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SCIENCE IN THE NEWS WEEKLY

NASA May Inherit Ex-Spy Telescope

Working with a small band of astronomers for the past couple of months, NASA has come up with a plan to re-purpose an ex-spy telescope that had been declared surplus by another U.S. agency.

In other space news, Pluto and its newest moons may tell us a lot about how other worlds orbit distant stars. A new computer simulation not only zeroes in on the masses of two of the moons but predicts that planets orbiting double stars are more widely spaced from one another than are the worlds of single stars such as the sun.

When the Kepler spacecraft finds a giant planet closely orbiting a star, a new study found that there's a one in three chance that it's not really a planet at all. Study results suggest that 35 percent of candidate giants orbiting close to bright stars are impostors, known in the planet-hunting business as false-positives.

Venus put on a show for skywatchers last week, moving across the face of the Sun as viewed from Earth. The transit is a rare astronomical event that will not be seen again for another 105 years. Observers in North and Central America, and the northern-most parts of South America saw the transit begin just before local sunset. The far northwest of America, the Arctic, the western Pacific and east Asia witnessed the entire passage.

It looks as though the Milky Way will collide with its closest neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy, in 4 billion years. Andromeda is our closest fellow spiral galaxy. Spiral galaxies have flat, rotating, disc-shaped bodies with spiral arms anchored by a supermassive black hole at the center.

Finally, two mysterious bright spots in a distant galaxy suggest that astronomers have found the best evidence yet for a supermassive black hole being shoved out of its home. If confirmed, the finding would verify Einstein's theory of general relativity in a region of intense gravity not previously tested. The results would also suggest that some giant black holes roam the universe as invisible free floaters.


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PODCASTS: From Balloons to Space Stations: Studying Cosmic Rays

CREAM Inflating

Cosmic rays have mysterious qualities about them that scientists continue to research in order to better understand their origins and composition. Dr. Eun-Suk Seo, a professor of physics at the University of Maryland, and her colleagues, fly enormous balloons as large as a football stadium and a volume of 40-million-cubic feet for extended periods over Antarctica to study particles coming from cosmic rays before they break up in the atmosphere.

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