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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: August 2009
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WASP-17b artwork.
New planet displays exotic orbit
(Aug 13, 2009)


Astronomers have discovered the first planet that orbits in the opposite direction to the spin of its star. Planets form out of the same swirling gas cloud that creates a star, so they are expected to orbit in the same direction that the star rotates. The new planet is thought to have been flung into its "retrograde" orbit by a close encounter with either another planet or with a passing star.

Read more. Source: BBC

Lunar X Prize contestant
Earth could be blindsided by asteroids, panel warns
(Aug 12, 2009)


Existing sky surveys miss many asteroids smaller than 1 kilometer across, leaving the door open to damaging impacts on Earth with little or no warning, a panel of scientists reports. Doing better will require devoting more powerful telescopes to asteroid hunting, but no one has committed the funds needed to do so, it says.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Lunar X Prize contestant
Rovers rev up for Google's moonshot jackpot
(Aug 12, 2009)


It's been 36 years since NASA's last Apollo lander left the moon's surface. But while the agency's plans to return humans to the moon remain confused, a pack of private teams are racing to send robots to kick up lunar dust and claim the $20-million Google Lunar X Prize announced nearly two years ago.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Artist concept of a planet collision
Planet smash-up sends vaporized rock, hot lava flying
(Aug 11, 2009)


NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has found evidence of a high-speed collision between two burgeoning planets around a young star called HD 172555. Astronomers say that two rocky bodies, one as least as big as our moon and the other at least as big as Mercury, slammed into each other within the last few thousand years or so. The impact destroyed the smaller body, vaporizing huge amounts of rock and flinging massive plumes of hot lava into space.

Read more. Source: Spitzer Space Telescope

Moonlet spotted by Cassini in Saturn's B ring
Equinox to reveal Saturn secrets
(Aug 11, 2009)


Planetary scientists are keenly observing an equinox on Saturn on 11 August, in a bid to learn more about the gas giant's ring system. A planet's equinox comes twice a year when the Sun crosses its equator, making day and night the same length. It takes Saturn nearly 30 Earth years to orbit the Sun, so this is the first equinox since 1994.

Read more. Source: BBC

Perseid meteor. Source: Jimmy Westlake
Perseid shower to produce 'shooting stars'
(Aug 10, 2009)


Sky watchers could catch a dazzling treat on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower. The Perseid shower occurs each year when the Earth passes through a stream of debris shed by the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 130 years or so.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Black hole artwork. Source: David A. Aguilar, CfA
Fast-spinning black holes might reveal all
(Aug 9, 2009)


It is the ultimate cosmic villain: space and time come to an abrupt end in its presence and the laws of physics break down. Now it seems a "naked" black hole may yet emerge in our universe, after spinning away its event horizon.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Titan
Giant moon Titan resembles Earth
(Aug 8, 2009)


Saturn's smog-ridden moon Titan bears a striking resemblance to Earth despite its alien environment, a study has revealed. Scientists have now mapped a third of Titan's surface using radar to pierce the planet-sized moon's thick atmosphere. The probe has revealed mountain ranges, dunes, numerous lakes and suspected volcanoes.

Read more. Source: The Independent

1994 CC and one of its moons
Triple asteroid system triples observers' interest
(Aug 8, 2009)


Radar imaging at NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar on June 12 and 14, 2009, revealed that near-Earth asteroid 1994 CC is a triple system. Asteroid 1994 CC encountered Earth within 2.52 million kilometers (1.56 million miles) on June 10. Prior to the flyby, very little was known about this celestial body.

Read more. Source: NASA/JPL

Kepler
Kepler spacecraft sees its first exoplanets
(Aug 7, 2009)


The planet-hunting Kepler space telescope has found its first extrasolar planets: three alien worlds that had been previously discovered with ground-based telescopes. The finds confirm that Kepler's instruments are sensitive enough to detect Earth-like planets around sun-like stars – but they might also be unexpectedly sensitive to charged particles in space that can zap circuitry.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

A technician inspects the site of a faulty electrical connection that damaged the LHC in September 2008. Image: CERN
Large Hadron Collider to restart at half its designed energy
(Aug 7, 2009)


The world's most powerful particle smasher will restart in November at just half the energy the machine was designed to reach. But even at this level, the Large Hadron Collider has the potential to uncover exotic new physics, such as signs of hidden extra dimensions, physicists say.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

One of the regions on Mars that is a source of methane
Martian methane mystery deepens
(Aug 6, 2009)


Methane on Mars is produced and destroyed far faster than on Earth, according to analysis of recent data. Scientists in Paris used a computer climate model for the Red Planet to simulate observations made from Earth. It shows the gas is unevenly distributed in the Martian atmosphere and changes with the seasons.

Read more. Source: BBC

Researchers at JPL simulated the conditions faced by the rover Spirit on Mars, where it is stuck in loose soil, to find the best way to help free it. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
'Crazy quilt' of moves may free stuck Mars rover
(Aug 5, 2009)


After a month of spinning their wheels in a sandbox, NASA engineers have settled on a strategy to free the rover Spirit from a sand trap on Mars: just wing it. The geriatric rover slid into soft terrain in early May, burying its wheels halfway into the flour-like soil.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Is the cosmos shaped like a Pringle? Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/vages/flickr
Five snacks that are shaped like the universe
(Aug 4, 2009)


It's one of the biggest questions of science: what shape is the universe? From Ptolemy onwards, physicists thought of the cosmos as a sphere, but this may not be correct. Many alternative shapes have been proposed.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

the rock on Mars called Block Island imaged by the Opportunity rover
Possible meteorite imaged by Opportunity rover
(Aug 3, 2009)


The Opportunity rover has eyed an odd-shaped, dark rock, about 0.6 meters (2 feet) across on the surface of Mars, which may be a meteorite. The team spotted the rock called "Block Island," on July 18, 2009, in the opposite direction from which it was driving.

Read more. Source: NASA/JPL

artwork of a comet strike
Comets 'not cause of extinctions'
(Aug 3, 2009)


Comet strikes are an unlikely cause of past mass extinctions on Earth, according to computer simulations. Scientists used the simulations to model the paths of long-period comets, to determine the likelihood of these "dirty snowballs" striking our planet. The University of Washington, Seattle, research appears in Science journal.

Read more. Source: BBC

mysterious spot on Venus
Experts puzzled by spot on Venus
(Aug 2, 2009)


Astronomers are puzzled by a strange bright spot which has appeared in the clouds of Venus. The spot was first identified by an amateur astronomer on 19 July and was later confirmed by the European Space Agency's Venus Express spacecraft. Data from the European probe suggests the spot appeared at least four days before it was spotted from Earth.

Read more. Source: BBC

Endeavour landing
Space shuttle touches down safely
(Aug 1, 2009)


The space shuttle Endeavour has safely landed at Florida's Kennedy Space Center, ending a 16-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The seven-strong crew touched down at 1548 BST (1048 EDT) in near perfect weather conditions. During the mission, the combined shuttle and ISS crews set a new record of 13 people on the orbiting outpost.

Read more. Source: BBC

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