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November 30, 2012 | By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
Mercury may be a scorching hunk of rock just next door to the sun, but planetary scientists have discovered nearly pure frozen water and even some organic material in the planet's frigid polar regions. The findings from the Messenger spacecraft orbiting the planet cap the decades-long search for water on the second-hottest planet in the solar system and may help scientists better understand the origins of the molecular building blocks for life on Earth. The new research "doesn't mean we have life on Mercury," said UCLA planetary scientist David Paige, lead author of one of three papers published Thursday by the journal Science.
October 25, 2012 | By Amy Hubbard
Saturn burped and the Cassini spacecraft was on hand to witness it. The spacecraft, orbiting Saturn, has gathered data on a two-year-long storm that wrapped all the way around the planet -- followed by a record-setting 150-degree temperature spike and a massive burp of ethylene gas. It was a mega-belch of energy, according to NASA -- "100 times more ethylene than scientists thought possible for Saturn. " PHOTOS: Awesome images from space Simultaneously, the temperature at the site of the release shot up to minus 64 degrees Fahrenheit.  The study's lead author, Brigette Hesman, a scientist at the University of Maryland, said, "To get a temperature change of the same scale on Earth, you'd be going from the depths of winter in Fairbanks, Alaska, to the height of summer in the Mojave Desert.
October 14, 2012 | By Kate Mather, Louis Sahagun and Mike Anton, Los Angeles Times
The shuttle Endeavour dodged plenty of space junk zipping around Earth. The question Saturday, though, was would its wing avoid an apartment building on narrow Crenshaw Drive? Could it gingerly pivot around tall pines planted in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.? Would the streets of Inglewood and Los Angeles buckle under the weight of the 170,000-pound orbiter and its massive transport vehicle? After months of meticulous planning, those were among the myriad challenges confronting hundreds of workers who escorted Endeavour on the last leg of its 12-mile journey to the California Science Center, where it will be displayed.
September 22, 2012 | By Mark K. Matthews, Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Top NASA officials have picked a leading candidate for the agency's next major mission: construction of an outpost that would send astronauts farther from Earth than they've ever been. Called the gateway spacecraft, it would hover in orbit on the far side of the moon, support a small crew and function as a staging area for future missions to the moon and Mars. At 277,000 miles from Earth, the outpost would be far more remote than the current space station, which orbits a little more than 200 miles above Earth.
September 21, 2012 | By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
An up-close look at the protoplanet Vesta taken by the Dawn spacecraft reveals signs of water on this oversized asteroid in the middle of the solar system, scientists reported Thursday in the journal Science. Vesta floats in the middle of the asteroid belt that fills the gap between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. That doughnut of rocky rubble might have coalesced into a whole planet if Jupiter's gravity hadn't gotten in the way. Instead, Vesta's growth was stunted at the protoplanet stage.
September 14, 2012 | By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times
Barely visible in the dense fog at Vandenberg Air Force Base, a 19-story rocket roared to life and boosted a top-secret satellite into orbit. Little is known about the spacecraft except that it belongs to the National Reconnaissance Office. The secretive federal agency is in charge of designing, building, launching and maintaining the nation's spy satellites. At 2:39 p.m. PDT, Thursday, the satellite was lifted into space atop United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket. The mission had been delayed six weeks because of a nagging glitch with equipment on the base northwest of Santa Barbara.
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.
August 10, 2012 | By Scott Gold and Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
Engineers said Friday that the Curiosity rover happened to catch a picture of its own ride crash-landing on Mars - a wink-of-an-eye serendipity that some dismissed as a statistical impossibility, but appears to have been confirmed by a thorough review of landing data. The final seconds of Curiosity's eight-month-plus journey to Mars called for a spacecraft to lower the rover to the surface using a "sky crane" - three ropes. The ropes were then cut, and the last of the spacecraft, known as the "descent stage," cast itself toward the horizon.
August 9, 2012 | By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
As the rover called Curiosity made its hair-raising, breathtaking descent into the Martian atmosphere Sunday night, the viewers watching NASA's live feed at home seemed to have just one question: Who's that guy with the mohawk?  Flight director Bobak Ferdowsi's eyes were trained on his monitor in the front row of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory control room as the Mars Science Laboratory made it through its final "seven minutes of terror" and touched down on the Red Planet. But many viewers' eyes were fixed on Ferdowsi -- turning the Bay Area native into an online sensation in the ensuing hours and days, drawing some 43,000 Twitter followers and inspiring Internet memes.  Live video hangout: Meet 'Mohawk guy' at 2 p.m. Wearing a blue-and-red plaid shirt that perfectly complemented his hairstyle -- red and blue streaks in his Mohawk, with white stars bleached into the side -- Ferdowsi, 32, chatted Wednesday about his newfound fame, his style and his experiences on this ambitious NASA mission.  What's your job on this NASA mission?
August 8, 2012 | By Scott Gold, Los Angeles Times
Did Curiosity capture the galactic equivalent of the Zapruder film when it landed on Mars? Seconds after the NASA robot's landing Sunday night, Curiosity managed to squeeze off a handful of fuzzy, black-and-white photographs. One, taken with a device on its rear known as a Hazcam, captured the pebble-strewn ground beneath the rover and one of its wheels - and a blotch, faint but distinctive, on the horizon. The images were relayed by a passing satellite. Two hours later, the satellite passed overhead again.
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