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01/13/2010

Caltech Astronomer Spots Second Smallest Exoplanet

Kathy Svitil

Astronomers from Caltech and other institutions, using the highly sensitive 10-meter Keck I telescope atop Hawaii's Mauna Kea, have detected an extrasolar planet with a mass just four times that of Earth. The planet, which orbits its parent star HD156668 about once every four days, is the second-smallest world among the more than 400 exoplanets (planets located outside our solar system) that have been found to date.

12/17/2009

Caltech Scientists Discover Fog on Titan

Kathy Svitil

Saturn's largest moon, Titan, looks to be the only place in the solar system—aside from our home planet, Earth—with copious quantities of liquid (largely, liquid methane and ethane) sitting on its surface. According to Caltech planetary astronomer Mike Brown, Earth and Titan share yet another feature, which is inextricably linked with that surface liquid: common fog. 

11/29/2009

Caltech Scientists Explain Puzzling Lake Asymmetry on Titan

Kathy Svitil

Researchers at Caltech suggest that the eccentricity of Saturn's orbit around the sun may be responsible for the unusually uneven distribution of lakes over the northern and southern polar regions of the planet's largest moon, Titan. A paper describing the theory appears in the November 29th advance online edition of Nature Geoscience

10/15/2009

Caltech Researchers Reveal Unexpected Sources of Nitrogen Fixation

Kathy Svitil

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have identified an unexpected metabolic ability within a symbiotic community of microorganisms that may help solve a lingering mystery about the world's nitrogen cycling budget. A paper about their work appears in the October 16 issue of the journal Science.

08/12/2009

Caltech Scientists Discover Storms in the Tropics of Titan

Kathy Svitil

Saturn's moon Titan is dull, weatherwise. Nothing happens for years, making it hard to understand the carved channels that seem to line the surface. Now Titan has finally been caught in the act. Caltech planetary astronomer Mike Brown and his colleagues set a trap for Titan, waited years for it to be tripped, and, finally, nabbed their prey: bright but transient clouds over Titan's tropics, a region where clouds were thought unlikely to form.

08/06/2009

Caltech Researchers Show How Organic Carbon Compounds Emitted by Trees Affect Air Quality

Lori Oliwenstein

A previously unrecognized player in the process by which gases produced by trees and other plants become aerosols—microscopically small particles in the atmosphere—has been discovered by a research team led by scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Their research on the creation and effects of these chemicals, called epoxides, is being featured in this week's issue of the journal Science.

 

07/16/2009

Caltech, JPL Scientists Say that Microbial Mats Built 3.4-Billion-Year-Old Stromatolites

Lori Oliwenstein

Stromatolites are dome- or column-like sedimentary rock structures that are formed in shallow water, layer by layer, over long periods of geologic time. Now, researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have provided evidence that some of the most ancient stromatolites on our planet were built with the help of communities of equally ancient microorganisms.

06/15/2009

Unique Sky Survey Brings New Objects into Focus

Jon Weiner

An innovative sky survey has begun returning images that will be used to detect unprecedented numbers of powerful cosmic explosions–called supernovae–in distant galaxies, and variable brightness stars in our own Milky Way.

The Andromeda galaxy, as seen with the new PTF camera on the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory
06/11/2009

Caltech Scientists Predict Greater Longevity for Planets with Life

Kathy Svitil

Roughly a billion years from now, the ever-increasing radiation from the sun will have heated Earth into uninhabitability; the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that serves as food for plant life will disappear, pulled out by the weathering of rocks; the oceans will evaporate; and all living things will disappear.

Or maybe quite so soon, say researchers from Caltech, who have come up with a mechanism that doubles the future lifespan of the biosphere.

06/10/2009

Caltech Visiting Associate Champions the Study of Solar Eclipses in the Modern Era

Lori Oliwenstein

Championing the modern-day use of solar eclipses to solve a set of modern problems is the goal of a review article written by Jay Pasachoff, visiting associate at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy at Williams College. The review is the cover story of the June 11 issue of Nature, as part of its coverage of the International Year of Astronomy.