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Stars born in
galactic centre

...Stars have been seen being born in the inner sanctum of our Milky Way Galaxy, answering the question of whether stars can form there or instead have to migrate there...

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The black cloud set to blossom into a giant star

...A freezing cold, dark cloud of molecular hydrogen is beginning to stir up the materials for building a giant star, or even several massive stars, in a forbidding region of the Milky Way known as the Aquila Rift...

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Planet-forming disc found orbiting twin suns

...Images collected with the Smithsonian's Submillimeter Array (SMA) radio telescope system reveal the presence of a molecular disc orbiting a young binary star system...

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Video archive

STS-120 day 2 highlights

Flight Day 2 of Discovery's mission focused on heat shield inspections. This movie shows the day's highlights.


STS-120 day 1 highlights

The highlights from shuttle Discovery's launch day are packaged into this movie.


STS-118: Highlights

The STS-118 crew, including Barbara Morgan, narrates its mission highlights film and answers questions in this post-flight presentation.

 Full presentation
 Mission film

STS-120: Rollout to pad

Space shuttle Discovery rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building and travels to launch pad 39A for its STS-120 mission.


Dawn leaves Earth

NASA's Dawn space probe launches aboard a Delta 2-Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral to explore two worlds in the asteroid belt.

 Full coverage

Dawn: Launch preview

These briefings preview the launch and science objectives of NASA's Dawn asteroid orbiter.

 Launch | Science

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A smashing end for Japan’s lunar orbiter mission



Posted: 11 June, 2009

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)’s Moon explorer Kaguya concluded its twenty month mission with a controlled crash into the lunar surface last night.

A sequence of four frames around the impact time, with a bright impact flash visible in the second frame, and faintly seen in the third and fourth. Image: Anglo-Australian Telescope by Jeremy Bailey (University of New South Wales) and Steve Lee (Anglo-Australian Observatory).

Kaguya, also known as SELENE (SELenological and ENgineering Explorer), launched in September 2007 and arrived in orbit around the Moon 20 days later where it observed our satellite for almost two years. During its mission, Kaguya mapped the lunar surface and studied its magnetic and gravity environment in order to better prepare for the return of humans to the Moon in the future.

As Kaguya’s fuel supply gradually came to an end, JAXA prepared to culminate the mission in spectacular fashion with a controlled collision into the lunar surface. Crash-down occurred at 1925 BST last night at a position located 80.4 degrees east longitude and 65.5 degrees south longitude as viewed from Earth.

Three-dimensional view of the Apollo 15 landing site as taken by Kaguya's Terrain Camera. Image: JAXA/SELENE.

The Anglo-Australian Telescope’s infrared wide-field camera and spectrograph – IRIS2 – detected the flash as the spacecraft collided with the lunar surface at an angle just one degree from the horizontal into a region of darkness near the terminator. This meant that dust thrown up from the impact would be illuminated by sunlight. Scientists will now analyse the images in order to study the dust and impact environment.

The mission ended in a similar style to the European Space Agency’s SMART-1 mission, which was deliberately crashed into the Moon in 2006. Kaguya was five times heavier than SMART-1.

Kaguya created new topography maps of the lunar surface which will help in the planning of future manned missions to the Moon. Image: JAXA/SELENE.

Next week NASA will launch a fully dedicated lunar impactor to the Moon. The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) will launch with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and will set its impact probe on a collision course with a permanently shadowed crater at the lunar south pole. As the probe crashes into the Moon, instruments on board LCROSS will attempt to detect hydrogen and water molecules in the ejected material. If the target 17 June launch date for LCROSS and LRO is met, then the probe will impact the Moon in early October.