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Ring Of Dust Around A Star May Be Forming New Planets

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StarHeaderStar HD 142527 probably struggles to find maternity clothes in its size.

A team of scientists from Japan’s Osaka University has been observing the star from Chile’s ALMA observatory, where they’ve noticed some pretty unusual cosmic behavior. Star HD 142527 is over 450 light years away and is surrounded by a ring of dust and gas. That ring isn’t uniform — in fact, the northern part of it is brighter and denser than the rest. That portion of the ring is over 20 billion kilometers away from the star itself, which surprised the team. The astronomers have never before observed such a dense collection of material in a ring so far away from the central star. In this case, that dense knot is about five times as far from the star as Neptune is from the sun.

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Harvard Professor Turns The Sound Of A Supernova Into Song

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SupernovaWhile we might think of space as a vast and silent expanse, that’s not necessarily true. Space has plenty of noise, like these dense plasma sounds captured by Voyager 1 as it headed into interstellar space. Space also has musical stylings of Chris Hadfield. Now, Harvard astronomy professor Alicia Soderberg has found a way to turn a supernova into songs. Eat your heart out, Oasis.

Soderberg specializes in a star’s last gasps, which are violent, dramatic explosions. It’s tough to capture one in real time, though, so she often conducts what’s called a stellar autopsy, examining the remnants of the event. She gathers up all the information she can find, including x-rays, light, and radio waves. Then she and her team set about analyzing and synthesizing the data, which is about as easy as trying to put all the pieces together of an explosion here on Earth.

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NASA’s Only A Year Away From Pluto

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New HorizonsPluto may not be a full-fledged planet anymore, but that doesn’t mean we’re not interested in checking it out, even if it is quite a hike. It’s about 3 billion miles, one way, if you were wondering. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft set off for the dwarf planet back in 2006, and now that it’s 2014 we can finally say that next year, we’ll have our first close-up glimpse of the gatekeeper to our Solar System.

Pluto and CharonLast year, New Horizons’ telescopic camera LORRI (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) got its first image of Charon, Pluton’s largest moon. You can see it just to the upper left of Pluto, which is the bright spot in the middle. But don’t worry, the images will get better as the craft gets closer. When this was taken, New Horizons was still 550 million miles away. In the mean time check out the first images of Charon from 1978 when it was first discovered.

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China’s Moon Rover Delivers More Stunning Photos From The Lunar Surface

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Chang'e-3 Lander

Chang’e-3 Lander

In mid-December, China became the third country to land a craft on the moon. But given the holidays and the general madness of the end of the year, it’s easy to forget about that rover and what it might be seeing and doing. The Chinese Academy of Sciences is more than happy to remind us, though, and has released a slew of stunning photos taken by Yutu.

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Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two Makes Third (And Highest) Test Flight

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Virgin GalacticThe Virgin Galactic doubters are eating their words after their soon-to-be low-Earth orbit spaceship made its third successful test flight on Friday. Each test flight has reached higher altitudes, with Friday’s flight making it 71,000 feet above the Mojave Desert.

Virgin Galactic’s White Knight Two airplane carried the six-passenger spaceship between its hulls to just over 45,000 feet and then released it, leaving the spaceship to use its impressive rocket motor to keep on soaring. The rocket burn lasted 20 seconds, achieving Mach 1.4. That part of the flight lasted 10 minutes, and the two pilots had landed the plane safely in the desert within an hour. Chief pilot David Mackay said that the craft “flew brilliantly.” Virgin Galactic happily tweeted the news, along with some pretty awesome photos.

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New Space Suit Design Is Straight Out Of Sci-Fi

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Dava NewmanIf you watched Gravity, or any other space flick, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that while spacesuits are pretty damn important, they’re also bulky and cumbersome. Sandra Bullock can’t wait to shed hers every time she safely gets into an oxygen-rich environment. I remember seeing an awesome IMAX movie about the Hubble a few years back, in which an astronaut had to do some repairs that involved taking out, and later replacing, 117 screws. With those huge gloves, each turn of the screwdriver was a labor and thought that being an astronaut is perhaps more about achieving a state of zen-like patience than anything else. But in the future, that may not be an issue. In fact, astronauts may soon don space suits that make them look like space-faring sci-fi heroes.