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Mars '”flying saucer” splashes down after NASA test

June 30, 2014 7:49 am | by Christopher Weber, Associated Press | News | Comments

NASA has tested new technology designed to bring spacecraft safely down to Mars, with the agency declaring the experiment a qualified success even though a giant parachute got tangled on the way down. Saturday's $150 million experiment is the first of three involving the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator vehicle, which creates atmospheric drag to dramatically slow the spacecraft from Mach 4.

Cosmic caffeine: Astronauts getting espresso maker

June 27, 2014 2:37 pm | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

Talk about a cosmic caffeine jolt. The International Space Station is getting a real Italian espresso machine. Astronauts of all nationalities have long grumbled about the tepid instant coffee served in pouches and drunk with straws 260 miles above Earth. The pouches and straws aren't going away, but at least the brew will pack some zero-gravity punch thanks to the ISSpresso, which can also make tea and consommé.

New NASA model gives glimpse into invisible world of electric asteroids

June 25, 2014 10:48 pm | News | Comments

Space may appear empty, a soundless vacuum. But it's not an absolute void. It flows with electric activity that is not visible to our eyes. NASA is developing plans to send humans to an asteroid, and wants to know more about the electrical environment explorers will encounter there. A new computer model can now predict and visualize the interaction between the solar wind, solar radiation and the surface of asteroids in unprecedented detail.

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Few, if any, big impact craters remain to be discovered on Earth

June 18, 2014 8:02 am | by Elizabeth K. Gardner, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

It’s likely that most of the large impact craters on Earth have already been discovered and that others have been erased, according to a new calculation by a pair of Purdue Univ. graduate students. Although it's known that natural processes erase craters fairly quickly from the Earth's surface, this model was the first to quantify how many craters have likely been erased.

Solar photons drive water off the moon

June 17, 2014 8:29 am | by Jason Maderer, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Water is thought to be embedded in the moon’s rocks or, if cold enough, “stuck” on their surfaces. It’s predominantly found at the poles. But scientists probably won’t find it intact on the sunlit side. New research at indicates that ultraviolet photons emitted by the sun likely cause water molecules to either quickly desorb or break apart.

Mining data archives yields haul of “red nuggets”

June 12, 2014 8:09 am | by David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics | News | Comments

The world of astronomy has changed. An astronomer used to have to travel to a remote location and endure long, cold nights, patiently guiding a telescope to collect precious photons of light. Now, a proliferation of online archives allows astronomers to make discoveries from the comfort of their own offices.

55-year-old dark side of the moon mystery solved

June 10, 2014 8:09 am | by A'ndrea Elyse Messer, Penn State Univ. | News | Comments

The "man in the moon" appeared when meteoroids struck the Earth-facing side of the moon creating large flat seas of basalt that we see as dark areas called maria. But no "face" exists on farside of the moon and now, Penn State Univ. astrophysicists think they know why.

Bringing new life to Laser Guide Star

June 9, 2014 10:54 am | by Breanna Bishop, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory | News | Comments

Earlier this year, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory engineering technical associate Pam Danforth applied 30 years of laser experience to an out-of-this-world problem—bringing new life to the Univ. of California's Lick Observatory Laser Guide Star. The Lick Observatory's Laser Guide Star is vital to astronomers because a natural guide star isn't always near an object they want to observe.

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Surprisingly strong magnetic fields challenge black holes’ pull

June 5, 2014 8:13 am | by Kate Greene, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

A new study of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies has found magnetic fields play an impressive role in the systems’ dynamics. In fact, in dozens of black holes surveyed, the magnetic field strength matched the force produced by the black holes’ powerful gravitational pull, says a team of scientists.

Report: NASA should maintain long-term focus on Mars as “horizon goal”

June 4, 2014 2:45 pm | News | Comments

A new congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council concludes that the expense of human spaceflight and the dangers to the astronauts involved can be justified only by the goal of putting humans on other worlds. The authors recommend a disciplined “pathway” approach that eventually leads to the “horizon goal” of putting humans on Mars.

NASA snaps cosmic color portrait “and then some”

June 4, 2014 9:56 am | News | Comments

A new NASA panorama looking deep and far into the universe for the first time includes ultraviolet light, which is normally not visible to the human eye. It shows up in the photo as bright baby blue with spinning galaxies, which are about 5 to 10 billion years old. The photo is a composite of more than 800 photos taken by Hubble and shows about 10,000 multi-colored galaxies.

NASA to test giant Mars parachute on Earth

June 2, 2014 12:00 pm | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

The skies off the Hawaiian island of Kauai will be a stand-in for Mars as NASA prepares to launch a saucer-shaped vehicle in an experimental flight designed to land heavy loads on the red planet. For decades, robotic landers and rovers have hitched a ride to Earth's planetary neighbor using the same parachute design, but NASA needs a bigger and stronger parachute if it wants to send astronauts there.

