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The opening of the hole in the Earth's ozone layer.
Hurricane Frances has swept past Puerto Rico and is now on a path that could strike the Bahamas, and eventually even hit Florida. NASA workers at the Kennedy Space Center are powering down the space shuttles, closing their payload doors, and stowing away their landing gear to prepare for the storm. Frances is now a dangerous category 4 hurricane, with winds as high as 225 kph (140 mph), and it will reach the coastal US later this week. This photograph of the hurricane was taken by NASA's Terra satellite on August 31.
Despite a series of delays, a Lockheed-Martin Atlas IIAS rocket lifted off Tuesday night, carrying a secret payload for the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The rocket lifted off at 2317 UTC (7:17 pm EDT) from Cape Canaveral's Pad 36A; payload separation of the satellite into its transfer orbit happened 73 minutes later. This was the last Atlas 2 rocket that will fly. After this launch, both the class of rocket, and Pad 36A will be retired.
The European Space Agency's Envisat Earth observation satellite is getting ready for the arrival of an annual event - the opening of the hole in the Earth's ozone layer. Since a hole first opened up in the mid-1980s, satellites have been tracking its arrival and shape for years, and scientists have gotten quite good at predicting the conditions that will create the gap. The ozone hole should open up in about a week's time, and then close up again in November or December when higher temperatures around the South Pole will mix ozone-rich air into the region.
Famed astronomer, Dr. Fred Whipple, passed away on Monday at the age of 97 after a prolonged battle with illness. He was Phillips Professor of astronomy Emeritus at Harvard University and a Senior Physicist at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Perhaps best known for his research into comets, Whipple discovered six, and one of the first to suggest that they were icy conglomerates (aka "dirty snowballs"). He went on to direct the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory from 1955 to 1973, and the Mt. Hopkins Observatory was renamed the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in 1981.
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