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European Rosetta spacecraft poised for comet crash landing

29 September 2016 William Harwood

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft closed in Thursday for a deliberate crash landing on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Friday, a slow-motion kamikaze plunge to bring the enormously successful mission to an end after more than two years of unprecedented close-range observations.

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Philae found! Rosetta’s lander wedged in cometary crevice

5 September 2016 Astronomy Now

Less than a month before the end of the mission, Rosetta’s high-resolution camera has revealed the Philae lander wedged into a dark crack on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The images were taken on 2 September by the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera as the orbiter came within 2.7 kilometres of the comet’s surface.

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First stars formed even later than previously thought

2 September 2016 Astronomy Now

ESA’s Planck satellite has revealed that the first stars in the universe started forming later than previous observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background indicated. This new analysis also shows that these stars were the only sources needed to account for reionising atoms in the cosmos, having completed half of this process when the universe had reached an age of 700 million years.

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Fossilised rivers suggest warm, wet ancient Mars

24 August 2016 Astronomy Now

Extensive systems of fossilised riverbeds have been discovered on an ancient region of the Martian surface on a northern plain called Arabia Terra, supporting the idea that the now cold and dry Red Planet had a warm and wet climate about 4 billion years ago, according to University College London-led research.

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Hubble’s fireball

17 August 2016 Astronomy Now

In this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image we see the central Wolf-Rayet star known as Hen 2-427 — more commonly known as WR 124 — surrounded by the nebula M1-67. Both objects are found in the constellation of Sagitta some 15,000 light-years away. The hot clumps of gas ejected by the star into space are travelling at over 150,000 kilometres per hour.

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The curious case of Earth’s leaking atmosphere

8 July 2016 Astronomy Now

Overall, about 1 kg of material is escaping our atmosphere every second. Every day, around 90 tonnes of material escapes from our planet’s upper atmosphere and streams out into space. Although missions such as ESA’s Cluster fleet have long been investigating this leakage, there are still many open questions. How and why is Earth losing its atmosphere?