SpaceX finishes qualification testing for 3-D printed rocket engine

May 30, 2014 8:58 am | Videos | Comments

The SuperDraco thruster, an engine that will power SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft to orbit, has completed a test regimen held over the last month at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in Texas. This qualification test involves a variety of conditions conditions including multiple starts, extended firing durations and extreme off-nominal propellant flow and temperatures.

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A habitable environment on Martian volcano?

May 28, 2014 8:25 am | by Kevin Stacey, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

The slopes of a giant Martian volcano, once covered in glacial ice, may have been home to one of the most recent habitable environments yet found on the Red Planet, according to new research led by Brown Univ. geologists. Nearly twice as tall as Mount Everest, Arsia Mons is the third tallest volcano on Mars and one of the largest mountains in the solar system.

First broadband wireless connection...to the Moon?

May 22, 2014 9:45 am | News | Comments

A demonstration by NASA and MIT engineers last fall showed, for first time, that a data communication technology exists that can provide space dwellers with the connectivity we all enjoy here on Earth. Next month, the team will present the first comprehensive overview of the performance of their laser-based communication uplink between the moon and Earth, which beat the previous record transmission speed last fall by a factor of 4,800.

Supernova caught in the act by Palomar Transient Factory

May 22, 2014 7:52 am | by Cynthia Eller, California Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Supernovae are incredibly energetic, dynamic events. It’s easy to imagine that they are uncommon, but the universe is a big place and supernovae are actually fairly routine. The problem with observing supernovae is knowing just when and where one is occurring and being able to point a world-class telescope at it in the hours immediately afterward, when precious data about the supernova's progenitor star is available.

SpaceX Dragon returns to Earth from space station

May 19, 2014 9:55 am | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

The commercial cargo ship Dragon returned to Earth from the International Space Station on Sunday, bringing back nearly 2 tons of science experiments and old equipment for NASA. SpaceX's Dragon splashed into the Pacific, just five hours after leaving the orbiting lab. It is the only supply ship capable of returning items to Earth.

“Smoking gun” evidence for theory that Saturn’s collapsing magnetic tail causes auroras

May 19, 2014 9:47 am | News | Comments

Researcher in the U.K. has recently shown that Saturn’s auroras are caused by the same phenomenon which leads to dramatic auroral displays on Earth. The finding originates in stunning new images of Saturn’s auroras as the planet’s magnetic field is battered by charged particles from the Sun.

Giant telescope tackles orbit, size of exoplanet

May 15, 2014 11:45 am | by Anne M. Stark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboraotry | News | Comments

Using one of the world's largest telescopes, a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory team and international collaborators have tracked the orbit of a planet at least four times the size of Jupiter. The scientists were able to identify the orbit of the exoplanet, Beta Pictoris b, which sits 63 light-years from our solar system, by using the Gemini Planet Imager's next-generation, high-contrast adaptive optics system.

Solar wind ion analyzer to look at key player in Mars atmosphere loss

May 15, 2014 9:49 am | by Claire Saravia, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

This past November, NASA launched the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission. One instrument aboard the spacecraft will study ions, a special component of the Martian atmosphere, to help solve the mystery of why the planet has been losing its atmosphere over billions of years.

Diamond planets may be more common than astronomers thought

May 13, 2014 11:46 am | by Eric Gershon, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Carbon-rich planets may be more common than previously thought, according to new research by Yale Univ. astronomers. Some of these planets, all located far beyond Earth’s solar system, could contain vast deposits of graphite or diamonds, and their apparent abundance prompts new questions about the implications of carbon-intense environments for climate, plate tectonics and other geological processes, as well as for life.

NASA recreates space dust

May 9, 2014 12:14 pm | News | Comments

A team of scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center has successfully reproduced the processes that occur in the atmosphere of a red giant star and lead to the formation of planet-forming interstellar dust. Using a specialized facility, the scientists are now able to recreate and study in the laboratory dust grains similar to the grains that form in the outer layers of dying stars.

Study finds surprising clues about the formation of sun-like star clusters

May 9, 2014 11:15 am | News | Comments

An important advance in understanding how clusters of stars like our sun are formed has been made by a team that includes seven astronomers at Penn State Univ. and two at other universities. Using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and infrared telescopes, the astronomers have shown that earlier theories about the process that creates star clusters in giant clouds of gas and dust cannot be correct.

Astronomers create first realistic virtual universe

May 7, 2014 2:43 pm | News | Comments

Move over, Matrix, astronomers at MIT/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies in Germany have done you one better. They have created the first realistic virtual universe using a computer simulation called "Illustris." Illustris can recreate 13 billion years of cosmic evolution in a cube 350 million light-years on a side with unprecedented resolution.

Students build carbon nanostructures in hypergravity

May 7, 2014 9:24 am | News | Comments

An experiment sponsored for students by the European Space Agency has recently shown that carbon nanomaterials are built differently under conditions of hypergravity. They found that there was a distinct change in nanostructures that were built at 1g , 6g and 15g. Both surface growth and volume growth were observed at the higher gravity levels.

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