The Kepler Space Telescope has discovered the first planet similar in size to the Earth that is also in the potentially habitable zone of a star like the sun, NASA announced today. Kepler-452b rotates once around its star every 385 days some 1,400 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. 

The planet, scientists say, has a better than even chance of being rocky and has an orbit the right distance from its star for liquid water to exist on the surface, a necessary prerequisite for life as we know it. See image captions below. Learn more here. 

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“For unmeasurable periods, I seem divorced from my body, as though I were an awareness spreading out through space, over the earth and into the heavens, unhampered by time or substance, free from the gravitation that binds to heavy human problems of the world. My body requires no attention. It’s not hungry. It’s neither warm or cold. It’s resigned to being left undisturbed. Why have I troubled to bring it here?”
  ―  Charles A. Lindbergh

Earlier this week, we looked out to the far reaches of the solar system with humanity’s first closeup view of Pluto. Now, we turn our attention inward, to the center of our neighborhood. Sun researchers have layered three images from different telescopes to show our sun in all of its powerful glory.

High-energy X-rays recorded by NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) are in blue. Low-energy X-rays captured by Japan’s Hinode spacecraft are in green. Extreme ultraviolet light seen by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory is in yellow and red. All three layers were captured around the same time on April 29.

All the colors present in the image come from material at or near the sun’s surface that are heated to several million degrees, with the blue-white areas indicating the most energetic areas. Learn more here. 

“We can see a few active regions on the sun in this view,” said Iain Hannah of the University of Glasgow in Scotland. “Our sun is quieting down in its activity cycle, but still has a couple of years before it reaches a minimum.”

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Engineers Clean Mirror with Carbon Dioxide Snow by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope
Via Flickr:
Just like drivers sometimes use snow to clean their car mirrors in winter, two Exelis Inc. engineers are practicing "snow cleaning’" on a test telescope mirror for the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. By shooting carbon dioxide snow at the surface, engineers are able to clean large telescope mirrors without scratching them. "The snow-like crystals (carbon dioxide snow) knock contaminate particulates and molecules off the mirror," said Lee Feinberg, NASA optical telescope element manager. This technique will only be used if the James Webb Space Telescope’s mirror is contaminated during integration and testing. The Webb telescope is the scientific successor to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. With a mirror seven times as large as Hubble’s and infrared capability, Webb will be capturing light from 13.5 billion light years away. To do this, its mirror must be kept super clean. "Small dust particles or molecules can impact the science that can be done with the Webb," said Feinberg. "So cleanliness especially on the mirrors is critical." Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. Image credit: NASA/Chris Gunn Text credit: Laura Betz, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland


Construction To Begin on Telescope 10 Times Sharper Than Hubble

Officials in charge of the planned Giant Magellan Telescope say they have secured enough funding to start construction. In an announcement, the organization said 11 international partners have committed to give $500 million to build the first of the next generation of amazingly powerful optical telescopes on a mountaintop in Northern Chile. 

Once it starts operating in 2021, the GMT’s set of seven mirrors–with a combined diameter of more than 82 feet–will make the instrument the largest optical telescope in the world. Its backers say it will be capable of focusing six times more light than the current record holder can accomplish. With that, the GMT will generate images that are 10 times sharper than those made by the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronomers and the public will be treated to a deeper dive into the distant universe, seeing things farther and fainter than ever before.

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