Spirit may be fading on Mars, NASA says
An August 2004 image from NASA's Mars rover Spirit shows a rock outcrop on the red planet.
May 25th, 2011
11:48 AM ET

Spirit may be fading on Mars, NASA says

NASA to Mars rover:  Phone home or else.

The space agency said it will reach out to contact the Mars rover Spirit a final time Wednesday after a series of unanswered attempts.

NASA speculates that an extreme Martian winter may have frozen the rover’s communication apparatus or weakened its energy level, hindering its ability to communicate.

In a press release Tuesday, NASA said, in essence, what we have here is a failure to communicate.

"We no longer believe there is a realistic probability of hearing from Spirit," Dave Lavery, NASA’s program executive for solar system exploration, said in the release.

Created for a three-month mission, Spirit landed on Mars in January 2004 and exceeded its intended life span by several years, giving scientists an in-depth look at the surface conditions of the red planet.

But there have been obstacles - namely massive dust storms, paralyzing sandboxes and plain ol' feisty weather that has challenged the rover's functionality.

Over most of the past seven years though, despite various violent conditions, Spirit has always managed to re-establish connection.

Not this time.

The last transmission received by the rover was March 22, 2010, NASA said.

The rover program will now focus its energies on Spirit’s twin rover, Opportunity, which landed 21 days after Spirit. Also, NASA is prepping the November launch of Curiosity, a bigger, more-tricked out rover (six 20-inch wheels?) slated to arrive on Mars in mid-2012.

As for Spirit, NASA said any communication from the rover will basically be relegated to voice mail.

“The Deep Space Network may occasionally listen for any faint signals when the schedule permits," Lavery is quoted in the release.

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Filed under: Mars • Space • Technology
Four bright planets cluster in predawn sky Wednesday
A crescent moon and Venus, right, are seen at dawn over the Kennedy Space Center on May 1.
May 10th, 2011
10:54 PM ET

Four bright planets cluster in predawn sky Wednesday

As if you needed another reason to get up before sunrise, four bright planets will cluster in the predawn sky Wednesday morning so close together they'll probably fit behind your outstretched hand (from where you stand, of course).

Throughout May, the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter will rearrange themselves on a daily basis to form different shapes in the eastern sky. The show ends with a grand finale on May 30, when a crescent moon joins the four planets.

Watch NASA illustration of the planets clustering

The best view will be about a half hour before sunrise on Wednesday, when Venus and Jupiter will be so bright "you might think you've witnessed a double supernova beaming through the morning twilight," scientist Tony Curtis said on NASA's Science News site.

The whole patch will be less than 10 degrees wide. Venus and Jupiter will be only a half degree apart, Curtis said.

TIME.com: Does the planets' alignment augur the end of the world?

"Keep an eye on Venus in particular. As the sun rises and the sky fills with morning blue, the Goddess of Love does not fade away. You can actually see Venus in broad daylight if you know where to look," he said.

Venus, the brighter of the two, will be to the right of Jupiter, the editors of StarDate magazine said last week. Mercury will be visible to the lower right of Venus, about the same distance from Venus to Jupiter. It won't be as bright but its proximity to Venus will help you find it. To the lower left of Jupiter, you'll find Mars, which may be too low and faint to see without the aid of binoculars.

Mercury, Venus and Jupiter will form a bright celestial triangle in May almost equilateral in appearance. On May 20, a new triangle will appear with Mars, Venus and Mercury forming the vertices.

Did you see them? Send us your images!

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Filed under: Mars • Mercury • Space
Four planets will cluster together next week
Jupiter (seen here) will hang low in the sky, along with Venus, Mars and Mercury, on Tuesday.
May 6th, 2011
07:24 PM ET

Four planets will cluster together next week

Four planets will huddle close together, visible to the naked eye, in the predawn sky next week, according to the editors of StarDate magazine.

"The best view is from the southern states because the path the planets follow across the sky (the ecliptic) stands at a little higher angle relative to the horizon," the magazine's editors said.

"Peak streak" time arrives for meteor showers

Venus and Jupiter will be easy to spot hanging low in the east as dawn brightens on May 10. They are the brightest objects in the night sky after the Moon. Venus, the brighter of the two, will be to the right of Jupiter.

Mercury will be visible to the lower right of Venus, about the same distance from Venus to Jupiter. It won't be as bright but its proximity to Venus will help you find it. To the lower left of Jupiter you'll find Mars, which may be too low and faint to see without the aid of binoculars.

StarDate magazine is a bi-monthly publication of The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory, which houses many telescopes responsible for a wide range of astronomical research. McDonald Observatory is also pioneering the next generation of astronomical research as a founding partner of the Giant Magellan Telescope.

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Filed under: Mercury • Space
On the Radar: NFL draft, earthquake drill, space update
Auburn's Cam Newton is expected to be the first pick in Thursday's NFL draft.
April 28th, 2011
06:48 AM ET

On the Radar: NFL draft, earthquake drill, space update

NFL draft: The National Football League holds its draft of college players Thursday night, with Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton the favorite to be picked No. 1 overall by the Carolina Panthers.

In his mock draft, SI.com's Don Banks says the Panthers, who earned the top pick with a league-worst 2-14 record in 2010, would trade out of the top spot if they could, but that is unlikely.

"They will pick Newton, but they'll do so with a queasy feeling in the pit of their stomachs. They know he carries risk, but they also feel they have to roll the dice and take the quarterback who has the potential to make the biggest possible impact," he writes.

The draft comes amid an off-season of labor strife in the league. A federal judge this week ruled league owners must resume business and end a lockout of players from team facilities. Owner appeals of that ruling are ongoing.

