and information from the Royal Astronomical Society)
Updated: 5 December 2013
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Interesting research news (latest news first):
Australian astronomers need in the next ten years in order to stay at the
forefront of astronomical research?
Where to next?
Our astronomers have prepared a wish list for the next ten years called the
'Decadal Plan for 2006-2015'.
ESA's Smart-1 spacecraft
The Chandra X-ray Observatory
The Rosetta space
newly-discovered planetoid Sedna
ESA solar spacecraft Ulysses
Chandra X-ray Observatory
The Hubble Space Telescope
Astronomical Headlines from the IAU (International Astronomical Union):
The Australian National University has joined the Giant Magellan Telescope international consortium of research organisations. The GMT is likely to be one of the first of a small number of next-generation Extremely Large Telescopes that are expected to be built in the next 20 years. The telescope's conceptual design anticipates a moving mass of 1000 tonnes and a cylindrical observatory 65 metres high. It will be built by the participating organisations at a site in northern Chile. The primary mirror will have seven circular segments each 8.4 metres across, six of these surrounding the centrally located seventh. The total light-gathering power will be nearly seven times that of the Gemini telescopes, which are the largest ones to which Australian astronomers currently have access, and the images obtained should be ten times clearer than those taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. The GMT is expected to see first light in 2016. GMT Home page ANU's involvement
What do Australian astronomers need in the next ten years in order to stay at the forefront of astronomical research?Our scientists have a proud record of achievement, innovation and discovery in optical and radio astronomy, and in high-energy particle physics and cosmology. The late, great Mount Stromlo 74 inch telescope led the way, followed by the Parkes Radio Telescope which is still at the leading edge of its field of work. In the 1970s came Hanbury-Brown's Stellar Intensity Interferometer, Paul Wild's Radioheliograph, and the Sydney University Giant Air Shower Recorder (all near Narrabri). The last named had an area of 61 square kilometres. All of these instruments worked away, largely unknown and unheralded by the Australian public, although they were featured on the first $50 paper notes. In 1974 the 3.9 metre Anglo-Australian Telescope and the 1.2 metre Schmidt were commissioned on Siding Spring Mountain, and then in 1988 the Australia Telescope was built at Culgoora as a Bicentennial Project.
Where to next? Our astronomers have prepared a wish list for the next ten years called the 'Decadal Plan for 2006-2015'. Read it here .
ESA's Smart-1 spacecraftreached its final operational orbit around the Moon in late February. The mission has been extended until August 2006. Full story
The Chandra X-ray Observatoryhas discovered two huge clouds of warm-hot intergalactic matter (WHIM) around our galaxy. This may be some of the missing 'dark matter' of the universe. The clouds have a temperature of about 1 million degrees K, and contain ions of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and neon. Full story
The Rosetta space vehiclelaunched last March by the European Space Agency (ESA) will have four planetary intercepts before it heads off to Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which it will reach in 2014. Full story
The newly-discovered planetoid Sedna, 1700 km across, is the reddest object in the Solar System except for Mars. It is the furthest object in the Solar System except for comets, and takes 10 500 years to circle the Sun once. Should we call it a planet or is it too small? More information about Sedna
The ESA solar spacecraft Ulysseshas passed through two, and possibly three comet tails. Full story
The Chandra X-ray Observatoryhas made the first clear detection of x-rays from Saturn, and has also revealed new information about the atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon, Titan. Full story
NASA's Genesis spacecraftcompleted its collection of solar wind particles last April and is now on its way back to Earth. The samples were placed into a sealed container which will be released into our atmosphere on September 8, hopefully parachuting to Earth over Utah. Helicopter pilots are being trained to snag the return capsule in mid-air. Full story
The Hubble Space Telescopehas provided the deepest portrait of the visible universe ever taken, with a photograph whose exposure was one million seconds long (over 11.5 days!). It shows the faintest and most distant galaxies (in time as well as distance), some of the faintest possibly being the first galaxies to emerge after the 'big bang'. Hubble's Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) is in the southern constellation Fornax. In ground-based images, the region of the HUDF is largely empty, but the Hubble Telescope has revealed 10 000 galaxies there, in an area of sky only one hundredth the area of the Full Moon. Full story
Latest Astronomical Headlines from the IAU (International Astronomical Union):
SPACE WEATHER UNIVERSE TODAY
Dateline - 4 December 2013: What happened to Comet C/2012
S1 (ISON) ? In full view of the NASA-ESA solar physics fleet,
Comet ISON disintegrated when it flew through the sun's atmosphere on
Thanksgiving Day. Researchers are still marveling at the images and the
scientific data they contain.
Dateline - 1 December 2013: Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) now
appears as a fading cloud of dust Comet ISON is fading fast as it recedes from the
Sun. Whatever piece of the comet briefly survived its November 28 brush with
solar fire is now dissipating in a cloud of dust.
to view a 4-day movie covering the event.
SPACE SPACE WEATHER UNIVERSE TODAY NASA
Dateline - 4 December 2013: What happened to Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) ?
