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Extrasolar planets 10 to 20 times the mass of our Earth.
Astronomers announced today that they have discovered a new class of extrasolar planets which are between 10 and 20 times the mass of the Earth - roughly the same size as Neptune. Two planets were discovered orbiting smaller stars: one around Gliese 436 and another around 55 Cancri. Both planets orbit their parent stars in about 3 days. They were discovered using the radial velocity method, which finds planets because of how they wobble their parent star. Because these planets are much smaller than Jupiter, they're probably made of rock and ice, rather than gas.
The view from the International Space Station is great, but the window is a little small. But a new observation module - or "cupola" - under development by the European Space Agency will change all that. It's an observation and control tower that will give astronauts a panoramic view for observing and guiding operations outside the station. The 1.8 tonne module has been completed in Italy, and now it'll be transported to Cape Canaveral, Florida to launch to the station in 2009.
NASA's X-43A prototype has been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's fastest air-breathing aircraft. The unpiloted aircraft made an experimental flight earlier this year, and reached Mach 6.83, or 8,000 kph (5,000 mph) over the Pacific Ocean. The record will go into the 2006 edition of the book; however, NASA expects to have broken this record by the time the book goes to print. The X-43A is expected to make another flight this October, and if all goes well, it'll reach Mach 10.
Scientists have figured out how they can use special instruments on board two NASA satellites to detect the early stages of plankton "blooms". These blooms are caused by excessive runoff of industrial fertilizer which makes marine algae grow - sometimes so thickly that water looks black. Bacteria consume the algae and use up oxygen in the water. This can kill fish in large quantities. The MODIS instruments on NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites can detect the glow in plankton's chlorophyll from orbit, and pinpoint exactly where large blooms are forming.
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