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Gravitational wave testbed repurposed as comet dust detector

26 April 2017 Stephen Clark

In the final months of Europe’s LISA Pathfinder mission, scientists have found an unexpected use for the trailblazing testbed for a future gravitational wave observatory by tracking the tiny dings made by microscopic particles that strike the spacecraft in deep space, exploiting the impacts to learn about the population of dust grains cast off by comets and asteroids across the solar system.

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Europe’s ExoMars spacecraft begins lowering its orbit

20 March 2017 Stephen Clark

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a Russian-launched, European-built spacecraft that arrived at Mars in October, is starting to dip into the upper reaches of the red planet’s atmosphere in a year-long “aerobraking” campaign place the observatory in the right position to hunt for methane, an indicator of potential biological activity.

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Star formation on filaments in RCW106

27 February 2017 Stephen Clark

Stars are bursting into life all over this image from ESA’s Herschel space observatory. It depicts the giant molecular cloud RCW106, a massive billow of gas and dust almost 12,000 light-years away in the southern constellation of Norma, the Carpenter’s Square.

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Mind the gap: ‘Rapid Burster’ behaviour explained

7 February 2017 Stephen Clark

Scientists observing a curious neutron star in a binary system known as the ‘Rapid Burster’ may have solved a forty-year-old mystery surrounding its puzzling X-ray bursts. They discovered that its magnetic field creates a gap around the star, largely preventing it from feeding on matter from its stellar companion.