In full view of the NASA-ESA solar physics fleet, Comet ISON disintegrated when it flew through the sun's atmosphere on Thanksgiving Day. Researchers are still marveling at the images and the scientific data they contain. Full story Video
Dateline - 1 December 2013: Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) now appears as a fading cloud of dust
Comet ISON is fading fast as it recedes from the Sun. Whatever piece of the comet briefly survived its November 28 brush with solar fire is now dissipating in a cloud of dust. Click here to view a 4-day movie covering the event.
Dateline - 29 November 2013: The reports of Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON)'s demise have been greatly exaggerated (pace Mark Twain)
Cancel the funeral, Comet ISON is back from the dead. Yesterday, November 28, Comet ISON flew through the sun's atmosphere and appeared to disintegrate before the cameras of several NASA and ESA spacecraft. This prompted reports of the comet's demise. Today, it seems that the comet might have survived. Click here for images and updates.
Dateline - 28 November 2013: C/2012 S1 (ISON)may have been destroyed
Evidence is mounting that Comet ISON did not survive its brush with the sun on November 28. The SOHO coronagraph images show the comet apparently disintegrating, while first-look images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory did not detect the comet moving along its expected path through the sun's atmosphere. Click here .for movies and updates. Comets C/2013 R1 (LOVEJOY), C/2012 X1 (LINEAR) and the old reliable comet 2P ENCKE (the latter is periodic, and returns to the Sun every 3.3 years) are still with us.
Dateline - 27 November 2013: 'Rock Comet' 3200 Phaeton develops a tail
'Rock comet' 3200 Phaethon has sprouted a tail, confirming that this mysterious object is the source of the annual Geminid meteor shower. Full story Video
Dateline - 25 November 2013: Comets being buffeted by the solar wind
NASA's STEREO-A spacecraft is obtaining some marvellous footage of Comet ISON and Comet Encke being buffeted by gusts of solar wind. So far the two comets have avoided a direct strike by a CME (Coronal Mass Ejection), but a solar storm in the days ahead could have dramatic effects. For movies and more, click here .
Dateline - 24 November 2013: More amazing comet pictures
On November 28, Comet ISON will have a perilous close encounter with the sun. In today's storyfrom NASA, experts discuss what might happen if the comet is hit by a solar storm at point-blank range. In 2007 such a storm blasted Comet Encke's tail away from the nucleus - see the movie here .
Dateline - 21 November 2013: Amazing comet pictures
Comet ISON is plunging toward the Sun for a perilous close encounter in a week's time. Even experts aren't sure if the furiously vapourising comet can survive its passage through the solar atmosphere on November 28. The latest pictures from Earth are coming in now - and they are amazing. If the comet doesn't survive its passage through the Sun's corona, they may be the last. The comet, sporting a green head and streaming tail, is entering the rosy glow of dawn not far from the planet Mercury. Click here to see the latest images from around the world.
Dateline - 16 November 2013: Comet ISON update
Comet ISON is now ten times brighter than it was on November 14 when an unexpected outburst propelled the sundiver into the realm of naked-eye visibility. Observers around the world confirm seeing the comet as a faint smudge low in the eastern sky before sunrise. Backyard telescopes reveal a riot of gaseous streamers trailing behind the comet's brightening (and possibly fragmenting) core. With almost two weeks to go before ISON plunges into the sun's atmosphere, it is already one of the most beautiful and active comets in years. Current images and observing tips may be found by clicking here . More images are available here . (Contributed by Sean)
Dateline - 15 November 2013: Two comets have a rare encounter with Mercury
On November 18-20, two comets (ISON and Encke) are going to fly by the planet Mercury in quick succession. NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft will have a front-row seat for the rare double encounter. Look due east with binoculars soon after 4 am, below the star Spica. Full story Video
Dateline - 15 November 2013: More information on Comet ISON
Comet ISON is currently travelling through the constellation Virgo. It will be very close to the first magnitude star Spica on November 17-18. Moving rapidly as it approaches the Sun, it will pass just to the south of the third magnitude star Zuben Elgenubi on November 23 and 24. At that time it will be only a handspan from the Sun. These stars can be found by using charts, a planisphere, or a mobile phone app such as Google Sky Map. The comet will reach the head of Scorpius (where the Sun is located) in the last few days of November. Swinging around the Sun near the star Graffias, it will then head north, passing the third magnitude star Yed Prior on December 5. It will continue north through the constellation Sertpens, and will pass between Corona Borealis and Hercules on December 18. By the end of December, Comet ISON will be too far north to see from the Sunshine Coast. A sky chart is available here .
