Archive for Outer Space

ONE GIANT LEAP’ Apollo 11′s historic trip to the moon marks its 45th anniversary

The year was 1969. The turbulent time in America saw troops fighting in Vietnam, and a nation dealing with the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, killed in 1963, and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., both murdered in 1968.

Then came that one small step.

Forty-five years ago today, 500 million people around the world witnessed American astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins as they embarked on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.

Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, and six hours later Armstrong was the first man to step on the moon’s surface, delivering those iconic words: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

LISTEN TO ARMSTRONG’S HISTORIC WORDS.

Armstrong, during the trailblazing mission, spent a little more than two hours outside the spacecraft, which was piloted by Collins. Aldrin spent slightly less time than Armstrong on the moon’s surface, and together the men collected almost 50 pounds of lunar material to return to the Earth, according to the NASA website.

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”- Astronaut Neil Armstrong

The mission officially began at about 9:32 a.m. (ET). the morning of July 20, 1969, when the engines fired and Apollo 11 cleared the tower.

About 12 minutes later, the crew was in Earth orbit.

After one and a half orbits, Apollo 11 gets a “go” for what mission controllers call “Translunar Injection” — in other words, it’s time to head for the moon. Three days later the crew is in lunar orbit. A day after that, Armstrong and Aldrin climb into the lunar module Eagle and begin the descent, while Collins orbits in the command module Columbia.

When it comes time to set Eagle down in the Sea of Tranquility, Armstrong improvises, manually piloting the ship past an area littered with boulders. During the final seconds of descent, Eagle’s computer is sounding alarms.

It turns out to be a simple case of the computer trying to do too many things at once, but as Aldrin will later point out, “unfortunately it came up when we did not want to be trying to solve these particular problems.”

When the lunar module lands at 4:18 p.m ET, only 30 seconds of fuel remain. Armstrong radios “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
Mission control erupts in celebration.

According to reports at the time, Aldrin described the lunar surface as “magnificent desolation.”

The astronauts leave behind an American flag, a patch honoring the fallen Apollo 1 crew, and a plaque on one of Eagle’s legs. It reads, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

The crew splashed down off Hawaii on July 24.

Ancient asteroid destroyer finally found, and it’s a new kind of meteorite

shutterstock_60040997

Illustration of a meteor shower.argus/Shutterstock.com

For 50 years, scientists have wondered what annihilated the ancestor of L-chondrites, the roof-smashing, head-bonking meteorites that frequently pummel Earth.

Now, a new kind of meteorite discovered in a southern Sweden limestone quarry may finally solve the mystery, scientists report. The strange new rock may be the missing “other half” from one of the biggest interstellar collisions in a billion years.

“Something we didn’t really know about before was flying around and crashed into the L-chondrites,” said study co-author Gary Huss of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

The space rock is a 470-million-year-old fossil meteorite first spotted three years ago by workers at Sweden’s Thorsberg quarry, where stonecutters have an expert eye for extraterrestrial objects. Quarriers have plucked 101 fossil meteorites from the pit’s ancient pink limestone in the last two decades. [Photos: New Kind of Meteorite Found in Sweden]

Researchers have nicknamed the new meteorite the “mysterious object” until its formal name is approved, said lead study author Birger Schmitz, of Lund University in Sweden and Chicago’s Field Museum. It will likely be named for a nearby church, the sterplana, he said.

Mysterious find

Geochemically, the meteorite falls into a class called the primitive achondrites, and most resembles a rare group of achondrites called the winonaites. But small differences in certain elements in its chromite grains set the mysterious object apart from the winonaites, and its texture and exposure age distinguish the new meteorite from the other 49,000 or so meteorites found so far on Earth.

“It’s a very, very strange and unusual find,” Schmitz told Live Science’s Our Amazing Planet.

The new meteorite was recently reported online in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, and the study will appear in the journal’s Aug. 15 print edition.

Until now, all of the quarry’s fossil meteorites were L-chondrites. Schmitz, who has led the chondrite cataloging, admitted the rock hunt had become “quite boring.”

