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Space sailing soon: A one-kilometer-long electric sail tether produced

Tether from several wires joined at approximately one-centimetre intervals. (Credit: Photo by Henri Seppänen & Sergiy Kiprich)

Jan. 8, 2013 — The electric sail (ESAIL), invented by Dr. Pekka Janhunen at the Finnish Kumpula Space Centre in 2006, produces propulsion power for a spacecraft by utilizing the solar wind. The sail features electrically charged long and thin metal tethers that interact with the solar wind. Using ultrasonic welding, the Electronics Research Laboratory at the University of Helsinki successfully produced a 1 km long ESAIL tether. Four years ago, global experts in ultrasonic welding considered it impossible to weld together such thin wires. The produced tether proves that...

Dawn suggests special delivery of hydrated material to Vesta

The map from NASA's Dawn mission of the giant asteroid Vesta indicates the presence of hydrated minerals in white, with areas with high concentrations circled with a yellow dotted line in the annotated version. The data were obtained by VIR, Dawn's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, in August 2011 from an altitude of 2700 meters. The data included in the map are from Survey and are limited to 30 degrees north latitude because of the poor illumination condition above that...

Slow-moving rocks better odds that life crashed to Earth from space

The researchers suggest that ideal conditions for lithopanspermia in the sun's birth cluster, in the solar system and on Earth overlapped for several hundred million years (blue shaded area). Rock evidence suggests that the Earth (bottom line) contained surface water during a period when the relative velocities between the sun and its closest cluster neighbors (top line) were small enough to allow weak transfer to other planetary systems, and when the solar system (middle line)...

Scientists shed light on riddle of sun's explosive events

A computer visualization of the sun (red sphere) and its magnetic field lines (orange and aquamarine). The close-up shows the final stage of the emergence of magnetic fields from under the solar surface and the associated X-ray emissions. This sophisticated computer model is used to investigate the drivers of harmful space weather phenomena, including coronal mass ejections. (Credit: Image courtesy of Cooper Downs, Predictive Science, Inc.)

BestAstronomy (Sep. 24...

NASA's solar fleet peers into coronal cavities

Scientists want to understand what causes giant explosions in the sun's atmosphere, the corona, such as this one. The eruptions are called coronal mass ejections or CMEs and they can travel toward Earth to disrupt human technologies in space. To better understand the forces at work, a team of researchers used NASA data to study a precursor of CMEs called coronal cavities. (Credit: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO))

BestAstronomy (Sep. 20, 2012) — The sun's...

NASA Mars rover targets unusual rock enroute to first destination

'Jake Matijevic' Contact Target for Curiosity: The drive by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity during the mission's 43rd Martian day, or sol, (Sept. 19, 2012) ended with this rock about 8 feet (2.5 meters) in front of the rover. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

BestAstronomy (Sep. 19, 2012) — NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has driven up to a football-size rock that will be the first for the rover's arm to examine.

Curiosity is about 8 feet (2.5 meters) from the rock. It...

First planets found around sun-like stars in a cluster

BestAstronomy (Sep. 14, 2012) — NASA-funded astronomers have, for the first time, spotted planets orbiting sun-like stars in a crowded cluster of stars. The findings offer the best evidence yet that planets can sprout up in dense stellar environments. Although the newfound planets are not habitable, their skies would be starrier than what we see from Earth.

The starry-skied planets are two so-called hot Jupiters, which are massive, gaseous orbs that are boiling hot because they orbit tightly...

Link found between cold European winters and solar activity

BestAstronomy (Aug. 23, 2012) — Scientists have long suspected that the Sun's 11-year cycle influences climate of certain regions on Earth. Yet records of average, seasonal temperatures do not date back far enough to confirm any patterns. Now, armed with a unique proxy, an international team of researchers show that unusually cold winters in Central Europe are related to low solar activity -- when sunspot numbers are minimal. The freezing of Germany's largest river, the Rhine, is the...

Plasmas torn apart: Discovery hints at origin of phenomena like solar flares

BestAstronomy (Feb. 15, 2012) — January saw the biggest solar storm since 2005, generating some of the most dazzling northern lights in recent memory.

The source of that storm -- and others like it -- was the sun's magnetic field, described by invisible field lines that protrude from and loop back into the burning ball of gas. Sometimes these field lines break -- snapping like a rubber band pulled too tight -- and join with other nearby lines, releasing energy that can then...

IBEX spacecraft measures 'alien' particles from outside solar system

BestAstronomy (Jan. 31, 2012) — Using data from NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft, an international team of researchers has measured neutral "alien" particles entering our solar system from interstellar space. A suite of studies published in the Astrophysical Journal provides a first look at the constituents of the interstellar medium, the matter between star systems, and how they interact with our heliosphere.

The heliosphere, the "bubble" in which our Sun...

A glimpse of the end of our solar system

— Researchers at the University of Leicester are investigating the possible eventual fate of the solar system by examining 'white dwarf' stars elsewhere in our galaxy.