Dateline - 15 November 2013: Comet ISON brightens as it approaches the Sun
Observers around the world are reporting a sharp increase in the brightness of sundiving Comet ISON. Formerly dim, it is now on the threshold of naked-eye visibility. Comet ISON is plunging toward the sun for a perilous pass through the solar atmosphere on November 29 AEST. This could be the first of many brightening events as intensifying solar heat erodes material away from the comet's nucleus. For more information and updates, click here . In today's story from NASA, a leading expert describes some possible outcomes for the sundiving comet - from premature disintegration to spectacular survival. Full story
Dateline - 9 November 2013: Comet ISON is now visible in binoculars, but there's a brighter one near it
Observers around the world report that Comet ISON is now visible in binoculars. The comet is brightening as it plunges toward the sun for a perilous pass through the solar atmosphere on November 29 Australian time. It is not, however, the brightest comet in the pre-dawn sky. As November progresses, there is a rare gathering of four comets rising in the east before dawn. Click here to find out which one is outshining media-favourite ISON.
Dateline - 8 November 2013: High solar activity
This week, Jupiter-sized sunspot AR1890 unleashed two brief but intense X-class solar flares and numerous M-class solar flares. More eruptions are in the offing as the sunspot turns to directly face Earth over this weekend. Clickhere for more information.
Dateline - 8 November 2013: Update on Comet ISON
Comet ISON is now inside the orbit of Earth and is racing towards the Sun, which it will reach in three weeks. Clickhere for more information, photographs and a movie showing it travelling across the stellar background.
Dateline - 7November 2013: An asteroid with six tails
The Hubble Space Telescope has spotted a strange asteroid spewing six comet-like tails of dust. This could be a sign that the asteroid is breaking apart. Full story
Dateline - 2 November 2013: Total solar eclipse (not visible from Australia)
Early Sunday morning on November 3, sky watchers along the east coast of North America might notice something missing - a piece of the sun. A partial solar eclipse will be underway at sunrise. In the United States, visibility stretches all the way from Maine to the southern tip of Florida. Later, the Moon will cover the entire sun producing a total eclipse over parts of the Atlantic Ocean and Africa. Click here for observing tips and more information.
Dateline - 1 November 2013: Music of the spheres ?
As Voyager 1 recedes from the solar system, researchers are hoping the spacecraft will beam back tones from plasma waves, a form of 'interstellar music' that reveals conditions in the realm of the stars. Find out what deep space sounds like in this new video from NASA.Full story
Dateline - 25 October 2013: Solar activity is high and intensifying
This morning, new sunspot AR1882 unleashed an X1-class solar flare. The flare was bracketed by two erupting magnetic filaments - an ensemble of explosions that involved more than half of the solar disc. For more information on these blasts and any possible effects they may have on planet Earth, click here .
Dateline - 22 October 2013: Another exploding comet
Amateur astronomers are reporting a 100-fold outburst of brightness from Comet C/2012 X1 (LINEAR). Images reveal a spherical shell of gas that reminds observers of Comet 17P/Holmes (see here ), which exploded in 2007. Although it has brightened by six magnitudes, so far the comet is too dim for naked-eye viewing, but at magnitude +8.5 it is bright enough for imaging by backyard telescopes. It is currently between the stars Denebola and Arcturus, low in the north-east just before dawn. It will be lost in the dawn light for observers in Queensland. Click here for photos and more information.
Dateline - 10 October 2013: A lonely planet found without a star
Astronomers using a telescope in Hawaii have found a planet floating alone in space and not orbiting a star. Click here for more. (Contributed by Lee)
Dateline - 6 October 2013: Spacecraft goes into lunar orbit
Among a select few allowed to work during the
current US government shutdown, controllers for NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and
Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) fired the spacecraft's engines this
morning, October 6, slowing it enough to be captured by lunar gravity. LADEE
is now in orbit around the Moon. Soon, the spacecraft will begin its mission
to study the Moon's exotic and extremely tenuous atmosphere, which is much
affected by space weather. Click
for more information about this development, plus new colour images of incoming Comet
ISON, due to be a naked-eye comet at the end of November.
Dateline - 30 September 2013: Magnificent eruption on the Sun
On September 29, a long filament of magnetism in the sun's northern hemisphere erupted, producing a magnificent CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) and several must-see movies from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Although the CME was not aimed at Earth, our planet might receive a glancing blow from the cloud on October 2-4. Click here for more information and updates.
Dateline - 24 September 2013: Amateur astronomers spot Comet ISON
Comet ISON is now close enough for amateur astronomers to photograph through backyard telescopes. The comet is not as bright as forecasters expected, but experts say it is still on track to become an impressive sun-grazing comet later this year. Full story Video
Dateline - 14 September 2013: The Sun has gone strangely quiet
Right in the middle of Solar Max, the Sun has entered one of its deepest quiet spells in years. Flare activity has subsided and the sun's x-ray output has flatlined. This event highlights the unpredictability of the solar cycle. Click here for updates and commentary.
Dateline - 12 September 2013: Voyager 1 has left the Solar System
In an unexpected turn of events, researchers have realized that Voyager 1 left the solar system about a year ago. This event sets in motion a new era of exploration of the realm between the stars. Full story
Dateline - 11 September 2013: Meteor Firestorm over Europe
Earth is passing through a stream of debris from an unknown comet or asteroid. It happens every year around this time and produces a minor shower known as the 'September epsilon Perseids.' This year, Earth ran into an unusually dense patch of meteoroids, which produced an outburst of meteors over Europe near midnight on September 9-10. The event is highlighted here ..
