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+ - Kepler Makes First Exoplanet Discovery After Mission Reboot->

Submitted by astroengine
astroengine (1577233) writes "NASA’s Kepler space telescope has detected its first new extrasolar planet after mission engineers were able to save the mission from a premature death after two of the exoplanet hunter’s four stabilizing reaction wheels failed last year. Called “K2, the extended mission arose from an “innovative idea” that appears to have given the prolific telescope a new lease on life. “Last summer, the possibility of a scientifically productive mission for Kepler after its reaction wheel failure in its extended mission was not part of the conversation,” said Paul Hertz, NASA’s astrophysics division director at the agency’s headquarters in Washington D.C. “Today, thanks to an innovative idea and lots of hard work by the NASA and Ball Aerospace team, Kepler may well deliver the first candidates for follow-up study by the James Webb Space Telescope to characterize the atmospheres of distant worlds and search for signatures of life.”"
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+ - Wait, There's More: Curiosity Confirms Organics on Mars->

Submitted by astroengine
astroengine (1577233) writes "NASA’s rover Curiosity has found organic compounds on Mars, the first definitive proof of materials, which on Earth are building blocks for life, also exist on the Red Planet. “We have had a major discovery. We have found organics on Mars,” Curiosity lead scientist John Grotzinger, with the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., said during a webcast press conference at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco. Whether the organics were delivered by carbon-rich meteorites or formed on Mars has yet to be determined. The discovery, paired with a sister investigation that found occasional spikes of methane gas in the Martian atmosphere, is a turning point for the mission, which began 2.5 years ago inside a 96-mile wide impact basin named Gale Crater. On Earth, more than 90 percent of the atmospheric methane is produced by biological processes. The rest is tied to geochemical processes."
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+ - Curiosity Detects Mysterious Methane Spikes on Mars-> 1

Submitted by astroengine
astroengine (1577233) writes "A gas strongly associated with life on Earth has been detected again in the Martian atmosphere, opening a new chapter in a decade-old mystery about the on-again, off-again appearance of methane on Mars. The latest discovery comes from NASA’s Curiosity rover, which in addition to analyzing rocks and soil samples, is sniffing the air at its Gale Crater landing site. A year ago, scientists reported that Curiosity had come up empty-handed after an eight-month search for methane in the atmosphere, leaving earlier detections by ground-based telescopes and Mars-orbiting spacecraft an unexplained anomaly. “We thought we had closed the book on methane. It was disappointing to a lot of people that there wasn’t significant methane on Mars, but that’s where we were,” Curiosity scientist Christopher Webster with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Discovery News."
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+ - Curiosity's Mars Crater was Once a Vast Lake->

Submitted by astroengine
astroengine (1577233) writes "The mountain that NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is exploring appears to have once been a lake, scientists said Monday. Mount Sharp, a three-mile-high mound of layered debris rising from the floor of Gale Crater, is believed to have formed billions of years ago, images posted on NASA’s website ahead of conference call with reporters shows. Sediments to create the mountain likely originated from the crater rim highlands and transported toward the center of the crater in alluvial fans, deltas, and wind-blown drifts, scientists said. “During wet periods, water pooled in lakes where sediments settled out in the center of crater,” NASA said. "Even during dry periods in the crater center, groundwater would have existed beneath the surface. Then, during the next wet period it would resurface to form the next lake. This alternation of lakes, rivers and deserts could have represented a long-lasting habitable environment.""
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+ - LHC's 'Heart' Starts Pumping Protons Before Restart->

Submitted by astroengine
astroengine (1577233) writes "While on its long road to restart, yet another milestone was reached at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) over the weekend. Protons were generated by the LHC’s source and blasted through a ‘daisy-chain’ of smaller accelerators before being intentionally smashed into a metaphorical brick wall. The particle beam didn’t reach the LHC’s famous 17 mile (27 kilometer) accelerator ring, they were stopped just short, but the event was used to begin calibration efforts of the massive experiment’s detectors before the whole system is powered back up again early next year. “These initial tests are a milestone for the whole accelerator chain,” said the LHC’s chief engineer Reyes Alemany Fernandez. “Not only was this the first time the injection lines have seen beams in over a year, it was also our first opportunity to test the LHC’s operation system. We successfully commissioned the LHC’s injection and ejection magnets, all without beam in the machine itself.”"
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+ - Philae's Batteries Have Drained, Comet Lander Sleeps->

Submitted by astroengine
astroengine (1577233) writes "In the final hours, Philae’s science team hurried to squeeze as much science out of the small lander as possible. But the deep sleep was inevitable, Rosetta’s lander has slipped into hibernation after running its batteries dry. This may be the end of Philae’s short and trailblazing mission on the surface of Comet 67P, but a huge amount of data — including data from a drilling operation that, apparently, was carried out despite concerns that Philae wasn’t positioned correctly — was streamed to Rosetta mission control. “Prior to falling silent, the lander was able to transmit all science data gathered during the First Science Sequence,” said Stephan Ulamec, Philae Lander Manager. “This machine performed magnificently under tough conditions, and we can be fully proud of the incredible scientific success Philae has delivered.”"
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+ - Comet Sings a Mysterious Song to Rosetta->

Submitted by astroengine
astroengine (1577233) writes "As if to celebrate tomorrow’s landing of Philae on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the European Rosetta mission has detected a mysterious signal coming from the 2.5 mile-wide lump of ice and rock. The mission has five instruments in the Rosetta Plasma Consortium (RPC) that measure the plasma environment surrounding the comet. Plasma is a charged gas and the RPC is tasked with understanding variations in the comet’s activity, how 67P’s jets of vapor and dust interacts with the solar wind and the dynamic structure of the comet’s nucleus and coma. But when recording signals in the 40-50 millihertz frequency range, the RPC stumbled on a surprise — the comet was singing."
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+ - 'Revolutionary' New View of Baby Planets Forming Around a Star-> 1

