Tuesday News Flash –Sci, Space, Tech

220px-MilkywaykeplerfovbyCRobertsNASA Planet-Hunting Telescope Could Get Mission Extension

NASA's prolific Kepler Space Telescope may get to extend its search for alien planets by a few years. Funding for Kepler — which has identified 1,235 candidate alien planets to date and recently discovered the first exoplanet with two suns in its sky — is due to run out in November 2012. But mission managers are writing up a proposal for a mission extension, and they should know by next spring whether it's approved. "I think the discoveries we're making are showing what could be done if we continue to extend it," said Charlie Sobeck, Kepler deputy project manager at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "So we're hopeful, but there's no guarantee."




Dn18131-1_300Astrophile: Undead stars rise again as supernovae

Ten thousand light years away, the burned-out core of a dead star quietly circles a sun-like companion. Though the stellar corpse shows no signs of life, it is a cosmic vampire, biding its time as it slowly sucks gas from its mate. Decades later, a blinding flash 100,000 times brighter than the sun heralds the undead star's reawakening: it has finally accumulated enough stolen fuel to power nuclear fusion once more. The star shines brightly for a few glorious days before returning to its deathlike slumber for years or decades, until the whole sequence repeats itself.


Denisovan_mapGenes of Extinct Ancestor Survive in Modern Humans

Genes inherited from long-extinct human ancestors may be more common than thought, suggesting a Homo sapiens origin story with more than a few evolutionary one-night stands. The latest findings involve genes from Denisovans, a recently-discovered member of the Homo genus who lived in central and eastern Asia until 40,000 years ago. Denisovans, humans and neanderthals last shared a common ancestor about 1 million years ago. Earlier research found lingering Denisovan traces in genomes of people from Oceania. Now they’ve been found in southeast Asia, too. “We haven’t been a very exclusive species, with a very narrow origin,” said Martin Jacobsson. Interbreeding with other members of the human family tree “is not a unique event. It’s a more complex story than we thought before.”

Dwaveone (1)Operational quantum computing center established at USC

USC has announced the new USC-Lockheed Martin Quantum Computing Center, which will use a quantum computer from D-Wave to explore the potential of quantum computing technology for faster, more secure optimization calculations. The D-Wave quantum computer, recently purchased by Lockheed Martin, has 128 quantum bits (qubits). The facility keeps the D-Wave hardware at near absolute zero temperatures and contains powerful shielding to block out electromagnetic interference.





3110vacuumsimulatorEnormous space tunnel will test ion engines

Aircraft designers test their creations in a wind tunnel and now spacecraft designers can do the same in a "space tunnel". Researchers at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Göttingen have built a 12-metre-long vacuum chamber designed to replicate the conditions of outer space at a few degrees above absolute zero. The chamber is large enough to test entire sections of satellites and will be used to research ion engines and other electric spacecraft propulsion systems. The ion beams from these engines can hit sensitive electrical parts of satellites, such as solar panels, and cause them to fail. The researchers hope that a better understanding of the beams will reduce the damage they cause.


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