If it seems like a new extrasolar planet is discovered every week these days, that's because there is. In fact, the rate is actually faster than one per week – 70 have been discovered thus far this year alone, bringing the overall tally of confirmed exoplanets at 494. At that pace we very well might hit exoplanet number 500 before the end of this month.
As a general rule, when NASA flies a scientific mission all the way to Mars, we expect that mission to last for a while. For instance, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers were slated to run for three months and are still operating 6 years later. But one NASA engineer wants to send a mission all the way to the Red Planet that would last just two hours once deployed: a rocket-powered, robotic airplane that screams over the Martian landscape at more than 450 miles per hour.
Back in April, two teams of researchers caused a stir when they discovered the first-ever evidence of water ice and organic molecules riding around the solar system aboard an asteroid. Today, the same group has announced that it has found ice and organics on a second, larger asteroid as well, a finding that suggests water ice and organic molecules may be common passengers aboard asteroids throughout the solar system.
The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP, has been gathering information about the Big Bang, dark matter, and the nature of the universe for nine years now, and it's finally being put to rest (rest being a "parking orbit" around the sun).
Promising but ambiguous news out of Japan this morning: researchers inspecting the asteroid dust from JAXA’s the Hyabusa mission – the seven-year round trip that landed a probe on a passing asteroid before returning to Earth – have found particles that could contain signs of extraterrestrial life.
After almost a year of successfully surveying the entire sky one-and-a-half times over, NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer has run out of coolant – quite expectedly – and reached the end of its primary mission. Since its launch last December, the mission snapped more than 1.8 million images in four different infrared wavelengths, providing astronomers with enough data to keep them busy combing through it for decades. That is to say, WISE has had a very productive year.
China has never been particularly apologetic about its contribution to the looming threat of space debris, but authorities might finally have to offer up some kind of conciliatory “sorry we nearly bombed your village with huge chunks of used rocket.” Last night residents of two separate villages in Jiangxi, China, awoke to very large pieces of the lunar probe Chang’e II’s launch rocket falling back to Earth around them.
A pair of Russian aerospace companies have announced plans to launch the first commercial space station, in 2015 or perhaps 2016. The station will have room for up to seven astronauts, scientists, and wealthy citizens to perform experiments or just take in the scenery. Meanwhile, U.S.
As Congress adjourns there’s still plenty left for them to argue about, but NASA’s mission going forward isn’t one of them. The House of Representatives passed a NASA authorization bill late last night, outlining the budget – $19 billion in 2011 and $58 billion through 2013 – and goals for the space agency going forward. On deck: increased commercial space investment, a new heavy-lift rocket, and a focus on future deep space missions to an asteroid or even Mars.
As if there wasn't enough excitement swirling around the discovery of a potentially habitable planet circling the star Gliese 581 just 20 light years away, one of the scientists behind yesterday's announcement upped the ante during a press briefing yesterday afternoon, declaring "my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent."