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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: October 2012
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Orion spacecraft being readied for launch in 2014 Oct 31, 2012
Return of the Dragon Oct 29, 2012
My upcoming talk at the Royal Institution Oct 28, 2012
The intergalactic glow of lost stars Oct 27, 2012
Curiosity rover may come home Oct 25, 2012
European mission to seek out habitable exoplanets approved Oct 24, 2012
Lake Vostok proves lifeless to date Oct 23, 2012
The mystery of the scorching hot Triassic Oct 20, 2012
Fast-spinning Earth explains Moon's composition Oct 19, 2012
Earth-sized planet found in Alpha Centauri system Oct 17, 2012
WISE sheds light on Jupiter Trojans Oct 16, 2012
Baumgartner's skydive goes into the record books Oct 15, 2012
The day the sound barrier was shattered Oct 14, 2012
The diamond planet of 55 Cancri A Oct 12, 2012
The strange spiral of R Sculptoris Oct 11, 2012
On the verge of a black-hole mimicking laser Oct 10, 2012
US Air Force plans to build high-speed flying saucers Oct 9, 2012
Leap from the edge of space scheduled for tomorrow Oct 8, 2012
Best estimate yet for the growth rate of the universe Oct 5, 2012
55 years ago the Space Age – and Space Race – began Oct 4, 2012
New-found comet could outshine the Moon Oct 2, 2012
Astronomers zero in on distant black hole Oct 1, 2012
Vesta: the asteroid that was almost a planet Oct 1, 2012

Orion capsule mockup
Orion spacecraft being readied for launch in 2014
(Oct 31, 2012)

NASA's newest crewed spacecraft, Orion, is coming together at Johnson Space Center in preparation for its first scheduled launch in two years time. The first, unmanned flight, called the Exploration Flight Test 1, will include a test of more than half the systems that will appear in the ultimate finished Orion, including a heat shield of completely novel design.

Read more (Scientific American)

Dragon at ISS
Return of the Dragon
(Oct 29, 2012)

Yesterday, a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft returned to Earth at the end of the first commercially contracted re-supply mission to the International Space Station. The capsule was launched on Oct. 7, carrying 400kg of food, clothing, experiments, and spares for the station's six astronauts, and docked three days later. On its return, the capsule carried broken machinery and medical samples gathered by the astronauts aboard the ISS over the course of the past year.

Read more

Royal Institution
My upcoming talk at the Royal Institution
(Oct 28, 2012)

If you're in London on Tuesday, Nov. 20, I'd like to invite you to my talk on how the world might end. It's part of a series organized by BBC presenter Dallas Campbell. I'll be talking about some of the stranger ways that we and our planet could come to a sticky end, as covered in my book Megacatastrophes. I may also be the first – or one of the first lecturers – at the RI to pick up a guitar and sing a tune! Looking forward to seeing you there...

Read more (Royal Institution)

tidal tails
The intergalactic glow of lost stars
(Oct 27, 2012)

A new study using data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope suggests a cause for the mysterious glow of infrared light seen across the entire sky. It comes from isolated stars beyond the edges of galaxies. These stars are thought to have once belonged to the galaxies before violent galaxy mergers stripped them away into the relatively empty space outside of their former homes.

Read more (BBC)

Curiosity rover
Curiosity rover may come home
(Oct 25, 2012)

During a visit to the Scottish highlands, the director of NASA's exploration program, Doug McCuistion, said he hoped humans would walk on Mars by the 2030s and 2040s and possibly return the Curiosity rover to Earth. McCuistion was speaking in the village of Glenelg, which has been twinned with a site on Mars near where Curiosity landed.

Read more (BBC)

artist impression of CHEOPS
European mission to seek out habitable exoplanets approved
(Oct 24, 2012)

The European Space Agency has given the go-ahead for a low-cost space mission called CHEOPS (CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite) which will study planets around nearby Sun-like stars in order to assess their ability to support life. The mission, scheduled for launch in 2017, will provide data about planetary masses, radii, and compositions, and aid future detailed investigations of exoplanet atmospheres.

Read more

Lake Vostok
Lake Vostok proves lifeless to date
(Oct 23, 2012)

Locked away under 3.5km of Antarctic ice, Lake Vostok has been isolated from the rest of the planet for14 million years. In February, Russia scientists drilled down into the lake for first time, bringing back samples for analysis. So far, no indigenous life has been found in the samples, although these are early days. Any trace of biology in such an environment would boosts hopes that subsurface bodies of water on other worlds, such as Europa, might harbor life.

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fossil conodonts, like this one, were to reconstruct temperatures in the early Triassic
The mystery of the scorching hot Triassic
(Oct 20, 2012)

A few million years after one of the great mass extinctions – the end-Permian extinction – the Earth became so hot that life would have been almost impossible over much of its surface, especially in equatorial regions. Land temperatures may have hit 50°C or even 60°C at times. Why? One possibility is greenhouse gas emissions from the Siberian volcanic eruptions which caused the Permian extinction.

Read more

artist's impression of collision in which the Moon was formed
Fast-spinning Earth explains Moon's composition
(Oct 19, 2012)

The Moon formed out of a collision between between the young and another planet-sized body 4.5 billion years ago, according to conventional theory. The trouble is, most scenarios of such an event result in the Moon having quite a different chemical make-up from the Earth because it would be made of some of the material of the other world. Now a new model of the impact has been put forward in which the Earth and Moon end up with very similar compositions. It calls for our world to have started out spinning very fast – maybe once every 2.5 hours.

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artist's impression of newfound planet around Alpha centauri B
Earth-sized planet found in Alpha Centauri system
(Oct 17, 2012)

The remarkable discovery has been announced of an Earth-sized planet around Alpha Centauri B. Although the new-found world is much too close to its home star – at a distance 3.6 million miles (6 million km), 25 times closer than the Earth is to the Sun – to support life, its very existence will spur further efforts to detect worlds in the Alpha Centauri system, and encourage those engaged in SETI and the design of interstellar spacecraft.

Read more

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