A second chance to wish upon a shooting star with Leonid meteor shower
A meteor from the Leonid meteor shower streaks across the sky.
November 19th, 2012
09:57 PM ET

A second chance to wish upon a shooting star with Leonid meteor shower

Maybe the wish you made on a shooting star during the Leonid meteor shower last week didn't come true. You could get a second chance Tuesday as forecasts expect to see a secondary peak in this year's shower.

NASA is predicting as many as five to 15 meteors per hour, sometime between 12:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. ET. The first peak happened early Saturday.

The Leonids occur in mid-November each year as the Earth passes through debris from the comet Tempel-Tuttle.

"For best meteor viewing, dress warmly and go to a location away from city lights. You want clear, dark skies. Lie flat on your back and look straight up, allowing your eyes 30 to 45 minutes to adjust to the dark. No special viewing equipment needed - just your eyes," NASA astronomer Bill Cooke said on the agency's website.

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Filed under: In Space
Super-Jupiter spotted 170 light years away
The planet shown in this illustration, Kappa Andromedae b, is a "super-Jupiter" object.
November 19th, 2012
06:16 PM ET

Super-Jupiter spotted 170 light years away

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Scientists have discovered what could be a massive planet outside our solar system, NASA said Monday.

Astronomers used infrared data from the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii to identify Kappa Andromedae b, a "super-Jupiter" object that appears to be nearly 13 times the mass of Jupiter.

The planet orbits a star called Kappa Andromedae. It's not entirely certain whether Kappa Andromedae b is a planet, however, NASA said. If it can generate energy by fusion, it would be considered a "brown dwarf" star.

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Filed under: In Space • News
Expedition 33 Lands
November 19th, 2012
03:40 PM ET

Expedition 33 Lands

"The Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft is seen shortly after it landed with Expedition 33 Commander Sunita Williams of NASA and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko in a remote area of Kazakhstan, on Nov. 19, 2012. Williams, Hoshide and Malenchenko returned from four months onboard the International Space Station."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen
Mars radiation levels tolerable to humans
The Mars rover Curiosity has been sitting in a place called Rocknest scooping up Martian material.
November 16th, 2012
07:29 PM ET

Mars radiation levels tolerable to humans

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

The Mars rover Curiosity has revealed that the radiation levels on Mars are not, according to initial measurements, lethal to humans.

“Absolutely, astronauts can live in this environment,” said Don Hassler, Principal Investigator for the rover’s Radiation Assessment Detector, at a press conference Thursday.

But don’t plan on booking a trip yet. You still have to add up the total radiation that you would soak up during the eight to nine months that it takes to get to Mars, and the eight to nine months back, not to mention the actual time on the surface. An astronaut would need to spend at least six months on the surface, and stay within the career limits for radiation.

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Filed under: In Space • Mars
Oldest panda relative may have been Spanish
The giant panda as we know it may have had relatives in Spain millions of years ago.
November 14th, 2012
05:06 PM ET

Oldest panda relative may have been Spanish

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Get ready for some 12-million-year-old "panda-monium!"

Spanish researchers have discovered fossils they say could be from the oldest identified relative of the giant panda. The specimens are from a species the scientists are calling Kretzoiarctos beatrix, and they are in the range of 11.5 million to 12.5 million years old, according to lead study author Juan Abella, at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Spain.

These fossils, described in the journal PLOS ONE, were found in northeast Spain, and come from two adult individuals. One set, which Abella and colleagues described last year in the journal Estudios Geológico, consists of two teeth. The other includes a broken mandible and incomplete upper carnassial (large tooth).

This new study takes into account the both sets of fossils, and compares them with more species, Abella said. The additional fossils allowed the scientists to come up with the genus Kretzoiarctos beatrix.

The oldest fossils in the panda lineage that have been found in China are significantly younger - they are thought to be between 7.2 and 8.2 million years old, said Abella.

However, the scientists are not claiming to know that pandas evolved in Spain and then migrated to China. There is not enough information to make this statement.

So, don't go around calling this the missing panda link, Abella said. It's certainly possible that there are other older panda relative fossils out there waiting to be found. Moreover, we don't know for sure what the panda family tree looked like.

"That fossil record is very fragmentary and so it is difficult to state 100% sure that one fossil species was the direct ancestor of an extant one," Abella said in an e-mail.

When this proto-panda roamed Spain, the climate was more humid and warm, Abella said. That means there fruits and plants were in greater abundance, which may have enabled the ancient panda to incorporate more plants in its diet.

