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Submission + - Could Alien Life Spread 'Like a Virus' to the Stars?->

astroengine writes: As astronomical techniques become more advanced, a team of astrophysicists think they will be able to not only detect the signatures of alien life in exoplanetary atmospheres, but also track its relentless spread throughout the galaxy. The research, headed by Henry Lin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), assumes that this feat may be possible in a generation or so and that the hypothesis of panspermia may act as the delivery system for alien biology to hop from one star system to another.
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Submission + - Tiny Pebbles Built the Gas Giant Behemoths->

astroengine writes: Scientists have long puzzled over how gas planets like Jupiter and Saturn got to be so big. Current theories suggest the cores of these behemoths are comprised of mini-planets, some 62- to 620 miles in diameter, which collided and gradually merged together over time. But computer simulations show this process is more likely to produce hundreds of Earth-sized worlds. Instead, a new study suggests "slow pebble accretion" is a more likely process.
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Submission + - Enormous Red Sprites Seen From Space->

astroengine writes: This gorgeous photo, captured from the International Space Station on the night of Aug. 10, 2015, shows an orbital view of thunderstorms over the city lights of southern Mexico as a recumbent Orion rises over Earth’s limb. But wait, there’s more: along the right edge of the picture a cluster of bright red and purple streamers can be seen rising above a blue-white flash of lightning: it’s an enormous red sprite caught on camera! First photographed in 1989, red sprites are very brief flashes of optical activity that are associated with powerful lightning. So-called because of their elusive nature, sprites typically appear as branching red tendrils reaching up above the region of an exceptionally strong lightning flash. These electrical discharges can extend as high as 55 miles (90 kilometers) into the atmosphere, with the brightest region usually around altitudes of 40–45 miles (65–75 km). Sprites don’t last very long — 3–10 milliseconds at most — and so to catch one (technically here it’s a cluster of them) on camera is a real feat... or, in this case, a great surprise!
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Submission + - 'Eiffel Tower' Prominence Towers Over the Sun->

astroengine writes: From his backyard in Östersund, Sweden, professional photographer and astrophotographer Göran Strand took a look at the sun using his portable solar telescope “to see if something interesting was going on.” And sure enough, there was something VERY interesting going on. Something was towering over the solar disk — something that looked like the Eiffel Tower? Of course, this isn’t the famous Parisian landmark, nor is it some Photoshop trickery; the structure Strand had spotted was a solar prominence, and a beautiful one at that.
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Submission + - The Universe Is Dying, Galactic Survey Shows->

astroengine writes: A study of more than 200,000 galaxies, encompassing wavelengths of light from the far ultraviolet to infrared, shows that the universe is producing half as much energy as it did 2 billion years ago and continues to fade. “Newer galaxies are simply putting out less energy than galaxies did in the past,” astronomer Mehmet Alpaslan, with NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., told Discovery News. In other words, astronomers, for the first time, have gathered observational evidence that our universe is slowly marching toward its eventual heat death (in a few trillion years time).
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Submission + - An EPIC View of the Moon in Earth's Orbital Embrace->

astroengine writes: As a suitably impressive follow-up to the new “blue marble” image of our world released in July, today NASA shared a gorgeous animation created from pictures captured by NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) spacecraft positioned nearly a million miles (1.5 million km) away — over four times farther than the moon. In a series of images acquired between 3:50 and 8:45 p.m. EDT on July 16, 2015, the moon can be seen passing in front of a rotating Earth, the warm gray face of its far side framed by the swirling-cloud-covered blue water of the eastern Pacific Ocean. The north pole is at the 11 o’clock position, illustrating our planet’s 23.5-degree axial tilt.
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Submission + - Poor Pilot Training Blamed for Virgin Galactic Crash-> 1

astroengine writes: SpaceShipTwo co-pilot Michael Alsbury was not properly trained to realize the consequences of unlocking the vehicle’s hinged tail section too soon, a mistake that led to his death and the destruction of the ship during a test flight in California last year. Responsibility for the accident falls to SpaceShipTwo manufacturer Scaled Composites, a Mojave, Calif., company owned by Northrop Grumman Corp, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined at a webcast hearing on Tuesday. Poor oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which oversees commercial spaceflights in the United States, was also a factor in the accident, the NTSB said.
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Submission + - Confirmed: Pluto is Reigning King of the Kuiper Belt->

astroengine writes: New measurements made by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft confirm Pluto actually is the reigning king of the Kuiper Belt, with a diameter that surpasses the size of Eris, another so-called “dwarf planet” in the solar system’s backyard. “That settles the debate about the largest object in the Kuiper Belt,” New Horizons lead scientist Alan Stern, with the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., told reporters Monday. The observations, relayed as New Horizons neared Pluto after a 9.5-year, 3 billion mile journey, show that Pluto spans about 1,473 miles in diameter. Scientists suspect the maximum diameter for Eris, which circles the sun about three times farther than Pluto, is 1,445 miles.
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Submission + - How to Fly Rockets Back to Earth->

