Entries in Earth (5)


NASA Kepler Probe Finds Two Earth-Sized Planets Orbiting Star

NASA [dot] gov(BOSTON) -- NASA's Kepler space telescope has found two new planets orbiting a distant sun-like star, and the researchers who made the find say these two are the size of Earth or smaller. That's a first in the search for extraterrestrial life.

If the discovery holds up under scrutiny by other scientists, it could be a very big deal. Earth-sized planets are considered critical in the search for life elsewhere in the universe, but until now, scientists said their instruments were not sensitive enough to detect them.

"Theoretical considerations imply that these planets are rocky, with a composition of iron and silicate," wrote Francois Fressin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the leader of the team that made the discovery. "The outer planet could have developed a thick water vapour atmosphere."

The team is published its report Tuesday online in the journal Nature.

The two newly-found planets, called Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, are much too far away to be seen directly. They circle a star about 950 light-years away in the constellation Lyra, which appears high in the sky over North America on a summer night. Scientists measured the miniscule dimming of their host star as they passed in front of it, and then did the math to figure out how large they are likely to be and in what orbits they move.

Kepler-20e and f are probably too hot to be friendly to life -- they are so close to their sun that one of them circles it in just six Earth days, and the other does it in 19. But the simple fact that they've been found, say the scientists, is reason to expect that others like them exist.

"It demonstrates for the first time that Earth-sized stars exist around other stars, and that we are now able to detect them," said Fressin at a news briefing Tuesday.

Linda Elkins-Tanton of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington said the larger of the two planets, Kepler-20f, was especially intriguing.

"If it was formed with water, which I think is possible, it could have been habitable in the past," she said.

"We would be remiss if we did not do our best to find more planets just like our own," said Alan Boss, a colleague of hers at the Carnegie Institution, in an email to ABC News. "That does not mean that we necessarily think that only exact Earth twins could be inhabited, just that we at least had better be able to find Earth twins, and then along the way we will be certain to uncover all sorts of other types of exoplanets that should be habitable, and perhaps even inhabited."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


NASA UARS Satellite Crashes Into Earth: Location Unknown

PRNewsFoto/NASA(WASHINGTON) -- The abandoned 6-ton Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) entered the earth's atmosphere early this morning but where it crashed remains unknown, according to NASA.

In an update posted on NASA's website, the "decommissioned Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite fell back to Earth between 11:23 p.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 23 and 1:09 a.m. EDT Sept. 24."

Officials said it entered the atmosphere somewhere over the Pacific Ocean but the "precise re-entry time and location are not yet known with certainty."

On Friday, officials predicted the satellite would be passing over Canada, Africa and Australia, and vast areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans.

However, NASA said earlier that the risk to public safety is very remote. So far there have been no reports of injuries.

NASA said some 26 chunks of the old satellite—which is roughly the size of a bus—are likely to survive the descent, and fall at hundreds of miles per hour over an area of some 500 square miles. The agency said it knows of no case in which people have been hurt by space junk.

"We believe that the risk is sufficiently low that no one needs to change their behaviors," NASA's Mark Matney said.

Bill Ailor, principal engineer at the Aerospace Corp., studies incoming space junk for the Air Force. He said pieces of other satellites have come crashing down into villages, farms and random datelines around the planet.

"I actually think a lot of this kind stuff comes down and nobody knows what it is and just thinks it's junk and ignores it," Ailor told ABC News.

Ailor and his colleagues study satellite components in a lab to figure out what will burn up and what will become a potential threat—just like the pieces of the UARS satellite.

But according to Nicholas Johnson, NASA's chief orbital debris scientist, any one person's chances of getting hit by debris are tiny—something like 1 in 21 trillion. The chances that of the 7 billion people on Earth, one of them, somewhere, could be hit are more like 1 in 3,200.

Despite those odds, Ailor said that a hazard is a hazard.

"Five hundred pounds of stainless steel represents a hazard—if you're standing under it," Ailor joked.

Launched in 1991, the UAS satellite is the largest NASA satellite to fall back to Earth uncontrolled since Skylab in 1979.

