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Discovery of Small, Rocky, Extrasolar World Suggests Such Planets May Be Common

Monday, January 30, 2006

Artists conception
Artist's concept of the newfound rocky planet circling a distant star.

Using a relatively new planet-hunting technique that can spot worlds one-tenth the mass of our own, researchers have discovered a potentially rocky, icy body that may be the smallest planet yet found orbiting a star outside our solar system.

The discovery suggests the technique, gravitational microlensing, may be an exceptional technology for finding distant planets with traits that could support life.

This important research, partly funded by NASA, is providing us the opportunity to search for planets in habitable environments," said Zlatan Tsvetanov, Terrestrial Planet Finder program scientist at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "The results successfully demonstrate the power of gravitational microlensing, currently the only ground-based technique with the sensitivity to detect extrasolar Earth-size planets on Earth-like orbits, and provide an important clue of the ubiquity of small planets."

More: NASA - Discovery of Small, Rocky, Extrasolar World

Where Art Thou Mars?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

If you are looking for Mars, According to JPl, it is at 60 degrees above the horizon at dusk and sets near 1:30 a.m. On Februrary 5, 2006, you will find Mars near the first quarter Moon, and on February 16, 2006 near the Pleiades star cluster (M45).

More:NASA -Mars Viewing Tips for 2006

Asteroid Collision Fueled Ancient Dust Storm on Earth

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Asteroid Collision Fueled Ancient Dust Storm on Earth
Credit: Roy Britt

One of the biggest cosmic dust storms of the past 80 million years left a blanket of material on Earth after an asteroid in space broke apart, researchers said today.

The conclusion is based on evidence in ocean sediments, which computer models have tied to an observed bevy of asteroid siblings still roaming the solar system.

The thinking is that the space rocks were once part of a larger asteroid, some 100 miles (160 kilometers) wide, that broke up – possibly in a collision – out in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The drama took place 8.2 million years ago. That much has been reasoned before. The event would have created vast amounts of dust, some of which would have been scooped up by our planet.

More: - Asteroid Collision Fueled Ancient Dust Storm on Earth

Fireball Alert!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

FIREBALL ALERT: On Sunday morning, Jan. 15th, between 1:56 and 1:59 a.m. PST (0956 - 0959 UT), a brilliant fireball will streak over northern California and Nevada. It's NASA's Stardust capsule, returning to Earth with samples of dust from Comet Wild 2. The best observing sites: near Carlin and Elko, Nevada, (see map below) where the man-made meteor is expected to shine as much as 60 times brighter than Venus.

Map: Google maps
Credit: Image:courtesy P. Jenniskens/Seti Institute

If you're too far away to see the fireball, you might be able to hear it--on the radio. The technique is called "meteor scatter." Tune an FM radio to a silent spot between local stations and point the radio's antenna in the general direction of northern Nevada. When the Stardust capsule rips through the atmosphere, it will create an electrically ionized wake that reflects radio waves. You could suddenly pick up stations hundreds to thousands of miles away reflected in your direction from the fireball's tail. - Fireball Alert

An Explosion on the Moon

Friday, January 6, 2006

Explosion on Moon
The red dot marks the location of the Nov. 7, 2005, meteoroid impact.

Credit: NASA/MSFC/Bill Cooke
December 23, 2005: NASA scientists have observed an explosion on the moon. The blast, equal in energy to about 70 kg of TNT, occurred near the edge of Mare Imbrium (the Sea of Rains) on Nov. 7, 2005, when a 12-centimeter-wide meteoroid slammed into the ground traveling 27 km/s.

"What a surprise," says Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) researcher Rob Suggs, who recorded the impact's flash. He and colleague Wes Swift were testing a new telescope and video camera they assembled to monitor the moon for meteor strikes. On their first night out, "we caught one," says Suggs.

The object that hit the moon was "probably a Taurid," says MSFC meteor expert  

Bill Cooke. In other words, it was part of the same meteor shower that peppered Earth with fireballs in late October and early November 2005.

More: NASA -So you thought nothing ever happens on the moon?

New Discoveries at Uranus

Friday, January 6, 2006

Fully-labeled composite image
Fully-labeled composite image

Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Showalter (SETI Institute)

Deep exposure of Uranus taken with the Hubble Space Telescope reveal two small moons and two faint rings. All orbit outside of Uranus's previously known (main) ring system, but interior to the large, classical moons. The outer new moon, U XXVI Mab, orbits at roughly twice the radius of the main rings and shares its orbit with a dust ring. The second moon, U XXVII Cupid, orbits just interior to the satellite Belinda. A second ring falls between the orbits of Portia and Rosalind, in a region with no known source bodies. Collectively, these constitute a densely-packed, rapidly varying and possibly unstable dynamical system.

More: SETI - New Discoveries at Uranus