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India vies for elite role in space with Mars trip

November 4, 2013 7:35 am | by Katy Daigle, Associated Press | News | Comments

With a launch planned for Mangalyaan, which means "Mars craft" in Hindi, India will this week attempt to become only the fourth country or group of countries to reach the Red Planet, after the Soviet Union, U.S. and Europe. India is aiming to join the world's deep-space pioneers with a journey to Mars that it hopes will showcase its technological ability to explore the solar system while seeking solutions for everyday problems on Earth.

Magnetic “force field” shield giant gas cloud during collision with Milky Way

November 1, 2013 9:43 am | News | Comments

Doom may be averted for the Smith Cloud, a gigantic streamer of hydrogen gas that is on a collision course with the Milky Way Galaxy. Astronomers have discovered a magnetic field deep in the cloud’s interior, which may protect it during its meteoric plunge into the disk of our galaxy. This discovery could help explain how so-called high velocity clouds remain mostly intact during their mergers with the disks of galaxies.

Could a Milky Way supernova be visible from Earth in next 50 years?

November 1, 2013 8:05 am | News | Comments

Astronomers have calculated the odds that, sometime during the next 50 years, a supernova occurring in our home galaxy will be visible from Earth. The good news: They’ve calculated the odds to be nearly 100% that such a supernova would be visible to telescopes in the form of infrared radiation. The bad news: The odds are much lower that the shining stellar spectacle would be visible to the naked eye in the nighttime sky.

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Earth-size planet found with rocky core like ours

October 31, 2013 8:35 am | by Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer | News | Comments

Scientists have found a planet way out in the cosmos that's close in size and content to Earth, an astronomical first. But hold off on the travel plans. This rocky world is so close to its sun that it's at least 2,000 degrees hotter than here, almost certainly too hot for life.

Iron tells a cosmic story

October 31, 2013 8:02 am | News | Comments

New evidence of heavy elements spread evenly between the galaxies of the giant Perseus cluster supports the theory that the universe underwent a turbulent and violent youth more than 10 billion years ago. That explosive period was responsible for seeding the cosmos with the heavy elements central to life itself.

So close, yet so far

October 31, 2013 7:42 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In August, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers identified an exoplanet with an extremely brief orbital period: The team found that Kepler 78b, a small, intensely hot planet 400 light-years from Earth, circles its star in just 8.5 hrs. Now this same team has found that Kepler 78b shares another characteristic with Earth: its mass.

Crashing rockets could lead to novel sample-return technology

October 30, 2013 8:33 am | Videos | Comments

During spring break the last five years, a Univ. of Washington class has headed to the Nevada desert to launch rockets and learn more about the science and engineering involved. Sometimes, the launch would fail and a rocket smacked hard into the ground. This year, the session included launches from a balloon that were deliberately directed into a dry lakebed.

Coldest place in the universe is shaped like a ghost

October 25, 2013 10:20 am | News | Comments

At a cosmologically crisp 1 K (-458 F), the Boomerang Nebula is the coldest known object in the Universe—colder, in fact, than the faint afterglow of the Big Bang, which is the natural background temperature of space. Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope have taken a new look at this ghostly object to learn more about its frigid properties and to determine its true shape.

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Scientists solve mystery of odd patterns of oxygen in solar system’s earliest rocks

October 25, 2013 8:33 am | News | Comments

Cosmochemists at the Univ. of California, San Diego have solved a long-standing mystery in the formation of the solar system: Oxygen, the most abundant element in Earth’s crust, follows a strange, anomalous pattern in the oldest, most pristine rocks, one that must result from a different chemical process than the well-understood reactions that form minerals containing oxygen on Earth.

A new idea for space tourism: Balloon over rocket

October 23, 2013 2:25 pm | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

The latest space tourism venture depends more on hot air than rocket science. World View Enterprises announced plans Tuesday to send people up in a capsule, lifted 19 miles by a high-altitude balloon. While it's not quite space, the plan requires approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees commercial space.

Asteroid expert says surveillance is key to survival

October 21, 2013 8:07 am | News | Comments

For the threat of meteor strikes large or small, early detection is key, and evacuation may be the only defense needed within the next 1,000 years, according to an asteroid impact expert. The best investment in asteroid defense is not in weapons to deflect them, but in telescopes and surveys to find them.

Managing the deluge of big data from space

October 18, 2013 10:44 am | News | Comments

For NASA, data pour in every day like rushing rivers. Spacecraft monitor everything from our home planet to faraway galaxies, beaming back images and information to Earth. All those digital records need to be stored, indexed and processed so that researchers can use the data to understand Earth and the universe beyond. Now, software engineers are coming up with new strategies for managing such large and complex data streams.

