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100 million times the mass of our Sun.
NASA announced two new missions today that will help scientists better understand the Earth's environment. The Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) Small Explorer will determine the causes of the Earth's highest altitude clouds, which sit right at the edge of space. The time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms mission (THEMIS), will fly five spacecraft in formation to help understand the colourful Northern and Southern lights. Both spacecraft are expected to launch in 2006.
The privately funded X Prize received a helpful boost this week with a large investment from entrepreneurs Anousheh and Amir Ansari. The unspecified amount of money will be used to cover operation costs of the organization, including the insurance money that's backing the $10 million prize. The name of the prize has been changed to the Ansari X Prize, to recognize their contribution. 26 teams have registered to win the prize, which expires on January 1, 2005, if nobody can send their privately-built spacecraft into suborbital flight.
New images obtained with the European Southern Observatory's Very Large telescope show the immediate surroundings of the supermassive black hole at the heart of active Galaxy NGC 1068. This central region of an active Galaxy can outshine the rest of the Galaxy because its black hole is consuming material; NGC 1068's monster black hole would have to be 100 million times the mass of our Sun to account for the amount of radiation pouring out of it. These new images resolve down to only 3 light-years away from the black hole.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has delivered some early images of Saturn's Moon Titan; a mysterious world obscured by thick clouds. Some surface features only seen from Earth-based Telescopes are now visible to Cassini. The spacecraft used its narrow angle camera's spectral filters, which are designed to penetrate the thick atmosphere to create the images. Cassini's first good opportunity to see Titan will be when the spacecraft enters orbit around Saturn in July; it'll fly past the Moon at a distance of only 350,000 km.
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