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CHEOPS, the first of ESA's S-class missions, will study super-Earths

The European Space Agency (ESA) is set to give existing orbiting probes, such as COROT and Kepler, a helping hand in studying super-Earths. Selected from 26 proposals, the CHEOPS (CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite) spacecraft is the first S-class (“small”) mission in the ESA’s Science Programme. A partnership between the ESA and the Swiss Space Office, CHEOPS will not seek out new exoplanets, but will instead target nearby, bright stars that are already known to have orbiting planets.  Read More

Artist's impression from a point in the Alpha Centauri triple star system, showing the new...

European astronomers working from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile have discovered a planet slightly more massive than Earth, orbiting a star in the Alpha Centauri triple star system – the nearest stellar system to our planet. Alpha Centauri Bb (as the new exoplanet is called, the star being Alpha Centauri B) is the first Earth-sized body found orbiting a Sun-like star and was discovered by measuring the tiny wobbles of Alpha Centauri B as it moves in response to the gravitational pull of the orbiting planet. It is orbiting Alpha Centauri B every three days and six hours at an orbital radius of six million kilometers (3.7 million miles). The proximity to the star leads to a surface temperature of some 1,500º K (2,250º F/1,232º C) – hot enough to melt granite.  Read More

The Spitzer space telescope has peered through dust and gas to establish a new value for t...

The size and age of our Universe is not only a critically important issue in cosmology, but is also among the most controversial and delicate of the cosmological questions. Infrared observations made using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have now given us the most precise estimate yet of the rate at which our Universe is expanding. The key was not the discovery of a new method for measuring distance. Rather, astronomers discovered how to measure brightness more accurately. The new value for the Hubble constant, good to within three percent, is 74.3 kilometers per second per megaparsec (km/s/Mpc).  Read More

Astronomers have assembled a new, improved portrait of our deepest-ever view of the Univer...

NASA scientists have directed the Hubble Space Telescope to inspect a tiny patch of sky with an unusually long exposure time to obtain the deepest image of the sky ever obtained. The image, dubbed the Hubble Extreme Deep Field (XDF), reveals the faintest and most distant galaxies ever detected, shedding more light on the early history of the universe.  Read More

Vignettes from the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image. 'Space is big. You just won't believe ho...

In mankind's attempts to gain some understanding of this marvelous place in which we live, we have slowly come to accept some principles to help guide our search. One such principle is that the Universe, on a large enough scale, is homogeneous, meaning that one part looks pretty much like another. Recent studies by a group of Australian researchers have established that, on sizes greater than about 250 million light years (Mly), the Universe is indeed statistically homogeneous, thereby reinforcing this cosmological principle.  Read More

Photo of Jupiter taken September 10, 2012 by George Hall of a fireball caused by the impac...

Jupiter is a major player in protecting the Earth from impact events, and has been for billions of years. Between comets and asteroids impacting on Jupiter and being flung into the Sun or out of the Solar System entirely, Jupiter's enormous gravitational field has removed the greater proportion of debris left-over from the formation of the Solar System. Jupiter has again been caught in the act of attracting and eating dangerous space rocks—this time in simultaneous observations by two amateur astronomers.  Read More

View of a cluster of galaxies spread along a dark matter filament (Photo: SDSS-III)

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) is little known to the public, but represents one of the most-challenging efforts in observational cosmology ever attempted. The most recent phase, SDSS-III, began in 2008 and includes the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), a part of SDSS-III aimed at mapping the cosmos. Its goal is to map the physical locations of all major galaxies back to seven billion years ago, and bright quasars back to 12 billion years ago – two billion years after the Big Bang. This is being done so we can gain a better understanding of dark matter and energy, and hopefully encounter a few surprises.  Read More

The International Lunar Observatory Association is to send a tested telescope on board Moo...

The International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) is being backed by Google Lunar X Prize contestant Moon Express in placing a small telescope on the Moon's surface to test and troubleshoot operating protocols for a fully loaded remote telescope. Last week, the ILO-X, the first ILOA telescope that will be sent to the Moon, was remotely tested by ILOA and Moon Express on the summit of Mauna Kea, and passed with flying colors. Later ILOA/Moon Express missions will include landing considerably larger telescopes at strategic locations on the lunar surface.  Read More

NASA researchers are trying a 'scotch tape' design to build larger, more affordable X-ray ...

A team led by NASA's Maxim Markevitch is investigating the possibility of building bigger X-ray telescope mirrors – up to thirty times as large as today's – using a plastic tape coated with a reflective material and then, just like a roll of Scotch tape, tightly rolled on itself. By studying cosmic rays and distant galaxy clusters, such large and significantly cheaper mirrors would allow us to learn more about the birth and evolution of the universe.  Read More

The distance from Earth to the Sentinel space telescope will vary between 30-170 million m...

California-based non-profit B612 Foundation has announced its intention to place an asteroid-hunting infrared telescope into orbit around the Sun. Named Sentinel, the ambitious endeavor is to be the world's first privately funded deep space mission and will aim to map up to 90 percent of all asteroids larger than 140 meters (459 ft) in Earth’s region of the solar system. In addition to these sizable asteroids, Sentinel will further provide data on a number of smaller asteroids, down to a size of approximately 30 meters (98 ft) in diameter.  Read More

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