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January 2013
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March 2013

'Very Large Telescope' Captures 1st Proto-Planet Candidate--"A Key to Our Cosmic Origins"




Wihout knowledge of other planets beyond our Solar System, there is no way to understand our cosmic origins. With the discovery of new solar systems and exo-planets, scientists will be able to compare interstellar molecules and stellar energy output across the Milky Way. Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile (photo below) have obtained what is likely the first direct observation of a forming planet still embedded in a thick disc of gas and dust. If confirmed, this discovery will greatly improve our understanding of how planets form and allow astronomers to test the current theories against an observable target.

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NASA Supermassive-Black-Hole Gravity Discovery: "Confirms Einstein's Theory of Space-Time"




Two X-ray space observatories, NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton, have teamed up to measure definitively, for the first time, the spin rate of a black hole with a mass 2 million times that of our sun that lies at the dust- and gas-filled heart of a galaxy called NGC 1365 (image above). Measuring the spin of a supermassive black hole is fundamental to understanding its past history and that of its host galaxy. The observations are a powerful test of Einstein's theory of general relativity, which says gravity can bend space-time, the fabric that shapes our universe, and the light that travels through it.

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NASA to Livestream Black-Hole Observations Today




NASA will host a news teleconference at 10 a.m. PST (1 p.m. EST), Wednesday, Feb. 27, to announce black hole observations from its newest X-ray telescope, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton X-ray telescope.

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Image of the Day: Rare Cosmic Red Blobs --Regions of Hyper-Active Star Formation



This false-color composite image of the Stephan's Quintet galaxy cluster clearly shows one of the largest shock waves ever seen (the green arc above), produced by one galaxy falling toward another at over a million miles per hour. It is made up of data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and a ground-based telescope in Spain. What makes the Stephan's Quintet of galaxies so fascinating are the rare red blobs found in NGC 7320, the brightest of the group. 

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Saturn's 'Spring Sun' Lights Up Bizarre Polar Hexagon




Saturn's polar hexagon was originally discovered in images taken by the Voyager spacecraft in the early 1980s. It encircled Saturn at about 77 degrees north latitude and was estimated to have a diameter wider than two Earths. The jet stream is believed to whip along the hexagon at around 100 meters per second (220 miles per hour). The north polar hexagon shown in the Cassini  image above basks in the Sun's light now that spring has come to the northern hemisphere. Many smaller storms dot the north polar region and Saturn's signature rings, which appear to disappear on account of Saturn's shadow, put in an appearance in the upper-right background.

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Naming Pluto's New Moons --Vulcan & Cerberus Lead





The team that discovered Pluto's fourth moon in 2011 and its fifth last year has asked the public to vote on a list of 12 potential names, including Cerberus, Hercules and Orpheus. Tradition dictates that such names are taken from Greek and Roman mythology and relate to Hades and the underworld - Pluto's named moons are Charon, discovered in 1978, and Nix and Hydra, both discovered in 2005. After receiving close to half a million votes, Vulcan and Cerberus are the most popular names for the fourth and fifth moons of Pluto - currently known as P4 and P5.* Meanwhile, elsewhere, the team that discovered the two newest moons - led by Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California - are also asking for write-in votes, as long as they follow the same naming tradition.

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White Dwarf Stars Offer Best Potential to Identify Twin Earths




"In the quest for extraterrestrial biological signatures, the first stars we study should be white dwarfs," said Avi Loeb, theorist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and director of the Institute for Theory and Computation. Even dying stars could host planets with life - and if such life exists, we might be able to detect it within the next decade. This encouraging result comes from a new theoretical study of Earth-like planets orbiting white dwarf stars. Researchers found that we could detect oxygen in the atmosphere of a white dwarf's planet much more easily than for an Earth-like planet orbiting a Sun-like star.

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NASA Joins Europe for Exploration of Jupiter's Icy Moons: Europa, Ganymede and Callisto





NASA has selected key contributions to a 2022 European Space Agency (ESA) mission that will study Jupiter and three of its largest moons in unprecedented detail. The moons are thought to harbor vast water oceans beneath their icy surfaces. The mission will explore the conditions for planet formation and emergence of life. By studying the Jupiter system, JUICE will look to learn more about the formation and evolution of potentially habitable worlds in our solar system and beyond.  

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VLT Star Laser Illuminates Newly-Discovered Comet


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Europeaan Space Orgazization photographers captured this spectacular image of ESO’s Chile-based Very Large Telescope (VLT) during the testing of a new laser for the VLT 14 February 2013. It will be used as a vital part of the Laser Guide Star Facility (LGSF), which allows astronomers to correct for most of the disturbances caused by the constant movement of the atmosphere in order to create much sharper images. It's not a leap to think of it as a futuristic laser cannon being pointed towards some kind of distant space invader.

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RNA --"DNA's Messenger, or the Origin of Life on Earth?" (Weekend Feature)




Scientists today generally agree that DNA is the result of life on Earth, rather than its origin. But many molecular biologists are embracing the intruiging possibility, and strong evidence that the first life on Earth involved chemical multitasking by another key life molecule, ribonucleic acid or RNA. Molecular subunits of RNA have been found in alien carbonaceous chondrite meteorites, or could have formed through chemical reactions in the early Earth's oceans or primordial atmosphere leading to the exciting new theory that RNA is our earliest molecular ancestor. 

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