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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: December 2012
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Locations of Voyager probes
Reaching for the stars
(Dec 14, 2012)

Will we ever be able to send spacecraft to the stars in a reasonable amount of time? The big problem – and it's huge – is distance. The nearest star system to the Sun, Alpha Centauri, lies about 4.3 light-years away, or roughly 10,000 times the distance of Pluto. At its present speed of about 17 km/s (60,000 km/hr), Voyager 1, which is the fastest of the five spacecraft currently on exit trajectories from the Solar System, would take more than 75,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri (assuming it was heading in the right direction, which it isn't).

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Artist impression of a Mars base
Toward the first Mars base
(Dec 13, 2012)

Mars is the most logical place, after and possibly including the Moon, to build a permanent base. Back in the 1960s, amid the excitement of Apollo, Mars seemed like a natural next step and there was talk of humans landing there within another decade. Since then the public and political will to push on with manned space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit has dwindled. Yet Mars still beckons and it may be that commercial space vehicles will be the first to ferry people there and help establish a permanent outpost.

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Hubble glimpses furthest known galaxies
(Dec 13, 2012)

The Hubble telescope has peered more deeply into the universe than ever before and identified six galaxies as they were when the universe was between just 400 and 600 million years old. The distance to a previously known object, cataloged as UDFj-39546284, has been revised making it now the most distant object known. According to the new estimate, the light we're picking up from it today started it's journey a mere 380 million years after the Big Bang.

Read more (BBC)

X-37B in orbit
Third outing for secretive US spaceplane
(Dec 12, 2012)

The US Air Force has launched its mini spaceplane, the X-37B, for the third time atop an Atlas V rocket. Presumably intended primarily as a very sophisticated and quickly targettable spy device, the X-37B went up within hours of the first successful North Korean space launch. Rather different reactions, though, from around the world to these two events...

Read more (BBC)

The Menace of the Asteroids, Part 2!
(Dec 12, 2012)

More doom and disaster? Not necessarily. We can do something about big dumb space objects that are heading our way – with a little will and technological know-how. Check out my latest article over at on what we can do about asteroids that may be heading our way.

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Einstein missed dark energy 80 years ago
(Dec 11, 2012)

Dark energy -- only recently shown to make up three-quarters of the mass-energy in the universe – was first considered 80 years ago by Einstein and Schrödinger. Responding to a change made by Schrödinger to one of Einstein's equations, Einstein said that it would physically represent "non-observable negative density in interstellar spaces" (in other words, what we now know as dark energy). Einstein rejected the notion.

Read more (New Scientist)

asteroid approaching Earth
The menace of the asteroids, part 1
(Dec 10, 2012)

Of the several hundred thousand asteroids known, about 9,000 are of the near-Earth variety, and of these more than 1,300 fall into the category known as potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs). To qualify as a PHA, an asteroid must be able to come closer to the Earth than 7.5 million kilometers in its orbit and be larger than 100 to 150 meters in diameter. An asteroid of this size, if it impacted in a sensitive area, could cause significant regional devastation, laying waste to a major city or even an entire state.

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GRAIL Moon gravity map
Gravity map shows early Moon battering
(Dec 9, 2012)

Scientists have taken their most detailed look yet at the insides of the Moon and its surface composition, and have concluded that our nearest celestial neighbor suffered an even more violent pummelling in its early years than previously thought. To peer inside the Moon, scientists used measurements from two NASA satellites called Ebb and Flow, collectively known as the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission.

Read more (Guardian)

Gullies, possibly cut by a fluid flow on Vesta
Signs or running water on asteroid Vesta?
(Dec 7, 2012)

Scientists say they have seen features on Vesta that look as though they could have been cut by some sort of fluid flow - possibly liquid water. If correct, it is an extraordinary observation because any free water on the surface of the airless body would ordinarily boil rapidly and vaporise. But pictures of Vesta taken by Nasa's Dawn probe show complex gullies running down the walls of some craters.

Read more (BBC)

A young planetary system in the making
(Dec 6, 2012)

A star called L1527, in the earliest stages of development, offers one of the best peeks yet at what our solar system may have looked like as it was taking shape. The young star is currently one-fifth the mass of the Sun, but it is growing. Material from the cloud feeding it is being funnelled to the star through a swirling disk that contains roughly 0.5 per cent the mass of the Sun. That might not sound like a lot, but it's enough mass to make at least seven Jupiter-sized planets.

Read more (New Scientist)

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