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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: December 2008
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NASA Langley technicians work to attach the external panels for the Ares I-X crew module simulator. Image credit: NASA/Sean Smith
Pieces coming together for first test launch of NASA's new spacecraft
(Dec 15, 2008)

NASA is using powerful computers and software programs to design the rocket that will carry crew and cargo to space after the space shuttle retires. But those computers will have their work checked the old-fashioned way with the first of several uncrewed demonstration launches beginning in 2009. Ares I-X, the first Ares I test rocket, will lift off from Kennedy Space Center in the summer of 2009.

Read more. Source: NASA

Artist concept of WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo
Virgin Galactic 'mothership' to take first flight
(Dec 13, 2008)

Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo is set to take is maiden flight in the next two weeks. The flight will be the first of dozens planned for the high-altitude craft, which could become the first privately-owned vehicle to carry tourists to the edge of space. The high-altitude plane is designed to loft an eight-passenger craft called SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of 15 kilometers.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Artist concept of 'carbon onions' near a star. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle/SSC
Cosmic diamonds may be hidden in 'carbon onions'
(Dec 12, 2008)

An exotic carbon structure could explain why astronomers have seen very little diamond dust in the universe. Since the 1980s, researchers have puzzled over the origin of "nanodiamonds", tiny diamond deposits preserved in meteorites, such as the Allende meteorite that landed in Mexico in 1969.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Artist concept of watery exoplanet
Ocean worlds may be dying stars' last haven for life
(Dec 11, 2008)

Large and distant ocean worlds could provide a last refuge for life around Sun-like stars, long after the heat of the stars' red giant phase sterilises closer-in, Earth-like planets, new calculations suggest.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Artist concept of 2MASS J09393548-2448279. Image credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech
Astronomers find the two dimmest stellar bulbs
(Dec 11, 2008)

The new record-holder for dimmest known star-like object in the universe goes to twin "failed" stars, or brown dwarfs, each of which shines feebly with only one millionth the light of our sun. Previously, astronomers thought the pair just one typical, faint brown dwarf. But when NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope observed the object, it was able to accurately measure its extreme faintness and low temperature for the first time, and reveal its true nature.

Read more. Source: NASA/Caltech/Spitzer

Europa. Image credit:NASA/JPL
Swirling waters boost chance of life on Europa
(Dec 11, 2008)

With Jupiter stirring the pot, the planet's icy moon Europa may be brewing a more nutritious soup for life than anyone had expected. New calculations show that additional variations, due to a suspected slight tilt of the moon's spin axis relative to its orbital plane, make it possible for Jupiter's gravity to warm Europa's ocean directly by stirring up currents within it.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Artist concept of HD 189733b and its host star
Hubble Telescope finds carbon dioxide on an extrasolar planet
(Dec 10, 2008)

The Hubble Space Telescope has discovered carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting another star. This breakthrough is an important step toward finding chemical biotracers of extraterrestrial life. The Jupiter-sized planet, called HD 189733b, is too hot for life. But the Hubble observations are a proof-of-concept demonstration that the basic chemistry for life can be measured on planets orbiting other stars.

Read more. Source: NASA/JPL

Looking toward the center of our galaxy. Image: NASA
Giant black hole confirmed in Milky Way
(Dec 10, 2008)

There is a giant black hole at the center of our galaxy, a study has confirmed. German astronomers tracked the movement of 28 stars circling the center of the Milky Way, using the European Southern Observatory in Chile. The black hole is four million times heavier than our Sun, according to the paper in The Astrophysical Journal.

Read more. Source: BBC

Artist concept of a space elevator
Space elevator trips could be agonisingly slow
(Dec 9, 2008)

The simple act of climbing could throw space elevators off track and potentially into harm's way, a new study suggests. Fixing the problem could require agonisingly slow trips lasting nearly a month or the careful choreography of multiple climbers. Space elevators have been proposed as a cheap alternative to expensive rocket launches to send cargo, and perhaps even humans, into space.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

the Omega Nebula, M17
Rivers of gas flow around stars in new space image
(Dec 9, 2008)

A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows a turbulent star-forming region, known as the Omega Nebula or Swan Nebula (M17) where rivers of gas and stellar winds are eroding thickets of dusty material. The picture provides some of the best examples yet of the ripples of gas, or bow shocks, that can form around stars in choppy cosmic waters.

Read more. Source: NASA-Caltech/Spitzer

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