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First space dockings: US Gemini 8, March 16, 1966; Russia Cosmos 186, Oct. 30, 1967; China Shenzhou 8, Nov. 4, 2011

the Long March rocket carrying the unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou 8 blasts off from the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre

China first orbital docking: Tiangong-1 spacecraft and Chinese Space Station

The Agena Target Vehicle as seen from the Gemini 8 spacecraft during rendezvous. This was the first time two spacecraft successfully docked, which was a critical milestone if a mission to the Moon was to become a reality.

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China has joined two space vehicles together in orbit for the first time. The unmanned Shenzhou 8 craft made contact with the Tiangong-1 space lab at 1729 GMT.

[2 November 2011] The unmanned Shenzhou 8 craft, launched earlier this week, made contact with the Tiangong-1 space lab at 1729 GMT. The union occurred over China itself.

Being able to dock two space vehicles together is a necessary capability for China if it wants to start building a space station towards the decade's end.

Although no astronauts were in the Shenzhou craft this time, future missions will carry people.

Tuesday's procedure (Beijing time 0029, Thursday) took place at an altitude of about 340km. It was automated but overseen on the ground at the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Centre.  read more »

Youngest Planet: newborn gas giant may be up to six times the mass of Jupiter, orbiting a sunlike star 450 light-years away

An artist's conception of the youngest known planet, LkCa 15b, orbiting its parent star.

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Youngest Planet Picture: Gas Giant Seen in Throes of Creation... Baby world likely "deep red" to human eyes due to heat of formation.
A new picture of a Jupiter-like world swaddled in gas and dust is a direct image of what may be the youngest planet yet seen, astronomers report.

The newborn gas giant, dubbed LkCa 15b, orbits a sunlike star 450 light-years away in the northern constellation Taurus. The planet orbits inside a disk of material around the star that's no more than two million years old. By contrast, astronomers estimate our solar system is 4.6 billion years old.

The big baby planet may be up to six times the mass of Jupiter, according to theory-based calculations, and it appears to orbit 11 times farther from its parent star than Earth does from our sun.

The new picture was made in near-infrared light, but "the planet would probably appear a deep red to our eye, since it's still glowing from the heat of being formed," said Adam Kraus, lead study author and an astronomer at the University of Hawaii.

Separating Light From Light

Kraus and colleagues zeroed in on the young star based on previous observations that showed a conspicuous gap in the star's surrounding debris disk.

Such gaps are thought to be telltale signs that massive, newly formed planets are circling inside the disks—a protoplanet's gravity would clear away a wide swath of gas and dust as it accumulates matter.  read more »

Photo of the Day: "I think that there is probably nothing as beautiful as a full disc image of Earth..."

Full Disk Image of Earth Captured August 24, 2011
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Full Disc Image Shows Hurricane Irene (Photo of the Day)
I think that there is probably nothing as beautiful as a full disc image of Earth, though I would like it if I could find one that didn’t focus on the Americas. Either way, this most recent image was taken on August 24, 2011, by the NASA/NOAA GOES-13 satellite. In the middle of the image can be seen Hurricane Irene as it sweeps in over the Bahamas at 12 miles per hour. To the right is the far west corner of Africa, and you can just see the Antarctic Peninsula down the bottom, reaching up to try and meet the southern tip of South America.

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Images courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The space shuttle, icon of US high technology, leading mankind into space age; after 30 years, turns into victim of recession

The space shuttle Atlantis lands at the Shuttle landing facility, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, for the last time.

Final countdown: Atlantis crew Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim after returning to Earth yesterday at Kennedy Space Centre.

The space shuttle vastly expanded the scope of human activity in space.

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Atlantis landing ends 30 years of space shuttle flights
CAPE CANAVERAL - Space shuttle Atlantis touched down before dawn Thursday on Kennedy Space Center's Runway 15, ending 30 years of space shuttle flights.

"Atlantis is home," said NASA's Mission Control moments after its arrival at 5:56 a.m. ET. "Its journey complete. A moment to be savored." In its final act before beginning the long journey home, Atlantis sent a small payload into orbit.

As an era comes to a close, nearly 200 satellites, probes and spacecraft have emerged from the cargo bays of NASA's five space shuttles since the Columbia launched from Florida's Kennedy Space Center on April 12, 1981. "We really wish we could share with everybody this really cool glow," commander Chris Ferguson radioed as he and his crew entered the Earth's atmosphere in a plasma of heated air before touching down. "We're doing fantastic."  read more »

Celestial Majesty: Sun Storm, Hubble's Mystic Mountain, Big Bear's Sunspot, 1st time since 1638:Solstice+Full Moon+Lunar Eclipse

Star Death in 3-D
(quote) The hourglass shape of the supernova remnant SN 1987A isn't as well balanced as thought, according to an August picture of the exploded star... when massive stars explode, some of the ejected material gets shot into space faster than other debris.

Hubble's Mystic Mountain
A colorful, craggy column of dust and gas dubbed the Mystic Mountain stars in a picture from the Hubble Space Telescope released April 23 as part of celebrations for Hubble's 20th anniversary.

Dec 21, 2010: first time in 372 years - lunar eclipse on the same day as the Winter Solstice, and it’s full moon
On Dec 21, 2010, the total lunar eclipse falls on the same day as the winter solstice, a rare cosmic event that hasn't occurred in centuries - the last time the solstice coincided with a total lunar eclipse on the same calendar day was 1638.

Mars and a Moonbow
Mars shines like a bright red star over a "moonbow" in fog surrounding Hawaii's Haleakala volcano in January. Mars was about to make its closest pass by Earth for 2010.

Surprising Sun Storm  read more »

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