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Analysis and Comment (35)

Maybe pink planets have life too. Maybe pink planets have life too. gsfc

Explainer: how do you find exoplanets?

Astronomers didn’t know, 20 years ago, whether planets existed around any stars other than the Sun. All that changed in 1995 with the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting the star 51 Pegasi. And by the beginning…
Only physics can burn a hole through the sky. Only physics can burn a hole through the sky. European Southern Observatory (ESO)

Beyond the Higgs boson: five reasons physics is still interesting

Would physics be “far more interesting” if the Higgs boson had not been found? Stephen Hawking thinks so. He made this bold claim, possibly with his tongue slightly in his cheek, at the opening of a new…
The theory likens cancer to organisms such as these green and yellow sea sponges. The theory likens cancer to organisms such as these green and yellow sea sponges. Steve Rupp, National Science Foundation/Wikimedia Commons

Evolutionary theory of cancer overlooks genetic research

The history of biology is peppered with invaluable contributions by physics and physicists. Even if we leave aside the argument that it’s all just physics anyway, theoretical and practical biology leans…
A new study shows only 30% of stars in a globular cluster will reach old age and become planetary nebulae. A new study shows only 30% of stars in a globular cluster will reach old age and become planetary nebulae. NASA

A stellar mid-life crisis: why do some cluster stars die early?

It was written in the stars all along, but we’ve just found out: a whopping 70% of stars in a widely-studied cluster die before reaching old age which, for stars, is the most productive stage of their…
The Andromeda galaxy and its companions is challenging the very foundations of cosmology. The Andromeda galaxy and its companions is challenging the very foundations of cosmology. Adam Evans/Wikimedia Commons

Cosmic dance challenges our understanding of the universe

Deep images of the sky reveal that the universe contains billions of galaxies. Some, such as our own Milky Way, are immense, containing hundreds of billions of stars. Most galaxies, however, are dwarfs…
The SKA is on the horizon, but how do we get from here to there? The SKA is on the horizon, but how do we get from here to there? Pete Wheeler, ICRAR

Aspiration vs delivery: the long road to the Square Kilometre Array

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope has been on the cards since the early 1990s. It took until May of last year to find out where it will be built – in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand…
The black hole at the centre of NGC 1277 galaxy is one of the largest ever discovered. The black hole at the centre of NGC 1277 galaxy is one of the largest ever discovered. NASA /ESA/Andrew C. Fabian/Remco C. E. van den Bosch (MPIA)

‘Overmassive’ black hole holds the mass of 17 billion suns

Astronomers have discovered a new, enormous black hole that could change our understanding of how galaxies evolve. Holding the mass of 17 billion suns, the black hole at the centre of the NGC 1277 galaxy…
The explosion of a super-luminous supernovae can emit as much light as our sun will in 10 billion years. The explosion of a super-luminous supernovae can emit as much light as our sun will in 10 billion years. Rampant.Gaffer

Super-luminous supernovae: seriously worth the superlatives

Supernovae are the brilliant, explosive deaths of stars. For a short time, these explosions can outshine an entire galaxy containing billions of stars. A recently discovered rare class of supernovae, termed…
Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to our own sun and appears to be home to at least one planet. Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to our own sun and appears to be home to at least one planet. EPA/Davide De Martin/ESO

Alpha Centauri exoplanet is the closest ever – how was it found?

Earlier this week, a Swiss-based team searching for planets outside our solar system (exoplanets) published a paper in Nature announcing the detection of an Earth-mass planet orbiting the star Alpha Centauri…
Three years ago we discovered water on the moon, and now we’ve worked out where it’s from. Three years ago we discovered water on the moon, and now we’ve worked out where it’s from. Jason Bache

Blowin' in the (solar) wind: how the moon got its water

A study published in the journal Nature Geoscience last week suggests water on the moon may have come, at least in part, from the sun. Until a few years ago the orthodox view was that the moon was bone-dry…
Things may not be as they’d previously seemed regarding the moon’s formation. Things may not be as they’d previously seemed regarding the moon’s formation. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Was the moon formed by a planetary hit-and-run?

