Heavens

Mars Express closed in on the intriguing martian moon Phobos at 6:49 CEST on 23 July, flying past at 3 km/s, only 93 km from the moon. The ESA spacecraft's fly-bys of the moon have returned its most detailed full-disc images ever, also in 3-D, using the High Resolution Stereo Camera on board.

Phobos is what scientists call a 'small irregular body'. Measuring 27 km × 22 km × 19 km, it is one of the least reflective objects in the Solar System, thought to be a capture-asteroid or a remnant of the material that formed the planets.

Scientists have confirmed that at least one body in our solar system, other than Earth, has a surface liquid lake.

Using an instrument on NASA's Cassini orbiter, they discovered that a lake-like feature in the south polar region of Saturn's moon, Titan, is truly wet. The lake is about 235 kilometers, or 150 miles, long.

The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, or VIMS, an instrument run from The University Arizona, identifies the chemical composition of objects by the way matter reflects light.

PASADENA, Calif.--Bars abound in spiral galaxies today, but this was not always the case. A group of 16 astronomers, led by Kartik Sheth of NASA's Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, has found that bars tripled in number over the past seven billion years, indicating that spiral galaxies evolve in shape.

A team of European scientists working with COROT have discovered an exoplanet orbiting a star slightly more massive than the Sun. After just 555 days in orbit, the mission has now observed more than 50 000 stars and is adding significantly to our knowledge of the fundamental workings of stars.

The latest discovery, COROT-exo-4b is an exoplanet of about the same size as Jupiter. It takes 9.2 days to orbit its star, the longest period for any transiting exoplanet ever found.

A European-led team of astronomers are providing hints that a recent supernova may not be as normal as initially thought.

Instead, the star that exploded is now understood to have collapsed into a black hole, producing a weak jet, typical of much more violent events, the so-called gamma-ray bursts.

The object, SN 2008D, is thus probably among the weakest explosions that produce very fast moving jets. This discovery represents a crucial milestone in the understanding of the most violent phenomena observed in the Universe.

Using ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer, and its remarkable acuity, astronomers were able for the first time to witness the appearance of a shell of dusty gas around a star that had just erupted, and follow its evolution for more than 100 days. This provides the astronomers with a new way to estimate the distance of this object and obtain invaluable information on the operating mode of stellar vampires, dense stars that suck material from a companion.

By using the gravitational magnification from six massive lensing galaxy clusters, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has provided scientists with the largest sample of very distant galaxies seen to date. Some of the newly found magnified objects are dimmer than the faintest ones seen in the legendary Hubble Ultra Deep Field, which is usually considered the deepest image of the Universe.

For the first time astronomers have found a way to get a clean view of the elusive disks of matter surrounding supermassive black holes. By using a polarising filter on the Science and Technology Facility Council's UK Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii, they have been able to see through the clouds of dust which surround these black holes. This work is published on 24th July 2008 in Nature.

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) - For the first time, a team of international researchers has found a way to view the accretion disks surrounding black holes and verify that their true electromagnetic spectra match what astronomers have long predicted they would be. Their work will be published in the July 24 issue of the science journal Nature.

The first robotic mission to return samples to Earth from Mars took a further step toward realisation with the recent publication of a mission design report by the iMARS Working Group. The report, defines key elements of the future internationally-funded mission involving the cooperation of ESA, NASA and other national agencies.