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Out of this World

News from space and astronomy communities around the world.

Biggest Eye on the Sky

By David Reneke

News from the space and astronomy communities around the world.

Galileo would be over the Moon if he could see how his rudimentary invention has evolved! The world’s largest optical/infrared telescope has been given the initial go-ahead to be built. Called the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), this long-proposed new ground based telescope will have a 40-metre main mirror and observe the universe in visible and infrared light.

We’ll be imaging exoplanets more closely than ever imagined, perhaps finding Earth-sized and even Earth-like worlds, and we’ll study the first galaxies that formed just after the Big Bang.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

New Super-Earth May Be a Waterworld

By David Reneke

News from the space and astronomy communities around the world.

Four astronomers from the Harvard Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics (Cfa) have taken a giant step in the relatively new science of exobiology. They’ve been successful in probing the atmosphere around the transiting super-Earth known as GJ1214b.

This exoplanet isn’t exactly our size but it’s close enough to set pulses running. It is 6.5 Earth masses and measures 2.7 Earth radii, and it orbits a small M-dwarf star whose diameter is only 21% of the Sun’s.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

Dying Stars Leave Dusty Trails

By David Reneke

News from the space and astronomy communities around the world.

Stars get pretty sloppy towards the end of their lives and the nuclear fuels start to run out. The star pulsates, expanding and contracting like a fish just out of the water. Each pulse belches out globs of gas into space that eventually get recycled into a new generation of stars and planets. The universe thought about recycling long before we came along.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

Rare Rectangular Galaxy Found

By David Reneke

News from the space and astronomy communities around the world.

An international team of astronomers from Australia, Germany, Switzerland and Finland has discovered a rare rectangular-shaped galaxy that has a striking resemblance to an emerald-cut diamond. Astronomers don’t have fancy names for most objects they find – they’ve simply labelled this one with the catalogue number LEDA 074886.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

“Ping Pong” Planets

By David Reneke

News from the space and astronomy communities around the world.

A gravitational tug of war more than a million years old could be in play between nearby binary stars. It’s generally accepted that planets can be ejected from solar systems, especially during the dynamic and unstable period early in the solar system’s life where planets are jostling for the most stable orbits.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

A Telescope as Big as the Earth

By David Reneke

News from the space and astronomy communities around the world.

Telescopes have expanded humanity's vision beyond what we could have ever imagined, but our eyes are only so sensitive and cover a rather small range of the visible spectrum.

Using the supersharp radio “vision” of one of astronomy's most precise telescopes, scientists have extended our electronic reach three times farther into the cosmos than ever before. This achievement has important implications for numerous areas of astrophysics, including determining the nature of dark energy, which makes up 70% of the Universe.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

Lightning Sprites Are Out Of This World

By David Reneke

David Reneke brings news from the space and astronomy communities around the world.

A few decades ago, scientists discovered the existence of “sprites” some 80 km above the surface of the Earth. Offshoots of electric discharges caused by lightning storms, they’re a valuable window into the composition of our atmosphere.

Space and astronomy news from around the world

By David Reneke

Welcome Back – From Mars

Since June last year, the six crew members of a simulated mission to Mars have been isolated in a special facility near Moscow. Their “arrival” back on Earth was scheduled for 4 November, with the crew going directly into quarantine for 4 days of medical checks.

Mars500 is the first full duration simulation of a human mission to Mars in a mock facility faithfully duplicating almost all aspects of real spaceflight. The only things that couldn’t be incorporated into this vital exercise, of course, were weightlessness and the little-known effects of radiation.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

Space and astronomy news from around the world

By David Reneke

A Plethora of Planets

Not many people are aware of it, but there’s an unofficial race going on among astronomers to find what’s been termed the “Holy Grail” of astronomy – a planet just like the Earth around another star. And they’ve come tantalisingly close. So close, in fact, that most are predicting we’ll find that world within the next 5 years!

Extraterrestrial Body Brought Back to Earth

 Retrieval of the capsule at Woomera. Credit: JAXA/ISIS

Retrieval of the capsule at Woomera. Credit: JAXA/ISIS

By David Reneke

What do the samples from the Itokawa asteroid tell us about the history of our solar system?

The space and astronomy world held their collective breaths on 13 June 2010 as an ion-powered Japanese spacecraft named Hayabusa (literally “peregrine falcon”) successfully returned the first samples gathered from the surface of an asteroid. At last, the impossible had become possible. Scientists hoped they had captured those long-awaited pristine pieces of our solar system.