New research published in the planetary science journal Icarus, shows the moon may have been formed by a glancing collision with an “impactor” in the violent days of the early solar system. Contrary to…
Despite ongoing research, we still know little about the universe’s earliest moments. Despite ongoing research, we still know little about the universe’s earliest moments. tychay

‘Melbourne researchers rewrite Big Bang theory’ … or not

Earlier this week, headlines in several major newspapers screamed: “Melbourne researchers rewrite Big Bang theory”. You might think this is a reference to a new script for a popular TV show, but as a cosmologist…
Ripples in a pond help to illustrate wave motion and the Doppler effect. Ripples in a pond help to illustrate wave motion and the Doppler effect. *˜Dawn˜*

Explainer: the Doppler effect

When an ambulance passes with its siren blaring, you hear the pitch of the siren change: as it approaches, the siren’s pitch sounds higher than when it is moving away from you. This change is a common…
There’s far more to the night sky than the human eye can see. There’s far more to the night sky than the human eye can see. Joseph Dsilva

Explainer: radio astronomy

Humans have always had a deep affinity with the night sky. Over millennia the stars have guided us in our travels, provided a grand canvas for the great stories of mythology and invoked a sense of wonder…
A simulated Black Hole of ten solar masses as seen from a distance of 600km with the Milky Way in the background. A simulated Black Hole of ten solar masses as seen from a distance of 600km with the Milky Way in the background. Ute Kraus/Wikimedia

Explainer: black holes

The concept of a “black hole” is one of the most curious in astrophysics. It’s the answer to the question: “What happens if the density of matter in a region becomes so high that not even light can escape…
The search for gravitational waves is far more than just a novelty. The search for gravitational waves is far more than just a novelty. msmail

Rippling space-time: what science could do with Einstein’s gravitational waves

In my previous article we discussed the “who, what, when, where and how” of the worldwide gravitational wave detection effort. The observant observer will have noticed we’re still missing the “why”. Why…
Don’t look at the transit of Venus directly … but make sure you look at it. Don’t look at the transit of Venus directly … but make sure you look at it. Jan Herold

Transit of Venus: a must-see for everyone … no seriously

When Australia II won the America’s Cup yacht race in 1983, then-prime-minister Bob Hawke famously exclaimed: “Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.” Taking inspiration from this…
Everyone’s getting a slice of the SKA, whichever way you cut it. Everyone’s getting a slice of the SKA, whichever way you cut it. swishphotos

Science vs politics in the SKA decision: the winner was …

Late last week, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) board chairman, John Womersley, announced that the future telescope will have more than one home: Australia/New Zealand and South Africa. The announcement…
The global push to detect gravitational waves could provide an enormous return for science. The global push to detect gravitational waves could provide an enormous return for science. Wikimedia Commons

Rippling space-time: how to catch Einstein’s gravitational waves

Albert Einstein made an executive decision to revolutionise our understanding of gravity in a paper published in 1916. Nearly 100 years on, a key prediction of Einstein’s theory has eluded direct detection…
Trojans such as (1173) Anchises appear to have been caught in Jupiter’s orbit, mid-flight. Trojans such as (1173) Anchises appear to have been caught in Jupiter’s orbit, mid-flight. Dave Hosford

By Jupiter: the gas giant’s Trojans were captured, not pre-formed

You’ll remember that, about a year ago, Canadian astronomers announced the discovery of a small asteroid sharing the earth’s orbit. The asteroid in question, 2010 TK7, is a “planetary Trojan” – an object…
Knowing where cosmic rays don’t come from brings scientists another step closer to determining their origin. Knowing where cosmic rays don’t come from brings scientists another step closer to determining their origin. NSF/J. Yang

An extragalactic mystery: where do high-energy cosmic rays come from?

It’s been the defining question of high-energy astrophysics for the past century: where do cosmic rays come from? New findings from the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole have brought us closer…
The Big Bang theory and the existence of God are ideas often grappled with when thinking about how the universe was created. The Big Bang theory and the existence of God are ideas often grappled with when thinking about how the universe was created. DamienHR

The origin of the universe: is there a role for God?