A white dwarf is the last stage in the life cycle of a star like the Sun, after it has contracted to a diameter smaller than that of Earth. Incredibly dense, one teaspoon of white dwarf material would weigh about five tonnes.

Nathan Dickinson, a...

— Researchers at the University of Leicester are investigating the...

Mercury: Messenger orbital data confirm theories, reveal surprises

— On March 18, 2011, the MESSENGER spacecraft entered orbit around Mercury to become that planet's first orbiter. The spacecraft's instruments are making a complete reconnaissance of the planet's geochemistry, geophysics, geologic history, atmosphere, magnetosphere, and plasma environment. MESSENGER is providing a wealth of new information and some surprises. For instance, Mercury's surface composition differs from ...

— On March 18, 2011, the MESSENGER spacecraft entered orbit around...

Recalculating the distance to interstellar space

— Scientists analyzing recent data from NASA's Voyager and Cassini spacecraft have calculated that Voyager 1 could cross over into the frontier of interstellar space at any time and much earlier than previously thought.

The findings are detailed in this week's issue of the journal Nature.

Data from Voyager's low-energy charged particle instrument, first reported in December 2010, have indicated that the outward speed...

— Scientists analyzing recent data from NASA's Voyager and Cassini...

Scientists prove existence of 'magnetic ropes' that cause solar storms

— George Mason University scientists discovered recently that a phenomenon called a giant magnetic rope is the cause of solar storms. Confirming the existence of this formation is a key first step in helping to mitigate the adverse effects that solar storm eruptions can have on satellite communications on Earth.

The discovery was made by associate professor Jie Zhang and his graduate student Xin Cheng using images...

— George Mason University scientists discovered recently that a...

NASA's Dawn spacecraft captures first image of nearing asteroid

— NASA's Dawn spacecraft has obtained its first image of the giant asteroid Vesta, which will help fine-tune navigation during its approach. Dawn is expected to achieve orbit around Vesta on July 16, when the asteroid is about 188 million kilometers (117 million miles) from Earth.

The image from Dawn's framing cameras was taken on May 3 when the spacecraft began its approach and was approximately 1.21 million...

— NASA's Dawn spacecraft has obtained its first image of the giant asteroid...

NASA selects investigations for future key missions

— NASA has selected three science investigations from which it will pick one potential 2016 mission to look at Mars' interior for the first time; study an extraterrestrial sea on one of Saturn's moons; or study in unprecedented detail the surface of a comet's nucleus. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., would lead the Mars investigation.

Each investigation team will receive $3 million to conduct its...

— NASA has selected three science investigations from which it will...

Comet Elenin: Preview of a coming attraction

— You may have heard the news: Comet Elenin is coming to the inner-solar system this fall.

Comet Elenin (also known by its astronomical name C/2010 X1), was first detected on Dec. 10, 2010 by Leonid Elenin, an observer in Lyubertsy, Russia, who made the discovery "remotely" using the ISON-NM observatory near Mayhill, New Mexico. At the time of the discovery, the comet was about 647 million kilometers (401 million miles)...

— You may have heard the news: Comet Elenin is coming to the...

NASA building instrument to study magnetic reconnection

— Whether it's a giant solar flare or a beautiful green-blue aurora, just about everything interesting in space weather happens due to a phenomenon called magnetic reconnection. Reconnection occurs when magnetic field lines cross and create a burst of energy. These bursts can be so big they're measured in megatons of TNT.

Several spacecraft have already sent back tantalizing data when they happened to witness a magnetic...

— Whether it's a giant solar flare or a beautiful green-blue...

NASA's Swift and Hubble probe asteroid collision debris

— Late last year, astronomers noticed an asteroid named Scheila had unexpectedly brightened, and it was sporting short-lived plumes. Data from NASA's Swift satellite and Hubble Space Telescope showed these changes likely occurred after Scheila was struck by a much smaller asteroid.

"Collisions between asteroids create rock fragments, from fine dust to huge boulders, that impact planets and their moons," said Dennis...

— Late last year, astronomers noticed an asteroid named Scheila had...

New tools to tackle a solar data storm

— So great is the wealth of data about the Sun now being sent back by space missions such as SOHO, STEREO and the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) that scientists back on Earth can struggle to keep pace. To combat this data overload, scientists from the Visual Computer Centre at Bradford University are developing advanced imaging tools to help scientists visualise what's happening at the Sun, make sense of the data ...

— So great is the wealth of data about the Sun now being sent back by...

Watching the birth of a sunspot

— Researchers at the University of Central Lancashire have monitored the birth of a sunspot over a period of eight hours using observations from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Dr Stephane Regnier presented the results at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno on April 18.

The emerging sunspot was first detectable at 17:00 UT on 30th May 2010 in SDO magnetograms, which map the magnetic intensity of...

— Researchers at the University of Central Lancashire have monitored...