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Introducing WFIRST — NASA’s wider set of eyes on the universe

21 February 2016 Astronomy Now

With a view 100 times bigger than that of the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will aid researchers in their efforts to unravel the secrets of dark energy and dark matter, and explore the evolution of the cosmos. It also will discover new worlds outside our solar system and advance the search for worlds that could be suitable for life.

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James Webb Space Telescope primary mirror fully assembled

4 February 2016 Astronomy Now

The final primary mirror segment is installed on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Once in space and fully deployed, the 18 hexagonal-shaped mirror segments will work together as one large 6.5-metre mirror. The crowning mirror installation marks an important milestone in the assembly of what will be the biggest and most powerful space telescope ever launched.

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NASA office to coordinate asteroid detection and hazard mitigation

12 January 2016 Astronomy Now

NASA has formalised its ongoing program for detecting and tracking near-Earth objects (NEOs) as the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO). The office will be responsible for supervision of all NASA-funded projects to find and characterise asteroids and comets that pass near Earth. It will also take a leading role in coordinating efforts in response to any potential impact threats.

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Hubble sees the Force awakening in a newborn star

17 December 2015 Astronomy Now

Just in time for the release of the movie “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has photographed what looks like a cosmic, double-bladed lightsabre. In the centre of the image, partially obscured by a dark, Jedi-like cloak of dust, a newborn star shoots twin jets out into space as a sort of birth announcement to the universe.

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New Horizons returns first, best images of Pluto

4 December 2015 Astronomy Now

It is almost five months since New Horizons’ epic encounter with Pluto, but the captured images and data will stream back to Earth across 3 billion miles of interplanetary space for a further 11 months. The first in a series of the best close-ups of the dwarf planet that humans may see for decades have been released, obtained when the spacecraft was just 15 minutes before closest approach during the 14 July flyby.

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NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope receives first mirror installation

27 November 2015 Astronomy Now

NASA has successfully installed the first of 18 flight mirrors onto the James Webb Space Telescope — the successor to Hubble — beginning a critical piece of the observatory’s construction. Targeted for launch in 2018, the telescope’s 18 primary mirror segments will work together as one large 21.3-foot (6.5-metre) mirror.

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MAVEN reveals speed of solar wind stripping Martian atmosphere

6 November 2015 Astronomy Now

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission has identified the process that appears to have played a key role in the transition of the Martian climate from an early, warm and wet environment that might have supported surface life to the cold, arid planet Mars is today. Researchers have determined the rate at which the Martian atmosphere is losing gas to space via stripping by the solar wind and that the erosion increases significantly during solar storms.

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NASA confirms evidence that liquid water flows on today’s Mars

28 September 2015 Astronomy Now

New findings from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars. Using an imaging spectrometer on MRO, researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where mysterious darkish streaks that appear to ebb and flow over time are seen on the Red Planet.

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NASA’s New Horizons team selects potential Kuiper Belt flyby target

28 August 2015 Astronomy Now

NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic 14 July flyby of the Pluto system. The target is a 30-mile-wide Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits nearly a billion miles beyond Pluto. New Horizons expects to reach the object, nicknamed “PT1” (Potential Target 1), on 1 January 2019.