So when their names are called at Radio City Music Hall in New York City Thursday night, the collegiate stars won't know when they might first don the uniform of their NFL team or even if there will be an NFL season in 2011.

The first round of the draft begins at 8 p.m. and can be seen on the NFL Network. Second and third rounds are Friday at 6 p.m. and the fourth through seventh rounds are Saturday at noon.

Earthquake drill: Residents of 10 states from Oklahoma to South Carolina will practice earthquake safety drills as part of the Great Central U.S. Shakeout.

Organizers say more than 3 million people will participate in the event, scheduled to begin at 10:15 a.m. local time. Participants will practice the "drop, cover and hold on" technique to protect themselves in the event of an earthquake.

Government agencies, schools and universities, hospitals and businesses in Iowa, Illinois, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky join Oklahoma and South Carolina in Thursday's event. Indiana did its drills last week.

Voyager update: NASA updates the mission of its twin Voyager spacecraft on Thursday morning.

Since their launch 33 years ago, the spacecraft have traveled 10 billion miles to the edge of our solar system and are now heading toward interstellar space.

Besides sending information on their journey back to Earth, the spacecraft carry "a collection of images and sounds from Earth as a message to possible life elsewhere in the galaxy," NASA says.

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Filed under: Earthquake • Football • Natural Disasters • Pro football • Solar System • Space • Sports
Study: Bacteria thrive in 400,000 times Earth's gravity
Biologist Shigeru Deguchi suggests there may be microbrial life that could survive an ultra-dense neutron star.
April 26th, 2011
12:01 PM ET

Study: Bacteria thrive in 400,000 times Earth's gravity

Microbial life can grow in gravity more than 400,000 times that of Earth, according to a new study detailed in National Geographic.

Biologist Shigeru Deguchi led a team that tested five species of bacteria by subjecting them to intense gravity conditions, called "hypergravity." The species continued to multiply despite being spun in a machine that replicated pressure 400,000 times that of Earth's gravity.

Shigeru, in an e-mail to CNN Tuesday, said the findings suggest that there might be life forms - microbial in size - that could withstand even more weight.

"We tested only five microbes in this study. Because the list of microbes is very short, we anticipate that further accumulation of experimental data on various microorganisms may result in discoveries of previously undescribed species that expand the range of habitable gravities even more," he said.


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Filed under: Solar System • Space
Gotta Watch: Space spectacular
April 12th, 2011
10:48 AM ET

Gotta Watch: Space spectacular

These videos are sure to put you in a spacey mood. Today's Gotta Watch recognizes the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight. Be it jamming out with a rock legend from above the atmosphere or watching 133 shuttle launches in 133 seconds, these videos should feed your need speed and expand your knowledge of the cosmos.

Man's first space flight – It was an amazing feat, and in the battle that was the space race, the former Soviet Union landed a powerful punch when it successfully launched the first manned space flight. Watch cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin make the first-ever orbit of Earth and ignite the race to the first moon landing.

[cnn-video url="http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2011/04/12/chance.russia.space.gargarin.cnn"%5D

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Filed under: Gotta Watch • Science • Shuttle • Solar System • Space • Technology
Reporters get first in-person look at new Mars rover
Reporters on Monday got to see the laboratory where engineers and scientists have been preparing the "Curiosity" Mars rover.
April 4th, 2011
09:31 PM ET

Reporters get first in-person look at new Mars rover

Reporters put on "bunny suits" before visiting the new rover.

NASA's next Mars rover, "Curiosity," was unveiled to reporters Monday at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, California.

"Curiosity" is about the size of a Mini Cooper and weighs about 2,000 pounds.  It has six 20-inch wheels and is far bigger than its predecessors "Spirit" and "Opportunity." It also is equipped with a drill that will be looking at "interesting rocks" in hopes of finding hydrocarbons or any signs that life could have existed at any time on the red planet.

It is set to be launched from Florida in late November, and will take about 10 months to travel to Mars.  Scientists hope to gather information from the mission for at least two years.

Getting to see the rover up close meant going through a "clean entry," which meant reporters had to wipe down all equipment and don a "bunny suit," efforts to prevent "earthly contaminants" from attaching to the rover.  The suit included a shower cap-type cover for your head, booties to cover your shoes, a hood that covered your neck and snapped under your chin, a mask that hooked onto your ears and another pair of boots that came just to your knees and gloves.

Next was an air shower, and then a quick walk on some tacky paper to catch the last bit of whatever off the bottom of your shoes.

The rover was named in 2009 by Clara Ma, then a 12-year-old student from Lenexa, Kansas, who submitted the winning essay in a nationwide naming contest.  For her prize, she was flown to the Jet Propulsion Laboratories, where she not only got to see the rover, but also got to sign the bottom of it.  She also has been invited to watch the launch in Florida.

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Spacecraft enters Mercury orbit, NASA says
March 17th, 2011
11:01 PM ET

Spacecraft enters Mercury orbit, NASA says

NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft on Thursday night became the first to achieve orbit around Mercury, the space agency announced.

Engineers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory confirmed MESSENGER achieved orbit at 9:10 p.m. ET, NASA said.

Aboard the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging spacecraft are seven science instruments, fortified against the intense heat and cold near the solar system's innermost planet. They will retrieve data on Mercury's geochemistry, geophysics, geologic history, atmosphere, magnetosphere and plasma environment, according to NASA.

According to National Geographic, temperatures on Mercury's surface can reach 800 degrees Fahrenheit (430 Celsius). Because the planet has no atmosphere to retain that heat, nighttime temperatures can drop to minus 280 degrees (minus 170 degrees Celsius).

The instruments will be turned on and checked out beginning March 23 and, on April 4, the primary science phase of the mission will begin, NASA said in a statement.

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