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Mars spacecraft safe after fortuitous comet encounter

20 October 2014 Stephen Clark

A fleet of robotic spacecraft orbiting Mars got a front row seat to space history Sunday and lived to tell about it, giving scientists their first close-up look at a comet fresh from a cloud of primordial mini-worlds at the outer reaches of the solar system.

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Last-ditch search finds fresh targets for New Horizons

19 October 2014 Stephen Clark

Scientists using the powerful Hubble Space Telescopes have identified three tiny objects at the frontier of the solar system that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft could visit after making an historic flyby of Pluto next summer. The icy worlds — each about 10 times larger than a typical comet but a fraction of Pluto’s size — reside in the Kuiper Belt, a zone of thousands of little-studied objects beyond the orbit of Neptune. They orbit about 4 billion miles from the sun and are leftover remnants from the solar system’s formation 4.6 billion years ago. The primary target is known as PT1, short for Potential Target 1. Two other objects have the preliminary names of PT2 and PT3. Pluto is one of the largest Kuiper Belt Objects, or KBOs, and New Horizons will make the first close-up visit to the unexplored dwarf planet when it flies by on July 14, 2015. With the size and shape of a grand piano, the space probe has enough propellant to fly toward another object after Pluto, but mission managers had to find a target in a narrow corridor within the New Horizons spacecraft’s fuel reach. Scientists want to study KBOs because they are thought

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Mars probes will hide from comet dust

17 October 2014 Keith Cooper

This Sunday, a comet will come closer to Mars than any other comet has ever been seen to approach a planet without actually hitting it, sending our assorted spacecraft orbiting the red planet running for cover.

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Mars versus the comet

17 October 2014 Keith Cooper

A flotilla of spacecraft orbiting Mars will be turning their instruments in two directions – one towards Comet Siding Spring, and the other towards Mars itself, to find out what happens when a planetary atmosphere brushes against the fuzzy atmosphere of a comet.

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Ultra-bright pulsar is an X-ray mystery

13 October 2014 Keith Cooper

Blinding bursts of X-rays are coming from a supercharged pulsar lying in a galaxy 10 million light years away, more powerful than any pulsar ever seen before. The discovery, by NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, challenges what we thought we knew about these extreme objects.

Mars Orbiter Mission
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India and NASA plot science campaign for Mars orbiters

2 October 2014 Stephen Clark

Officials working on India’s Mars orbiter project are finalizing plans for a six-month science campaign after the spacecraft arrived in orbit last week, an achievement that has already satisfied the mission’s primary objectives, the head of India’s space agency said Monday. Since the probe entered orbit around Mars, scientists have switched on four of the craft’s five scientific instruments and the orbiter has returned dazzling images of the red planet, showing the Martian surface, atmosphere and an uncommon global perspective rivaling views from the Hubble Space Telescope. The Mars Orbiter Mission, developed and launched for $74 million, was conceived as a technological trailblazer for India’s interplanetary exploration program. The mission is India’s first robotic probe to travel beyond the moon, and the craft’s arrival at Mars made India the fourth entity to put a satellite into orbit around the red planet. “It was an historic moment for everyone in the country,” said K. Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization. “It was a technological mission primarily, and have we achieved that. We give ourselves an 85 percent mark for that achievement.” Speaking at the 65th International Astronautical Congress, Radhakrishnan said officials are now developing a flight plan for the

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