Space

The ashes of the very first stars Astrophysics

The ashes of the very first stars

The universe was just 100 million years old when the first stars already flared up. Very early on, dark matter amplified inhomogeneities in the structure of the universe in such a way that there were areas with a higher concentration of hydrogen. This clumped together, and as still happens today, a star was formed. With our sun these very first cosmic beacons, which are called "Population III" today, are hardly comparable. They must have consisted mainly of hydrogen and helium - already because there were no other elements at all in the early universe. This is how these stars should…
News from the cosmic origin of life Life

News from the cosmic origin of life

Nitriles, a class of organic molecules with a cyano group, i.e. a carbon atom bonded to a nitrogen atom via an unsaturated triple bond, are usually toxic. Yet, paradoxically, they are also an important precursor for molecules that are essential for life - namely, ribonucleic acid (RNA). Astrobiologists already knew that complex molecules are surprisingly common even in space, which is hostile to life. Now, a team of researchers from Spain, Japan, Chile, Italy and the United States has shown that a wide range of nitriles occur in interstellar space in the molecular cloud G+0.693-0.027, near the center of…
What’s hiding near Andromeda? Space

What’s hiding near Andromeda?

First there was an amateur astronomer: Giuseppe Donatiello found an interesting "spot" in the Dark Energy Camera data on the 4-meter Víctor M. Blanco telescope. Then, using the larger 8.1-meter Gemini North telescope, the professionals took a closer look and confirmed that the object, then named Pegasus V, was an ultra-faint dwarf galaxy on the edge of the Andromeda Galaxy. The observations revealed that the galaxy appears to be extremely poor in heavier elements compared to similar dwarf galaxies, which means that it is very old and probably represents a fossil of the first galaxies in the universe. In…
Worlds quite different from Earth could also harbor life Life

Worlds quite different from Earth could also harbor life

Are our ideas of the habitable zones around a star too Earth-centric? Of course. We've only found one example of life in the universe so far, so we all draw conclusions. But there are alternatives, as researchers from the University of Bern and the University of Zurich have just reported in a study published in the journal Nature Astronomy. According to the study, favorable conditions could even prevail for billions of years on planets that barely resemble our home planet. "One of the reasons water can be liquid on Earth is its atmosphere," explained study co-author Ravit Helled, professor…
What NASA is up to in the clouds of Venus Space

What NASA is up to in the clouds of Venus

In nine years (2031), our hot neighboring planet Venus will be visited by NASA's DAVINCI mission (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging). In a paper, the scientists and engineers involved have now explained what the probe is supposed to do. As its name suggests, it is primarily concerned with the planet's dense atmosphere, in which - unlike on the hot surface - conditions are expected to be favorable even for life. Davinci is therefore primarily a flying chemistry laboratory. Due mission consists of an orbiter (CRIS, carrier, relay and imaging spacecraft) and a lander. The…
Why Uranus and Neptune are colored differently Space

Why Uranus and Neptune are colored differently

Actually, Uranus and Neptune, the two outer planets of the solar system, are quite similar. Known as the "ice giants," the planets have similar masses (14.5 to 17 Earth masses), sizes (51,000 to 49,000 km at the equator), and atmospheric compositions (hydrogen at around 80%, helium around 15%, methane about 2%) - and yet they differ significantly in appearance. In the visible wavelength range, Neptune has a rich, deep blue hue, while Uranus has a much paler cyan hue. Astronomers have now found and published an explanation for the different colors of the two planets. The researchers refer to…
A black widow lurks 3000 light years away Space

A black widow lurks 3000 light years away

Astronomers love analogies from the animal kingdom. For a fast rotating neutron star, which feeds on its life partner, they have coined the term "black widow", although neutron stars are of course neither black nor widows. The star from which these pulsars (which otherwise would quickly come to rest on an astronomical scale) draw fresh energy for their rotation is still alive. Normally, such systems - about two dozen are known in the Milky Way alone - are identified by the X-rays and gamma rays that the pulsars emit like celestial lighthouses. However, not every pulsar also radiates in…
Greenhouse effect taken to the extreme Space

Greenhouse effect taken to the extreme

Our solar system is relatively unusual with its division into four rocky worlds on the inside and another four gas and ice planets on the outside. What it lacks, for example, is a so-called "Hot Jupiter": a gas giant the size of our Jupiter, which orbits very close to its parent star and thus heats up extremely strongly. Therefore, if you want to learn something about Hot Jupiters, you have to look into the distance. Such a specimen appears in many of the more than 5000 planetary systems catalogued so far. What do these types of planets have in…