantic black holes reside, and how many of them might populate the universe.

UP NEXT: Gigantic galaxy


The Biggest Galaxy


Monster black holes are, well, monstrous, but they are also not the biggest things in the whole wide universe. What’s bigger than a supermassive black hole? A galaxy, for one thing.

Galaxies are collections of star systems and all that is inside those systems (such as planets, stars, asteroids, comets, dwarf planets, gas, dust and more). Our own Milky Way is about 100,000 light-years across, NASA says; a light-year is the distance light travels in a year. It’s difficult to characterize what the largest galaxies are, because they don’t really have precise boundaries, but the largest galaxies we know of are millions of light-years across.

Take the supergiant elliptical galaxy IC 1101, for example. Located at the center of the Abell 2029 galaxy cluster, IC 1101 is approximately 1.04 billion light-years from Earth, and is often referred to as the largest galaxy in the universe (though, again, there’s no way of definitively proving how large it really is). What we do know for certain is that IC 1101 is much bigger than our Milky Way — about 50 times the size of our galaxy and 2,000 times more massive, to be exact.

UP NEXT: Bigger than the biggest galaxy


Biggest Galaxy Cluster


Now at last we are starting to approach the biggest structures in the universe. Galaxies are often bound to each other gravitationally in groups that are called galaxy clusters. (The Milky Way, for example, is part of the small Local Group that comprises about two dozen galaxies, including the Andromeda Galaxy.)

Galaxy clusters are collections of galaxies that formed once stars and individual galaxies had been built. Gravity binds hundreds of thousands of galaxies together in collections so large, they can distort the fabric of space-time. According to present understanding, the massive objects should take billions of years to form.

In 2012, scientists used NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to measure the galactic cluster IDCS 1426, which lies approximately 10 billion light-years from Earth. Because light takes a full year to travel the distance of 1 light-year, that means astronomers are able to study the cluster as it appeared when the universe was only 3.8 billon years old.

Initial estimates suggested that IDCS 1426 contained an enormous mass at a significant distance, but were not conclusive. Brodwin and his colleagues decided to use NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, Keck Observatory and Chandra X-ray Observatory to refine measurements of the mass of the cluster, using three different methods.

All three observations independently provided a mass 250 trillion times higher than the mass of the sun, or 1,000 times more massive than the Milky Way. But IDCS 1426 is not the most massive galaxy cluster in the universe. That distinction is held by a massive cluster that lies only 7 billion light-years from Earth.

Known informally as ‘El Gordo,’ the hefty cluster weighs in at a whopping 3 quadrillion times the mass of the sun (that’s 3 followed by 15 zeros, or one thousand million million). However, according to Brodwin, the cluster is on track to grow into something that large.

UP NEXT: Super sized


Biggest Supercluster


For a while, astronomers thought that galaxy clusters were the biggest structures in the universe. In the 1980s, however, astronomers realized that groups of galaxy clusters are also connected by gravity and connected in a supercluster.

The biggest supercluster known in the universe is the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall. It was first reported in 2013 and has been studied several times by teams led by the same person. It’s so big that light takes about 10 billion years to move across the structure. For perspective, the universe is only 13.7 billion years old.

The structure first came to light as the research team (led by Istvan Horvath, with the National University of Public Service in Hungary) was looking at brief cosmic phenomena known as gamma-ray bursts. It is thought that they come from supernovas, or massive stars that explode at the end of their lifetimes.

Gamma-ray bursts are thought to be a good indication of where huge masses of stuff lie in the universe, because big stars tend to congregate in dense areas. The first survey showed gamma rays particularly concentrated about 10 billion light-years away in the direction of the Hercules and Corona Borealis constellations.

UP NEXT: Super, super sized


Bigger Than the Biggest Supercluster?


So galaxy clusters may be the largest things in the universe, but it’s still a puzzle as to just how giant structures like the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall came to be. A 2013 article from Discovery News (a partner site to pointed out that this structure appeared to go against a principle of cosmology, or how the universe formed and evolved. Specifically, this principle says that matter should be uniform when seen at a large enough scale. The largest known supercluster, however, is not uniform.