But the rare find has not only revitalized interest in the quarry, it has also brought together the world’s top meteorite experts for a global hunt through geologic time. Thanks to Schmitz’s careful detective work on meteorites, scientists now know that each kind of meteorite leaves behind a unique calling card: tough minerals called spinels. Even if meteorites weather away, their spinels linger for hundreds of million of years in Earth rocks. Schmitz and his cohorts think they can pin down how many meteorites rained down on Earth in the past 2.5 billion years, as well as what kind fell, by extracting extraterrestrial spinels from sedimentary rocks. Their work may confirm suspicions that recent meteorite falls represent a mere fraction of the rocks drifting in space.

“I think our new finding adds to the understanding that the meteorites that come down on Earth today may not be entirely representative of what is out there,” Schmitz said. “One thing our study shows is that we maybe don’t know as much as we think we know about the solar system.”

Ancient wreckage

The limestone quarry preserves the remnants of a cosmic cataclysm that took place 470 million years ago, during the Ordovician Period. Scientists think there was an enormous crash between two large bodies out in the asteroid belt. The crash blew apart two asteroids, or an asteroid and comet, slinging dust and debris toward Earth. One of the impactors was the source of all L-chondrite meteorites. But no one has ever found a piece of the rock that hit the L-chondrite parent, until now.

The Swedish meteorite’s exposure age the length of time it sailed through space is the key to placing the fossil space rock at the scene of the crash. The meteorite zipped from the asteroid belt to Earth in just 1 million years. That’s the same remarkably young exposure age as the L-chondrites recovered from the Thorsberg quarry, suggesting the rocks sprayed Earth in the same wave of space debris. [Infographic: Asteroid Belt Explained]

Meteorite expert Tim Swindle, who was not involved in the study, praised the team’s careful analysis and said it was unlikely that any other meteorite but an Ordovician fragment would have such a short exposure age. “Very, very few modern meteorites have exposure ages that low,” said Swindle, a professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Typically, it takes things longer to get here from the asteroid belt,” he said. “It’s a telling argument.”

But because so little is left of the original meteorite almost all its minerals have been altered to clay Swindle thinks there’s wiggle room for linking it to known classes of meteorite, instead of calling it a new find.

“I think it’s entirely plausible [that it's a new kind of meteorite], and it’s a great study, but that’s not a guarantee they’ve got it right,” Swindle said. “But if they didn’t, it’s because of new things we’ll find out in future work, not because of their analysis.”

The geochemical tests were performed on sand-sized chromite spinels, which confirmed the rock’s extraterrestrial origin. The altered clay is also about 100,000 times richer in iridium than terrestrial rocks. Iridium is the element that marks the meteorite impact horizon when the dinosaurs went extinct.

Hunt for space history

Schmitz now plans to search for these strange achondrite spinels in the quarry sediments, as well as in other rocks of the same age around the world. Ordovician meteorite spinels from L-chondrites have been found in China, Russia and Sweden, and small micrometeorites have been discovered in Scotland and South America. Researchers think about 100 times as many meteorites fell on Earth during the Ordovician compared with today, but only about a dozen impact craters of the proper age have been identified. [Crash! 10 Biggest Impact Craters on Earth]

A bigger quest is also in the works. Schmitz and his colleagues plan to dissolve tons of rock in acid in a global search for meteoritic spinel grains. This detective work will help researchers pin down the history of the asteroid belt and solar system. Spinels can provide an estimate of how many meteorites fell in the past, and what kind hit Earth. These tiny pieces of vanished meteorites may fill in missing history, because meteorite impact craters often vanish due to geologic forces.

“This can give you a ground truth for models for how the solar system may have evolved over time,” said Gary Huss, a co-author on the Swedish meteorite study who will collaborate on the spinel search. “I think a lot of people have worried for some time that we don’t really know what’s going on in the asteroid belt.”

NASA’s futuristic spacesuits made for Mars walkers

NASASpacesuit1.jpg

Nasa

NASA is thinking hard about what the first boots to set foot on Mars will look like.

