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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: January 2012
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Allen Telescope Array
Alien hunters: What if ET ever phones our home?
(Jan 16, 2012)

For decades we've been sending signals – both deliberate and accidental – into space, and listening out for alien civilizations' broadcasts. But what is the plan if one day we were to hear something? If we ever detect signs of intelligent alien life, the people likely to be on the receiving end of a cosmic signal are the scientists of SETI, aka Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. This loose band of a couple of dozen researchers around the world doggedly listens to the cosmos in the hopes of catching alien communications. It's often in the face of scant funding and even ridicule.

Read more. BBC

Russian space probe heading down
(Jan 14, 2012)

Russia's failed Mars probe, Phobos-Grunt, is about to fall back to Earth – quite probably on Sunday. The spacecraft has been losing altitude rapidly in recent days and will soon be pulled into the top of the atmosphere where it will be destroyed. Phobos-Grunt weighed some 13 metric tons at launch, but very little of this mass should make it through to the surface.

Read more. BBC

Super-cool Planck mission begins to warm
(Jan 13, 2012)

One of Europe's great astronomical ventures is coming to a close. The Planck telescope, put in space to map the oldest light in the Universe, has run out of the helium coolant that keeps it in full working order. Engineers expect the observatory's systems to start to warm from their ultra-frigid state in the coming days, blinding one of its two instruments. Nonetheless, Planck has gathered more than enough data since its launch in 2009 to complete its mission goals.

Read more. BBC

Bubbles around stars
Bubble-blowing stars seen in the thousands by public
(Jan 13, 2012)

A project to spot the "bubbles" that young, massive stars blow in the gas surrounding them has come up trumps, finding more than 5,000 of the objects. That increases the known catalogue of bubbles by more than a factor of 10. The discoveries were made by citizen scientists studying images from the Spitzer space telescope, as part of the Milky Way Project.

Read more. BBC

The newly found planet (center) is about the size of Mars (left) and just over half as big as Earth (right). Image: NASA/JPL-Caltch
Smallest exoplanet is the size of Mars
(Jan 13, 2012)

The smallest exoplanet yet found around a Sun-like star is a rocky world half the size of Earth and almost identical in size to Mars. Although it is too hot for life, researchers say its discovery boosts the chances of finding other, more life-friendly planets. The newly discovered planet, called KOI-961.03, periodically passes in front of its parent star, causing a slight dip in its brightness detected by NASA's Kepler space telescope.

Read more. New Scientist

Milky Way
Exoplanets are around every star, study suggests
(Jan 12, 2012)

Every star twinkling in the night sky plays host to at least one planet, a new study suggests. That implies there are some 10 billion Earth-sized planets in our galaxy. Using a technique called gravitational microlensing, an international team found a handful of exoplanets that imply the existence of billions more.

Read more. BBC

Three tiny exoplanets suggest Solar System not so special
(Jan 12, 2012)

Adding to its already long roster of firsts, NASA's Kepler spacecraft has found the three smallest extrasolar planets ever detected – all of them smaller than Earth, and the most diminutive no larger than Mars. The newly discovered trio forms a miniature planetary system orbiting a cool, dim red dwarf called KOI-961.

Read more. Scientific American

The two merging clusters of El Gordo can be seen separated by a bright field of X-ray light
'El Gordo' is largest distant galaxy cluster ever seen
(Jan 11, 2012)

The largest distant galaxy cluster has been spotted by astronomers using a telescope in Chile. Galaxy clusters are the largest stable structures in our Universe. Seven billion light years away and with two million billion times the mass of our Sun, the cluster was nicknamed "El Gordo" – "the Fat One" in Spanish.

Read more. BBC

The survey dwarfs the previous largest map, shown at center alongside the moon for comparison of size in the sky
Dark matter images reveal widest view of dark mystery
(Jan 10, 2012)

Researchers have released the biggest images yet detailing dark matter, the mysterious substance that makes up three-quarters of the Universe's mass. Each image, a billion light-years across, shows vast dark matter clumps and voids scattered through the cosmos. The team from the Canada-France Hawaii Telescope inferred the dark matter's existence by the way it bends light.

Read more. BBC

Allen Telescope Array
Tough times for alien hunters
(Jan 9, 2012)

The hunt for signals from intelligent extraterrestrials has been in full swing for half a century. But the effort's flagship facility recently came to a grinding halt. A funding drive raised money from SETI enthusiasts including former astronaut Bill Anders, sci-fi author Larry Niven, and even Hollywood actress Jodie Foster. But it's only enough to keep going for a few months.

Read more. BBC

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