The sun also flips: 11-year solar cycle wimpy, but peaking

October 17, 2013 7:55 am | News | Comments

In a 3-m-dia hollow aluminum sphere, Cary Forest, a Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison physics prof., is stirring and heating plasmas to 500,000 F to experimentally mimic the magnetic field-inducing cosmic dynamos at the heart of planets, stars and other celestial bodies. Ninety-three million miles away, the sun's magnetic field is churning and undulating as the star experiences the height of the so-called solar maximum.

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Curiosity confirms origins of Martian meteorites

October 16, 2013 2:40 pm | News | Comments

Earth’s most eminent emissary to Mars has just proven that those rare Martian visitors that sometimes drop in on Earth really are from the Red Planet. A key new measurement of Mars’ atmosphere by NASA’s Curiosity rover provides the most definitive evidence yet of the origins of Mars meteorites while at the same time providing a way to rule out Martian origins of other meteorites.

Jupiter-bound craft running normally again

October 14, 2013 9:22 am | News | Comments

NASA's Jupiter-bound spacecraft hit a snag last week after it flew past Earth to increase its speed to barrel beyond the asteroid belt to Jupiter. The Southwest Research Institute, which leads the mission's science operations, now reports that Juno is out of "safe mode."

A clearer look at Martian clouds

October 8, 2013 8:30 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

At first glance, Mars’ clouds might be mistaken for those on Earth. Given what scientists know about the Red Planet’s atmosphere, these clouds likely consist of either carbon dioxide or water-based ice crystals. But it’s difficult to know the precise conditions that give rise to such clouds without sampling directly from a Martian cloud. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have now done the next-best thing.

New theory to explain seeds of life in asteroids

October 2, 2013 7:43 am | News | Comments

A new look at the early solar system introduces an alternative to a long-taught, but largely discredited, theory that seeks to explain how biomolecules were once able to form inside of asteroids. In place of the outdated theory, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute propose a new theory to explain the ancient heating of the asteroid belt.

Cassini detects plastic ingredient on Saturn moon

October 1, 2013 1:05 pm | News | Comments

The Cassini spacecraft has found small amounts of propylene, a chemical used to make storage containers and other products, in the atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon Titan. The spacecraft’s composite infrared spectrometer located the chemical in Titan’s stratosphere.

SpaceX launches Canadian satellite from California

September 29, 2013 1:58 pm | by The Associated Press | News | Comments

A SpaceX rocket launched from the California coast Sunday carrying a Canadian satellite intended to track space weather in what was billed as a test flight. The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, about 150 miles northwest of Los Angeles, shortly after 9 a.m. under clear skies.

“Transformer” star discovered with x-rays and radio waves

September 27, 2013 8:47 am | by Francis Reddy and Barbara K. Kennedy, Penn State | News | Comments

A fleet of orbiting x-ray telescopes has been used by an international team of scientists in the discovery of a "millisecond pulsar" star with a dual identity. The star readily shifts back and forth between two mutually exclusive styles of pulsed emissions, one in x-rays, the other in radio waves. The discovery, the scientists say, reveals a long-sought intermediate phase in the life of these powerful objects.

Water for future Mars astronauts?

September 27, 2013 7:55 am | News | Comments

Within its first three months on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity Rover saw a surprising diversity of soils and sediments along a half-kilometer route that tell a complex story about the gradual desiccation of the Red Planet. Perhaps most notable among findings from the ChemCam team is that all of the dust and fine soil contains small amounts of water.

China unveils its first and unnamed moon rover

September 26, 2013 2:21 pm | News | Comments

Chinese scientists described the country's first moon rover on Wednesday and invited the global public to come up with a name for it. The rover has two wings, stands on six wheels, weighs 140 kg and will be powered by solar energy. It will soft-land on the moon after a launch aboard the spacecraft Chang'e-3 in December.

Observations reveal critical interplay of interstellar dust, hydrogen

September 26, 2013 9:13 am | News | Comments

For astrophysicists, the interplay of hydrogen and the clouds of dust that fill the voids of interstellar space has been an intractable puzzle of stellar evolution. The dust, astronomers believe, is a key phase in the lifecycle of stars, which are formed in dusty nurseries throughout the cosmos. But how the dust interacts with hydrogen and is oriented by the magnetic fields in deep space has proved a theoretical challenge. Until now.

A unique look into the Sun’s chromosphere

September 25, 2013 12:54 pm | News | Comments

Three months after the flight of the balloon-borne solar observatory Sunrise, scientists in Germany now present unique insights into the central layer of the Sun’s atmosphere, the chromosphere. The Sunrise data provide the first high-resolution images of this region, lying between the Sun’s visible surface and the corona, in ultraviolet light.

Astronomers discover densest galaxy ever

September 24, 2013 1:51 pm | News | Comments

Imagine the distance between the sun and the star nearest to it—a star called Alpha Centauri. That’s a distance of about 4 light years. Now, imagine as many as 10,000 of our suns crammed into that relatively small space. That is about the density of a galaxy that was recently discovered by an international team of astronomers led by a Michigan State Univ. faculty member.

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