Getting astronauts to the Red Planet is the chief long-term goal of the agency’s human spaceflight program, so NASA is developing many technologies to help make that happen. For instance, there’s the Space Launch System mega-rocket, the Orion crew capsule and a new line of prototype spacesuits called the Z-series.

“We are heading for Mars; that’s what is the end goal right now for the suit,” said Phil Stampinato of ILC Dover, the Delaware-based company that won NASA contracts to design and build the first two iterations of the Z-series, the Z-1 and Z-2. [NASA's Z-2 Spacesuit in Pictures: Futuristic Astronaut Suit Design Photos]

“So, everything that’s done to develop this suit is headed for a Mars mission, even if there is an asteroid mission or a lunar mission prior to that,” Stampinato said during a presentation with NASA’s Future In-Space Operations working group on June 4.

A new type of suit

NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station currently don a bulky suit called the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) whenever they need to venture outside the orbiting lab. The EMU has performed well for decades, but its utility is pretty much limited to operations in microgravity.

“It’s a very, very poor walking suit,” NASA spacesuit engineer Amy Ross said in a video released by the space agency.

The Z-series suits, on the other hand, are designed to be more flexible, with a wider variety of uses — including ambling about on Mars and other planetary bodies.

“We’re trying to design [the new suit] to accommodate both improved microgravity EVA [extravehicular activity] capability as well as surface capability,” Ross said.

For example, new bearings in the Z-1′s shoulder, waist, hip, upper leg and ankles allow for increased leg movement and fine foot placement, she said.

The EMU has upper and lower portions, which wearers don separately and then link up at the waist. But astronauts crawl into the Z-series suits from the back, through a hatch.

“We think it’s less prone to [causing] injury, especially shoulder injury,” Ross said of the new entry design. “And then also, it provides support for some other exploration technology, like a suitport.”

Suitports are an alternative to airlocks, potentially allowing astronauts to enter and exit habitat modules, rovers and other structures quickly and easily without bringing dust and other contaminants inside.

Suitport interface plates are being developed right along with the Z-series spacesuits, in case NASA decides to go with this technology for its manned Mars missions, Stampinato said.

“They’re going to be suitport-compatible,” he said.

A ways to go

ILC Dover delivered the Z-1 spacesuit to NASA in 2011, and it was named one of the best inventions of the year by Time magazine in 2012.

The Z-2, which should be ready for testing by November, is different from its predecessor in several key ways. For example, the Z-1′s upper torso was soft, whereas the Z-2′s is made of a hard composite, improving the suit’s durability. The Z-2′s boots are also closer to flight-ready, while the materials used for the newer suit are compatible with the conditions that exist in the vacuum of space, NASA officials said.

But that doesn’t mean that astronauts will wear the Z-2 — or its successor, the Z-3, which is expected to be built by 2018 or so — to explore the surface of Mars. The suits are prototypes — testbeds that should help bring a bona fide Red Planet spacesuit closer to reality.

“Each iteration of the Z-series will advance new technologies that one day will be used in a suit worn by the first humans to step foot on the Red Planet,” space agency officials wrote about the Z-2 in April, when announcing the results of a public competition to choose a design for the suit’s protective outer layer. (The futuristic-looking “Technology” option won, giving the Z-2 a “Tron”-like new look.)

While spacesuit designers are focused on the future — NASA aims to get people to the vicinity of Mars by the mid-2030s — they’re also looking to the past for inspiration. The Apollo astronauts, after all, accumulated many hours of experience on the surface of another world during six landed moon missions from 1969 to 1972.

“We’ve read through all the debrief comments; we’ve talked to the crewmembers multiple times,” Ross said. “We are very aware of what they did like, didn’t like, were capable of, weren’t capable of. And so, we do take that into consideration.”

 

Why the Moon’s ‘Dark Side’ has no face

  • moon-far-side

    This is a composite image of the lunar farside taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in June 2009, note the absence of dark areas.NASA

Heat radiating from the young Earth could help solve the more than 50-year-old mystery of why the far side of the moon, which faces away from Earth, lacks the dark, vast expanses of volcanic rock that define the face of the Man in the Moon as seen from Earth, researchers say.

