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Stardust spacecraft flew through the tail of comet.
Make sure you keep your eyes turned to the night sky for the next couple of weeks - you'll be able to see all five planets visible to the unaided eye. Mercury is down near the Western horizon, and sets quickly after sunset. Venus is also the West, and the brightest object in the sky after the Moon. Mars is a small reddish star above Venus. Saturn is nearly directly overhead, and Jupiter is the next brightest object, low in the Eastern horizon after sunset. You won't need a telescope to see them all, but if you can get your hands on one, you're in for an even better view.
NASA and the US Department of energy announced this week that they will be working together to develop a nuclear reactor system for space exploration. One goal for this partnership will be to develop the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO) mission, which will visit and examine Jupiter's three icy moons. The reactor will provide the electricity for a high-powered ion engine, which will allow JIMO to get into orbit around each Moon and then out again.
The ESA's Mars Express spacecraft has confirmed that water ice exists at Mars' southern pole. Astronomers have known for years that the northern cap contained water ice, but the chemical analysis of the south pole only showed carbon dioxide. Observations from the spacecraft's OMEGA instrument showed that both carbon dioxide and water ice are present in the southern cap. Mars Express spacecraft will use another instrument, MARSIS, to determine how thick the ice caps are to help calculate just how much water ice is present.
The closest asteroid ever recorded to pass by the Earth was discovered on Monday evening by NASA's LINEAR asteroid survey. asteroid 2004 FH, which is only 30 metres across, will fly past the Earth at a distance of only 43,000 km - well within the orbit of the Moon. Objects of this size are believed to pass the Earth once every two years or so, but they're usually undetected. 2004 FH will make its closest approach at 2208 UTC (5:08 pm EST), and should be visible to areas of Europe and Asia with binoculars.
When NASA's Stardust spacecraft flew through the tail of Comet Wild-2, it took some of the most detailed images ever seen of a comet. Analysts have taken a short exposure of the comet's surface and overlaid it onto a longer exposure that showed the comet's jets. This combined image allows scientists to understand which surface features are creating the jets, to better understand why Wild-2 is so incredibly pockmarked with craters, rifts and holes. Stardust will return to Earth in 2006 with its precious cargo of cometary particles.
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