Dateline - 10 September 2013: ISS 'Firestation' experiment to explore the tops of thunderstorms
Sometimes, Earth mimics a supernova, producing a Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flash from the tops of thunderstorms. A new lightning sensor on the International Space Station (ISS)could solve the mystery of these energetic bursts. Full story Video
Dateline - 3 September 2013: Industrial soot linked to retreat of glaciers in the 19th century
Researchers have uncovered strong evidence that soot from a rapidly industrialising Europe caused the abrupt retreat of mountain glaciers in the European Alps that began in the 1860s, a period often thought of as the end of the Little Ice Age. Full story
Dateline - 3 September 2013: Tenuous lunar atmosphere to be studiedA NASA spacecraft slated for launch on September 6 will fly to the Moon to investigate the tenuous lunar atmosphere. Researchers hope LADEE will solve a mystery that has been puzzling them since the days of Apollo. Full story Video
Dateline - 30 August 2013: Major fireball event over USA
Two nights ago, a meteoroid wighing about 45 kg and travelling at 85 000 kph hit the atmosphere over the southeastern USA and exploded, producing sonic booms and a fireball as bright as a full Moon. Researchers are now scouring the countryside for fragments that could reveal the nature and origin of the meteoroid. A movie, more information, and updates are available here .
Dateline - 23 August 2013: Comet ISON to fly by Mars on October 1
Comet ISON is heading for a Thanksgiving Day brush with the sun, but first it's going to pay a visit to the Red Planet. Mars rovers and satellites will have a ringside seat for the comet's close approach on October 1. Full story Video
Dateline - 20 August 2013: Sun-diving comet and spectacular coronal mass ejection (CME)
A small comet plunged into the sun this morning. Just before it arrived, the sun expelled a magnificent full-halo CME. Did the comet survive? Find out what happened here .
Dateline - 17 August 2013: The strange attraction of 'hot Jupiters'
An exotic class of exoplanets called 'hot Jupiters' are even weirder than astronomers imagined. While these worlds may have Earth-like blue skies, new data show that they are anything but Earth-like. Full story Video
Dateline - 16 August 2013: NASA tracks Chelyabinsk meteor plume
New research shows that an asteroid exploding over Russia earlier this year created a belt of 'meteor dust' that circulated through the stratosphere for at least three months. Full story
Dateline - 11 August 2013: Perseid meteor shower intensifies
The Perseid meteor shower is intensifying as Earth moves deeper into the debris stream of parent comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. International observers are reporting as many as 30 Perseids per hour from dark sky sites, a rate which could triple on August 12-13 when the shower peaks. Click here for updates and observing tips.
CLOUDY SKIES? You can listen to the Perseid meteor shower on Space Weather Radio, which is monitoring signals from the USAF Space Surveillance Radar. Every Perseid that flies over the radar makes an audible ping. Hear the echoes here .
Dateline - 5 August 2013: The Sun's magnetic field is about to flip
According to data from NASA-supported observatories, the sun's global magnetic field is about to reverse polarity. This is a sign that the Solar Maximum has arrived. Full story Video
Dateline - 3 August 2013: Possible explanation for Gamma-Ray Bursts ?
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has detected a new kind of stellar blast called a kilonova, which happens when a pair of compact objects such as neutron stars crash together. The observation may solve a longstanding mystery of the causes of gamma-ray bursts. Full story
Dateline - 2 August 2013: First Perseid fireballs reach Earth
Earth is entering a broad stream of debris from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, source of the annual Perseid meteor shower. Although the shower won't peak until August 12 and 13 when Earth hits the densest part of the stream, the first Perseids are already arriving. Click here for images and updates.
Dateline - 26 July 2013: Possible fireballs during Perseids meteor shower in August
New research by NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office shows that one annual meteor shower produces more fireballs than any other - the Perseids. This year's Perseid peak is just around the corner on August 12 and 13. Full story Video
Dateline - 23 July 2013: A pale blue dot - two distant spacecraft photograph the Earth from Saturn
Images of Earth taken by two interplanetary spacecraft show our planet and its moon as bright beacons from millions of miles away in space. Full story
Dateline - 22 July 2013: The mystery of the missing waves on TitanSaturn's giant moon Titan is dotted with hydrocarbon lakes and seas that bear an uncanny resemblance to bodies of water on Earth. Strangely, though, on Titan there are no waves. In this week's story, planetary scientist Alex Hayes discusses the mysterious flatness of Titan's liquid bodies and predicts a sea-change in the near future. Full story Video
Dateline - 17 July 2013: You can be in this picture (but not if you live east of Africa)
On Saturday, July 20, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will photograph Earth through the rings of Saturn. This will be the first time that Earthlings have had advance notice that their picture will be taken from interplanetary distances. NASA has timed the picture so that all of the USA will be illuminated by the Sun as seen from Saturn. Don't bother waving from Australia - we will be on the opposite side of the Earth, as the picture will be taken somewhere in the 15 minutes after 7:27 am out time, and Saturn will have set for us. Full story
Dateline - 15 July 2013: HST discovers new satellite orbiting Neptune
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a new moon orbiting the distant blue-green planet Neptune. Full story
Dateline - 15 July 2013: A zero-G coffee cup ??
