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    How a sugar acid crucial for life could have formed in interstellar clouds

    Researchers may have figured out how a crucial ingredient that cells need to produce energy could form in deep space.

    Calculations and lab experiments suggest that glyceric acid can arise from radiation blasting carbon dioxide and ethylene glycol in interstellar clouds, researchers report in the March 15 Science Advances.

    The study is “a great start to understand how these molecules are formed in space,” says Anthony Remijan, an astrochemist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Va., who was not involved in the research. The finding suggests that “if you put the right mixture together, in the right conditions, maybe you can even afford more complex molecules in space,” he says. More

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    The largest 3-D map of the universe reveals hints of dark energy’s secrets

    A massive survey of the cosmos is revealing new details of one of the most mysterious facets of the universe, dark energy. Intriguingly, when combined with other observations, the data hint that dark energy, commonly thought to maintain a constant density over time, might evolve along with the cosmos.

    The result is “an adrenaline shot to the cosmology community,” says physicist Daniel Scolnic of Duke University, who was not involved with the new study.

    Dark energy, an invisible enigma that causes the universe’s expansion to speed up over time, is poorly understood, despite making up the bulk of the universe’s contents. To explore that puzzle, the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, DESI, has produced the largest 3-D map of the universe to date, researchers report April 4 in 10 papers posted on the DESI website, and in talks at a meeting of the American Physical Society held in Sacramento, Calif. By analyzing patterns in the distributions of galaxies and other objects on that map, scientists can determine the history of how the universe expanded over time. More

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    Did the James Webb telescope ‘break the universe’? Maybe not

    Reports that NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope broke the universe may have been exaggerated.

    In its first images, JWST captured what appeared to be gargantuan galaxies in the early universe — ones much too big to be explained by current cosmological theories (SN: 2/22/23). But a new analysis of old data from the Hubble Space Telescope suggests that those alleged behemoths probably have more prosaic explanations fitting in with our standard understanding of the universe, cosmologist Julian Muñoz and colleagues report in the Feb. 9 Physical Review Letters. More

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    The desert planet in ‘Dune’ is plausible, according to science

    Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel Dune has been praised for its worldbuilding. Herbert created complex societies, religions and economic systems all with rich histories.

    Most famous of Herbert’s worlds is the desert planet Arrakis, nicknamed Dune, with its harsh climate and giant sandworms. The planet is the setting for most of the novel and movies based on the book. The second installment of the latest imagining from director Denis Villeneuve, Dune: Part Two, opens in theaters March 1. More

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    Odysseus’ historic moon mission comes to an end, for now

    Odysseus has exceeded engineers’ expectations during its odyssey on the moon. NASA confirmed that the spindly solar-powered robotic lander, built and operated by the Houston-based private U.S. company Intuitive Machines, has been alive and collecting data since it touched down, and toppled over, on the lunar surface on February 22.

    “What a magnificent job that lander did,” said Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus during a NASA news briefing on February 28. “So much data and information and science. It’s just an incredible testament to how robust that little spacecraft is, so we’re really happy with that.”

    On February 27, Odysseus’ narrow-field-of-view camera took this image of the lander on the lunar surface. The lander is slightly tipped over.Official Intuitive Machines Photos (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED)

    The spacecraft, which carried payloads from universities, industry and NASA, was the first American spacecraft to perform a soft landing on the moon in more than 50 years (SN: 2/22/24). Odysseus, or Odie as it’s nicknamed, is slowly running out of power, and scientists expect to put it into sleep mode February 28, after roughly six days on the lunar surface. They will try to reawaken Odie in about three weeks when the sun hits the lander’s solar panels again.

    Much like its namesake, the epic hero from the Greek classic The Odyssey, the spacecraft Odysseus underwent trials and tribulations in its journey. Its autonomous landing system’s laser range finder malfunctioned, causing engineers to scramble for a solution that involved two extra hours in orbit and reconfiguring a couple backup lasers on a NASA payload. After a nail-biting descent, Odysseus’s landing gear caught on the sloped ground or possibly a crevice, breaking the gear and sending the spacecraft gently tipping over on its side. More

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    JWST spies hints of a neutron star left behind by supernova 1987A

    Within the dusty cloud left behind by supernova 1987A, the most famous stellar explosion in modern history, astronomers have found compelling evidence for a long-sought neutron star.

    NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has spied indirect hints of a powerful source of X-rays — likely some type of neutron star — coming from the core of the supernova remnant, researchers report February 22 in Science. The findings are part of a 37-year-old quest to determine what happened in the aftermath of the closest supernova in nearly 400 years and could provide insights into how a neutron star behaves mere decades after its birth.

    “Supernova 1987A is truly a unique laboratory to study supernovas,” astronomer Patrick Kavanagh said February 17 in a news conference at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Denver. It’s “the gift that keeps on giving, with new observations continually yielding new discoveries,” said Kavanagh, of Maynooth University in Ireland.

    It’s rare for scientists to have observations of a giant star before it explodes in a supernova — but they got lucky with supernova 1987A. On the left is the blue supergiant before the explosion. On the right is the explosion itself.David Malin, AAT

    On February 23, 1987, telescopes around the world got a front-row seat to a spectacular supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a companion galaxy to the Milky Way (SN: 2/8/17). Such explosions occur when a star at least eight times the mass of the sun dies. Located at the astronomically close distance of 160,000 light-years, supernova 1987A, as it came to be known, was visible with the naked eye in the night sky for months afterward. The energetic explosion generated tremendous amounts of neutrinos, a handful of which ended up in detectors on Earth. It was the first time such ghostly particles had been seen coming from beyond the solar system.

    Since then, scientists have wondered whether the iron core of the blue supergiant star that led to 1987A collapsed into an ultradense neutron star or shrank all the way down to a black hole. The fact that neutrinos escaped the event favors the neutron star possibility, but whatever was left behind has yet to be spotted. That’s partly because the original star’s outer layers, now traveling away from the explosion at 10,000 kilometers per second, create a thick haze of dust that obscures the area. More

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    NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex nabbed over 120 grams of space rocks from asteroid Bennu

    It’s official: NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft snagged 121.6 grams of pristine space rocks when it bopped the asteroid Bennu four years ago, more than double the mission’s official science goal, the agency confirmed February 15.

    Launched in 2016, OSIRIS-Rex is NASA’s first mission to collect samples from an asteroid and return them to Earth so scientists can study our solar system’s origins. After performing its grab-and-go procedure from the diamond-shaped Bennu, the spacecraft dropped its canister into our atmosphere last year (SN: 9/22/23). Engineers swiftly shuttled it off to a specially designed sample curation center at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where it was placed in a hermetic glove box to prevent contamination by terrestrial material.

    The diamond-shaped asteroid Bennu, seen here during OSIRIS-Rex’s approach, is a loose rubble pile held together by gravity.NASA Goddard, University of Arizona

    While researchers have been able to analyze some rocks and dust already, weighing the full sample has been delayed by a couple stuck screws that prevented anyone from accessing the entire contents of the capsule (SN: 10/11/23). Some clever workarounds finally unlocked the full sample on January 10, and it will now be distributed to scientists around the world for study.

    To learn how engineers got the canister open, as well as what kinds of science the sample will teach us, Science News spoke with Harold Connolly, a geologist at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J., who oversees analysis of the material from Bennu. The conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity. More

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    How ‘Our Moon’ shaped life on Earth and human history

    Our MoonRebecca BoyleRandom House, $28.99

    Science journalist Rebecca Boyle has an intergenerational connection with the moon. Her grandfather Pfc. John J. Corcoran was involved in the 1943 Battle of Tarawa on the namesake atoll in the Pacific Ocean during World War II. The United States’ narrow victory against Japan came at heavy human cost. One reason: A weak high tide forced American soldiers to wade through the ocean into Japanese gunfire rather than sail their boats to meet their enemies. More