“I would have thought this structure was too big to exist. Even as a coauthor, I still have my doubts,” Jon Hakkila, an astronomy researcher at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, said in a 2014 press release. He said there is a very small chance the researchers saw a random number of gamma-rays in that location, but it is far less than one in 100.

“Thus we believe that the structure exists,” he added. “There are other structures that appear to violate universal homogeneity: the Sloan Great Wall and the Huge Large Quasar Group … are two. Thus, there may very well be others, and some could indeed be bigger. Only time will tell.”

India launches biggest ever rocket into space | Great news from India!

The Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mk-III rocket lifts off from The Satish Dhawan Space Centre on Sriharikota Isl

The Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mk-III rocket lifts off from The Satish Dhawan Space Centre on Sriharikota Island, some 80kms north of Chennai, December 18, 2014

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India successfully launched its biggest ever rocket on Thursday carrying an unmanned capsule which could one day send astronauts into space, as the country ramps up its ambitious space programme.

The rocket, designed to carry heavier communication and other satellites into higher orbit, blasted off from Sriharikota in the southeast state of Andhra Pradesh in a test mission costing nearly $25 million.

“This was a very significant day in the history of (the) Indian space programme,” Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman K.S Radhakrishnan said from mission control as fellow scientists clapped and cheered.

ISRO scientists have been riding high since an Indian spacecraft successfully reached Mars in September on a shoe-string budget, winning Asia’s race to the Red Planet and sparking an outpouring of national pride.

Although India has successfully launched lighter satellites in recent years, it has struggled to match the heavier loads that other countries increasingly want sent up.

The new rocket, weighing 630 tonnes and capable of carrying a payload of 4 tonnes, is a boost for India’s attempts to grab a greater slice of the $300-billion global space market.

“India, you have a new launch vehicle with you. We have made it again,” said S. Somnath, director of the mission.

“The powerful launch vehicle has come to shape, which will change our destiny… (by) placing heavier spacecraft into communications orbits.”

The GSLV MK-III rocket sits on launch pad at The Satish Dhawan Space Centre on Sriharikota Island, some 80kms north of Chennai,

The GSLV MK-III rocket sits on launch pad at The Satish Dhawan Space Centre on Sriharikota Island, some 80kms north of Chennai, on December 17, 2014

The rocket was carrying an unmanned crew capsule which ISRO said successfully separated from the rocket and splashed down in the Bay of Bengal off India’s east coast 20 minutes after liftoff.

The Indian-made capsule is designed to carry up to three astronauts into space.

ISRO officials said the crew capsule would be “recovered” from the sea and ferried back to Sriharikota by Friday for further studies.

India’s manned spaceflight programme has seen multiple stops and starts in recent years, and ISRO says the crew capsule project would take at least another seven years to reach the point where an astronaut could be put into space.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the test mission as “yet another triumph of (the) brilliance and hard work of our scientists” in a post on Twitter.

Radhakrishnan said the next step would be to develop a more power indigenous engine, reducing India’s reliance on those built in Europe, for the rocket, which is officially named the Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk-III.

“Our own cryogenic engine, which is at development stage, will be used in powering the advanced heavy rockets in the next two years,” he said.

This plane will be able to fly anywhere in the world within 4 hours

The engine will be able to fly in outer space too.

British aerospace firm Reaction Engines Limited is working on an engine system that will be able to take 300 passengers anywhere in the world in just four hours.

Even more impressively, the engine will also be used to fly a plane in outer space, as Business Insider reports.

The engine system is called SABRE, and it relies on a device called the precooler – technology that cools down the air entering the engineer system by more than 1,000 degrees Celsius in .01 seconds. That corresponds to an unheard-of cooling rate of 400 megawatts, and will allow the plane to “breathe” oxygen.

This means that the engine system will be able to run at a much higher power than is currently possible

According to Reaction Engines, SABRE will be used inside two upcoming plane models – LAPCAT A2, a commercial plane that will be able to transport passengers from Brussels to Sydney in “two to four hours”, and also the ambitious SKYLON, an unpiloted and re-usable spaceplane that aims to provide cheaper access to space.