Drinking coffee in space is surprisingly tricky. Physicists researching the strange behaviour of fluids onboard the International Space Station have invented a zero-G coffee cup to make the morning 'cuppa' a little easier to swallow. Full story Video
Dateline - 11 July 2013: NASA discovers a cobalt blue exoplanet
Astronomers working with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have deduced the actual colour of a planet orbiting another star 63 light-years away. The planet is HD 189733b, and its colour is cobalt blue. If seen directly, this planet would look like a deep blue dot, reminiscent of Earth's colour as seen from space. Full story
Dateline - 10 July 2013: NASA spacecraft maps the solar system's tail
Like a comet, the solar system has a tail. For the first time, NASA's IBEX spacecraft has mapped out the structure of this tail, which is shaped like a four-leaf clover. Full story
Dateline - 1 July 2013: The Mars rover Opportunity has now been exploring for a decade
Dateline - 25 June 2013: Tally of NEOs reaches 10 000
The count of known asteroids and comets that can come close to Earth continues to climb. The 10 000th Near-Earth Object (NEO), asteroid 2013 MZ5, was detected on June 18, 2013 by the Pan-STARRS-1 telescope. Full story
Dateline - 24 June 2013: New worry about climate change
Arctic permafrost soils contain more accumulated carbon than all the human fossil-fuel emissions since 1850 combined. Warming permafrost, poised to release its own gases into the atmosphere, could be the 'sleeping giant' of climate change. Full story Video
Dateline - 21 June 2013: Chinese Space Station crosses the Sun
China's Tiangong-1 space station, now crewed by three taikonauts, passed in front of the sun over the south of France this week. Astrophotographer Thierry Legault captured must-see images of the transit, which you can see by clicking here .
Dateline - 21 June 2013: Solstice solar flare
The first day of summer in the northern hemisphere began with a long-duration M2-class solar flare. The source was active sunspot AR1777. The blast was not Earth-directed, but future flares from AR1777 could be, as the active region turns toward our planet this weekend. Click here for images and updates.
Dateline - 19 June 2013: Earth to be photographed from Saturn next month
One month from now, on July 19, 2013, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will photograph Earth through the rings of Saturn. Full story
Dateline - 18 June 2013: Peculiar flames on the ISS
Researchers experimenting with flames onboard the International Space Station (ISS) have produced a strange, cool-burning form of fire that could help improve the efficiency of car engines. Full story Video
Dateline - 11 June 2013: 'Dry Ice' snowboards on Mars
New research suggests that some of the famous gullies on Mars are caused by slabs of dry ice gliding down sand dunes on cushions of gas similar to miniature hovercraft. Full story
Dateline - 10 June 2013: Gamma Delphinids Meteor Shower returns
Sky watchers in North America might see an outburst of meteors during the early hours of June 11 when Earth passes through a stream of cometary debris last seen in 1930. Forecasters predict the return of the Gamma Delphinid meteor shower tomorrow morning around 08:30 UT (04:30 am EDT, 6:30 pm AEST). The shower is expected to last about 30 minutes with an unknown number of bright, fast meteors. It is not expected to be visible from Australia, as Gamma Delphinus will not rise until just before 10 pm. Click here for more information and updates.
Dateline - 7 June 2013: Noctilucent clouds
Noctilucent clouds have surprised researchers by appearing early this year. The unexpected apparition of electric-blue night-shining clouds hints at a change in the ;teleconnections' of Earth's atmosphere. Full story Video
Dateline - 7 June 2013: New movie of asteroid 1998 QE2 and its moon
Scientists working with NASA's 70-metre Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, have released a new and improved movie clip of near-Earth asteroid 1998 QE2 and its moon. Full story Video
Dateline - 30 May 2013: The asteroid 1998 QE2 is not alone
Newly-obtained radar images of approaching asteroid 1998 QE2 reveal that the asteroid has a moon. The asteroid, which is 2.7 kilometres in diameter, is expected to pass close to the Earth at about 7 am on Saturday, June 1. At its closest approach, QE2 will be about 5.8 million kilometres from Earth, or about 15 times further away than the Moon. Full story Video
Dateline - 29 May 2013: New asteroids found
Astronomers using data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) have identified 28 new families of asteroids. Full story
Dateline - 24 May 2013: Big weather on Hot Jupiters
Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope are making weather maps of an exotic class of exoplanets called 'hot Jupiters'. Full story Video
Dateline - 22 May 2013: Significant explosion on the Sun
A solar radiation storm is in progress on May 23 (AEST) following an M5-class solar flare on the sun's western limb. The explosion not only accelerated a hailstorm of protons toward our planet, but also produced a magnificent CME (coronal mass ejection), which might deliver a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field in the days ahead. Click here for more information and updates.