Last week’s Global Atheist Convention and debates between prominent atheists and theologians in the Australian media has seen arguments about the existence of God getting a thorough airing. In my view…
It’s time we got to the core of our planet’s early history. It’s time we got to the core of our planet’s early history. Derringdos

What on Earth! Hot news on our planet’s formation

As of today, the world might have changed forever. A fundamental assumption underpinning much of modern geochemistry is that the earth has the same composition as a class of meteorites called chondrites…
The James Webb Space Telescope will search for stars in the dawning universe. The James Webb Space Telescope will search for stars in the dawning universe. BOBXNC

Hubble, Webb and the search for First Light galaxies

When the Obama administration announced its proposed NASA budget in February, astronomers worldwide breathed a sigh of relief. Despite significant cuts in other areas, funding for the James Webb Space…
All good things must come to an end. All good things must come to an end. Michael Ashley

The Antarctica Diaries: the final instalment

Professor Michael Ashley recently returned from Antarctica where he deployed a telescope to one of the most remote locations on Earth – a place known as Ridge A, 850km from the South Pole. This is the…
GRBs have puzzled astronomers for decades, and there is still plenty to learn. GRBs have puzzled astronomers for decades, and there is still plenty to learn. EOS/A Roquette

Flash, aah-aah! Could a gamma ray burst eradicate all life on Earth?

Ever since they were discovered accidentally in the 1960s, gamma ray bursts (GRBs) have continued to amaze and puzzle astronomers worldwide. In nearly 50 years of research there seem to have been more…
You probably wouldn’t try to drive across Antarctica in a regular Hilux. You probably wouldn’t try to drive across Antarctica in a regular Hilux. Michael Ashley

The Antarctica Diaries: week six

Professor Michael Ashley recently returned from Antarctica where he was deploying a telescope to one of the most remote locations on Earth – a place known as Ridge A, 850km from the South Pole. This is…
When you’re trying to fly to the South Pole, weather-related delays are a frustrating reality. When you’re trying to fly to the South Pole, weather-related delays are a frustrating reality. Michael Ashley

The Antarctica Diaries: week two

Professor Michael Ashley is currently in Antarctica to deploy a telescope to one of the most remote locations on Earth – a place known as Ridge A, some 850km from the South Pole. This is the second instalment…
Finding quasars will help us understand how galaxies were formed. Finding quasars will help us understand how galaxies were formed. NASA

Back to where we started: tracing the origins of galaxies

Today, the University of Melbourne’s Professor Stuart Wyithe was awarded the 2011 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year for his work on the origin of galaxies. The multi-award winning…
Science follows certain procedures, but does the media get the signal? Science follows certain procedures, but does the media get the signal? CSIRO

Diamond planets, climate change and the scientific method

Recently my colleagues and I announced the discovery of a remarkable planet orbiting a special kind of star known as a pulsar. Based on the planet’s density, and the likely history of its system, we concluded…
Stars shine, for sure, but PSR J1719-1438 is sporting some serious bling. Stars shine, for sure, but PSR J1719-1438 is sporting some serious bling. Robyn Beck/AFP

Diamond planet found (if you like it then you should have put a ring on it)

A planet has been found in our Milky Way galaxy that may be made entirely of diamond. As reported in Science today, an international astronomy team led by Swinburne University’s Matthew Bailes, has discovered…
Get to grips with the latest development in cosmic couture. Get to grips with the latest development in cosmic couture. NASA

Our new antimatter belt … all the rage in 2011

In the past week, many media outlets have reported the discovery of an antimatter “belt” circling the earth. A range of potential uses for this belt have already been floated – perhaps the most exciting…
We still have plenty to learn about our own galaxy. We still have plenty to learn about our own galaxy. Doug Klembara

If I had a blank cheque I’d … trace the history of the Milky Way

Welcome to the third instalment of If I had a blank cheque … a series in which leading researchers reveal what they could (and would) do in their discipline if money were no object. Today we hear from…
Scientists believe dark matter makes up 23% of the universe. Scientists believe dark matter makes up 23% of the universe. NASA

New chatter on dark matter

Dark matter has worked its way back into the news in the last few days with the completion of a detection experiment in a tunnel deep under the Italian Alps. Researchers from Columbia University used a…

Research and News (4)

Research Briefs (13)

Looking for planets just like Earth

University of Auckland scientists have proposed a new way to find planets like Earth. The research strategy includes the…

Dark matter core challenges theories

The collision of several, massive galaxy clusters has left behind a clump of dark matter, potentially challenging existing…

X-rays reveal inside of the moon

X-rays of the moon have shown that, unlike Earth, our rocky satellite has no active volcanos, and hasn’t for billions of…

Superfast spinning star found

The star with the fastest rotation ever recorded has been discovered by researchers at the University of California, Santa…