Big discovery: first Earth-sized exoplanet in the habitable zone of another star

Artist’s conception of Kepler-186f in orbit around its red dwarf star. Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s conception of Kepler-186f in orbit around its red dwarf star. Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

Today was another big day for those interested in space exploration, and the search for other Earth-like alien worlds in particular – the first Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting another star in the habitable zone has been discovered, it was announced by astronomers with the Kepler space telescope mission.

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Has Cassini seen the birth of a new Saturnian moon?

Image from the Cassini spacecraft showing the disturbances along the edge of Saturn's A ring which are thought to be caused by the formation of a new moon. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Image from the Cassini spacecraft showing the disturbances along the edge of Saturn’s A ring which are thought to be caused by the formation of a new moon. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn has dozens of moons, ranging from the largest, Titan, which is larger than our own Moon, to small asteroid-sized objects. Now it seems that the Cassini spacecraft may have witnessed the formation of yet another moon, actually seeing the process as it is happening.

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NASA designing its own ‘flying saucer’ for future Mars missions

Engineers work on the LDSD system design at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Credit: NASA / JPL

Engineers work on the LDSD system design at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Credit: NASA / JPL

It may sound like something from a movie but it’s not – NASA is working on building its own version of a “flying saucer” for a future mission to Mars. The disk-shaped spacecraft would be used to transport heavy payloads and even people down to the surface, it was just reported in New Scientist.

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Image Gallery: sunset in Gale crater

Sunset in Gale crater, as seen by Curiosity. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Damia Bouic

Sunset in Gale crater, as seen by Curiosity. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Damia Bouic

Another beautiful postcard panorama from Damia Bouic, this time showing a dusky sky during sunset as seen by Curiosity in Gale crater. In this view, the Sun is setting behind the western mountainous rim of the huge crater. Scenes like this are amazingly reminiscent of Earth, even though Mars is a truly alien world in many ways.

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Image Gallery: Saturn and Enceladus

Saturn with its rings seen edge-on and tiny Enceladus can be seen just in front of the rings. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Saturn with its rings seen edge-on and tiny Enceladus can be seen just in front of the rings. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

This image of Saturn from the Cassini spacecraft shows the planet with its rings edge-on, as a thin vertical line, against the massive gas giant planet itself. The shadows from the rings are on the left side of the planet, and if you look closely, the tiny watery moon Enceladus can be seen just in front of the rings as a dark dot. A very surreal view of this beautiful world.

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If the Moon were only 1 pixel: an incredible scale model of the solar system

Credit: Josh Worth

Credit: Josh Worth (joshworth.com)

This is an amazing rendition, a scrollable scale model of the solar system that shows just how vast the distances between the planets, and other bodies, really are. At this scale, the Moon is depicted as the size of 1 pixel and the Sun about 10 cm across, and it takes several minutes, and patience, to scroll all the way through to get out past Pluto. And that’s just the solar system; the distance to even the nearest other star is many, many times farther still!

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Image Gallery: a heart in Ascraeus Mons

Interesting feature near the Ascraeus Mons volcano. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona

Interesting feature near the Ascraeus Mons volcano. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona

Mars has a lot of unusual geological features, and this new image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is a good example of that. Somewhat heart-shaped, south of the Ascraeus Mons volcano on the Tharsis volcanic plateau. How did it form?

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Image Gallery: ‘Australia’ rock with weird edges

"Australia" rock seen by Curiosity Click to view larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

“Australia” rock seen by Curiosity Click to view larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

This is an interesting rock slab just seen by the Curiosity rover on Mars. Kind of looks like Australia… It has very thin edges like other similar rock slabs seen before, but note the little pebbles stuck to the edges. How do they stay in place like that?

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Image Gallery: the plumes of Enceladus

The water vapour plumes of Enceladus. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / 2di7 & titanio44 (Alive Universe Images)

The water vapour plumes of Enceladus. Click for larger view. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / 2di7 & titanio44 (Alive Universe Images)

An amazing view of the water vapour plumes erupting from the “tiger stripe” fissures at the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The plumes have been sampled and analzyed by the Cassini spacecraft and found to contain water vapour, ice particles, salts and organics. As just reported also, there is now evidence for a subsurface water ocean beneath the ice in this area as well. Additional enhancement and processing by 2di7 & titanio44 of Alive Universe Images.

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Image Gallery: cracked dome

Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

An interesting circular mound in the Nilosyrtis region on Mars, photographed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. How did the flat top get all cracked like that? Original images are here.

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