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Hayabusa 2: returning asteroid sample could help uncover the origins of life and the solar system
Artist impression of Hayabusa 2 approaching asteroid Ryugu. Credit: Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR)/wikipedia, CC BY-SA

What is your idea of an asteroid? Many people think of them as potato-shaped, inert and perhaps rather dull, pock-marked objects—far away in deep space. But over the last ten years, two Japanese space missions – Hayabusa and now Hayabusa 2 – have dispatched that view to the history books. Asteroids are interesting bodies that may be able to explain how life on Earth came about.

The Japanese Space Agency, JAXA, is about to bring back samples to Earth from the 1km-wide asteroid Ryugu – with touchdown expected on December 6 at a military test site in South Australia. The first Hayabusa craft returned samples from asteroid Itokawa in 2010, which like Ryugu orbit the Sun near Earth. I'm one of the scientists who analyzed the grains, and am now looking forward to investigating Ryugu.

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A view from the Chang'e-5 lunar lander as the ascent vehicle lifts off on Dec. 3, with glare from the Sun. It will attempt rendezvous and docking Dec. 5, 2020.

HELSINKI — China’s Chang’e-5 spacecraft are preparing for a first-ever robotic rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit, a major hurdle to delivering lunar samples to Earth.

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SS2 Unity flight two

WASHINGTON — When Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo takes to the skies above New Mexico later this month, it will do so without the crowds and publicity once expected for the historic flight.

Virgin Galactic announced Dec.

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Outer space activities are more important to the United States now than at almost any time in our history. Space technology and services provide critical national security capabilities, scientific knowledge, economic opportunities, and the tools to understand and respond to a changing climate.

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alien spacecraft
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

If intelligent aliens visit the Earth, it would be one of the most profound events in human history.

Surveys show that nearly half of Americans believe that aliens have visited the Earth, either in the ancient past or recently. That percentage has been increasing. Belief in visitation is greater than belief that Bigfoot is a real creature, but less than belief that places can be haunted by spirits.

Scientists dismiss these beliefs as not representing real physical phenomena. They don't deny the existence of intelligent aliens. But they set a high bar for proof that we've been visited by creatures from another star system. As Carl Sagan said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

I'm a professor of astronomy who has written extensively on the search for life in the universe. I also teach a free online class on astrobiology. Full disclosure: I have not personally seen a UFO.

Unidentified flying objects

UFO means . Nothing more, nothing less.

There's a long history of UFO sightings. Air Force studies of UFOs have been going on since the 1940s.

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Rochester researchers uncover key clues about the solar system's history
Illustration of solar wind flowing over asteroids in the early solar system. The magnetic field of the solar wind (white line/arrows) magnetizes the asteroid (red arrow). Researchers at the University of Rochester used magnetism to determine, for the first time, when carbonaceous chondrite asteroids first arrived in the inner solar system. Credit: University of Rochester illustration / Michael Osadciw

In a new paper published in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment, researchers at the University of Rochester were able to use magnetism to determine, for the first time, when carbonaceous chondrite asteroids—asteroids that are rich in water and amino acids—first arrived in the inner solar system.

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It goes without saying that the federal government has a reputation for presenting startups with some formidable barriers to entry when it comes to securing government contracts.

We know those barriers exist for a reason – they increase compliance, reduce risk and ensure taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly.

Week in images: 30 November - 4 December 2020

Thursday, 03 December 2020 14:22
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The colour of the sky from Gaia’s Early Data Release 3

Week in images: 30 November - 4 December 2020

Discover our week through the lens

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BE-7 test

WASHINGTON — Blue Origin has achieved a new milestone in the development of the engine that will power the lunar lander it seeks to provide for NASA’s Artemis program.

The company announced Dec. 4 that it started a fourth series of hotfire tests of the thrust chamber for the BE-7 engine.

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Washington DC (UPI) Dec 03, 2020
A new space tourism company plans its first uncrewed test flight of a capsule suspended from a hydrogen balloon in late March from Florida. Arizona-based Space Perspective has announced plans to launch the balloon from Kennedy Space Center's former space shuttle landing strip, sending it on an hour's long ascent to the edge of space, about 20 miles high. The company's ambitions a
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Sunnyvale CA (SPX) Dec 03, 2020
Lockheed Martin has announced the U.S. Space Force has determined the fifth Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit satellite (SBIRS GEO-5) is complete and ready for launch in 2021. Built in a record time and at no additional cost to the government for the upgrade, SBIRS GEO-5 is the first military space satellite built on the company's modernized, modular LM 2100 combat bus

Launch success for UAE's FalconEye satellite

Thursday, 03 December 2020 13:04
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Kourou, French Guiana (ESA) Dec 03, 2020
The Earth observation satellite FalconEye was successfully launched last night from the European Spaceport (CSG) in Kourou, French Guiana by an Arianespace Soyuz rocket. Owned and operated by the United Arab Emirates, FalconEye was developed by Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space as co-prime contractors. The FalconEye system will support the needs of the UAE's Armed Forc
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Baltimore MD (SPX) Dec 03, 2020
Northrop Grumman Corporation has successfully completed multiple rounds of tests on its Solid Fuel Ramjet (SFRJ) tactical engine configuration - a technology to enable long range precision fires, one of the U.S. Army's key priorities. Conducted as part of phase one of the U.S. Army's XM1155 Extended-Range Artillery Projectile (ERAP) program, the SFRJ tests validated gun-launched survivabil
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New York NY (SPX) Dec 03, 2020
Long ago, all the continents were crammed together into one large land mass called Pangea. Pangea broke apart about 200 million years ago, its pieces drifting away on the tectonic plates - but not permanently. The continents will reunite again in the deep future. And a new study, presented during an online poster session at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union, suggests that the future
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