The Man in the Moon was born when cosmic impacts struck the near side of the moon, the side that faces Earth. These collisions punched holes in the moon’s crust, which later filled with vast lakes of lava that formed the dark areas known as maria or “seas.”

In 1959, when the Soviet spacecraft Luna 3 transmitted the first images of the “dark” or far side of the moon, the side facing away from Earth, scientists immediately noticed fewer maria there. This mystery — why no Man in the Moon exists on the moon’s far side — is called the Lunar Farside Highlands Problem. [How the Moon Evolved: A Photo Timeline]

“I remember the first time I saw a globe of the moon as a boy, being struck by how different the far side looks,” study co-author Jason Wright, an astronomer at Pennsylvania State University, said in a statement. “It was all mountains and craters. Where were the maria?”

Now scientists may have solved the 55-year-old mystery; heat from the young Earth as the newborn moon was cooling caused the difference. The researchers came up with the solution during their work on exoplanets, which are worlds outside the solar system.

“There are many exoplanets that are really close to their host stars,”lead study author Arpita Roy, also of Penn State, told Space.com. “That really affects the geology of those planets.”

Similarly, the moon and Earth are generally thought to have orbited very close together after they formed. The leading idea explaining the moon’s formation suggests that it arose shortly after the nascent Earth collided with a Mars-size planet about 4.5 billion years ago, with the resulting debris coalescing into the moon. Scientists say the newborn moon and Earth were 10 to 20 times closer to each other than they are now.

“The moon and Earth loomed large in each other’s skies when they formed, ” Roy said in a statement.

Since the moon was so close to Earth, the mutual pull of gravity was strong. The gravitational tidal forces the moon and Earth exerted on each other braked their rotations, resulting in the moon always showing the same face to Earth, a situation known as tidal lock.

The moon and Earth were very hot shortly after the giant impact that formed the moon. The moon, being much smaller than Earth, cooled more quickly. Since the moon and Earth were tidally locked early on, the still-hot Earth — more than 4,530 degrees Fahrenheit (2,500 degrees Celsius) — would have cooked the near side of the moon, keeping it molten. On the other hand, the far side of the moon would have cooled, albeit slowly.

The difference in temperature between the moon’s halves influenced the formation of its crust. The lunar crust possesses high concentrations of aluminum and calcium, elements that are very hard to vaporize.

“When rock vapor starts to cool, the very first elements that snow out are aluminum and calcium,” study co-author Steinn Sigurdsson of Penn State said in a statement.

Aluminum and calcium would have more easily condensed in the atmosphere on the colder far side of the moon. Eventually, these elements combined with silicates in the mantle of the moon to form minerals known as plagioclase feldspars, making the crust of the far side about twice as thick as that of the near side.

“Earthshine, the heat of Earth soon after the giant impact, was a really important factor shaping the moon,” Roy said.

When collisions from asteroids or comets blasted the moon’s surface, they could punch through the near side’s crust to generate maria. In contrast, impacts on the far side’s thicker crust failed to penetrate deeply enough to cause lava to well up, instead leaving the far side of the moon with a surface of valleys, craters and highlands, but almost no maria.

“It’s really cool that our understanding of exoplanets is affecting our understanding of the solar system,” Roy said.

Future research could generate detailed 3D models testing this idea, Roy suggested. The authors detailed their findings June 9 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Dream Chaser space plane prototype to fly again in 2014

  • dream-chaser-launch-ascent-art

    This illustration shows the Dream Chaser vehicle launching into space.Sierra Nevada

    dream-chaser-landing-gear-malfunction

A protoype of a space plane being developed to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station will take to the skies again later this year.

The prototype of Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser vehicle has already been through some drop tests and a free flight in 2013, which ended when the Dream Chaser skidded off the runway. The new series of flights will include several automated ones, followed by piloted trips, said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s space systems division.

