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Voyager II spacecraft flew past Uranus in 1986.


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Voyager II spacecraft flew past Uranus in 1986.
Voyager II spacecraft flew past Uranus in 1986.

Baby Planet around a star Puzzles Astronomers.

In June, researchers from the University of Rochester discovered a planet around a star so young that it shouldn't exist according to existing theories of planetary formation. Further observations have backed up the discovery; there's definitely a planet there which is only 100,000 to 500,000 years old. This is much too young for either of the established theories of planetary formation. In the "core accretion" model, larger and larger chunks of rock smash together for 10 million years until a large planet is formed. In the "gravitational instability" model, a cloud of material pulls together into a planet by its own gravity; this is faster, but still not fast enough to explain how the planet got there.

Mars Exploration Rover Endurance crater.

Engineers at NASA knew they were taking a risk when they piloted the Opportunity rover into the stadium-sized Endurance crater because it has fairly steep walls. It looks like the planned eastward exit out of the crater isn't going to work; one part of the slope is too steep, and the other is covered in sand that the rover might not be able to cross. Opportunity will have to backtrack, and search out a new exit to the south, and maybe even go back out by retracing its entry path.

Uranus Can Be Stormy After All.

When the Voyager II spacecraft flew past Uranus in 1986, it saw a fairly boring planet with very little storm activity. But new observations from the 10-metre Keck II telescope in Hawaii show that the planet is getting much more active as it's approaching its equinox, with several new powerful storm systems. Just one image taken this year shows 18 storm systems raging across the planet at the same time - Voyager counted a total of 10 during month-long flyby. Some storms come and go in days, while others can last for years. Some storms can reach wind speeds of 420 km/h (260 mph).

Hubble's Accidental Asteroid Discovery.

Although they were using the Hubble Space Telescope to analyze the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy, an international team of Astronomers were also able to discover a new asteroid that happened to drift through Hubble's field of view. The asteroid is 270 million km (169 million miles) from Earth, which probably puts it into the main asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter - it's only 2.4 km (1.5 miles) across. The asteroid's path is wavy because Hubble was orbiting the Earth as it took a series of long exposures, and the gaps come from times that Hubble's shutter was closed.

View of Martian Moon Phobos.

This photograph of Phobos, one of Mars' two tiny moons, was taken by the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft when it was less than 200 km (125 miles) away during a recent flyby. The picture shows the strange parallel grooves that run around moon, and researchers might be able to tell whether they formed before or after the larger impact craters. Phobos is locked in a "death spiral" around Mars, and it'll eventually crash into the planet, or be torn apart and turned into a short-lived ring.

Mapping the Early Universe in 3 Dimensions.

American and Australian researchers are working on a method to develop a 3-dimensional map that will show how the universe evolved during its first billion years. Unlike the map of cosmic background radiation, which is our current first look at the Universe, their method uses the radiation from early clouds of neutral Hydrogen atoms. The first stars to ignite should have blown out bubbles of open space inside these clouds, and it's these bubbles that the Astronomers should be able to see in the radio spectrum.

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