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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: July 2012
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Artist's impression of one of the Pioneer probes in interstellar space
The Pioneer Anaomaly: a long-standing mystery finally solved
(Jul 19, 2012)


For more than 30 years, scientists have known that the twin Pioneer probes, 10 and 11, which are heading out of the solar system, are not quite where they're supposed to be. They've experienced a subtle slowing down, which led some researchers to speculate that the so-called Pioneer Anomaly pointed to a break down in our understanding of gravity itself. But now the mystery has been solved, once and for all.

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Artist's impression of Curiosity on the surface of Mars
NASA may be blind while Curiosity lands
(Jul 17, 2012)


Less than three weeks to go before the biggest interplanetary rover ever lands on Mars. It'll be doing it on its own, though – and probably unwatched. Because of repairs, the prime com link to Earth – the Mars Odyssey satellite – won't be placed to relay live signals of the event. That won't jeopardize the mission, however – just the nerves of those in mssion control.

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Artist's impression of asteroid mining.
Is asteroid mining on the cards?
(Jul 16, 2012)


Is mining asteroids, for metals and water, feasible? It's been talked about for years. But now a new company called Planetary Resources has signed an agreement with Virgin Galactic to take the first step along the road to tapping into the wealth of materials contained in space rocks.

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A region of sky around the quasar HE0109-3518, labeled 
            with a red circle. The quasars high-energy radiation makes 12 nearby 
            dark galaxies (blue circles) glow.
Dark galaxies spotted in the early universe
(Jul 13, 2012)


Starless galaxies have been found in the early universe by astronomers using the Very Large Telescope. This is the first direct evidence for dark galaxies – mostly clouds of hydrogen gas – that have yet to populate with stars. The discovery is important for our understanding of how galaxies evolve.

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LauncherOne after second stage ignition
Virgin Galactic to start launching satellites
(Jul 12, 2012)


Richard Branson's private spaceline company, Virgin Galactic, announced at the Farnborough International Air Show that it is to start launching satellites into low Earth orbit in 2016. LauncherOne will be a two-stage, air-launched rocket, carried below Virgin Galactic's existing WhiteKnightTwo aircraft, which is also the carrier for the company's passenger-carrying SpaceShipTwo. The new rocket will be able to place payloads of up to 225 kg (500 lb) into low Earth orbit for a cost well below that of any existing launch system.

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Pluto and its five known moons
A new moon for Pluto
(Jul 11, 2012)


As of today Pluto has FIVE known moons. The latest one, temporarily called S/2012 P5, was found during a telescopic survey of the Pluto system before the arrival of the New Horizons probe in three years time. It orbits second out, between Charon and Nix.

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GFAJ-1 microbes - the organisms at the center of the controversy over arsenic-based life
New study disproves earlier claim about arsenic-based life
(Jul 11, 2012)


In 2010, a team of scientists, funded by NASA, made the sensational claim that they'd found a species of microbe which used the element arsenic in place of phosphorus in its biochemistry. Although the claim was loudly touted in the popular press, it met with extreme skepticism among experts. Now, a new study has shown that while the organism in question, known as GFAJ-1, is highly tolerant of arsenic-rich conditions it doesn't incorporate arsenic in its DNA.

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The nearby star HD 157728 before (left) and after (right) processing by Project 1640
New way of finding exoplanets creates 'black holes' around stars
(Jul 10, 2012)


A remarkable new piece of technology, called Project 1640, is now working on the venerable 200-inch Hale Telescope at Mount Palomar, fixing its gaze on nearby stars in an effort to find previously invisible exoplanets. Project 1640 uses a combination of advanced adaptive optics and other optical equipment to artifically darken regions around a star where planets might otherwise by hidden in the star's glare. A three-year program to find new worlds has just started.

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Artist's impression of Curiosity on the surface of Mars
Mars: Upcoming attraction
(Jul 9, 2012)


Excited about the latest mission to Mars that's due to land there in less than a month? If not you should be. Check out my page on MSL and the Curiosity rover and be sure to watch the amazing NASA/JPL video that's included. This is going to be one nail-biting landing!

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Suspected Higgs decay event recorded in the CMS detector
A Higgs by any other name?
(Jul 8, 2012)


Is the new-found particle the Higgs or just 'Higgs-like'? It's definitely a boson and has the right sort of mass to be a Higgs. We still don't know its spin. If more experiments show this to be 0 it'll make it look even more Higgs-like. The trouble is, there could be more than one type of Higgs...

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