The reusable astronaut taxi is one of three designs competing for NASA dollars in the space agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The initiative aims to create a viable United States spacecraft that could ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. At the moment, Russian Soyuz vehicles are the only spacecraft that can deliver astronauts into orbit. [See images of the Dream Chaser space plane]

Three companies – Sierra Nevada, SpaceX and Boeing – are funded through the Commercial Crew Program right now, but that pool of competitors could get smaller in the next phase of the program, which will be announced later this year.

“We believe we’re well positioned for that next phase, but in addition to that, I think what we’re doing is building a system [to attract] multiple clients,” Sirangelo told reporters during a news conference on Thursday.

Sierra Nevada aims to launch Dream Chaser into space for the first time in November 2016, company representatives have said.

Working in a former shuttle facility

Sirangelo delivered his comments while announcing a contract with Craig Technologies, an engineering and technical company that is leasing a 161,000-square-foot building in Cape Canaveral, Florida, which was formerly used for NASA shuttle logistics.

Craig will provide a piece of hardware that will help “move the Dream Chaser around and put it on its adapter for flight,” Sirangelo said. Called a “cradle,” the ground equipment device is intended to lift and move the spacecraft while it is being processed.

“This is the first of many different pieces of business we will be doing here,” Sirangelo said.

Dream Chaser will ride to orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket and return to Earth by making a landing on a runway, much like NASA’s space shuttles did before their retirement in 2011. Craig is expected to provide several other products and services to SNC, which Sirangelo said are being negotiated. The value of the contract was not disclosed.

‘We’re able to bring jobs’

In 2012, Craig also brokered a five-year Space Act Agreement with NASA for the agency to let it use 1,600 pieces of equipment that were once used to maintain and repair the shuttle.

Because the agreement required Craig to stay within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the Kennedy Space Center, Craig signed a lease with Cape Canaveral Ventures for the nearby shuttle depot.

Since 2013, Craig (which has about 400 employees in the United States) has hired 150 employees, with 65 of those former shuttle workers. It also spent $2 million renovating the facility and hiring workers so far.

“The important message is we’re able to bring jobs, and keep that knowledge base, and retain that experience and that skilled work force that was here before,” Carol Craig, founder and CEO of Craig Technologies, said during the news conference. “That’s what we hope to bring to Mark and his team.”

Craig joins a list of about 40 companies that are participating in the Dream Chaser program. Sierra Nevada also has participated in missions such as NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, where it provided some of the systems that helped the rover land in the last minute of its so-called “seven minutes of terror” touchdown in 2012.

Friday the 13th and a full moon can lead to real fears for some

Full Moon Reuters.jpg

REUTERS/Larry Downing

If you’re a selenophobic— people who fear the moon— or suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia—fear of Friday the 13th— you may not want to leave the house today.

For the first time in nearly a century, there will be a full moon rising on Friday the 13th. And for some, superstitions of these two phenomena are very real.

“In the U.S. there are millions and millions of people who just want to stay home and not take any chances on either one of these – Friday the 13th or a full moon – and here they are both together,” said Mike McKee, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

Fear of Friday the 13th goes all the way back to medieval times, when it seemed like a lot of bad things — hangings and executions — occurred on Fridays, McKee said. The fear of the number 13 may derive from the 13 people who attended the last supper of Jesus.

The words “lunatic” and “lunacy” come from the word “lunar,” the Latin word for moon. The June moon is also called the “Honey Moon” because of its color and the high number of weddings held this month.

Some believe a full moon’s gravitational pull may also influence people’s behavior.

“There are some people who really believe that it pulls water in the body the way it does tides in the ocean and that that somehow makes people behave oddly, or makes them more prone to accidents,” McKee said.

However, many scientists have noted that the moon’s gravitational pool on the body is so exceptionally minor, you can’t even notice it.  Additionally, there are tons of other gravitational forces – most notably from the Earth – that have a much stronger, more obvious effect on our bodies than the moon’s pull.

