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Solar System

November 6, 2012 | By Michael Lemonick
Over the last few weeks, astronomers announced not one but two extraordinary discoveries in the ongoing search for planets orbiting stars beyond the sun. The first was a world about the size of Neptune, 5,000 light-years away, whirling around in a solar system with four stars. It's something like Luke Skywalker's home world of Tatooine in the "Star Wars" movies, except that fictional planet sported only two suns. The second was an Earth-size planet right next door in the Alpha Centauri system - three stars that orbit one another not thousands or hundreds but a mere four light-years from our solar system.
October 31, 2012 | By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times
The giant asteroid Vesta, sometimes known as a proto-planet, has a surface unlike any other airless body previously observed. While Earth's moon and other airless bodies are generally a relatively uniform gray, Vesta's bright background is streaked with large amounts of a much darker substance. New results from the Dawn probe indicate that the black material is largely carbon that has been deposited by other, smaller asteroids. The moon and other airless bodies like it exhibit a form of weathering, even though the lack of an atmosphere prevents weather as we know it. Over billions of years, the bodies have become gray as a result of exposure to the solar wind and bombardment by micrometeorites.
October 20, 2012 | By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times
When Yale astronomer Megan Schwamb announced the discovery of a distant planet at an astronomy meeting in Reno this week, the stargazing world was left agog. The oddball Neptune-sized gas giant she described was the first ever seen in a solar system of not one, not two, but four gravitationally connected stars. It was like the fictional planet Tatooine of "Star Wars" fame, but with two extra, distant suns. The planet orbits one pair of stars (which are rotating around each other)
October 17, 2012 | By Matthew Cooper
Click here to download TV listings for the week of Oct. 21 - 27 in PDF format This week's TV Movies     SUNDAY Jon "Too Many Emmys" Stewart, below, hosts "Night of Too Many Stars: America Comes Together for Autism Programs," the latest edition of the benefit/telethon, with Jerry Seinfeld, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey and Katy Perry among the aforementioned "too many stars. " (Comedy Central, 8 p.m) MONDAY From that "Psycho" shower scene to Jack Nicholson's "Here's Johnny!"
October 15, 2012 | By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times
Analyzing grains of soil collected from three Apollo lunar missions, geochemists have figured out that the hydrogen in trace amounts of water on the moon's surface probably came from solar wind, the outflow of positively-charged hydrogen from the sun. For decades, scientists didn't find much hydrogen in the lunar samples that had been returned to Earth, said Yan Liu, a research professor at the University of Tennessee and lead author of the lunar...
September 12, 2012
Re "Ready for a real star trek," Sept. 8 Thank you for your article on Voyager 1's imminent departure from our solar system. While Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists are now focused on the spacecraft's passage into interstellar space, the greatest legacy of the Voyager 1 and 2 missions is the stunning images they have captured - of Jupiter's Great Red Spot, the Jovian moon Io's erupting volcanoes, Saturn's rings, Uranus and Neptune....
September 8, 2012 | By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times
In 1977, Jimmy Carter moved into the White House, "Star Wars" and "Saturday Night Fever" premiered in theaters and the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral to explore the outer solar system. In the years since, there have been five more presidents and five more "Star Wars" movies; disco has given way to punk, grunge and rap; and the Voyagers have flown billions of miles past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Their explorations aren't over yet. As scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge marked the mission's 35th anniversary this week, they marveled that Voyager 1 was poised to leave the solar system - crossing the so-called heliopause and entering the vastness of interstellar space.
September 5, 2012 | By Amy Hubbard
The spacecraft Dawn has been visiting Vesta, an Arizona-sized chunk of lumpy rock in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Now the NASA spacecraft will head to the dwarf planet Ceres. As the Associated Press reports, Dawn orbited Vesta for a year, taking photos and using various instruments to explore the asteroid from as close as 130 miles. But NASA isn't done with asteroids. Today the space agency launched a name-the-asteroid contest as efforts geared up to bring a piece of an asteroid home to Earth.  And we're not talking just any asteroid.
September 4, 2012 | By Amy Hubbard
How long does it take to fly to the edge of the solar system? At least 35 years.  Voyager 1 is there now, carrying 1970s-era technology that might make your jaw sag -- computers with 8,000 words of memory and eight-track-tape recorders. Those of us who can remember popping the Allman Brothers into the eight-track tape deck can identify with Voyagers 1 and 2 -- a couple of nearly old fogies. But these NASA stalwarts are set to make space history.  Again. Wednesday marks the 35th anniversary of Voyager 1's launch to Jupiter and Saturn.
September 3, 2012 | By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times
Dressed as usual in jeans and Velcro-secured sneakers, UCLA astronomer David Jewitt sat at his desk recently and feigned concern: What, exactly, does one wear when accepting gold medals from the king of Norway and a Chinese billionaire-philanthropist? "I'm trying to figure out what a tuxedo is," he said, rolling his eyes. "It's apparently different everywhere. " Fashion isn't familiar territory for Jewitt, 54, an expert on comets and the other small objects zipping through the solar system.
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