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Juno Heads for Jupiter

Juno launchThe Juno spacecraft launched today on an Atlas 5 rocket on a five-year journey to Jupiter. Once there it will spend around a year understanding the origin and evolution of Jupiter.

Missions: 

Dawn Makes Orbit

Dawn image of VestaNASA racked up another first over the past weekend as the Dawn spacecraft entered orbit around the asteroid 4-Vesta.

Vesta, discovered in 1807 by Heinrich Olbers, is the brightest asteroid and the second most massive after Ceres. This tiny world lives in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and is just over 500 km in diamater.

The Dawn mission utilises an ion propulsion system, similar to the one used on ESA's SMART-1 lunar mission. This allows the spacecraft trajectory and velocity to undergo gradual alterations to allow the gravity of Vesta to capture the spacecraft into orbit. After a year in orbit the ion drive will be used again to break out of orbit and head for Ceres.

Scientists hope, through the study of these asteroids by a single set of instruments, to derive details on separate evolutionary paths of these worlds as well as important clues as to conditions in the early solar system.

Missions: 

Atlantis Flies

15:29 UT, 11:29 EDT - Launch

The Space Shuttle Atlantis has launched from pad-39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. It represents the last flight of the Shuttle and brings to an end to just over 30 years over flights from this remarkable space vehicle. Despite two tragic failures the Shuttle has been an icon of the manned exploration of space in recent years including its missions to the ISS and its defining missions to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

JWST in Crisis

The future of the James Webb Space Telescope is now in serious doubt after a proposed NASA funding bill for 2012 announced: "...also terminates funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, which is billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management..."

Distant, Luminous Quasar

Astronomers using the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii have observed a luminous quasar (ULAS J112001.48+064124.3) at a redshift of z~7.085. This places the quasar in a period around 770 million years after the big bang. Analysis of the light curve suggests the core is super massive balck hole of around 2 billion solar masses.

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