"Alien" Particles Found Invading Our Solar System—A First

For the first time, a NASA spacecraft has directly observed “alien” particles that came from beyond our solar system, astronomers announced today.

The discovery not only gives us a glimpse of what exists in the so-called interstellar medium—the matter between stars—but also offers clues to the anatomy of our local galactic neighborhood.

Orbiting Earth some 200,000 miles (322,000 kilometers) away, the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft was able to snag samples of hydrogen, oxygen, and neon that came from interstellar space.

"It’s exciting to be able to have these first observations of alien matter—stuff that didn’t come from our sun or the planets, but came from the outside of our solar system, from other parts of the galaxy," David McComas, team leader for the IBEX program, said during a NASA news conference Tuesday.

"We think these are really important measurements, because these elements are the fundamental building blocks of stars, planets, and people."

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Kepler confirms its first planet in habitable zone

The top diagram compares our own solar system to Kepler-22, a star system containing the first habitable zone planet discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission. The habitable zone is the sweet spot around a star where temperatures are right for water to exist in its liquid form. Liquid water is essential for life on Earth.

Kepler-22’s star is a bit smaller than our sun, so its habitable zone is slightly closer in. The top diagram shows an artist’s rendering of the planet comfortably orbiting within the habitable zone, similar to where Earth circles the sun. Kepler-22b has a yearly orbit of 289 days. The planet, Kepler-22b, is the smallest known to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a sun-like star. It’s about 2.4 times the size of Earth.

Scientists do not yet know if the planet has a predominantly rocky, gaseous or liquid composition. It’s possible that the world would have clouds in its atmosphere, as depicted here in the artist’s interpretation.


Black Holes

Cosmic sink-holes or Black Holes are a region of spacetime from which nothing, not even light, can escape. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass will deform spacetime to form a black hole. Around a black hole there is a mathematically defined surface called an event horizon that marks the point of no return. It is called “black” because it absorbs all the light that hits the horizon, reflecting nothing, just like a perfect black body in thermodynamics. Quantum mechanics predicts that black holes emit radiation like a black body with a finite temperature. This temperature is inversely proportional to the mass of the black hole, making it difficult to observe this radiation for black holes of stellar mass or greater.


Colossal Storm Rages Over Saturn’s Surface

The largest storm seen on Saturn in more than 21 years has now been encircling the planet for a record-breaking 200 days.

First appearing as a tiny blemish on Dec. 5, 2010, the storm is still going strong today, surpassing the ringed giant’s previous longest tempest, which lasted 150 days back in 1903. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, in orbit around Saturn, has given astronomers a front-seat view of this enormous maelstrom and provided valuable data.

From its humble beginnings, the storm has grown to engulf the entire area between Saturn’s 30th and 51st north latitudes. From north to south, the tempest stretches about 9,000 miles — greater than diameter of the Earth — and covers two billion square miles, or eight times the surface area of our planet.


The Horrors of Exoplanets

Exoplanets are mysterious, bizarre, but ultimately exciting.

After all, with the help of the Kepler space telescope and advanced exoplanet-hunting techniques, for the first time we’re directly observing a veritable menagerie of alien worlds. Through exoplanetary studies, we’re beginning to even understand our place in the Universe.

Despite all this fascination however, many of these alien worlds seem downright scary.

Phantom worlds are on the prowl; ghosts dance in exoplanets’ atmospheres; entire worlds are even getting ripped apart!

Here’s a look at the top 10 of the scariest alien worlds likely to frighten even Captain Jean-Luc Picard back into his shuttlecraft.

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Watch a comet smash into the Sun, followed by a massive solar explosion

What you see in this amazing video really is just a coincidence. A comet smashed into one side of the Sun just as a massive explosion ignited on the other side. Two entirely unrelated events…but they sure look awesome together.

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