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NASA Finds 715 New Exoplanets Beneath The Universe’s Couch Cushions

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nasa exoplanetsMuch like an over-the-hill cinematic boxer, everyone had pretty much given up on the Kepler Telescope once its instruments started to malfunction a while back. Though steps are being taken to give it different duties, there is still a seemingly endless stream of data that Kepler has already provided scientists. Delving through this massive chunk of information astronomers keep finding new things. The latest discovery involves the identification and verification of 715 exoplanets, which is the largest batch of new planets ever found, and brings the total sum up to almost 1,700. I guess I should have started off with a better comparison than Rocky.

The research team responsible for this exciting find—led by Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist at NASA‘s Ames Research Center—was analyzing data from May 2009 to March 2011, Kepler’s first two years of operation. They honed their search to only include stars with more than one potential planet, at which point a statistical technique called “verification by multiplicity” was used to determine the probability of planets surrounding those stars. A few thousand of the 150,000 stars observed have confirmed planets orbiting them, and a study of the data revealed that planets are not just randomly or equally distributed, but that some stars are far more likely to have multiple planets than others. And then somebody sprinkled some magic dust on a pair of ancient dice and the number 715 floated in the air above the dice. Or maybe they did something more technical.

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MythBusters’ Adam Savage Shows Off His Gorgeous Mercury Spacesuit Replica

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Mercury2Adam Savage’s life is just frankly unfair. It’s bad enough that he gets paid to blow things up, put Hollywood’s sillier action moments to the test, and hang around Kari Byron all day. But he also gets to throw around all that mad MythBusters money to buy things like exact replicas of the Apollo program flight jackets and, even cooler, the gorgeous spacesuit design used by NASA’s Mercury-era astronauts. I admit it: I’m burning with incandescent jets of pure envy right now. This may very well be the moment that tips me over the edge of reason and into a career as a supervillain focused on stealing the entire contents of Adam Savage’s man cave.

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Our Moon May Not Be Able To Have Its Own Mini-Moon, But A Meteorite Recently Exploded On The Lunar Surface

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moonsWhen you realize that planets like Saturn have 60 moons, and Jupiter has 63, you have to wonder whether moons can have their own moons. Saturn’s satelite Titan is larger than the planet Mercury, so it’s not hard to imagine another rock circling it. Fraser Cain, publisher of Universe Today, one of my favorite space publications, tackled this question, and has dashed my hopes of discovering an infinite series of moons. It turns out that a moon can’t have a moon—unless some specific stuff is going on, which we’ll talk about later. At least the reasons this can’t happen are interesting, and that makes everything okay.

Apparently, “moon” has no explicit definition. If you look it up, you’ll find references to Earth’s Moon, but no official definition about what moons are in general. I thought science had this stuff nailed down. Moons do have some consistent attributes, though: they’re whole, sold objects that orbit around a bigger body, probably a planet, probably orbiting a star. Whatever the moon orbits is orbiting something else, etc. Technically, the Moon does have a moon, or at least something distinct orbiting it: NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling and photographing our Moon since 2009. But its lifespan is limited, and sheds light on why no moons in our Solar System can have their own satellites.

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ESA’s Cosmic Vision Includes New Planet-Hunting Mission

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PLATO

NASA likes to boast about its planet-hunting capabilities thanks to both the Kepler and the Hubble telescopes. But NASA’s not the only organization looking to identify new planets in the cosmos. The European Space Agency (ESA) conducts its own searches from across the pond, and they recently selected the PLATO (Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars) mission to join its 10-year Cosmic Vision programme.

In broad terms, the Cosmic Vision programme strives to push the foundation it has built in space science into a more contemporary, forward-thinking realm by foreseeing and addressing the challenges of the future. The overarching goals of the programme include identifying scientific challenges, prioritizing space research, figuring how how to marshal resources to achieve the maximum return on investment, maintaining Europe’s competitive technological status, and reinforcing ESA’s ability to advance space science.

PLATO, a space-based observatory, addresses these goals by focusing on the conditions necessary for planetary formation (link?) as well as how the Solar System formed, functions, and compares to other systems. Its particular specialty is identify Sun-Earth analogue systems using 34 distinct telescopes and cameras, PLATO will search for planets the same way Kepler does–by monitoring roughly a million stars and looking for the small but consistent reductions in brightness that signify a planet passing in front of them.

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Dying Stars Slosh Around When They Go Supernova

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cassiopeia-AAs Carl Sagan always said, “We’re made of star-stuff.” That’s because dying stars explode, expelling stardust — which scientists now know contains water in addition to carbon and other organic, life-promoting compounds — throughout the galaxy. In fact, some scientists believe that the universe may have been created when a massive, four-dimensional star went supernova, shedding its outer layers while its inner layers collapsed into a black hole. But supernovae remain somewhat elusive, especially when it comes to the details of the explosion. Until, that is, they are seen with a special telescope. A study published today in Nature by an international team of scientists provides new information about what happens inside a dying star.

Computer simulations have shown that stars won’t explode if they retain their perfectly round shape, so astronomers knew that something else had to be happening. They had some ideas about what that might be, but until now they haven’t been able to determine which, if any, were accurate. NASA’s NuSTAR (nuclear spectroscopic telescope array) telescope, housed at Caltec, enabled scientists to map radioactive material in the remnants of supernova Cassiopeia A. The telescope provided the first ever glimpse at the high-energy X-rays generated by a dying star.

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ISS Cold Atom Lab Will Be The Most Frigid Place In The Universe

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ISSThe ISS has its share of haters. There are many people who believe the station is a colossal waste of money (to the tune of $100 billion) and has never gotten down to the hard-core, life-changing proponents promised. Even so, Obama recently granted it four-year extension, so there is time to prove the skeptics wrong. One of the ways it might do that is with a new laboratory scheduled to become part of the repertoire in 2016 that will be the coldest known place in the universe. That may sound horrible, but it’s actually pretty awesome.

NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory will be able to reach a temperature just one ten-billionth a degree warmer than zero Kelvin, or absolute zero (about -459.67 degrees Fahrenheit), the lowest temperature possible. You think North Face makes a parka for that? Space itself has an average temperature of -454.81, which is roughly the average temperature in Boston this winter.