September 16th, 2011
10:31 PM ET

Expedition 28 Lands

"The Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft is seen as it lands with Expedition 28 Commander Andrey Borisenko, and Flight Engineers Ron Garan, and Alexander Samokutyaev in a remote area outside of the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011. NASA Astronaut Garan, Russian Cosmonauts Borisenko and Samokutyaev are returning from more than five months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 27 and 28 crews."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen
Amber reveals dinosaur, bird feathers
These 16 clumped feather barbs were found encased in amber in Canada.
September 16th, 2011
12:56 PM ET

Amber reveals dinosaur, bird feathers

We don't know exactly what dinosaurs looked like, but feathers discovered in 80-million-year-old amber provide new clues.

Paleontologists made this discovery of feather specimens near Grassy Lake in southwestern Alberta, Canada, and described the results in the journal Science.


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Filed under: Dinosaurs • On Earth
September 16th, 2011
11:15 AM ET

Inventor shows off science in the kitchen

Nathan Myhrvold, former CTO of Microsoft, is all about inventions. He's part of Intellectual Ventures Lab, which strives to come up with solutions to big problems such as curbing bacterial infections and improving wound care. The lab has worked on medical inventions that could save lives, improve diagnostics and conserve energy.

To be an inventor, you need to have failures, he says in this video from the CNN Ideas series. There are a lot of ideas that just won't work in practice, but you have to try out a lot of possibilities so that you can find out which of them does work, he says.

But he doesn't just innovate in medicine. He has also authored a 2,400-page cookbook that has stunning images illustrating the science of cooking, from barbecue to pot roast.

Check out more from Mhyrvold on CNN's Global Public Square, where he demonstrates how to make the perfect French fry, how to zap mosquitoes with lasers to stop the transmission of malaria and his fears that America isn't innovating enough.

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Filed under: CNN Ideas • Science Education • Voices
September 16th, 2011
10:38 AM ET


Every Friday, @CNNLightYears will suggest interesting and exciting space and science Twitter accounts to follow.

Today, @CNNLightYears is giving a #FollowFriday to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), specifically the accounts that tweet about #earthquakes.

The @USGS estimates that several million earthquakes occur each year, but many of these earthquakes go undetected because they happen in remote areas or have small magnitudes. The National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) locates about 50 earthquakes each day, or about 20,000 a year, according to the USGS website.


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Filed under: FollowFriday • Voices
New species of dolphin discovered off Australia
A Burrunan dolphin jumps above others in Port Phillip Bay, Australia.
September 16th, 2011
07:45 AM ET

New species of dolphin discovered off Australia

Australian researchers have discovered a new species of dolphin living right under their, uh, bottlenoses.

A population of 100 dolphins in Port Phillip Bay and 50 in the Gippsland Lakes on Australia's southern coast have been proven to be genetically unique from dolphins anywhere else in the world,  Monash University doctoral researcher Kate Charlton-Robb said in a university release.

"We're very pleased to announce that yes it is a new dolphin species, and I have called it Tersiops Australis," Charlton-Robb said in an interview with Radio Australia.

The new species has been given the common name the Burrunan dolphin, meaning "large sea fish of the porpoise kind" in Aboriginal languages, she said.

The Burrunan dolphins were originally thought to be one of two bottlenose species, but researchers used DNA and skull comparisons to establish they were a new species.

Only three new dolphin species have been recognized since the late 1800s, Charlton-Robb said.

"This animal has been living right under our noses for so many years and just with combining those two different technologies, with looking at the skull morphology and the DNA, you know there's still really exciting discoveries to be made," Charlton-Robb told Radio Australia.

She said the discovery highlights the importance of conservation efforts.

"It would be a shame to discover something and then and lose it. So we really are working hard to try and protect and conserve these animals," she told Radio Australia.

And if you want to get a look at the new species, head to Port Phillip Bay.

"The animals that you would see out in the bay on a normal occasion would be this new species type," Charton-Robb told Radio Australia.

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Filed under: Discoveries • On Earth
'Tatooine' gives first direct proof of 2-sun planet
This iconic "Star Wars" scene inspired the nickname "Tatooine" for a newly found 2-sun planet Kepler-16b.
September 15th, 2011
02:00 PM ET

'Tatooine' gives first direct proof of 2-sun planet

Luke Skywalker looks out over a desert dominated by two setting suns in an iconic scene from "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope." But this isn’t just the stuff of fiction. Now, astronomers have confirmed the first direct evidence that planets with two suns do exist.

Scientists at NASA and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute [SETI] are informally calling the newly discovered world Tatooine, as homage to Skywalker's planet imagined by George Lucas.

The so-called circumbinary planet has been dubbed with an official name that's much less interesting: Kepler-16b.

Unlike the tagline of the Star Wars saga, Tatooine is not located in a "galaxy far, far away," it's right in our own backyard - relatively - about 200 light years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. Getting to Tatooine aboard a spacecraft traveling at light speed - 186,282 miles per second - would take about two centuries. (The closest star to earth outside our solar system is about 4 light years away.)


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Filed under: Eclipse • In Space • News
NASA plans most powerful rocket ever
An artist's conception of what SLS will look like.
September 14th, 2011
02:48 PM ET

NASA plans most powerful rocket ever

For those still mourning the end of the shuttle program, there's a new reason to be excited about space exploration: It's called SLS.

SLS stands for Space Launch System. The rocket, announced Wednesday, will be the largest and most powerful ever built. Its first flight, which will probably be unmanned, is targeted for the end of 2017.

In theory, SLS will allow astronauts to go unprecedented distances; there's talk of going to an asteroid and, eventually, Mars.

At a cost of $18 billion over the next six years, you might be wondering whether that's realistic, especially at a time when NASA has been laying off employees from the shuttle program.

But William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said Wednesday that there's a "flexible ability" to "keep costs under control."

"If we don’t get exactly the annual budget we anticipated, we have enough flexibility in the program; we can accommodate that by doing some things," he said.

The $18 billion includes a substantial amount of design work, Gerstenmaier said, and includes some, but not all, costs of the second and third flights as well as the initial launch.

Much of amount the development has been minimized: The shuttle main engines can be used, and the solid rocket motors have been extensively tested. There's still a lot of work to do on the core design for the test flight and the upper stage design. The second and third flights might have to be delayed, but NASA is striving to stick to a schedule with a first launch in 2017.

"We’re going to try to protect, as much as we can, that 2017 milestone as we move forward," Gerstenmaier said.

SLS will have three engines initially but could grow to five engines, Gerstenmaier said. It will fly about once or twice a year.

After at least one unmanned test flight, SLS has been planned to transport astronauts on the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, which can carry six people.

Initially, SLS will be able to lift 70 metric tons, but that can be expanded to 130 metric tons when advanced boosters are added. That first version will have 10% more thrust than Saturn V did at its liftoff and will be slightly shorter. The second iteration of SLS will have 20% more thrust than Saturn V at liftoff. The Saturn V rocket was 363 feet tall, and the second version of SLS will be about 40 feet taller.

Saturn V is the rocket that NASA's Apollo and Skylab programs used from 1967 to 1973, and it is the only vehicle that has taken humans out of low-Earth orbit and to the moon.

SLS may look like the child of Saturn V and the space shuttle - at least, according to some Twitter users - but Gerstenmaier says that's not really true. There are similarities to the shuttle, but advancements in manufacturing techniques have made a big difference in terms of efficiency. There's lots that's new: for instance, solid rocket boosters that may be used for early test flights have advancements in nozzle materials and insulation to newer, green technologies.

"Even though rockets may look very similar, there are advances that are taken to get to efficiencies and to get to more reliable systems," said Doug Cooke, deputy associate administrator for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

Follow @CNNLightYears on Twitter

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Filed under: In Space • News
September 13th, 2011
02:18 PM ET

Next space station crew launches in November

Remember all those fears a few weeks back that the International Space Station might have to go unmanned come this November? It looks like those worries may have been premature.

ROSCOSMOS, the Russian space agency, announced Tuesday that it plans to launch manned Soyuz missions to the International Space Station on November 12 and December 20. The November mission is a schedule delay after the Progress cargo mission that went awry in August, which was launched by a rocket that uses a third stage that is similar to that used on manned Soyuz launches.

Progress was the fourth lost Russian spacecraft since last December. There have been concerns that the Russian program would severely delay launching new crews to the station as the agency investigated its failures. NASA, for example, delayed launching another space shuttle for nearly three years as it investigated the Challenger and Columbia shuttle accidents.

There are six people aboard the International Space Station. Three are scheduled to return home this week, and the remaining three are to leave in late November. Without the shuttle to send new crews to the station, serious delays could have required its de-manning.

ROSCOSMOS has also scheduled two Progress launches: one on October 30 and another on January 26, 2012.

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Filed under: In Space • News
16 'super-Earths' found outside solar system
The HARPS instrument has identified an Earth-like planet, shown in this artist's impression, orbiting star HD 85512 in the southern constellation of Vela.
September 13th, 2011
10:44 AM ET

16 'super-Earths' found outside solar system

It's not like aliens put up a welcome banner or anything, but scientists now have newly identified at least one planet that could potentially sustain life.

The European Southern Observatory has just announced the discovery of more than 50 new exoplanets (planets outside our solar system), including 16 super-Earths (planets whose mass is between one and 10 times that of our own planet).


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Filed under: In Space
September 13th, 2011
09:58 AM ET

The Brightness of the Sun

"The bright sun, a portion of the International Space Station and Earth's horizon are featured in this image photographed during the STS-134 mission's fourth spacewalk in May 2011. The image was taken using a fish-eye lens attached to an electronic still camera."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen
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