astroengine writes: At 10:30 a.m. EDT on Sunday, SpaceX will make another attempt at landing the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on a floating platform off the coast of Florida after sending the Dragon cargo vehicle to the International Space Station. Although SpaceX is hoping to achieve something the rocket industry has never done before (true usability of rocket engines, cutting costs), it's not the only game in town — Blue Origin, ULA and Airbus all have rocket return desires.
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Submission + - Stellar Rejuvenation: Some Exoplanets May Get Facelifts->

astroengine writes: Astronomers may have discovered an exoplanet that has found the elixir to planetary youth, knocking billions of years off its age. Until now, stellar rejuvenation has been pure conjecture, but after studying a white dwarf star called PG 0010+280, it turns out that one very interesting explanation for an excess in detected infrared radiation may be down to the presence of an exoplanet that was given a facelift. “When planets are young, they still glow with infrared light from their formation,” said Michael Jura of the University of California, Los Angeles, co-author of the study published in The Astrophysical Journal. “But as they get older and cooler, you can’t see them anymore. Rejuvenated planets would be visible again.” This rejuvenation happens when stellar material shedding from a dying red giant star falls onto an exoplanet, causing heating and making it appear younger.
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Submission + - Orbiting 'Rest Stops' to Repair Crumbling Satellites?->

astroengine writes: More than 1,100 satellites are orbiting the Earth right now transmitting TV shows and phone calls, collecting rainforest data and spying on missile bases around the planet. Most are expensive, costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to build, launch and operate. Now NASA wants to build a satellite service station that can gas up and repair aging birds, giving them a few years more life before they fall into the Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate. “Is there a way working with humans and robots together to extend the useful life of satellites, by fixing them and by not allowing fuel to spill out, but give it more propellant, close it up and send it on its way?,” said Benjamin Reed, deputy director of the Satellite Servicing Program Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “Yes, We have the technologies to be able to do it.”
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Submission + - NASA Probe Reveals More Detail in Pluto's Complex Surface->

astroengine writes: As NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft careens through the solar system with Pluto in its cross-hairs, new detail in the dwarf planet’s surface is popping into view at an ever increasing rate. Any images acquired from here on in are the most detailed images humanity has ever seen of Pluto and, a little over a month from its historic flyby, New Horizons is already giving us tantalizing glimpses of what appears to be a rich and complex little world. Take, for example, this most recent series of observations captured by the mission’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), which were taken from May 29 to June 2. There appears to be large variations in surface albedo (reflectiveness), possibly indicating there are huge regions of varying composition.
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Submission + - We STILL Don't Know What Those Bright Blobs on Ceres Are->

astroengine writes: Although NASA’s Dawn mission is now carrying out its second mapping orbit of dwarf planet Ceres, beaming back the highest resolution images of the small world’s surface to date, we’re still none the wiser as to what those weird bright patches are. “The bright spots in this configuration make Ceres unique from anything we’ve seen before in the solar system,” said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the mission at the University of California, Los Angeles. “The science team is working to understand their source.”
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Submission + - Saturn's Newly Discovered Ring Dwarfs the Gas Giant->

astroengine writes: Saturn’s faint outermost ring cuts a massive swath as it circles around its home planet, spanning an area of sky nearly 7,000 times larger than Saturn itself, new research shows. Analysis of images taken by NASA’s infrared sky-mapping WISE telescope also show that the ring, discovered in 2009, is comprised mostly of small particles. Rocks about as big as soccer balls make up only a small fraction of the ring’s population. It’s an unusual mix, scientists write in an article in this week’s Nature, prompting a new look at the physics behind ring assembly and longevity.
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Submission + - Hubble Image Inspires White House to Ponder Our Cosmos->

astroengine writes: On Wednesday, President Barack Obama mentioned something curious in a tweet. It wasn’t about the Affordable Care Act, it wasn’t concerning national security and wasn’t part of the climate change conversation. Instead, it was a message about the cosmos. “This was a fun briefing: My science advisor just showed me this Hubble shot of the most crowded place in our galaxy,” wrote the President, with a dazzling Hubble Space Telescope observation of the Arches Cluster, located some 25,000 light-years away toward the center of our galaxy, attached. President Obama is a well-known advocate for the sciences, STEM and science outreach, but this tweet didn’t focus on a specific policy or the White House Science Fair, this was just a guy (who happens to be the leader of the United States), looking up in wonder. The story behind the tweet became apparent on Thursday morning when the President’s Chief Science Advisor John P. Holdren issued a White House statement. It just so happens that this particular observation, which was a part of an “ad-hoc” note he sent to White House staff, resonated with the President.
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1 + 1 = 3, for large values of 1.