Heavens

A new report from the National Research Council, A CONSTRAINED SPACE EXPLORATION TECHNOLOGY PROGRAM: A REVIEW OF NASA'S EXPLORATION TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM, looks at the quality of technological research conducted at NASA and determines how well-aligned it is with President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration. Specifically, the report examines the degree to which technology development at NASA includes exploration beyond the Moon.

During Hubble's 100 000th orbit around the Earth it peered into a small portion of the nebula near the star cluster NGC 2074 (upper, left). The region is a firestorm of raw stellar creation, perhaps triggered by a nearby supernova explosion. It lies about 170 000 light-years away near the Tarantula nebula, one of the most active star-forming regions in our Local Group of galaxies.

We don't have spacecraft to take us outside our solar system--not yet, at least. Still, astronomers thought they had a pretty good understanding of how our solar system formed and in turn, how others formed. In the last dozen years, nearly 300 exoplanets have been discovered. Are the solar systems in which they reside indeed like our own? Without knowledge or observations to the contrary, conventional knowledge said yes. Three Northwestern University researchers questioned that assumption and explored this question.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Prevailing theoretical models attempting to explain the formation of the solar system have assumed it to be average in every way. Now a new study by Northwestern University astronomers, using recent data from the 300 exoplanets discovered orbiting other stars, turns that view on its head.

The solar system, it turns out, is pretty special indeed. The study illustrates that if early conditions had been just slightly different, very unpleasant things could have happened -- like planets being thrown into the sun or jettisoned into deep space.

Berkeley -- A strange, metal brew lies buried deep within Jupiter and Saturn, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and in London.

The study, published in this week's online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrates that metallic helium is less rare than was previously thought and is produced under the kinds of conditions present at the centers of giant, gaseous planets, mixing with metal hydrogen and forming a liquid metal alloy.

SANTA CRUZ, CA--Using one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world to simulate the halo of dark matter that envelopes our galaxy, researchers found dense clumps and streams of the mysterious stuff lurking in the inner regions of the halo, in the same neighborhood as our solar system.

"In previous simulations, this region came out smooth, but now we have enough detail to see clumps of dark matter," said Piero Madau, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

New Haven, Conn. — When Yale astrophysicist Kevin Schawinski and his colleagues at Oxford University enlisted public support in cataloguing galaxies, they never envisioned the strange object Hanny van Arkel found in archived images of the night sky.

The Dutch school teacher, a volunteer in the Galaxy Zoo project that allows members of the public to take part in astronomy research online, discovered a mysterious and unique object some observers are calling a "cosmic ghost."

Globular star clusters, dense bunches of hundreds of thousands of stars, contain some of the oldest surviving stars in the Universe. A new international study of globular clusters outside our Milky Way Galaxy has found evidence that these hardy pioneers are more likely to form in dense areas, where star birth occurs at a rapid rate, instead of uniformly from galaxy to galaxy.

Scientists have studied superconductors and superfluids for decades. Now, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have drawn the first detailed picture of the way a superfluid influences the behavior of a superconductor. In addition to describing previously unknown superconductor behavior, these calculations could change scientists' understanding of the motion of neutron stars.

Researchers believe that our universe began with the Big Bang about 13 billion years ago, and that soon after that event, matter began to form as small dust grains and gases. How the first stars formed from this dust and gas has been a burning question for years, but a state-of-the-art computer simulation now offers the most detailed picture yet of how these first stars in the universe came into existence, researchers say.

These findings will be published by the journal Science on Friday, 1 August. Science is the journal of AAAS, the nonprofit science society.