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Artist's impression of the GRAIL spacecraft, which has helped provide a better understandi...

Sometimes great mysteries hang right over our heads. We’re so used to looking up and seeing the “Man in the Moon” that we often don’t realize that those familiar dark areas on the face of our nearest neighbor are part of a centuries old question that has yet to be answered. Many hypotheses have been put forward and now data from NASA's twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) lunar orbiters has provided new insights into how the surface of the Moon formed and how its distinctive “seas” came to be.  Read More

A sampling spacecraft launching a penetrator missile (Image: NASA)

In what at first glance seems like a terrible sense of direction, in March students from the University of Washington fired rockets from kites and balloons at an altitude of 3,000 ft (914 m) straight into the ground at Black Rock, Nevada: a dry lake bed in the desert 100 mi (160 km) north of Reno. This may seem like the ultimate in larking about, but it's actually a serious effort to develop new ways of collecting samples from asteroids.  Read More

Gaia mapping the stars of the Milky Way (Photo: ESA/ATG medialab; background image: ESO/S....

The Gaia mission to map a billion stars in the Milky Way has been delayed for about two months by the European Space Agency. Problems in X-band transponders used in other satellites have begun to appear, and the ESA has decided to replace those modules prior to launching. The likely blastoff date will be in late December of this year.  Read More

Artist's impression of a massive asteroid impact (Image: NASA/Don Davis)

Last year, the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow put forward the idea of using fleets of laser-toting satellites to deflect potentially dangerous objects away from Earth. Now, Dr. Richard Fork, principal investigator for the Laser Science and Engineering Laboratory at the University of Alabama and his team have refined the idea, saying that it’s not only feasible, but could handle anything up to the size of a comet.  Read More

An asteroid impact has the potential to produce a mass extinction event (Image: NASA/Don D...

There are hundreds of near-Earth asteroids hurtling through space that are a potential danger to our planet. One way of dealing with the problem is to deflect them with a space probe deliberately set on a collision course. To see how effective such a collision would be, Frank Schäfer of the Fraunhofer Institute for High-Speed Dynamics, Ernst-Mach-Institut, EMI in Freiburg, Germany is looking at what asteroids are made of and how this affects a deflection impact.  Read More

Engineers will bring WISE out of hibernation in September to hunt potentially dangerous as...

NASA will be putting another eye on potentially dangerous asteroids in September when it reactivates the retired Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). The space telescope, which was deactivated in 2011, will use its infrared instruments to carry out a survey of near-Earth asteroids that may pose a threat to our planet.  Read More

Concept image showing Orion spacecraft approaching the robotic asteroid capture vehicle (I...

NASA has released new concept images and animations outlining one version of its plan to capture an asteroid with an unmanned craft and return it to lunar orbit for astronauts to study. The plan is part of an initiative by President Barack Obama for a US manned asteroid mission as outlined in his 2014 NASA budget request. The agency’s main objective at the moment is to come up with alternative approaches and evaluate them.  Read More

NASA map of over 1,400 potential Earth-striking asteroids (Image: NASA)

There’s something comforting about a map with “You are here” marked on it, but not when the arrow points to a spot where giant asteroids are whizzing by like cannon balls in a pirate movie. NASA has released a map of the inner Solar System showing the orbits of the 1,400 Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHA) known as of early this year. According to the agency, the plots show the orbits of asteroids over 460 ft (140 m) in diameter that pass within 4.7 million miles (7.5 million km) of Earth.  Read More

NASA's Asteroid Grand Challenge is aimed at protecting the Earth while exploiting asteroid...

On June 18, the NASA Asteroid Grand Challenge was announced to a flood of media inattention. This was probably to be expected, as NASA actually said very little about it. Maybe so as to not attract the ire of forces in the US Congress that are trying to shut down the largest portion of this Grand Challenge; namely the capture and relocation of a seven-meter (23 ft) asteroid to a stable lunar orbit for study and as a practice site for asteroid exploration and exploitation. We've dug up the formal Request for Information (RFI) associated with the Grand Challenge, which gives a better idea of where NASA wants to put its money.  Read More

OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at asteroid Bennu (Image: NASA/GSFC/UA)

NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission took a step closer to reality on Wednesday, as the OSIRIS-REx project was cleared for development and testing. Scheduled to launch in 2016, the mission passed a series of detailed project assessments and now goes on to the development phase. The Origins-Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security REgolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) is intended to rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu (1999 RQ36) in 2018, carry out an extensive survey, and return a 2-ounce (60 gm) sample of its surface to Earth in 2023.  Read More

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