Still, combining a full moon and Friday the 13th may be stressful for some, so if you are feeling anxious about today, your best bet is to attack it head-on.

“All of these superstitions only have the power that you give them,” McKee said. “Otherwise, they are absolutely zero.”

The next time a full moon rises on Friday the 13th will be in the year 2049.

Long-running mystery about dark side of moon solved

A lunar mystery that has persisted since 1959 has been solved, according to Penn State astrophysicists. That was the year in which a Soviet spacecraft captured the first images of the dark side of the moon—the side that always faces away from Earth.

While the side we see features dark flat areas known as maria (NASA explains they’re made up of a kind of rock known as basalt), the photos revealed that the far side was, as one professor says, “all mountains and craters. Where were the maria?” Now the researchers say they’ve figured it out, and that the answer stretches back to the moon’s origins.

Their study points to the Giant Impact Hypothesis, which states that a Mars-sized object hit the Earth, and that parts of that object and the Earth’s outer layers then formed the moon—which, like the Earth, was extremely hot.

Since the moon was a lot smaller, it began to cool faster, or at least part of it did. The near side was exposed to the Earth’s boiling temperatures (upward of 2500 degrees Celsius), while the far side was not.

As Penn State News explains, “Aluminum and calcium would have preferentially condensed in the atmosphere of the cold side of the moon,” and over the course of thousands if not millions of years, these elements would have, after combining with silicates in the mantle and surfacing, created a hard, thicker crust than what the near side sees.

Meteoroids were later able to punch through the near side’s crust, releasing basaltic lava that created the maria. On the far side, however, the thick crust largely held, “and no magmatic basalt welled up.” The result: mountains and craters, but little maria.

More From Newser

‘Godzilla of Earths’: Alien planet 17 times heavier than our world discovered

godzilla-of-earths-planet-kepler-10c

An artist’s illustration of the mega-Earth planet Kepler-10c, the”Godzilla of Earths” planet that is 2.3 times the size of Earth and 17 times heavier. The planet and its lava-world sibling Kepler 10b (background) orbit the star Kepler-10 aboutDavid A. Aguilar (CfA)

Scientists have just discovered the “Godzilla of Earths” — a new type of huge and rocky alien world about 560 light-years from Earth.

Dubbed a “mega-Earth,” the exoplanet Kepler-10c weighs 17 times as much as Earth and it circles a sunlike star in the constellation Draco. The mega-Earth is rocky and also bigger than “super-Earths,” which are a class of planets that are slightly bigger than Earth.

‘This is the Godzilla of Earths!’- director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative Dimitar Sasselov

Theorists weren’t actually sure that a world like the newfound exoplanet could exist. Scientists thought that planets of Kepler-10c’s size would be gaseous, collecting hydrogen as they grew and turning into Jupiter-like worlds. However, researchers have now found that the newly discovered planet is rocky, Christine Pulliam, a spokeswoman with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, wrote in a statement announcing the find. [The Strangest Alien Planets Ever Found (Gallery)]

“This is the Godzilla of Earths!” the CfA’s Dimitar Sasselov, director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative, said of Kepler-10c in a statement. “But unlike the movie monster, Kepler-10c has positive implications for life.”

The discovery of Kepler-10c was presented today here at the 224th American Astronomical Society meeting.

The mega-Earth orbits its parent star once every 45 days. Kepler-10c is probably too close to its star to be hospitable to life, and it isn’t the only orbiting the yellow star. Kepler-10 also plays host to a “lava world” called Kepler-10b that is three times the mass of Earth and speeds around its star in a 20-hour orbit.

NASA’s Kepler space telescope first spotted Kepler-10c, however, the exoplanet-hunting tool is not able to tell whether an alien world it finds is gaseous or rocky. The new planet’s size initially signaled that it fell into the “mini-Neptune” category, meaning it would have a thick envelope of gas covering the planet.

CfA astronomer Xavier Dumusque and his team used the HARPS-North instrument on the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Canary Islands to measure Kepler-10c’s mass. They found that the planet is, in fact, rocky and not a mini-Neptune.