Skylab was much larger—about the size of a house—and debris fell in the Australian Outback and the Pacific.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Space Shuttle Endeavour Headed Home for Last Time

NASA TV(HOUSTON) -- Space shuttle Endeavour and its crew will finally return to Earth early Wednesday morning, completing one of NASA's final shuttle flights, a program that was launched almost 30 years ago.

Having departed the International Space Station late Sunday, Endeavour's entry flight control team will evaluate weather conditions at the landing site at Merritt Island, Florida before giving the approval to land, according to NASA

The 25th and final flight for Endeavour also marks the final shuttle flight for the six-man crew aboard Endeavour.  The seasoned astronauts are wrapping up a 16-day mission, during which they completed assembly of the U.S. section of the International Space Station.

Endeavour's crew includes Commander Mark Kelly, Greg Johnson, who's piloting the mission, spacewalkers Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel, and Greg Chamitoff, and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori, who's handling robotics.

"To see the horizon out there, with all that hardware beneath you and to understand what we've done as a nation and as a world to build that international space station; it's spectacular," Astronaut Drew Feustel said.

Spacewalker Fincke, who has spent months living on the space station in years past, now holds the U.S. record for time in space, at 380 days.  "I hope my record is soon broken," Fincke said.

The most important project on this journey for the crew is to aid in the explanation of possible origins of the universe; the astronauts hauled Endeavour into space so they can search for "unusual" kinds of matter.

Endeavour delivered a $2 billion cosmic ray detector, called Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 (AMS), which will remain on the space station for the next decade.  The cosmic ray detector is searching for antimatter and dark matter, which scientists hope will shed light on the origins of the universe.

The mission, which also included adding finishing touches on the orbiting lab while adding an extension beam and a platform full of spare parts, has been a complete success for NASA. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


'Supermoon' Lights Up Sky, Biggest In Nearly Two Decades

NASA/Bill Ingalls(NEW YORK) -- Did last night's rare "supermoon" live up to its hype? If the commentary online is any indication, those who had clear skies were not disappointed with the brilliant full moon that lit up the sky.

On Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, skywatchers around the world posted pictures and reactions to the biggest full moon in nearly decades.

During the so-called "supermoon," the moon wasn't just at its closest approach to Earth in its elliptical orbit, it was closer than it has been in 18 years.

After the sun set for East Coasters, #supermoon started trending on Twitter, as people started tweeting about the event. Many even uploaded snapshots of their supermoon views to the photo-sharing website Flickr.

"It's a bird- it's a plane- no, it's Supermoon!," said one Facebook user.

"the supermoon was super beautiful last night," posted another.

Full moons come in different sizes because of the elliptical shape of the moon's orbit -- one side of the ellipse is about 31,000 miles closer to Earth than the other. When the moon is closest to Earth (at its perigee), it is 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than when it's farthest from the planet (at its apogee).

For weeks, Saturday's so-called "supermoon" sparked interest online, with astrologers and amateur astronomers speculating that the extra-large full moon could lead to unusual weather. After Japan's earthquake, some even wondered if the supermoon contributed to the event.

Scientists emphasize that there is no connection between the moon's position and extreme weather or natural disasters here on Earth.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Total Lunar Eclipse to Take Place Monday

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Barring cloudy weather, astronomy enthusiasts and sky-gazing revelers across North America will be given an early Christmas gift when they witness a lunar eclipse Monday night.

A lunar eclipse takes place when the sun, earth and moon are all perfectly aligned with the Earth in the middle. When the moon passes behind the earth, the sun's rays are blocked from striking the moon. This can only occur when the moon is full. Unlike a solar eclipse, which can only be seen for a few moments from any specific spot, a lunar eclipse can be viewed for several hours.

The eclipse will happen Monday night on the West Coast and during the early hours Tuesday on the East Coast. According to NASA, although the eclipse is not central, the total phase should last about three and a half hours when it begins as a partial eclipse at 1:33 a.m. ET and it will finish at 5:01 a.m. ET. The totality phase -- when the moon is entirely inside Earth's shadow -- will last a little approximately 72 minutes.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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