Submitted by astroengine
astroengine (1577233) writes "Welcome to HL Tauri — a star system that is just being born and the target of one of the most mind-blowing astronomical observations ever made. Observed by the powerful Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, this is the most detailed view of the proto-planetary disk surrounding a young star 450 light-years away. And those concentric rings cutting through the glowing gas and dust? Those, my friends, are tracks etched out by planets being spawned inside the disk. In short, this is the mother of all embryonic star system ultrasounds. But this dazzling new observation is so much more — it’s a portal into our solar system’s past, showing us what our system of planets around a young sun may have looked like over 4 billion years ago. And this is awesome, because it proves that our theoretical understanding about the evolution of planetary systems is correct. However, there are some surprises. “When we first saw this image we were astounded at the spectacular level of detail,” said Catherine Vlahakis, ALMA Deputy Program Scientist. “HL Tauri is no more than a million years old, yet already its disc appears to be full of forming planets. This one image alone will revolutionize theories of planet formation.”"
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+ - SpaceShipTwo's Rocket Engine Did Not Cause Fatal Crash->

Submitted by astroengine
astroengine (1577233) writes "It wasn’t SpaceShipTwo’s hybrid rocket motor — which was flying on Friday with a new type of fuel — that caused the fatal crash, the head of the accident investigation agency said late Sunday. The ship’s fuel tanks and its engine were recovered intact, indicating there was no explosion. “They showed no signs of burn-through, no signs of being breached,” Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation and Safety Board, told reporters at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif. Instead, data and video relayed from the ship show its hallmark safety feature — a foldable tail section designed for easy re-entry into the atmosphere from space — was deployed early, causing the in-flight break-up."
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+ - SpaceShipTwo Pilot Named; Branson Vows to 'Move Forward Together'->

Submitted by astroengine
astroengine (1577233) writes "Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson has arrived in the Mojave Desert, Calif., in the wake of the tragic explosion and crash of the company’s SpaceShipTwo vehicle. The rocket-propelled space plane was completely destroyed Friday morning during a test flight. One of the two test pilots, employed by SpaceShipTwo development company Scaled Composites, was killed and the second pilot was rushed to a local hospital where he is described as having “major injuries.” A spokeswoman for Kern’s County Coroner’s Office told the Los Angeles Times that project engineer and test pilot Michael Alsbury died in the accident. Alsbury was 39-years-old and had been working with Scaled for 14 years. The second pilot, who was able to parachute to safety, has not been named."
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+ - Two Exocomet Families Found Around Baby Star System->

Submitted by astroengine
astroengine (1577233) writes "Scientists have found two families of comets in the developing Beta Pictoris star system, located about 64 million light-years from Earth, including one group that appears to be remnants of a smashed-up protoplanet. The discovery bolsters our theoretical understanding of the violent processes that led to the formation of Earth and the other terrestrial planets in the solar system. “If you look back at the solar system when it was only 22 million years old, you might have seen phenomena that’s a like more like what’s happening in Beta Pic,” astrophysicist Aki Roberge, with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., told Discovery News."
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+ - Mars Orbiter Beams Back Images of Comet's Surprisingly Tiny Nucleus->

Submitted by astroengine
astroengine (1577233) writes "The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on board NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has become the first instrument orbiting Mars to beam back images of comet Siding Spring’s nucleus and coma. And by default, it has also become the first ever mission to photograph a long-period comet’s pristine nucleus on its first foray into the inner solar system. Interestingly, through analysis of these first HiRISE observations, astronomers have determined that the icy nucleus at the comet’s core is much smaller than originally thought. “Telescopic observers had modeled the size of the nucleus as about half a mile, or one kilometer, wide,” writes a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory news release. “However, the best HiRISE images show only two to three pixels across the brightest feature, probably the nucleus, suggesting a size less than half that estimate.”"
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+ - Saturn's 'Death Star' Moon May Hide Subsurface Ocean->

Submitted by astroengine
astroengine (1577233) writes "With its heavily cratered, geologically dead surface, Saturn's moon Mimas was considered to be scientifically boring. But appearances can be deceiving. Using data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, new research shows something strange inside Mimas that is causing the moon to sway as it orbits around the ringed gas giant. Computer models point to two possibilities. First is that Mimas, which is about 250 miles in diameter, has an oblong or football-shaped core, a clue that the moon may have formed inside Saturn’s ice rings. The second option is that Mimas has a global ocean located 16 miles to 19 miles beneath its icy crust."
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+ - Mars' Atmosphere is Leeching Out Into Space->

Submitted by astroengine
astroengine (1577233) writes "Early results from NASA’s recently arrived MAVEN Mars spacecraft show an extensive, tenuous cloud of hydrogen surrounding the red planet, the result of water breaking down in the atmosphere, scientists said Tuesday. MAVEN, an acronym for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, arrived on Sept. 21 to help answer questions about what caused a planet that was once warm and wet to turn into the cold, dry desert that appears today. “It’s measurements like these that will allow us to estimate the escape rate of hydrogen from the Martian atmosphere to space today. It’s an important measurement to make because the hydrogen ... comes from water lower down in the atmosphere,” MAVEN scientist Mike Chaffin, with the University of Colorado, Boulder, told reporters on a conference call."
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