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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.