Dateline - 17 May 2013: Bright explosion on the Moon
NASA researchers who monitor the Moon for meteoroid impacts have detected an explosion ten times brighter than anything they've seen before. Full story Video
Dateline - 10 May 2013: Planetary alignment at end of May
Mercury, Venus and Jupiter are lining up for a beautiful sunset conjunction at the end of May. Full story Video
Dateline - 10 May 2013: "Ring of Fire" solar eclipse over Australia
As the sun rose over Australia this morning, May 10, the solar disc turned into a ring of fire - an annular solar eclipse. Click here for details and images.
Dateline - 6 May 2013: Glow-in-the-dark plants on the International Space Station
Can plants adapt to the novelty of climate change? Researchers seeking to answer this question have sent genetically engineered plants to the ISS for exposure to extreme conditions. To report their stress, the plants have learned to glow in the dark. Full story Video
Dateline - 3 May 2013: Powerful solar flare
For the second time in three days, an active region just over the sun's east limb has exploded, producing a strong solar flare and Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). The blast on May 3 registered M5 - not quite an X-flare, but still strong considering that the edge of the sun partially eclipsed the explosion as seen from Earth. Solar rotation is turning the active region toward Earth, and it should emerge later this weekend. Click here for updates.
Dateline - 29 April 2013: Hurricane on Saturn
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has spotted a gigantic hurricane swirling inside a mysterious, six-sided weather pattern known as 'the hexagon' on Saturn. Full story
Dateline - 29 April 2013: Meteors collide with Saturn's rings
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has provided the first direct evidence of small meteoroids crashing into Saturn's rings. Full story
Dateline - 25 April 2013: Saturn at opposition on April 28
Dateline - 24 April 2013: Hubble Space Telescope photographs Comet ISON
Dateline - 19 April 2013: Meteors from Comet ISON may strike the Earth
Dateline - 18 April 2013: Three new planets found in 'Goldilocks Zones'
NASA's Kepler mission has discovered two new planetary systems that include three super-Earth-size planets in the 'habitable zone', the range of distance from a star where the surface temperature of an orbiting planet might be suitable for liquid water. Full story
Dateline - 15 April 2013: New signs of Dark Matter found by ISS
Dateline - 11 April 2013: Incoming solar storm
A strong M6-class solar flare on April 11 has hurled a CME (coronal mass ejection) toward Earth. Geomagnetic storms and high-latitude auroras are possible when the fast-moving cloud reaches our planet on April 13. Click here for updates.
Dateline - 29 March 2013: A new watch on our ozone layer
Life as we know it doesn't thrive on planets without ozone layers, which is why the recovery of Earth's ozone layer is so important. A new instrument slated for launch to the International Space Station (ISS) will monitor our planet's protective ozone cocoon with greater depth and precision than ever before. Full story Video
Dateline - 27 March 2013: A comet is heading for Mars
A comet is heading for Mars, and there is a chance that it might hit the Red Planet in October 2014. An impact wouldn't necessarily mean the end of NASA's Mars program, but it would transform the program along with Mars itself. Full story Video
Dateline - 21 March 2013: The age of the universe now put at 13.8 billion years
The European Space Agency's Planck spacecraft has released the most detailed map ever made of the oldest light in the universe, revealing new information about its age, contents and origins. Full story
Dateline - 15 March 2013: Views of Comet Pan-STARRS
Comet Pan-STARRS has survived its encounter with the Sun and is now emerging from twilight in the sunset skies of the northern hemisphere. It is a very difficult object from Australia, being swamped by the Sun's glare. A NASA spacecraft has beamed back spectacular pictures of a 'wild and ragged' tail behind the comet's active nucleus. Full story Video
Dateline - 12 March 2013: Life on Mars ?
An analysis of a rock sample recently collected by NASA's rover Curiosity shows ancient Mars could have supported living microbes. Full story
Dateline - 9 March 2013: Bright comet is close to the Sun
This weekend, bright Comet Pan-STARRS is making a close approach to the sun inside the orbit of Mercury, where fierce solar heat is helping the comet reach naked-eye visibility. Observers in the northern hemisphere are making their first sightings now as the comet emerges from solar glare low in the western sky after sunset. Soon, the comet could be widely visible to casual sky watchers - no telescope required. Click here for images, sky maps and observing tips.
Dateline - 8 March 2013: New solar wind discovery
Using data from an aging NASA spacecraft, researchers have found signs of an energy source in the solar wind that has caught the attention of fusion researchers. Full story
Dateline - 3 March 2013: Naked-eye comet
Comet Pan-STARRS (C/2011 L4) is now inside the orbit of Mercury and it is brightening as it approaches the Sun. Observers in the southern hemisphere say the comet can be seen with the naked eye even through city lights. Currently, it is about as bright as the stars of Orion's Belt (magnitude +2 to +3). The comet could become even brighter when it moves into northern hemisphere skies in the second week of March. Click here for current images and updates.
