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Planet-forming disc found orbiting twin suns

...Images collected with the Smithsonian's Submillimeter Array (SMA) radio telescope system reveal the presence of a molecular disc orbiting a young binary star system...

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Galaxy Zoo puts new spin on galaxy rotation

...During the International Year of Astronomy's 100 Hours of Astronomy event in April, Galaxy Zoo volunteers provided more than 2.5 million classifications, smashing the one million target the team had set...

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Lasers help astronomers probe distant galaxies

...A discrepancy between the types of galaxies in today's Universe and those that existed shortly after the big bang is becoming clearer following new observations of galaxies that existed 2.7 billion years after the big bang...

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Video archive

STS-120 day 2 highlights

Flight Day 2 of Discovery's mission focused on heat shield inspections. This movie shows the day's highlights.

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STS-120 day 1 highlights

The highlights from shuttle Discovery's launch day are packaged into this movie.

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STS-118: Highlights

The STS-118 crew, including Barbara Morgan, narrates its mission highlights film and answers questions in this post-flight presentation.

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 Mission film

STS-120: Rollout to pad

Space shuttle Discovery rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building and travels to launch pad 39A for its STS-120 mission.

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Dawn leaves Earth

NASA's Dawn space probe launches aboard a Delta 2-Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral to explore two worlds in the asteroid belt.

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Dawn: Launch preview

These briefings preview the launch and science objectives of NASA's Dawn asteroid orbiter.

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NASA’s return to the Moon

BY DR EMILY BALDWIN

ASTRONOMY NOW

Posted: 15 June, 2009


Paving the way for the future of lunar exploration, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) missions will launch later this week.

Since the launch of the shuttle mission Endeavour to the International Space Station has moved to 17 June, LRO/LCROSS will launch a day later than originally planned, on 18 June, with more windows of opportunity on Friday and Saturday if required.

LRO is the first mission in NASA's Vision for Space Exploration, a plan to return to the Moon and ultimately journey to Mars and beyond. The primary objectives of LRO are to conduct investigations to prepare for a human presence on the Moon, by identifying scientifically interesting but safe landing sites, characterising the radiation environment, and locating potential resources such as water ice. LRO will also provide the most detailed maps yet of our nearest neighbour.


The payload consists of six science instruments and one technology demonstrator:

Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER)
CRaTER will characterise the lunar radiation environment and determine its potential biological impacts.


Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment (DLRE)
DLRE will provide orbital thermal mapping measurements, giving detailed information about surface and subsurface temperatures which will help identify cold traps and potential ice deposits. DLRE will also provide information on landing hazards such as rough terrain or rocks.


Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP)
LAMP will map the entire lunar surface in the far ultraviolet, search for surface ice and frost in the polar regions and provide images of permanently shadowed regions.


Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND)
LEND will create high resolution hydrogen distribution maps and provide information about the lunar radiation environment. It will also be used to search for evidence of water ice on the Moon's surface, and will provide information on the Moon’s radiation environment useful for future human exploration.


Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA)
LOLA will measure landing site slopes, lunar surface roughness and generate a high resolution 3D map of the Moon. LOLA will also help identify the Moon's permanently illuminated and permanently shadowed areas.


Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC)
LROC will retrieve high resolution black and white images of the lunar surface, capturing images of the lunar poles with resolutions down to one metre, and will image the lunar surface in colour and ultraviolet. These images will provide knowledge of polar illumination conditions, identify potential resources and hazards, and enable safe landing site selection.


Mini-RF Technology Demonstration
The Mini-RF technology demonstration's primary goal will be to search for subsurface water ice deposits and take high-resolution images of permanently-shadowed regions.

LCROSS will search for water ice on the Moon by sending a probe on a collision course with a permanently shadowed crater at the lunar south pole. As the ejecta rises above the crater’s rim and is exposed to sunlight, any water ice, hydrocarbons or organic material will vaporize and break down into their basic components, which will be monitored by the visible and infrared spectrometers onboard LCROSS. Near and mid infrared cameras will determine the total amount and distribution of water in the plume, and the visible camera will locate the position of the impact and the behaviour of the debris plume. Based on the original launch date of 17 June, impact with the Moon will occur in the week of 7-11 October.

After launch, transfer to the Moon will take approximately four days, upon which LRO will enter an elliptical orbit for up to 60 days, eventually moving into a final circular polar orbit 50 kilometres above the Moon’s surface. It will take roughly one year to map the surface of the Moon.

LCROSS and LRO are components of a wider framework of robotic missions to the Moon, which are precursors to establishing a sustainable human presence on the Moon. Ultimately, the lunar outpost will become a stepping stone to future exploration of other bodies in our Solar System, including Mars.

The Planets
From tiny Mercury to distant Neptune and Pluto, The Planets profiles each of the Solar System's members in depth, featuring the latest imagery from space missions. The tallest mountains, the deepest canyons, the strongest winds, raging atmospheric storms, terrain studded with craters and vast worlds of ice are just some of the sights you'll see on this 100-page tour of the planets.
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Hubble Reborn
Hubble Reborn takes the reader on a journey through the Universe with spectacular full-colour pictures of galaxies, nebulae, planets and stars as seen through Hubble's eyes, along the way telling the dramatic story of the space telescope, including interviews with key scientists and astronauts.
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3D Universe
Witness the most awesome sights of the Universe as they were meant to be seen in this 100-page extravaganza of planets, galaxies and star-scapes, all in 3D!
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