How Do You Make an Earth-like Planet?

Astronomers have spotted many Earth-like worlds around other stars, but are these exoplanets really similar to our home, and could they support life? The CLEVER Planets project, including UC Davis professor Sarah Stewart, has received a $7.7 million NASA grant to explore how rocky planets like Earth acquire, sustain, and nurture the chemical conditions necessary for life.

Recipe for a planet

Credit: Courtney Dressing, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Curiosity Finds Organic (Carbon-based) Material in Gale Crater, Mars

The Mars Curiosity rover team announced today (June 7) finding organic matter – carbon-based compounds – in three billion year old mudstone sediments from Gale Crater. They also found seasonal changes in the amount of methane in the local atmosphere.

Scientist and Mars rover

Dawn Sumner is a member of the Mars Curiosity team.

Dawn Sumner, professor of earth and planetary sciences at UC Davis, is a member of the Mars Curiosity team and coauthor on the first paper. She helps with sample selection and mission planning and was instrumental in promoting Gale Crater as a landing site for Curiosity.

With Giant Lens, Astronomers Find a Single Star Across Half the Universe

Through a lucky quirk of nature, astronomers have used the Hubble Space Telescope to view a single star halfway across the universe. Nine billion light years from Earth, the giant blue-white star, nicknamed “Icarus” by the team, is by far the most distant individual star ever seen.

Distant star image

Icarus is the farthest individual star ever seen. It is only visible because it is magnified by the gravity of a massive galaxy cluster, located about 5 billion light-years from Earth. The panels at right show the view in 2011, without Icarus visible, and the star’s brightening in 2016. (Hubble/STScI)

SuperBlueBloodMoon: New Ideas About Lunar Formation

January 31 will be an early morning show for Moon lovers. Starting about 2.51 a.m. Pacific Time will be a lunar eclipse, or “blood moon” as the Moon passes through Earth’s shadow and picks up a reddish tint. At the same time, the full Moon of Jan. 31 is also a “supermoon” when the Moon is relatively close to Earth and looks bigger and brighter, and a “blue Moon” because it is the second full Moon in one month.

NASA is calling it a “SuperBlueBloodMoon.” (If it’s cloudy where you are, NASA is also running a live stream of the eclipse.)

Supercomputer Simulates Dynamic Magnetic Fields of Jupiter, Earth, Sun

By Becky Oskin

As the Juno space probe approached Jupiter in June last year, researchers with the Computational Infrastructure for Geodynamics’ Dynamo Working Group were starting to run simulations of the giant planet’s magnetic field on one of the world’s fastest computers. While the timing was coincidental, the supercomputer modeling should help scientists interpret the data from Juno, and vice versa.

Video: Simulation of Jupiter’s magnetic fields 

“Even with Juno, we’re not going to be able to get a great physical sampling of the turbulence occurring in Jupiter’s deep interior,” Jonathan Aurnou, a geophysics professor at UCLA who leads the geodynamo working group, said in an article for Argonne National Laboratory news. “Only a supercomputer can help get us under that lid.”

Podcast: Synestia, a New Type of Planetary Object

In this month’s Three-Minute Egghead, Sarah Stewart and Simon Lock talk about synestias. A synestia is a new type of planetary object, they proposed, formed when a giant collision between planet-size objects creates a mass of hot, vaporized rock spinning with high angular momentum. Synestias could be an important stage in planet formation, and we might be able to find them in other solar systems.

https://soundcloud.com/user-570302262/three-minute-egghead-synestia-a-new-planetary-object?in=user-570302262/sets/three-minute-egghead-a-podcast

More information

News release: Synestia, A New Type of Planetary Object

New Theory Explains How the Moon Got There

Simon Lock’s Synestia Page

SNO+ Neutrino Detector Gets Ready For Run

snowaterfill-1

SNO+ neutrino detector being filled with ultrapure water. The detector will search for neutrinos from distant supernovae and nuclear reactors. Credit: SNO+ Collaboration

 

Not a still from a science fiction movie, but the SNO+ neutrino detector being filled with very pure water prior to starting operations. Located over a mile underground in a mine in Ontario, Canada, the SNO+ detector consists of an acrylic sphere 12 meters in diameter filled with 800 tonnes of scintillation fluid, floating in a bath of ultrapure water surrounded by 10,000 photomultiplier tubes that will detect flashes of light from passing neutrinos.

Three Minute Egghead: Finding the Furthest, Faintest Galaxy

In the latest episode of the Three Minute Egghead podcast, UC Davis astronomer Marusa Bradac explains why she’s looking towards the beginning of time to find the furthest, faintest object in the universe, and how a gigantic lens in the sky can help.

Read the news release about this story here.

For more Three Minute Egghead podcasts, see our Soundcloud playlist here.

UC Davis Physicist Will Illuminate Black Holes In Inaugural Ko Lecture

Update May 4: This event is now free of charge for all. RSVPs are requested.

By Becky Oskin

The first lecture in new Winston Ko Frontiers in Mathematical and Physical Sciences Public Lecture series will take place May 9. Veronika Hubeny will discuss modern understanding of black holes, and the remaining mysteries. Her talk, “Illuminating Black Holes,” begins at 5 p.m. on Monday, May 9, in the UC Davis Conference Center.Public lecture on black holes, May 9, UC Davis Conference Center

New results from LUX dark matter detector

Contributed by the LUX Collaboration

The Large Underground Xenon (LUX) dark matter experiment, which operates nearly a mile underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in the Black Hills of South Dakota, has already proven itself to be the most sensitive dark matter detector in the world. Now, a new set of calibration techniques employed by LUX scientists has again dramatically improved its sensitivity.

Researchers with LUX are looking for WIMPs, weakly interacting massive particles, which are among the leading candidates for dark matter.