Dateline - 28 February 2013: A third radiation belt discovered around the Earth
NASA's twin Van Allen Probes, launched just last August, have revealed a previously unknown third radiation belt around the Earth. Full story
Dateline - 26 February 2013: What exploded over Russia ?
Nearly two weeks after an asteroid exploded over Russia's Ural mountains, scientists are making progress understanding the origin and make-up of the unexpected space rock. Here are their latest findings with video .
Dateline - 20 February 2013: Kepler discovers a tiny planet system
NASA's Kepler mission scientists have discovered a new planetary system that is home to the smallest planet yet found around a star similar to our Sun. Full story
Dateline - 15 February 2013: Russian meteor explosion
On February 15, a meteor exploded in the daytime skies of Chelyabinsk, Russian. Shock waves from the blast shattered windows in many buildings and sent onlookers to the hospital with wounds from flying glass. The meteoroid entered the atmosphere just as asteroid 2012 DA14 was approaching Earth for a record-setting close approach later in the day. However, NASA says there is no connection between the two - the Russian meteor and 2012 DA14 have different trajectories. A cosmic coincidence? Click here for more information and updates.
Dateline - 15 February 2013: Asteroid flyby tomorrow morning
The small near-Earth asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass very close to the Earth on February 15, 2013, so close that it will pass inside the ring of geosynchronous weather and communications satellites. NASA's NEO Program Office can accurately predict the asteroid's path with the observations obtained, and it is therefore known that there is no chance that the asteroid might be on a collision course with the Earth. Nevertheless, the flyby will provide a unique opportunity for researchers to study a near-Earth object up close.
Asteroid 2012 DA14 will be closest to Earth on February 16, 2013 at about 5:24 am Queensland time, when it will be at a distance of about 27 700 kilometres (17 200 miles) above the Earth's surface. This is so close that the asteroid will actually pass inside the ring of geosynchronous satellites, which is located about 35 800 kilometres (22 200 miles) above the equator, but still well above the vast majority of satellites, including the International Space Station. At its closest, the asteroid will be only about one-thirteenth of the distance to the Moon. The asteroid will fly by our planet quite rapidly, at a speed of about 7.8 kilometres/second (17 400 miles per hour) in a south-to-north direction with respect to the Earth.
Even though 2012 DA14 is coming remarkably close, it will still only appear as a point of light in the biggest of optical telescopes because of its small size. Based on its brightness, astronomers estimate that it is only about 45 metres across. It will brighten only to magnitude 7.5, too faint to be seen with the naked eye but easily visible in a good set of binoculars or a small telescope. The best viewing location for the closest approach will be Indonesia, from which the asteroid will be seen to move at a rate of almost one degree per minute against the star background. Eastern Europe, Asia and Australia are also well situated to see the asteroid around its closest approach. But by the time the Earth rotates enough for observers in the continental United States to have a chance to see the asteroid, it will have receded and faded to about 11th magnitude. Radar astronomers plan to take images of the asteroid about 8 hours after closest approach using the Goldstone antenna.
2012 DA14 has not been in our catalogues for very long - it was discovered in February 2012 by astronomers at the La Sagra Sky Survey program in southern Spain and reported to the Minor Planet Centre. The asteroid had just made a fairly distant passage by the Earth, about 7 times farther than the distance to the Moon when it was first detected by the Spanish group. Since 2012 DA14's orbital period around the Sun has been about 368 days, which is very similar to the Earth's, the asteroid has made a series of annual close approaches, this year's being the closest. But this encounter will shorten 2012 DA14's orbital period to about 317 days, changing its orbital class from Apollo to Aten, and its future close approaches will follow a different pattern. The close approach this year is the closest the asteroid will come for at least 3o years.
This passage of 2012 DA14 by the Earth is a record close approach for a known object of this size. A few other known asteroids have flown by the Earth even closer, but those asteroids were smaller. On average, we expect an object of this size to get this close to the Earth about once every 40 years. An actual Earth collision by an object of this size would be expected much less frequently, about once every 1200 years on average. Full story Video
Dateline - 15 February 2013: Australian Astronomical Observatory resumes normal service
On the night of Thursday, February 14, the 4-metre Anglo-Australian Telescope returned to regular operations after testing, following the dangerous bushfire that swept through the Observatory grounds on the late afternoon of January 13 last. Courageous action by thirty members of the Rural Fire Brigade is credited with saving all the telescopes at Siding Spring Observatory, although some outbuildings, the accommodation building and the Visitors' Centre were lost to the flames. Media release
Dateline - 13 February 2013: Asteroid flyby this Friday
Starting at about 4 am on Saturday, February 16, NASA TV will provide commentary and images of near-Earth asteroid 2012 DA14 as it flies past Earth closer than many artificial satellites. Full story Video
Dateline - 9 February 2013: Latest news from Mars
In a milestone accomplishment, NASA's Curiosity rover has drilled into a rock on Mars and gathered material from its interior. This is the first time any robot has drilled into a rock to collect a sample on Mars. Full story
Dateline - 6 February 2013: A possible naked-eye comet in March
A comet falling in from the distant reaches of the solar system could become a naked-eye object in early March. This is Comet Pan-STARRS's first visit to the inner solar system, so surprises are possible as its virgin ices are exposed to intense solar heating for the first time. Important dates: Comet's closest approach to Earth (160 million kilometres) is on March 5; comet's closest approach to Sun (just inside the orbit of Mercury) is on March 10; best times for viewing are on March 13 and 14. Look low in the western sky soon after Sunset, near the thin crescent Moon.