“Kepler-10c didn’t lose its atmosphere over time. It’s massive enough to have held onto one if it ever had it,” Dumusque said in a statement. “It must have formed the way we see it now.”

Scientists think the Kepler-10c system is actually quite old, forming less than 3 billion years after the Big Bang. The system’s early formation suggests that, although the materials were scarce, there were enough heavy elements like silicon and iron to form rocky worlds relatively early on in the history of the universe, according to the CfA.

“Finding Kepler-10c tells us that rocky planets could form much earlier than we thought,” Sasselov said in a statement. “And if you can make rocks, you can make life.”

The new finding bolsters the idea that old stars could host rocky Earths, giving astronomers a wider range of stars that may support Earth-like alien worlds to study, according to the CfA. Instead of ruling out old stars when searching for Earth-like planets, they might actually be worth a second look.

It’s also possible that exoplanet hunters will find more mega-Earths as they continue searching the universe. CfA astronomer Lars A. Buchhave “found a correlation between the period of a planet (how long it takes to orbit its star) and the size at which a planet transitions from rocky to gaseous,” meaning that scientists could find more Kepler-10c-like planets as they look to longer period orbits, according to the CfA.

Scientists reconnect with wayward NASA spacecraft launched in 1978

ISEE-3.jpeg

An artist’s concept image of ISEE-3 spacecraft. (NASA)

A group of space enthusiasts have reportedly made contact with a wayward satellite launched nearly 40 years ago.

Keith Cowing, project organizer of the effort to reconnect with the International Sun-Earth Explorer-3, told NPR that the biggest challenge had been figuring out how to communicate with the aging 1978 satellite since space technology has changed so radically over time.

“The initial contact was a tone followed by specific commands, Cowing told NPR. “We learned a lot simply by being able to talk to it and get it to do things … May not sound like much but that was a huge unknown.”

The satellite had been on a “long, lonely trek” around the Sun since its initial mission, a lengthy trip to a comet. NASA officials agreed to let a private group known as the ISEE-3 Reboot Project raise funds to attempt to reconnect with the satellite.

The group used the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico to send commands. Scientist Robert Farquhar developed a complicated trajectory that allowed the spacecraft to intercept a comment in September 1985, months before an international armada of other space probes arrived at Halley’s Comet.

“We beat all the other countries of the world,” Farquhar recalled. “The European Space Agency. The Russians. The Japanese.”

The team that reconnected with ISEE-3 will now begin to assess the satellite’s health in coming weeks, NPR reports. If all goes according to plan, scientists hope to send it on a new trajectory by mid-June.

“We need to know a lot before we do that,” Cowing told NPR. “This is just the beginning of a long process.”

NASA spots square-shaped ‘hole’ in the Sun

Space.com

sun-square-coronal-hole-sdo.jpg

This still image from a NASA video shows a square-shaped “coronal hole” on the sun during early May 2014. The solar wind streaks out of such coronal holes at superfast speeds.SOLAR DYNAMICS OBSERVATORY/NASA

A NASA spacecraft has made a surprising find on the surface of the sun: a square-shaped “hole” in the star’s outer atmosphere.

The dark square on the sun, known as a “coronal hole,” is an area where the solar wind is streaming out of the sun at superfast speeds. NASA captured a video of the sun’s square-shaped coronal hole between May 5-7 using the powerful Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).

The coronal hole appears dark in the NASA view because there is less material emitting light in the ultraviolet range of the spectrum used to make the video, according to a NASA video description. [Biggest Solar Storms of 2014 (Photos)]

“Inside the coronal hole you can see bright loops where the hot plasma outlines little pieces of the solar magnetic field sticking above the surface,” SDO officials wrote in the video description. “Because it is positioned so far south on the sun, there is less chance that the solar wind stream will impact us here on Earth.”

NASA’s sun-watching Solar Dynamics Observatory is just one of a fleet of spacecraft keeping a close watch on the weather on Earth’s parent star. In 2013, the sun experienced its peak activity of its 11-year solar weather cycle.