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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: January 2013
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artist's impression of an asteroid belt around Vega
Vega may have an asteroid belt
(Jan 9, 2013)

Exoplanets, exocomets, and now exo-asteroid belts. This has been a busy week for news about other stars and the things that go around them. Now it turns out that one of the brightest stars in the night sky, blue-white Vega, may have an asteroid belt, similar to that found a number of years ago around another nearby star, Fomalhaut. Observations by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the ESA's Herschel Space Observatory suggest that both stars have a warm inner belt and a cool outer one, separated by a gap – an arrangement similar to that of the asteroid and Kuiper belts in our own solar system.

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artist's impression of comets around Beta Pictoris
More stars with exocomets found
(Jan 9, 2013)

A new haul of comets around distant stars has been unveiled, more than doubling the number we know of. The first such "exocomet" was discovered in 1987 but since then only three more had been found. At the 221st American Astronomical Society meeting in the US, astronomer Barry Welsh gave details of seven more.

Read more (BBC)

Earth-sized planets in the Galaxy 'number 17bn'
(Jan 8, 2013)

Astronomers say that one in six stars hosts an Earth-sized planet in a close orbit – suggesting a total of 17 billion such planets in our galaxy. The result comes from an analysis of planet candidates gathered by Nasa's Kepler space observatory. The Kepler scientists also announced 461 new planet candidates, bringing the satellites' total haul to 2,740.

Read more (BBC)

Planets in wide binary systems face uncertain future
(Jan 7, 2013)

An international team of astrophysicists has shown that planetary systems with very distant binary stars are particularly susceptible to violent disruptions, more so than if they had stellar companions with tighter orbits around them. The orbits of wide stellar companions often become very eccentric over time, driving the once-distant star into a plunging orbit that passes very close to the planets once per orbital period. The gravity of this close-passing companion can then wreak havoc on planetary systems, triggering planetary scatterings and even ejections.

Read more (Science Daily)

Yellowknife Bay on Mars
Curiosity ready to drill
(Jan 5, 2013)

NASA's Curiosity rover is close to drilling into its first Martian rock, with the set-up operation likely to begin next week. The robot has driven about 650 meters from its landing site, dropping down into a depression known as Yellowknife Bay. It is in this depression that the target rock will probably be chosen. All of Curiosity's instruments have been commissioned. The drill is the only tool that has yet to be deployed.

Read more (BBC)

HD 142527
New light on planet-forming gas streams
(Jan 4, 2013)

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope have seen a key stage in the birth of giant planets for the first time. Vast streams of gas are flowing across a gap in the disk of material around a young star, HD 142527. These are the first direct observations of such streams, which are expected to be created by giant planets guzzling gas as they grow.

Read more (ESO)

NWA 7034
Mars meteorite is first of its kind to be found
(Jan 4, 2013)

A new type of Mars meteorite has been found that is distinct from the three main groups of rocks (shergottites, nakhlites, and chassignites) found on Earth that have originated from the fourth planet. The object, known as NWA 7034, was recovered from the Moroccan desert in 2011 and is a basaltic breccia – a type of rock common on the Moon but different from any of the samples found in the "SNC" categories. It also has about 10 times more water in it than typical SNC meteorites and is much older, with an age of about 2 billion years compared with a typical SNC age of 200 to 400 million years. It hints, therefore, that Mars remained wetter until comparatively recent times.

Read more (BBC)

proton / lead ion collisions
LHC to explore dawn cosmos before big shutdown
(Jan 3, 2013)

In a couple of weeks' time, for a short while before it shuts down for its major upgrade, the Large Hadron Collider will turn into an early-universe simulator. Two different beams of particles, one of protons the other of lead ions will be smashed into each other to learn more about the kind of intensely hot particle soup believed to be present just after the Big Bang – a state of matter known as a quark-gluon plasma.

Read more (New Scientist)

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