As chief engineer Alan Bond explains in the video below, the LAPCAT A2 will be able to “pretty easily” fly around the world at an incredible Mach 5 – five times the speed of sound.

The precooler system weighs around a tonne, and, as Business Insider explains, is made up of a swirl of thin pipes that are filled with condensed helium. These pipes suck heat from the air, cooling it down to -150 degrees Celsius before it enters the engine.

The company is already testing the SABRE engine system, and is planning the first test flights for a tantalisingly close 2019.

SKYLON, the plane that will take us into outer space, will be 82 metres long and, although it’ll fly like a rocket in the air, it takes off and lands horizontally like a normal plane, which will make it more versatile. The model is estimated to cost around US$1.1 billion each.

Unfortunately, the plane won’t have any windows to look out of, but if new developments in aviation are anything to go by, that might not be such a bad thing – companies are now putting cameras on the outside of the planes and live streaming a 360 degree view on the inside walls or passengers.

Imagine being able to see this while flying through outer space.

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In this video from 2012, chief engineer Alan Bond explains more about how the new plane will work.

Moon’s molten, churning core likely once generated a dynamo

Moon’s molten, churning core likely once generated a dynamo

New magnetic measurements of lunar rocks have demonstrated that the ancient moon generated a dynamo magnetic field in its liquid metallic core (innermost red shell). This dynamo may have been driven by convection, possibly powered by …more

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When the Apollo astronauts returned to Earth, they brought with them some souvenirs: rocks, pebbles, and dust from the moon’s surface. These lunar samples have since been analyzed for clues to the moon’s past. One outstanding question has been whether the moon was once a complex, layered, and differentiated body, like the Earth is today, or an unheated relic of the early solar system, like most asteroids.

Ben Weiss, a professor of planetary sciences in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and members of his laboratory have found remnants of magnetization in some lunar rocks, suggesting that the moon once emitted a substantial magnetic field, much like the Earth does today. The discovery has opened a new set of questions: How long did this magnetic field last? How strong was its pull? And what sparked and sustained it?

Weiss and former MIT student Sonia Tikoo have written a review, published today inScience, in which they explore the possibility of a lunar dynamo—a molten, churning core at the center of the moon that may have powered an for at least 1 billion years. Weiss spoke with MIT News about the moon’s hidden history.

Q. How would a lunar dynamo have worked? What might have been going on in the moon, and in the , to sustain this dynamo for a billion years?

A. Planetary dynamos are generated by the process of induction, in which the energy of turbulent, conducting fluids is transformed into a magnetic field. Magnetic fields are one of the very few outward manifestations of the extremely energetic fluid motions that can occur in advecting planetary cores.

The motion of Earth’s liquid core is powered by the cooling of the planet, which stirs up buoyant fluid from the surrounding liquid—similar to what happens in a lava lamp. We have recently argued from magnetic studies of Apollo samples that the moon also generated a dynamo in its molten metal core.

Our data suggest that, despite the moon’s tiny size—only 1 percent of the Earth’s mass—its dynamo was surprisingly intense (stronger than Earth’s field today) and long-lived, persisting from at least 4.2 billion years ago until at least 3.56 billion years ago. This period, which overlaps the early epoch of intense solar system-wide meteoroid bombardment and coincides with the oldest known records of life on Earth, comes just before our earliest evidence of the Earth’s dynamo.

Q. Why is it so surprising that a lunar dynamo may have been so intense and long-lived?

A. Both the strong intensity and long duration of lunar fields are surprising because of the moon’s small size. Convection, which is thought to power all known dynamos in the solar system today, is predicted to produce surface magnetic fields on the moon at least 10 times weaker than what we observe recorded in ancient .

Nevertheless, a convective dynamo powered by crystallization of an inner core could potentially sustain a lunar for billions of years. An exotic dynamo mechanism that could explain the moon’s strong field intensity is that the core was stirred by motion of the solid overlying mantle, analogous to a blender. The moon’s mantle was moving because its spin axis is precessing, or wobbling, and such motion was more vigorous billions of years ago, when the moon was closer to the Earth. Such mechanical dynamos are not known for any other planetary body, making the moon a fascinating natural physics laboratory.

