Monday, November 26, 2007

First Moon Picture of China Back from China's Chang'e Probe

This file photo released by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) on Nov. 26, 2007 shows China's first picture of the moon captured by Chang'e-1, China's first lunar orbiter, marking the full success of its lunar probe project. (Xinhua Photo)

It's very clear that this is intended to be a (photographic) shot heard round the world. And well it should be.

China's first picture from the moon, returned by its Chang'e lunar probe, was unveiled by Premier Wen Jiabao in a morning ceremony today. Framed and blown up to the size of the officials on stage, the black-and-white, cratered photo was meant to show that the country is now one of the "select few powers that have the capabilities to engage in deep-space exploration," according to state news agency Xinhua.

The probe is packed with additional equipment, including a gamma and X-ray spectrometer, a laser altimeter, a microwave detector, a detector for high-energy solar particles, and more. But as the ceremony today shows, the probe's symbolic importance perhaps rivals its scientific value.

Already, an Asian space race is well in gear, with Japan's moon probe a few weeks ahead of Chang'e in lunar orbit, an Indian probe planned, and a South Korean lunar exploration project announced just last week. Regional nations, as well as the United States, are worried that China's space program will take on a military as well as a scientific dimension.

However, according to Reuters, an official from the China National Space Administration today downplayed reports that the government planned to launch a manned lunar mission by 2020 – the date by which the United States too hopes to land astronauts again on the lunar surface.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

New Planet Discovery : Boosts Alien Life Hopes

US scientists announced the discovery of a new planet orbiting a star beyond the solar system, raising further hopes that life may one day be found elsewhere in the universe.

Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena said a fifth planet had been found circling 55 Cancri, a star located 41 light years from Earth in the Cancer constellation.

Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, said the discovery showed that other solar systems similar to the one in which Earth is located might be discovered in other reaches of outer space.

"This discovery of the first ever quintuple planetary system has me jumping out of my socks," Mr Marcy told a teleconference call.

"The significance is marvellous. We now know that our sun and its family of planets is not unusual.

"It shows that our Milky Way contains billions of planetary systems ... we strongly suspect that many of these planetary systems harbour Earth-like planets."

The newly discovered planet is about 45 times the mass of Earth and is believed to be be similar to Saturn in its composition and appearance, a statement said.

The planet is the fourth from 55 Cancri and completes one orbit every 260 days. Its location puts the planet in the "habitable zone," a band around the star where temperatures would allow water to form in pools on solid surfaces.

The planet was discovered through observation using the Shane telescope at the Lick Observatory in San Jose, California and the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

Originally posted in ABC News