Live updates

Water vapour found on planet 124 light years away

Water vapour has been found in the atmosphere of a planet four times larges than Earth orbiting a star 124 light years away.

The discovery on the distant "exoplanet" called HAT P-11b was made after scientists analysed the data from three space telescopes and detected traces of water vapour and hydrogen.

The planet orbits a star in the constellation Cygnus, nearly 729 trillion miles from Earth. It is though to have a rocky core wrapped in a thick gaseous envelope, with surface temperatures of more than 600C. US astronomer Professor Drake Deming, from the University of Marlyland who led the research published in Nature journal said:

The water molecule is widespread in the universe. Wherever you have hydrogen and oxygen, it naturally forms. Even some sun spots are cool enough to contain water vapour, although obviously it's far too hot for life on the sun. Our ideas about the formation of planets have been developed to match our solar system, and we don't know whether other planetary systems behave the same way.

We want to test the fundamental question of whether small planets are rich in heavy elements, like the oxygen in water vapour.

– US astronomer Professor Drake Deming

Water is a pre-requisite for life, which is why finding water on planets holds such interest.

The discovery is a leap forward in the study of distant "exoplanets" that may in future uncover evidence of alien life.


India's low-cost mission to Mars arrives in orbit

ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft seen prior to launch. Credit: ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission

The Indian space agency's low-cost mission to Mars has successfully entered the red planet's orbit on Wednesday, making India the first country to carry out such a project in its maiden attempt.

The success of the Mars Orbiter Mission, praised for its relatively low price tag of $74 million (£45 million), will boost India's 50-year-old space programme that newly-elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi aims to expand with better infrastructure and technology.

Nasa to focus on sending humans to Mars

Nasa is to focus on sending humans to Mars after announcing that contracts for transporting Americans to the International Space Station have been awarded to Boeing and SpaceX.

Nasa is to focus on sending humans to Mars. Credit: NASA

In a statement Nasa Administrator Charles Bolden said: "Turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry also will allow Nasa to focus on an even more ambitious mission – sending humans to Mars."


Nasa confirms billion-dollar contracts for Boeing and SpaceX

Nasa has announced that manned spacecraft will again launch from the United States after deals with Boeing and SpaceX.

The total potential contract value is $4.2 billion for Boeing and $2.6 billion for SpaceX, with the spacecraft launching from Kennedy Space Center.

It is hoped the new deal will see crews fly to the International Space Station "in just a few years...ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia by 2017," Nasa Administrator Charles Bolden said.

NASA to announce 'return of manned spaceflights'

NASA is due to make a major announcement regarding the return of human spaceflight launches to the United States.

NASA has been unable to send people to space since the retirement of the space shuttle programme in 2011 and has relied on Russia to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station.

You can watch the announcement live here:

Sorry, this content isn't available on your device.

NBC has reported that Boeing and SpaceX are expected to win a contract to start transporting astronauts.

Astronaut posts amazing timelapse videos from space

An American astronaut has shared videos capturing the breathtaking views of Earth from space.

International Space Station flight engineer Reid Wiseman has been posting timelapse videos taken from aboard the station.

Take a look yourself.

Observatory captures stunning images of star clusters

The La Silla Observatory in Chile has captured this dramatic image showing two intense star formations in the Milky Way galaxy.

The cluster of stars on the left of the image is known NGC 3603 and is located 20,000 light years away.

Two star formations in the Milky Way captured by the La Silla Observatory in Chile Credit: ESO/G. Beccari

The region of glowing gas clouds on the right of the image appears to be next to the cluster, but is in fact only 9,000 light years away.

The gas clouds have two distinctive curves, like the horns of a ram, caused by "stellar winds from the hot, young stars within the central regions of the nebula, which have blown the dust and gas outwards across a hundred light-years".

The region around the cosmic factory NGC 3603, located about 20,000 light-years away Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2

The European Southern Observatory, which is supported by 15 European countries, operates three large observing sites in Chile.

Load more updates