In the last days of February, Comet Pan-STARRS will be just south of the star Fomalhaut. The comet will skirt the western horizon, always involved in twilight, heading north through the constellations of Aquarius, Pisces and Andromeda. It will reach the far northern constellation of Cassiopeia at the end of April. Full story Video
Dateline - 28 January 2013: Near-Earth approach by asteroid on February 15
On February 15 an asteroid about half the size of a football field will fly past Earth, closer than many man-made satellites. Since regular sky surveys began in the 1990s, astronomers have never seen an object so big come so close to our planet. Full story Video
Dateline - 28 January 2013: Webcam video as bushfire envelopes Siding Spring Observatory
Here is an outside video showing the disastrous bushfire that passed through the Observatory complex at Siding Spring on the afternoon and evening of January 13 last. It was edited from a webcam feed taken from a camera outside the Los Cumbres Observatory Global Network's 2 metre telescope during the blaze. It is a tribute to the bravery of rural fire-fighters that the thirteen telescopes on the mountain survived, although the domes suffered entry by ash and air-borne debris. Click here .
Dateline - 18 January 2013: The comet of the century ?
Astronomers are keeping a close eye on newly-discovered Comet ISON, which could become visible in broad daylight later this year when it skims through the atmosphere of the sun. Some reporters have dubbed ISON the 'Comet of the Century', but experts aren't yet sure how bright the sungrazer will become. Full story Video
Dateline - 14 January 2013: Bushfire envelopes Siding Spring Observatory
It now seems that the telescopes on Siding Spring Mountain have largely avoided destruction by the bushfire that swept over the mountain and whole observatory complex yesterday afternoon. Webcams and computers at the site, used for robotic telescope monitoring and operation, still appear to be working normally, despite temperature sensors indicating a peak air temperature of over 100º C at about 4:25 pm. This is hotter than boiling water. You can see the output from the sensors and some photos here (contributed by Sean). One hopes that the temperature sensors were in the open air, and not inside a building. Some ancillary buildings, sheds, living quarters and the Visitor Centre have been badly damaged or lost. The Observatory will be closed for the next two weeks to allow astronomers and technicians to assess any damage, such as ash entry. With luck, any problems will not be of a serious nature. These images show that the telescopes appear to be intact. Placing astronomical observatories on mountaintops in wilderness areas brings the attendant risks of bushfires. The Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona has had two lucky escapes - once when it was under construction, and another in 2004, the year it was commissioned.
Dateline - 14 January 2013: Bushfire envelopes Siding Spring Observatory
Australian astronomers are waking up to the dreadful news that a large and dangerous bushfire has swept over the world-famous Siding Spring Observatory, New South Wales, home of the Anglo-Australian Telescope, during Sunday afternoon, January 13. All staff at the Observatory were evacuated to nearby Coonabarabran when it became obvious that the situation was desperate. Early reports say that some buildings have been destroyed, but that some have survived. We will have to wait anxiously until Observatory personnel can return to the site and assess the damage. It is four days less than exactly ten years ago that the Mount Stromlo Observatory near Canberra was almost totally destroyed in very similar circumstances. At that time, aluminium domes melted, leaving the telescopes unprotected. The dome of the 74-inch reflector survived the inferno, but the telescope inside was reduced to a total loss due to the intense radiant heat. Mount Stromlo has never recovered and the ruined telescopes will never be replaced. We can but hope that enough lessons were learned at that time to apply more protective measures at Siding Spring other than putting heat-proof paint on the buildings. Google "Siding Spring Observatory bushfire" for latest information.
Dateline - 11 January 2013: Large active sunspot becoming visible
One of the biggest sunspots of the current solar cycle is now turning towards Earth. Named AR1654, the active region is crackling with medium-sized (M-class) flares and could be poised to break the recent spell of calm space weather around our planet. Click here for images and updates.
Dateline - 8 January 2013: How solar activity can influence the Earth's climate
A new report issued by the National Research Council, "The Effects of Solar Variability on Earth's Climate", sets out some of the surprisingly complex ways that solar activity can make itself felt on our planet. Full story