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Pioneering ESA mission aims to create artificial solar eclipses

20 August 2017 Stephen Clark

As skywatchers and scientists converge on a transcontinental band of totality for Monday’s solar eclipse in the United States, engineers in Europe are building a unique pair of satellites to create artificial eclipses lasting for hours — a feat that that could be a boon for solar physicists but will escape the view of Earth-bound spectators.

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Scientists improve brown dwarf weather forecasts

17 August 2017 Astronomy Now

Dim objects called brown dwarfs, less massive than the Sun but more massive than Jupiter, have powerful winds and clouds — specifically, hot patchy clouds made of iron droplets and silicate dust. Scientists recently realised these giant clouds can move and thicken or thin surprisingly rapidly, in less than an Earth day, but did not understand why.

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NASA counts down final month of Cassini’s tour of Saturn

15 August 2017 Stephen Clark

NASA’s Cassini orbiter sailed through the tenuous outermost reaches of Saturn’s atmosphere without trouble Monday, performing the first of five close swings nearer to the planet than any previous spacecraft before a final dive Sept. 15 to end the probe’s nearly 20-year mission.

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TRAPPIST-1 is older than our Solar System

15 August 2017 Astronomy Now

Scientists now have a good estimate for the age of one of the most intriguing planetary systems discovered to date — TRAPPIST-1, a system of seven Earth-size worlds orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star about 40 light-years away. Researchers say in a new study that the TRAPPIST-1 star is quite old: between 5.4 and 9.8 billion years. This is up to twice as old as our own Solar System, which formed some 4.5 billion years ago.

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Station-bound instrument to open new chapter in the story of cosmic rays

9 August 2017 Stephen Clark

Physicists are gearing up to send a re-engineered science instrument originally designed for lofty balloon flights high in Earth’s atmosphere to the International Space Station next week to broaden their knowledge of cosmic rays, subatomic particles traveling on intergalactic routes that could hold the key to unlocking mysteries about supernovas, black holes, pulsars and dark matter.

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New Horizons’ next target might be a binary pair

8 August 2017 Stephen Clark

Ground observations of the New Horizons spacecraft’s next target last month revealed the distant object, lurking in the outer Solar System more than four billion miles from Earth, might have an unconventional elongated shape, or even consist of two icy bodies orbiting one another in an age-old cosmic dance.