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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: September 2011
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Artwork of Kepler-16b. Image credit: NASA
On the brink of finding exo-Earths, the question of what comes next
(Sep 20, 2011)

We're entering a golden age of exoplanet detection, with 684 extrasolar worlds already confirmed and the Kepler team announcing 1,781 candidate planets, including 123 that are Earth-sized. The chief scientist of NASA's exoplanet program thinks a third of all Sunlike stars may have Earth-sized planets in their habitable zones. But when are instruments that will be able to look for biosignatures on these worlds going to be available?

Read more. Source: Nature

Scientists think that a giant asteroid, which broke up long ago in the main asteroid belt, eventually made its way to Earth and led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Origin of dinosaur-killing asteroid remains a mystery
(Sep 20, 2011)

We know that a large asteroid impact was at least partly responsible for finishing off the dinosaurs, along with many other species of animals and plants, in a mass extinction about 65 million years ago. But what kind of asteroid was it and where did it come from? One favored candidate appears now to have been ruled out.

Read more. Source: NASA/JPL

Artwork of Kepler 16b
Tatooine worlds today, Nightfall worlds tomorrow?
(Sep 18, 2011)

Kepler-16b, whose discovery was announced last week, is the first conventional planet known to orbit around a binary star (a planet orbiting a pulsar was discovered in 1993). Back in 1941, Isaac Asimov wrote what is arguably one of the greatest of all short SF stories – Nightfall – about a world with six suns.

Read more. Source: The Guardian

Dwarf galaxies around the Milky Way are less dense than they should be if they held cold dark matter
Dwarf galaxy observations cast doubt on leading dark matter theory
(Sep 17, 2011)

Scientists' predictions about the mysterious dark matter purported to make up most of the mass of the Universe may have to be revised. Research on dwarf galaxies suggests they cannot form in the way they do if dark matter exists in the form that the most common model requires it to. That may mean that the Large Hadron Collider will not be able to spot it.

Read more. Source: BBC

Artwork of Pluto
Pluto may harbor a watery ocean
(Sep 16, 2011)

Add one more to the lst of possible sub-surface oceans in the outer solar system. Pluto joins Europa, Titan, Enceladus, and several others as a possible water-harboring world. According to research Guillaume Robuchon of the University of California, Santa Cruz, the heat to melt Pluto's ice under the surface would come from the decay of radioactive nuclides, particularly potassium-40, in rocks deep in the dwarf planet's interior.

Read more. Source: National Geographic

Astronomers detected supermassive black holes in 28 distant, low-mass galaxies, including the four shown in these Hubble Space Telescope images. Image credit: A. Koekemoer, Space Telescope Science Institute
Small distant galaxies contain supermassive black holes
(Sep 16, 2011)

Using the Hubble Space Telescope to probe the distant universe, astronomers have found supermassive black holes growing in surprisingly small galaxies. The findings suggest that central black holes formed at an early stage in galaxy evolution.

Read more. Source: University of California at Santa Cruz

Tatooine in Star Wars
'Star Wars' planet discovered with two suns
(Sep 15, 2011)

A giant and frigid planet that enjoys double sunsets as it circles two stars has been disocvered in the northern skies using the Kepler Space Telescope. Astronomers said the planet, named Kepler-16b, marked the first unambiguous discovery of a world in orbit around two stars – an astronomical oddity made famous by the planet Tatooine in Star Wars.

Read more. Source: The Guardian

This artist's image shows a newly formed planet swimming through the gas and dust surrounding the star. Credit: NASA/ JPL-Caltech
Did terrestrial planets and super-Earths start out as gas giants
(Sep 15, 2011)

When NASA announced the discovery of over 1,200 new potential planets spotted by the Kepler Space Telescope, almost a quarter of them were thought to be super-Earths. Now, new research suggests that these massive rocky planets may be the result of the failed creation of Jupiter-sized gas giants.

Read more. Source: Astrobiology Magazine

SLS launching
NASA announces design for new deep space exploration system
(Sep 14, 2011)

NASA has announced its intention to build the most powerful rocket ever seen and launch it by 2017. The Space Launch System (SLS) will be designed to carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, as well as important cargo, equipment and science experiments to Earth's orbit and destinations beyond, including asteroids and Mars. The SLS will initially be able to loft 70 metric tons into low-Earth orbit, eventually rising to 130 tons.

Read more. Source: NASA

The X-ray-blasted planet
(Sep 14, 2011)

A planet that orbits just 4.5 million km out from its central star, known as CoRoT-2a, is being continually strafed by a fierce blast of X-rays from the star. The high-energy radiation from CoRoT-2a is estimated to be evaporating about 5 million tons of matter from the planet every second.

Read more. Source: NASA/Chandra

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