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November 2011
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Strange Spiral Star Discovered --14-Billion-Miles Wide (Holiday Feature --A "2011 Most Popular")


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The recent discovery of a star with spiral arms startled researchers using the Subaru telescope in Hawaii. The star, SAO 206462, is more than four hundred light years from Earth in the constellation Lupus, the wolf. Two spiral arms, acquired by the Subaru Telescope and its HiCIAO instrument, emerge from the gas-rich disk around SAO 206462. This image is the first to show spiral arms in a circumstellar disk --some 14 billion miles across, or about twice the size of Pluto's orbit in our own solar system. 

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Image of the Year: Gigantic Loop of Black Holes and Neutron Stars


                
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Arp 147 contains the remnant of a spiral galaxy (right) that collided with the elliptical galaxy on the left. This collision has produced an expanding wave of star formation that shows up as a blue ring containing in abundance of massive young stars. These stars race through their evolution in a few million years or less and explode as supernovas, leaving behind neutron stars and black holes.

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NewsFlash: NASA's Twin Spacecraft 24 Hrs from Lunar Orbit

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NASA's Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL)-A spacecraft is within 24 hours of its insertion burn that will place it into lunar orbit. At the time the spacecraft crossed the milestone at 1:21 p.m. PST today (4:21 p.m. EST), the spacecraft was 30,758 miles (49,500 kilometers) from the moon.

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Looking Back: NASA's "Mono Lake Discovery" --What Did They Really Find? (A 2011 Most Popular)

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Dec. 2, 2010:  NASA-supported researchers announced that they had discovered the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism, which lives in 740,000 year old California's Mono Lake, substitutes arsenic for phosphorus in the backbone of its DNA and other cellular components.

"The definition of life has just expanded," said Ed Weiler, NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "As we pursue our efforts to seek signs of life in the solar system, we have to think more broadly, more diversely and consider life as we do not know it."

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What are the Odds? Extraterrestrial Civilizations of the Cosmos (Holiday Feature)


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"What does it mean for a civilization to be a million years old? We have had radio telescopes and spaceships for a few decades; our technical civilization is a few hundred years old ... an advanced civilization millions of years old is as much beyond us as we are beyond a bushbaby or a macaque."

Carl Sagan

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Image of the Day: Kepler's Supernova Seen Through a Radio Telescope

 

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This radio image of SN1604, the Kepler Supernova,  shows a spiral region of emission extending along the top of the expanding elements. Light from this supernova reached Earth in 1604. Bright as Mars when first observed,it surpassed Jupiter in brilliance within a few days.

The Kepler Supernova remnant was a supernova which occurred in the Milky Way, in the constellation Ophiuchus. It is the last supernova to have been unquestionably observed in our own galaxy, occurring no farther than 20,000 light-years from Earth.

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Mystery of the Human Brain's Glia Cells Solved --Key to Learning & Information Processing

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"Glia cells are like the brain's supervisors. By regulating the synapses, they control the transfer of information between neurons, affecting how the brain processes information and learns." 

Maurizio De Pittà of Tel Aviv University's Schools of Physics and Astronomy and Electrical Engineering

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NewsFlash: NASA Twin Spacecraft on Final Approach for Moon Orbit

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NASA's twin GRAIL spacecraft to study the moon from crust to core are nearing theirNew Year's Eve and New Year's Day main-engine burns to place the duo in lunar orbit. The spacecraft are scheduled to beplaced in orbit beginning at 1:21 p.m. PST (4:21 p.m. EST) for GRAIL-A on Dec. 31, and 2:05 p.m.PST (5:05 p.m. EST) for GRAIL-B the next day.

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Twin NASA Spacecraft to Orbit Moon to Start "Full-Body Scan" This Weekend

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NASA's twin Grail spacecraft (short for Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory) are slated to start circling the moon one day apart, with Grail-A arriving on Saturday and Grail-B following on Sunday --both to study our lunar satellite from crust to core. The two probes will orbit the moon in tandem, mapping the lunar gravity field in unprecedented detail and helping scientists better understand how the moon formed and evolved.

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Will NASA's GRAIL Probe Solve the "Mystery of the Missing Moon"?

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NASA's GRAIL mission will start its lunar probe this weekend (see post above) to uncover some of the mysteries buried beneath the surface of the Moon --even, perhaps, a long-lost companion. According to a paper published recently in the journal Nature, the Earth once had two moons gracing our night skies. 

"It's an intriguing idea," says David Smith, GRAIL's deputy principal investigator at MIT. "And it would be a way to explain one of the great perplexities of the Earth-Moon system – the Moon's strangely asymmetrical nature. Its near and far sides are substantially different."

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