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The Lead

Shrink-wrapping spacesuits

September 18, 2014 7:32 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

For future astronauts, the process of suiting up may go something like this: Instead of climbing into a conventional, bulky, gas-pressurized suit, an astronaut may don a lightweight, stretchy garment, lined with tiny, muscle-like coils. She would then plug in to a spacecraft’s power supply, triggering the coils to contract and essentially shrink-wrap the garment around her body.

NASA's Maven spacecraft reaches Mars this weekend

September 17, 2014 3:37 pm | by Marcia Dunn - AP Aerospace Writer - Associated Press | News | Comments

Mars, get ready for another visitor or two. This weekend, NASA's Maven spacecraft will reach the...

NASA inspector blasts asteroid protection program

September 15, 2014 4:58 pm | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

On Monday...

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NASA's newest human spacecraft on the move

September 11, 2014 12:59 pm | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

Workers at Kennedy Space Center gathered to watch as the Orion capsule, NASA's new spacecraft for humans, emerged from its assembly hangar Thursday morning, less than three months from its first test flight. During its Dec. 4 test flight, the capsule, unmanned, will shoot more than 3,600 miles into space and take two laps around Earth before re-entering the atmosphere at 20,000 mph and parachuting into the Pacific off the San Diego coast.

Where to grab space debris

September 10, 2014 10:10 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Objects in space tend to spin—and spin in a way that’s totally different from the way they spin on earth. Understanding how objects are spinning, where their centers of mass are, and how their mass is distributed is crucial to any number of actual or potential space missions, from cleaning up debris in the geosynchronous orbit favored by communications satellites to landing a demolition crew on a comet.

Astronomers see the birth of a massive galaxy, hidden by dust

August 28, 2014 9:17 am | by Jim Shelton, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Yale Univ. astronomers have discovered a window into the early, violent formation of the cores of the universe’s monster galaxies, obscured behind walls of dust. After years of searching, scientists have observed one such turbulent, starbursting galactic core in the young universe using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and a telescope from the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

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Pebble-sized particles may jump-start planet formation

August 27, 2014 12:10 pm | News | Comments

Astronomers using the Green Bank Telescope have discovered that filaments of star-forming gas near the Orion Nebula may be brimming with pebble-size particles: planetary building blocks 100 to 1,000 times larger than the dust grains typically found around protostars. If confirmed, these dense ribbons of rocky material may well represent a new, mid-size class of interstellar particles that could help jump-start planet formation.

Calculating conditions at the birth of the universe

August 26, 2014 8:06 am | by Anne M. Stark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboraotry | News | Comments

Using a calculation originally proposed seven years ago to be performed on a petaflop computer, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers computed conditions that simulate the birth of the universe. When the universe was less than one microsecond old and more than one trillion degrees, it transformed from a plasma of quarks and gluons into bound states of quarks.

Electric sparks may alter evolution of lunar soil

August 22, 2014 8:18 am | by David Sims, Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space, Univ. of New Hampshire | News | Comments

The moon appears to be a tranquil place, but modeling done by Univ. of New Hampshire and NASA scientists suggests that, over the eons, periodic storms of solar energetic particles may have significantly altered the properties of the soil in the moon’s coldest craters through the process of sparking—a finding that could change our understanding of the evolution of planetary surfaces in the solar system.

Univ. of Washington project becomes focal point in hunt for dark matter

August 21, 2014 8:47 am | by Vince Stricherz, News and Information, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

Three major experiments aimed at detecting elusive dark matter particles believed to make up most of the matter in the universe have gotten a financial shot in the arm. Two of the projects are at large national laboratories; the other is at the Univ. of Washington (UW). The selection will bring greater intensity to the UW research, with more equipment and scientists involved in the work.

Mysteries of space dust revealed

August 18, 2014 8:03 am | by Kate Greene, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

The first analysis of space dust collected by a special collector onboard NASA’s Stardust mission and sent back to Earth for study in 2006 suggests the tiny specks, which likely originated from beyond our solar system, are more complex in composition and structure than previously imagined. The analysis opens a door to studying the origins of the solar system and possibly the origin of life itself.

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Seven tiny grains captured by Stardust likely visitors from intersteller space

August 15, 2014 11:30 am | by Robert Sanders, Univ. of California, Berkeley | News | Comments

Since 2006, when NASA’s Stardust spacecraft delivered its aerogel and aluminum foil dust collectors back to Earth, a team of scientists has combed through them. They now report finding seven dust motes that probably came from outside our solar system, perhaps created in a supernova explosion and altered by eons of exposure to the extremes of space. They would be the first confirmed samples of contemporary interstellar dust.

Space station supply ship exits, now packing trash

August 15, 2014 7:22 am | by Marcia Dunn - AP Aerospace Writer - Associated Press | News | Comments

A commercial cargo ship has ended its monthlong space station visit. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station released the Cygnus supply ship, now full of trash for disposal early Friday. They parted company 260 miles above Africa's southwest coast. Orbital Sciences Corp. launched the Cygnus from Virginia in mid-July under a NASA contract.

Lunar-landing rocket research hits milestone with “hot-fire” test

August 13, 2014 8:00 am | by Emil Venere, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

A Purdue Univ. student team has designed, built and tested a critical part of a new a rocket engine as part of a NASA project to develop spacecraft technologies needed to land on the moon, Mars and other cosmic venues. The students are making a central part of the new engine—called the thrust chamber or combustor—as part of NASA's Project Morpheus.