Scientists aren't sure whether bamboo was present in their habitat at that time, but there may have been similar plants associated with humid climates, Abella said.

There are obviously still a lot of unknowns about the prehistoric pandas these fossils potentially came from. More specimens from the same place would be needed to determine the sex of the creatures and exactly how big they were, Abella said.

"The discovery is very important to understand the origin of the lineage that leads to the giant panda millions of years after," Abella said. "It may also help scientists to understand the adaptations in both the skull and jaw, that helps, this unique bear, to be able to feed on hard bamboo stems."

Bears have been living in the Iberian Peninsula for at least the last 11.5 million years, Abella said. There are still brown bears living in the mountains in the north of Spain.

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Filed under: News • On Earth
Study: Early humans, apes had different diets
Early humans may have started eating differently than chimpanzees more than 3 million years ago.
November 14th, 2012
12:29 PM ET

Study: Early humans, apes had different diets

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Humans are picky eaters, and not just because we’re the only species that reviews restaurants. A new study suggests that our ancestors’ diets may have been different from our close primate relatives much earlier than we thought.

The human ancestor in question is called Australopithecus bahrelghazali. Remains of it were found in Chad at the Koro Toro fossil site. Researchers looked at fossils are more than 3 million years old.

Researchers examined the ratios of carbon isotopes present in the teeth of this early hominin, a word paleontologists use to talk about human ancestors. They reported their results in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Filed under: Human ancestors • On Earth
November 14th, 2012
10:30 AM ET

Australia's total solar eclipse

Tens of thousands of tourists, scientists and amateur astronomers gathered Wednesday along Australia's northern tip to witness a rare total solar eclipse.

For just two eerie minutes in the early hours of the morning local time, the country – known for its blistering sunshine – was plunged into a chilly darkness.

Onlookers gathered at vantage points on beaches, in boats and even hot air balloons to catch a glimpse of the celestial light show which, according to NASA, is unlikely to be seen again in the same region for another 360 years.

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Filed under: Eclipse • In Space
The science behind a solar eclipse
November 13th, 2012
02:27 PM ET

The science behind a solar eclipse

Are you traveling to Australia especially to watch the solar eclipse? Share your experience with us.

A total solar eclipse will occur over the northeastern Australian coast early in the morning of November 14 local time. Clueless about this spectacular astronomical event? No worries, we've got you covered. We're here to explain what causes this remarkable act of nature, what skygazers will see and how those outside of Australia can join in the experience.

What exactly is a total solar eclipse?

A solar eclipse happens when the moon, as it orbits Earth, passes directly in front of the sun, obscuring its rays and casting a shadow on Earth's surface. Sometimes referred to as a "happy accident of nature," a total solar eclipse occurs when the moon is perfectly aligned with both the sun and Earth, so it appears from our perspective that the sun is completely blocked.

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Filed under: Eclipse • In Space
Chasing shadows: How to watch the solar eclipse in style
On November 14, northern Australia and the southern Pacific Ocean will witness a total solar eclipse.
November 12th, 2012
02:15 PM ET

Chasing shadows: How to watch the solar eclipse in style

Are you traveling to Australia especially to watch the solar eclipse? Share your experience with us.

Susie Kalimnios has traveled thousands of miles for two spectacular minutes.

The mother of three from Montauk, New York, is in Australia for what she's hoping will be "the experience of a lifetime."

She has made a pilgrimage to Australia's remote Far North Queensland region to witness a total solar eclipse.

For just a few ethereal minutes on the morning of November 14, the nation's northernmost tip will be plunged in to complete darkness, as the moon aligns precisely between the earth and the sun.

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Filed under: Eclipse • In Space • the Sun
November 12th, 2012
01:27 PM ET

Obama, Romney dolls take a trip to space

A week ago, as President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were facing a historic election, small dolls that look like them had just plummeted to Earth from the edge of space.

Following in the footsteps of Felix Baumgartner, who broke the sound barrier during a historic jump last month, mini-Romney and mini-Obama escalated toward the heavens in a balloon, reaching 120,000 feet – nearly as high as Baumgartner.

They got there through a project by Earth to Sky Calculus, a group of middle and high school “science enthusiasts” in Bishop, California.  They’re practicing “launching balloons into the stratosphere for a satellite launch in 2013.”

Thanks to their adviser, Tony Phillips, for sending along these images of what I like to call “Bobblegangers.”  Be sure to click the video to watch the floating – followed by the plunges.  And send us your best captions.

Who should get to jump next from the edge of space – vicariously, via smiling figurine, of course?

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Filed under: 2012 Election • In Space
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