Tag Archives: astronomy

NASA’s Visit to Solar System’s 2nd Biggest Asteroid Vesta Yields New Data about Asteroid Families [Nature]

Vesta confirmed as venerable planet progenitor

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft won’t end its 13-month-long visit to Vesta, the Solar System’s second biggest asteroid, until August, but researchers have now solidified the rock’s reputation as an archetype for understanding planetary evolution. In six reports in the 11 May edition of  Science, Dawn mission scientists have confirmed several long-held assumptions about Vesta and detailed some puzzles about the roughly 520-kilometer-diameter body.

My article highlights Vesta’s importance in our understanding of asteroids and meteorites, as well some remaining mysteries that continued study may illuminate.

Update: The Knight Science Journalism Tracker once again notes my science reporting by highlighting this and my previous Vesta-related story:

NatureNews (blog) Ron Cowen: Vesta confirmed as venerable planet progenitor ; the ‘confirmed’ in the hed is a good way to say this is not surprise news, but incremental news. Cowen, on constant prowl for news before it is wide news, includes a link to a previous post on Vesta’s topography and what it might mean, from meetings last fall.


Off to Harvard for a Stay as Visiting Journalist at the Center for Astrophysics

Ron is a visiting journalist at Harvard from April 23 to May 18, 2012. He’ll be a guest at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics’ Institute for Theory and Computation, attending seminars and lectures and chatting with scientists at both Harvard and MIT. Hope to come back with several cool stories so stay tuned!

Where’s the Dark Matter? New Study Finds None Near the Solar System [Nature]

Survey finds no hint of dark matter near Solar System

In the largest survey of its kind to date, astronomers scouring the space around the Solar System for signs of dark matter — the hypothetical material believed to account for more than 80% of the mass in the Universe — have come up empty-handed.

If confirmed, the surprising result would upend a long-established consensus, researchers not involved in the study say.  For decades, cosmic theories have relied on dark matter — which exerts gravitational pull but emits no light — to be the hidden scaffolding that explains how structure arose in the Universe, how galaxies formed and how the rapidly spinning Milky Way manages to keep from flying apart. Without dark matter, theorists say, the visible material in the Universe, such as stars and gas, would not have the heft to do the job alone.

The rest of the article explains how the research was conducted and what the scientific community thinks of the finding.

Credit: ESO/H.H.Heyer
Credit: ESO/H.H.Heyer

(SCOOP) Coverage of My Recent Early-Universe Scoop

Several sites highlighted my breaking news story on what may be the most distant galaxy known in the Universe:

  • Knight Science Journalism Tracker, one of the most respected trackers of science stories, highlights the article:

    [NatureNews’] ace scoop-hungry reporter Ron Cowen late last week filed on a report, at the preprint server for physics-related news arXiv, that a large international team has gotten an image of a galaxy as it was when the universe was a mere 490 million years old.


    Cowen writes the story well, and includes the enticing angle that if NASA’s Webb Telescope survives its budgetary excesses and goes into operation, its large IR mirror should offer a much better look at this galaxy – dubbed MACS1149-JD1.

  • American Scientist republished part of the article as part of its Science in the News section, which is a roundup of the most important and exciting science news pieces.

The article was mentioned here, on my Tumblr site, shortly after publication.

Update: The National Science Foundation’s Science360 also highlights the scoop.

(SCOOP) about the Early Universe! [Nature]

Infant galaxy offers tantalizing peek at early Universe

Astronomers are claiming a new benchmark in the quest to see the Universe’s first galaxies. By taking advantage of a rare cosmic zoom lens — where the gravity of a large mass magnifies light from objects in the distant background — a team of US and European researcher has spotted a galaxy so remote its light was emitted just 490 million years after the Big Bang, when the Universe was a mere 3.6% of its current age.

Read my entire article, which includes how existing and upcoming telescope capabilities could be used to investigate this galaxy further and what the find means for our understanding of the Universe’s number of galaxies.


Exoplanets and the 2012 American Astronomical Society Winter Meeting [NPR Science Friday]

NPR’s Science Friday invited me to talk about exoplanets and the 2012 Winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society:

Kepler Telescope Spots Tiniest Exoplanets Yet

At a meeting of the American Astronomical Society, scientists talked about mapping dark matter, measuring the ‘graininess’ of spacetime, and discovering the smallest exoplanets ever, using the Kepler space telescope. Ron Cowen, who reported on the meeting for Nature, discusses those findings.

Go ahead and listen to me with Ira Flatow on the Science Friday Web site!

Asteroseismology’s Love of Star Music [Nature]

When we think of good vibrations, we usually don’t consider the vibrations made by stars. But a recent wave of work in asteroseismology is doing just that to break ground in our understanding of stellar structures. Due to the movement and changing temperatures of surface gas, a star pulses and vibrates. Those pulses and vibrations in the structure of the star provides insight about the star’s internal structure. From my Nature article Kepler’s surprise: The sounds of the stars:

…the vibrations penetrate deep into the stellar interior and become resonating tones that reveal the star’s size, composition and mass. So by watching for the characteristic fluctuations in brightness, says [University of Birmingham, UK, astrophysicist William] Chaplin, “we can literally build up a picture of what the inside of a star looks like”.

Better still, he adds, asteroseismologists are now hauling in the data wholesale. After years of being hampered by Earth’s turbulent atmosphere, which obscures the view of the Universe and has limited asteroseismology to about 20 of the brightest nearby stars, researchers have been astonished by the trove of information coming from a new generation of space observatories. Thanks to the French-led Convection, Rotation and Planetary Transits (COROT) space telescope, launched in 2006, and NASA’s Kepler space telescope, launched in 2009, they can now listen in on hundreds of stars at a time.

“We are in a golden age for the study of stellar structure and evolution,” says Hans Kjeldsen, an astronomer at Aarhus University in Denmark.

Read the rest of the article on Nature to learn more about the discoveries and future research of asteroseismologists.

Update: This article won the Acoustical Society of America’s Science Writing Award for 2011-2013.