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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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Submission + - Mystery Moon Swirls Caused by Blasts of Comet Gas?->

astroengine writes: Strange bright swirls have long been known to exist on the moon’s surface and their origin is steeped in mystery. Often stretching thousands of miles across the lunar landscape, scientists have tried to make connections with the elegant curved shapes with the moon’s interior magnetism or interactions between moon dirt and the solar wind, but these explanations have fallen short. Now, inspired by the Apollo moon landings and armed with a powerful computer model, researchers at Brown University think they have an alternative answer for these swirly patterns. Over the past 100 million years, many small comets impacted the moon’s pockmarked surface. Along with the icy nuclei that carved craters into the moon rock, the gaseous comet atmospheres — known as a comet’s coma — would have also blasted into the moon’s uppermost layer of regolith, possibly leaving the swirly imprint. “We think this makes a pretty strong case that the swirls represent remnants of cometary collisions,” said planetary geoscientist Peter Schultz, at Brown University.
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Submission + - LHC Restarts High-Energy Quest for Exotic Physics->

astroengine writes: It’s official: After a long 27 month hiatus for upgrades and a 2 month restart, the world’s largest particle accelerator is back in the particle collision business. As of 10:40 a.m. CET (5:40 a.m. ET), the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was running at record-breaking energies and collecting science data. Physicists now expect the particle collider to run non-stop for the next 3 years. We are in a new era of high-energy particle physics where, for the first time, we don’t exactly know what we’ll find. “With the LHC back in the collision-production mode, we celebrate the end of two months of beam commissioning,” said CERN Director of Accelerators and Technology Frédérick Bordry in a press release. “It is a great accomplishment and a rewarding moment for all of the teams involved in the work performed during the long shutdown of the LHC, in the powering tests and in the beam commissioning process. All these people have dedicated so much of their time to making this happen.”
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Submission + - Kepler's 'Superflare' Stars Sport Huge, Angry Starspots->

astroengine writes: Astronomers studying stars like our sun that are known to generate powerful “superflares” have also discovered that these superflares are likely associated with monster “starspots.” In 2012, using Kepler Space Telescope data — which is usually associated with the detection of exoplanets as they drift (or transit) in front of their host stars — astronomers were able to identify several hundred superflare events on a number of sun-like stars. These gargantuan events kicked out flares 10-10,000 times more energy than our sun is able to muster. Keeping in mind that these stars are sun-like stars, what makes them such superflare powerhouses? Why is our sun such a featherweight in comparison? In an effort to understand the dynamics of superflare stars and perhaps answer these questions, astronomers from Kyoto University, University of Hyogo, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) and Nagoya University turned to the High Dispersion Spectrograph on the Subaru Telescope, located atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, to carry out spectroscopic measurements of 50 of Kepler’s superflare targets. And they found that all the superflare stars possessed huge starspots that completely dwarf our sun's sunspots.
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Submission + - ISS Crew Stuck in Orbit While Russia Assesses Rocket->

astroengine writes: Wednesday’s planned homecoming of three space station crewmembers is being delayed while Russian engineers assess if the rocket problem that doomed a cargo ship last month could surface on a similar booster used for human spaceflights. Results of a preliminary investigation into the failed Progress cargo ship show that the third stage of its Soyuz launcher separated early, leaving the capsule about 13 miles short of its intended altitude, the Russian space agency Roscosmos said in a statement on Tuesday.
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Submission + - Doomed Russian Spacecraft Re-Enters Atmosphere Over Pacific Ocean->

astroengine writes: A Russian cargo ship that failed to reach the International Space Station following launch April 28 fell out of orbit Thursday night and burned up in the atmosphere, the Russian space agency Roscosmos reported. The capsule and more than three tons of cargo intended for the station crew re-entered the atmosphere at 10:04 p.m. EDT as it flew over the central Pacific Ocean, Roscosmos said in a statement posted on its website 15 minutes later. Any debris that survived the fiery descent through the atmosphere would have splashed down in the ocean, much like a routine cargo ship re-entry.
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Submission + - Extreme Exoplanet Volcanism Possibly Detected on 55 Cancri e->

astroengine writes: Using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have revealed wild atmospheric changes on a well studied exoplanet — changes that they suspect are driven by extreme volcanic activity. Over a period of 2 years, the team, led by University of Cambridge researchers, noted a 3-fold change in temperature on the surface of 55 Cancri e. The super-Earth planet orbits a sun-like star 40 light-years away in the constellation of Cancer. It is twice the size of Earth and 8-times our planet’s mass. 55 Cancri e is well-known to exoplanet hunters as the “diamond planet” — a world thought to be carbon-rich, possibly covered in hydrocarbons. But this new finding, published today in the arXiv pre-print service, has added a new dimension to the planet’s weird nature. “This is the first time we’ve seen such drastic changes in light emitted from an exoplanet, which is particularly remarkable for a super-Earth,” said co-author Nikku Madhusudhan, of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, in a press release. “No signature of thermal emissions or surface activity has ever been detected for any other super-Earth to date.”
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Submission + - NASA Probe Spies Possible Polar Ice Cap on Pluto->

astroengine writes: As NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft rapidly approaches Pluto for its historic flyby in July, the dwarf planet is gradually sliding into focus. And in the latest series of observations beamed back from the fringes of the Kuiper belt, surface features are becoming evident including the stunning revelation that Pluto may possess a polar ice cap. “As we approach the Pluto system we are starting to see intriguing features such as a bright region near Pluto’s visible pole, starting the great scientific adventure to understand this enigmatic celestial object,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington D.C. “As we get closer, the excitement is building in our quest to unravel the mysteries of Pluto using data from New Horizons.”
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