Science Daily: Comets and Asteroids

Asteroid 'time capsules' may help explain how life started on Earth

In popular culture, asteroids play the role of apocalyptic threat, get blamed for wiping out the dinosaurs -- and offer an extraterrestrial source for mineral mining. But for one researcher, asteroids play an entirely different role: that of time capsules showing what molecules originally existed in our solar system. Having that information gives scientists the starting point they need to reconstruct the complex pathway that got life started on Earth.

Why we have yet to find extraterrestrial life

Are we alone in the universe? Few questions have captured the public imagination more than this. Yet to date we know of just one sample of life, that which exists here on Earth.

Scientists discover almost 100 new exoplanets

Based on data from NASA's K2 mission an international team of scientists have just confirmed nearly 100 new exoplanets, planets located outside our solar system. This brings the total number of new exoplanets found with the K2 mission up to almost 300.

Dance of auroras: First direct observation of electron frolic

The shower of electrons bouncing across Earth's magnetosphere -- commonly known as the Northern Lights -- has been directly observed for the first time by an international team of scientists. While the cause of these colorful auroras has long been hypothesized, researchers had never directly observed the underlying mechanism until now.

Rocky or gassy? Massive, dense super-Earth planet detected

A star about 100 light years away in the Pisces constellation, GJ 9827, hosts what may be one of the most massive and dense super-Earth planets detected to date, according to new research. This new information provides evidence to help astronomers better understand the process by which such planets form.

Researchers build alien ocean to test NASA outer space submarine

Building a submarine gets tricky when the temperature drops to -300 Fahrenheit and the ocean is made of methane and ethane. Researchers are working to determine how a submarine might work on Titan, the largest of Saturn's many moons and the second largest in the solar system. The space agency plans to launch a real submarine into Titan seas in the next 20 years.

Towards a better prediction of solar eruptions

Just one phenomenon may underlie all solar eruptions. Researchers have identified the presence of a confining 'cage' in which a magnetic rope forms, causing solar eruptions. It is the resistance of this cage to the attack of the rope that determines the power and type of the upcoming flare. This work has enabled the scientists to develop a model capable of predicting the maximum energy that can be released during a solar flare.

Did surface life evolve on Mars? Newly published research casts increased doubt

Surface life on Earth is abundant because of the availability of sunlight, surface water, generally moderate climate conditions. But the planet Mars would have never experienced such habitable conditions at the surface, according to new research. However, below the surface, hydrothermal systems on Mars may have provided the right environment for life on the Red Planet, researchers argue.

Moon's slow retreat from frozen Earth

Researchers provide new insight into the moon's excessive equatorial bulge, a feature that solidified in place over four billion years ago as the moon gradually distanced itself from the Earth.

Viruses -- lots of them -- are falling from the sky

An astonishing number of viruses are circulating around the Earth's atmosphere -- and falling from it -- according to new research. The study marks the first time scientists have quantified the viruses being swept up from the Earth's surface into the free troposphere, beyond Earth's weather systems but below the stratosphere where jet airplanes fly. The viruses can be carried thousands of kilometers there before being deposited back onto the Earth's surface.

TRAPPIST-1 planets probably rich in water

A new study has found that planets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1 are made mostly of rock, and some could hold more water than Earth. The planets' densities suggest that some of them could have up to 5 percent of their mass in the form of water. The hotter planets closest to their parent star are likely to have dense steamy atmospheres and the more distant ones probably have icy surfaces.

Astrophysicists discover planets in extragalactic galaxies using microlensing

Astrophysicists have discovered for the first time a population of planets beyond the Milky Way galaxy. Using microlensing -- an astronomical phenomenon and the only known method capable of discovering planets at truly great distances from the Earth among other detection techniques -- researchers were able to detect objects in extragalactic galaxies that range from the mass of the Moon to the mass of Jupiter.

Stellar embryos in nearby dwarf galaxy contain surprisingly complex organic molecules

The nearby dwarf galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is a chemically primitive place. Unlike the Milky Way, this semi-spiral collection of a few tens-of-billions of stars lacks our galaxy's rich abundance of heavy elements, like carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen. With such a dearth of heavy elements, astronomers predict that the LMC should contain a comparatively paltry amount of complex carbon-based molecules. Previous observations of the LMC seem to support that view. New observations have uncovered the surprisingly clear chemical 'fingerprints' of the complex organic molecules methanol, dimethyl ether, and methyl formate. Though previous observations found hints of methanol in the LMC, the latter two are unprecedented findings and stand as the most complex molecules ever conclusively detected outside of our galaxy.

Scientist unlocks gamma ray burst secrets

Scientists have recreated the first ever mini version of a gamma ray burst in a laboratory, opening up a whole new way to investigate their properties and potentially unlocking some of the mysteries around possible alien civilizations.

Meteoritic stardust unlocks timing of supernova dust formation

Dust is everywhere -- not just in your attic or under your bed, but also in outer space. To astronomers, dust can be a tool to study the history of our universe, galaxy, and Solar System. For example, observations indicate that type II supernovae -- explosions of stars more than ten times as massive as the Sun -- produce copious amounts of dust, but how and when they do so is not well understood.