After almost two weeks of speculation, it has been announced in Nature: At a distance of 1.295 parsecs, the red dwarf Proxima Centauri is the Sun’s closest stellar neighbor and one of the best-studied low-mass stars. Here we report observations that reveal the presence of a small planet with a minimum mass of about 1.3 Earth masses orbiting Proxima with a period of approximately 11.2 days at a semi-major-axis distance of around 0.05 astronomical units. Its equilibrium temperature is within the range where water could be liquid on its surface. (paywalled article w/ abstract) [more inside]
European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst captured this photograph from the International Space Station and tweeted "Words can't describe how it feels flying through an #aurora. I wouldn't even know where to begin..." Not many can share his experience, but photographer Paul Williams captured an aurora while on a flight from London to New York (stills on Flickr). NASA's Science News has an article on Flying Through a Geomagnetic Storm, with information on how auroras are formed, and a bit more on what it's like to fly through them, with an accompanying video (previously).
The European Space Agency will be launching the Gaia Mission on December 12 It's mission? To get high res pics of 100 billion stars. But that is only the beginning of the coolness of the Gaia mission. It will have two telescopes projecting onto a single camera's CCD. The heat shield that protects the instruments will also generate power for the telescope. And it's destination is L2. But is that an American billion or a European billion? What? I don't know that! ...ahhh!
The European Space Agency's Huygens probe successfully detached from NASA's Cassini orbiter today to begin a three-week journey to Saturn's moon Titan. NASA's Deep Space Network tracking stations in Madrid, Spain, and Goldstone, Calif., received the signal at 7:24 p.m. (PST). All systems performed as expected and there were no problems reported with the Cassini spacecraft. There was a very real probability it would have never have happened if it weren't for the persistence of a swedish engineer.
Mars Express Image Browser The European Space Agency's Mars Express site has been linked before, but this neat little flash globe lets you rotate the planet yourself and select various viewpoints for more detailed pictures of the surface. Some of the pictures are stunning, others just don't look real.
The European Space Agency's Mars Express blasted off from Russia's Baikonur base today carrying the British-built Beagle 2 space probe atop a modified version of Russia's Soyuz rocket (a modified ICBM) tasked with finding water and life on Mars. Will it overcome the curse of Mars? Of 30 missions to Mars, 8 have gone as planed, a %74 Martian mission failure rate.