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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: September 2012
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Artist's impression of a planet in an open cluster
Two planets found in the Beehive cluster
(Sep 16, 2012)


"Two b's for the Beehive" is how it's been announced. Two planets have been found orbiting Sun-like stars in the cluster known as The Beehive or Praesepe. Pr0201b and Pr0211b are both "hot Jupiters" but the importance of their discovery is that it shows that planets can form in such crowded stellar environments.

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Mysterious marble-sized spheres found by Opportunity
Opportunity finds mysterious spheres
(Sep 15, 2012)


The spotlight may be on the newly-arrived Curiosity rover, but its smaller cousin Opportunity is still making spectacular discovereies elsewhere on Mars. The latest is an outcrop of strange spheres, similar to the structures found earlier in the mission and described as "blueberries". But these latest round objects are different both in composition and texture, and for now scientists are struggling to explain them.

Read more (New Scientist)

Hypothetical planet depicted moving through the habitable zone and then further out into a long, cold winter
Life on eccentric exoplanets?
(Sep 13, 2012)


The concept of habitable zones has had to be expanded and elaborated in the past few years with new discoveries about planets around other stars and worlds within the solar system. One possibility is that life could survive on a world even if it spent much of its time outside the habitable zone – and there seem to be many such worlds.

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Artist's impression of a protoplanetary 
            disk being pulled apart as it falls toward Sgr A*
A young star hurtles to its doom in the galactic center
(Sep 12, 2012)


Recent observations suggest that a young star and its still-forming system of planets is tumbling towards the central supermassive black hole at the heart of our galaxy. Although the star itself can't be seen, astronomers have observed the tell-tale signs from the star's protoplanetary disk as it is pulled apart by the intense gravitational forces near the 4-million-solar-mass dark object at the center.

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artwork of a habitable exoplanet
Curiosity takes a self-portrait
(Sep 11, 2012)


The number of habitable planets in the universer may be much greater than previously estimated. Traditionally, the permanent presence of water on a planet's surface has been considered a key criterion in gauging the chances for life. But a new computer model devised by researchers at Aberdeen University has taken into account that fact that planets outside the so-called "habitable zone" could harbor deep biospheres thanks to subsurface bodies of water kept liquid by internal heat.

Read more (BBC)

Curiosity Mastcam
Curiosity takes a self-portrait
(Sep 10, 2012)


Here's a picture of the Curiosity rover's main camera – Mastcam – taken by one of its smaller cameras, known as the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). The fuzziness and orange glow are due to the transparent cover, which protects MAHLI from dust, intentionally being left in place for this shot.

Read more (Scientific American)

Curiosity from MOR
Curiosity breathes in the Martian air
(Sep 7, 2012)


Curiosity has taken its first sniff of the Martian air using its SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) instrument package that can potentially measure the concentration of different gases down to a few parts per trillion. The results should be known in a few days. All eyes will be on whether it picks up any elusive methane, which could be due to geological or biological processes. Meanwhile Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken a new picture of Curiosity from space (see photo).

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Dawn
Dawn sets sail for Ceres
(Sep 6, 2012)


NASA's Dawn spacecraft has now left the big asteroid Vesta, around which it orbited for just over a year, and is on course for its second major target, the dwarf planet Ceres, in 2015. A web video celebrating Dawn's "greatest hits" at Vesta is available at this NASA webpage.

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Small Magellanic Cloud
Cosmic lithium shortage confirmed
(Sep 5, 2012)


Every time astronomers look for lithium in space they find too little of it. Current models of the Big Bang suggest there should be at least times more of this element than has actually been found. The latest research has only served to confirm the mystery.

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light-colored patches on the Moon
Moon bubbles and deflector shields
(Sep 4, 2012)


New research suggests an answer to a long-standing mystery on the Moon – the existence of light-colored regions where the surface has apparently been shielded from the solar wind. It also hints at an easier way to make a "deflector shield" for crewed spacecraft on long-duration missions.

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