This artist's conception shows a blazar -- the core of an active galaxy powered by a supermassive black hole. The VERITAS array has detected gamma rays from a blazar known as PKS 1441+25. Researchers found that the source of the gamma rays was within the relativistic jet but surprisingly far from the galaxy's black hole. The emitting region is about five light-years away. Courtesy of M. Weiss/CfA Astronomy and Astrophysics 

Gamma Rays from a Galaxy Far, Far Away

After traveling for about half the age of the universe, a flood of powerful gamma rays from a distant galaxy slammed into Earth’s atmosphere in April 2015. The gamma rays met our atmosphere and formed a cascade of light that fell onto the waiting mirrors of the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS) in Arizona. The resulting data have given astronomers a unique look into that faraway galaxy and the black hole engine at its heart. What Are Gamma Rays? Gamma rays are photons of light with very…

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Humans to Mars by 2030 Astronomy and Astrophysics 

We May Send Humans to Mars by 2030

Our partners at ResearchGate recently spoke with Alfonso Davila from SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, about what draws us to explore the red planet and beyond. Interested in Mars? Don’t miss this other article about the Martian atmosphere.  ResearchGate: What motivates you to explore living conditions – and possible life – on Mars? Davila: The motivation is twofold. On the one hand there is this nagging drive to understand life at the most fundamental levels (the “what is life?” question), and on the other hand there is this obsessive curiosity about the possibility of life elsewhere…

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Astronomy and Astrophysics Biology 

Comet Carries Building Blocks of Life

Many of us learned in school that comets were lifeless balls of frozen gas and dust hurtling through space. In recent years, however, we have changed the way we think about comets, which are now thought to be the couriers that delivered life to a young Earth. Boosting the courier theory, the European Space Agency’s comet-chaser craft named Rosetta has found complex organic molecules, the building blocks of life, on a comet. These are the exciting initial results of the data analysis using the information returned by Rosetta’s lander, Philae,…

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Pluto Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI Astronomy and Astrophysics 

New Horizon’s Pluto Flyby

NASA’s spacecraft New Horizons entered its closest approach with Pluto yesterday, as part of its nine-year mission to study the last of the nine “classical” planets in our solar system. Later today, we will receive the first “phone home” communication from the spacecraft. Here on Earth, scientists are eagerly awaiting today’s transmission from New Horizons. One of them is Noemi Pinilla-Alonso, an astrophysicist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and formerly of NASA. Our friends at ResearchGate recently chatted with Pinilla-Alonso about her hopes and plans for the long-awaited data.…

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The author’s all-time favorite image of the Aurora (Photo courtesy of Antti Pietikainen, Astronomy and Astrophysics Science and Art 

Aurora Borealis: Myths, Legends, Science

What causes the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights? Where can you see this amazing natural phenomenon? What did our ancestors think the aurora was? By Alistair McLean Alistair McLean is the Managing Director of The Aurora Zone, a company that specializes in holidays searching for the Northern Lights. He has seen the aurora borealis more times than he can count and never fails to be enthralled by its beauty. In the late 1980’s, a group of musicians calling themselves 10,000 Maniacs penned a song called “Planned Obsolescence.” The lyrics suggested…

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stargazing Astronomy and Astrophysics Science Videos 

Stargazing Across Time: Shelf Life Episode 5

 Stargazing For eons, humanity has been fascinated by the stars. From sundials to telescopes, episode five of the Shelf Life series showcases not only the tools that have been used to observe the sky throughout history but also the stargazing technology of the future. Even though the tools currently in use for observing space are more powerful than ever before, there is still room for improvement. Scientists are working on space-based and land-based telescopes that will capture images of the universe in unparalleled detail. One new device in the planning stages…

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Planet Earth Control Panel, Eleanor Lutz Astronomy and Astrophysics Science and Art 

Planet Earth’s Control Panel

This  planet earth control panel infographic is the work of the fabulous Eleanor Lutz. Lutz is a Seattle-based graphic designer with a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology. She created this particular work of science-meets-art as a celebration of America’s tax-funded space program: NASA. NASA stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA was started in 1958 as a part of the United States government. NASA is in charge of U.S. science and technology research that has to do with airplanes, space, and atmospheric conditions. From Planet Earth to Spaceship Earth “I wanted to…

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An artist's conception of Kepler-444 with a planet passing across it (Tiago Campante/Peter Devine) Astronomy and Astrophysics 

Earth-sized Planets, Ancient Star System Found

An ancient solar system, dating back to the dawn of the Milky Way Galaxy, has been discovered by an international team of astronomers. Researchers have found five Earth-sized planets in orbit around a Sun-like star called Kepler-444 that, at 11.2 billion years old, is the oldest star with a planetary system ever found. This discovery suggests that ancient worlds are out there, and some of them may support life. Each of Kepler-444’s planets is a little smaller than Earth. “We’ve never seen anything like this – it is such an…

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Earth-like planets: Artist’s impression of how an infant Earth-like planet might look (ESO) Astronomy and Astrophysics 

Finding Earth-like Planets Just Got Easier

Finding Earth-like planets that may someday support life just got easier. Among the billions and billions of stars in the sky, astronomers look for young planets (so-called infant Earths) where life might develop. New research from Cornell University shows where, and when, infant Earths are most likely to be found. The research was supported by the university’s brand new Institute for Pale Blue Dots, to be inaugurated in May 2015, which is dedicated to the discovery of Earth-like planets. “The search for new, habitable worlds is one of the most…

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Space Astronomy and Astrophysics 

Comet Flyby Affects Mars Atmosphere

A comet traveling from the most distant region of our solar system passed amazingly close to Mars on October 19, and three spacecraft were there to observe the effects. If you had been standing on Mars, you would have seen thousands of shooting stars, according to astronomers from the University of Colorado, Boulder. The comet came from the Oort Cloud and passed within about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) of Mars. That’s less than half the distance between Earth and our moon and less than one-tenth the distance of any known…

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