Follow the radio waves to exomoons

August 12, 2014 8:26 am | News | Comments

Scientists hunting for life beyond Earth have discovered more than 1,800 planets outside our solar system, or exoplanets, in recent years, but so far, no one has been able to confirm an exomoon. Now, physicists from The Univ. of Texas at Arlington believe following a trail of radio wave emissions may lead them to that discovery.

How do you feed a hungry quasar?

August 11, 2014 8:08 am | by Jim Shelton, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

The universe’s oldest, brightest beacons may have gorged themselves in the dense, cold, gas flows of the early cosmos—creating a kind of energy drink for infant black holes in the young universe—according to new research by scientists at Yale Univ. and the Weizmann Institute in Israel.

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Comet joined by space probe after 10-year pursuit

August 7, 2014 3:45 pm | by Frank Jordans, Associated Press | News | Comments

Turning what seemed like a science fiction tale into reality, an unmanned probe swung alongside a comet on Wednesday after a 4-billion mile chase through outer space over the course of a decade. Europe's Rosetta probe will orbit and study the giant lump of dust and ice as it hurtles toward the sun and, if all goes according to plan, drop a lander onto the comet in the coming months.

SpaceX to build rocket launch site in South Texas

August 5, 2014 8:29 am | by Christopher Sherman, Associated Press | News | Comments

The world’s first commercial site for orbital rocket launches is to be built in the southernmost tip of Texas, east of Brownsville. SpaceX says it plans to launch 12 rockets a year from this site, investing $85 million and creating 300 jobs.

“SuperCam” instrument adds capabilities to successful ChemCam

August 4, 2014 12:32 pm | News | Comments

Laser technology originally developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory for the Mars Science Laboratory has been selected for NASA’s new Mars mission in 2020. The Curiosity rover is equipped with ChemCam, which allows researchers to sample rocks and other targets from a distance using a laser. The new “SuperCam” will offer this capability along with another spectrum for Raman and time-resolved fluorescence spectroscopy.

NASA’s IBEX and Voyager spacecraft drive advances in outer heliosphere research

August 4, 2014 11:52 am | News | Comments

The million-mile-per-hour solar wind pushed out by the Sun inflates a giant bubble in the interstellar medium called the heliosphere, which envelops the Earth and the other planets. At the 40th International Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) Scientific Assembly in Moscow this week, scientists highlighted an impressive list of achievements in researching the outer heliosphere, which barely registered as a field of research ten years ago.

NASA to test making rocket fuel on Mars

August 4, 2014 8:16 am | News | Comments

Taking fuel to Mars for return flights is heavy and expensive. The $1.9 billion Mars 2020 rover that NASA announced on Friday will include an experiment that will turn carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere into oxygen. It could then be used to make rocket fuel and for future astronauts to breathe. The device, named MOXIE, will make about three-quarters of an ounce of oxygen an hour.

NASA unveils concept for their Mars 2020 Rover

July 31, 2014 3:40 pm | News | Comments

At a press conference in Washington on Thursday, NASA announced the instruments to be designed into the Mars 2020 rover, a mission that will be based on the design of the highly successful Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, which landed almost two years ago. Managers made the selections out of 58 proposals received in January from researchers and engineers worldwide.

NASA-funded x-ray instrument settles interstellar debate

July 30, 2014 9:42 am | News | Comments

New findings from a NASA-funded instrument have resolved a decades-old puzzle about a fog of low-energy x-rays observed over the entire sky. Thanks to refurbished detectors first flown on a NASA sounding rocket in the 1970s, astronomers have now confirmed the long-held suspicion that much of this glow stems from a region of million-degree interstellar plasma known as the local hot bubble, or LHB.

Corning donates $1.8M mirror for space telescope

July 29, 2014 11:25 am | by The Associated Press | News | Comments

Corning Inc. has donated $1.8 million in high-tech components for a telescope a private group wants to launch into space. The not-for-profit BoldlyGo Institute wants to put its ASTRO-1 telescope in orbit by the mid-2020s. The group says obtaining the components for a roughly 6-ft telescope primary mirror marks a major step toward the ambitious goal.

Researchers discover cool-burning flames in space

July 28, 2014 2:04 pm | by Ioana Patringenaru, Jacobs School of Engineering | Videos | Comments

A team of international researchers has discovered a new type of cool burning flames that could lead to cleaner, more efficient engines for cars. The discovery was made during a series of experiments on the International Space Station by a team led by Forman Williams, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the Univ. of California, San Diego.

The source of the sky’s x-ray glow

July 28, 2014 8:02 am | by Nicole Casal Moore, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

In findings that help astrophysicists understand our corner of the galaxy, an international research team has shown that the soft x-ray glow blanketing the sky comes from both inside and outside the solar system. The source of this "diffuse x-ray background" has been debated for the past 50 years.

Highest-precision measurement made of water on an exoplanet

July 24, 2014 10:02 am | News | Comments

The discovery of water vapor in the atmospheres of three exoplanets includes the most precise measurement of any chemical in a planet outside the solar system, and has major implications for planet formation and the search for water on Earth-like habitable exoplanets in future. These results show just how challenging it could be to detect water on Earth-like exoplanets in our search for potential life elsewhere.

A new approach in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence: Targeting alien polluters

July 23, 2014 11:09 am | by David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

Humanity is on the threshold of being able to detect signs of alien life on other worlds. By studying exoplanet atmospheres, we can look for gases like oxygen and methane that only coexist if replenished by life. But those gases come from simple life forms like microbes. What about advanced civilizations? Would they leave any detectable signs?

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