Q. What questions will the next phase of lunar dynamo research seek to address?

A. We know that the moon’s field declined precipitously between 3.56 billion years ago and 3.3 billion years ago, but we still do not know when the dynamo actually ceased. Establishing this will be a key goal of the next phase of lunar magnetic studies.

We also do not know the absolute direction of the lunar field, since all of our samples were unoriented rocks from the regolith—the fragmental layer produced by impacts on the lunar surface. If we could find a sample whose original orientation is known, we could determine the absolute direction of the lunar field relative to the planetary surface. This transformative measurement would then allow us to test ideas that the‘s spin pole wandered in time across the planetary surface, possibly due to large impacts.

Why Orion’s launch is the best news for humanity in a long time

Why Orion's launch is the best news for humanity in a long time

Launch of NASA’s Orion deep-space capsule

I have always been sad that I never got to see the beginning of humanity’s ultimate journey, and even sadder to realize that in 1972 we abandoned a path that could have possibly gotten us to Mars and other planets by now. Today we opened the gate to that path again. We should rejoice—we are going back to the stars.

In the 60s we dipped our toes in the sea of space. It was exciting. It lead to countless discoveries and technologies that made possible the world we have today. We dipped our toes in the waters of the cosmos but then we ran back to the shacks of that comfy beach we call Earth, scared.

1972 marked humanity’s last mission to the Moon and with it, all the optimism of the space era died. But on the brink of nuclear annihilation, with the war in Vietnam raging on, our journey to the Moon saved the world’s collective mind. As television reporter David Brinkley said during Apollo 8’s live Christmas Eve television special, broadcasted from the orbit of the Moon:

The human race, without many victories lately, had one today. Thank you Apollo 8. You saved 1968.

Apollo 8 also brought us this photo. It had huge repercussions in humanity’s common psyche, starting the environmental movement and the idea that we should collectively work to establish peace on Earth. After this photo—and the Blue Marble—humans realized, at last, that we needed to work together. Slowly, things began to change.

Why Orion's launch is the best news for humanity in a long time1

They didn’t change fast enough. We are still working on that. And thanks to miserable politics and our inability to deal with long term plans, we abandoned the natural path that the 1960s space program opened.

It was perhaps too early, like Carl Sagan said in his 1994 book The Pale Blue Dot, in beautiful words magnificently illustrated by this extraordinary short film by Erik Wernquist:

For all its material advantages, the sedentary life has left us edgy, unfulfilled. Even after 400 generations in villages and cities, we haven’t forgotten. The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood. We invest far-off places with a certain romance. This appeal, I suspect, has been meticulously crafted by natural selection as an essential element in our survival. Long summers, mild winters, rich harvests, plentiful game—none of them lasts forever. It is beyond our powers to predict the future. Catastrophic events have a way of sneaking up on us, of catching us unaware. Your own life, or your band’s, or even your species’ might be owed to a restless few—drawn, by a craving they can hardly articulate or understand, to undiscovered lands and new worlds.

Herman Melville, in Moby Dick, spoke for wanderers in all epochs and meridians: “I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas…”

Maybe it’s a little early. Maybe the time is not quite yet. But those other worlds— promising untold opportunities—beckon.

Silently, they orbit the Sun, waiting.

20 years later after those words, it feels like the time has come.

We sent an amazing rover to Mars in a seemingly impossible mission that had the entire world watching with baited breath. A few weeks ago, we landed on a comet. This week, we sent another spaceship to return material from an asteroid. Today we launched the spaceship that will take humans back to the Moon, asteroids, Phobos, and Mars.

So yes, I look at Orion rising against the deep blue, I hear the cheers coming out of my mouth and countless others, I see the millions of people watching this apparently insignificant event—just a spacecraft that is empty going up and splashing on the Atlantic Ocean—and it feels like the 60s all over again.

The path is open again, a sunbeam illuminating its gates, now clean of the vines that had grown through all these years of abandonment.

Today is the day. Today we are starting to get back to the stars. And this time there’s no way back.

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