astronomy

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NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced Friday that the agency has approved a new infrared space telescope in the effort to help advance planetary defense efforts.

The Near-Earth Object Surveyor space telescope (NEO Surveyor) will move to the next phase of mission development at JPL after a successful review that moved the mission forward into preliminary design.

The NEO Surveyor was proposed to aid NASA's ability to both discover and characterize near-earth objects, like the "potentially hazardous" asteroid 2021 KT1.

KT1, the size of Seattle's Space Needle, recently hurtled past Earth at a distance of approximately 4.5 million miles and a velocity of 40,000 mph.

According to NASA, a near-Earth object is an asteroid or comet that approaches within 1.3 astronomical units of the sun.

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Exoplanet discoveries used to be nothing but a dream for scientists, but new telescope technology and more advanced observation techniques have made the task of finding planets outside of our solar system easier than ever. In fact, so many new exoplanets are being found these days that scientists have to pick and choose which ones are most in need of study since there simply aren’t enough eyes to go around.

Now, a massive international team of astronomers and other scientists have revealed the discovery of a particularly interesting exoplanet that is sure to get a lot of attention. It’s called TOI-1231b, and it orbits a star much cooler than our own Sun. The star, named NLTT 24399, is a red dwarf, so despite TOI-1231b being much closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun, the planet is actually similar in temperature, and it is thought to have a robust atmosphere that warrants future study.

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Complex carbon-bearing molecules that could help explain how life got started have been identified in space for the first time.

These molecules, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, consist of several linked hexagonal rings of carbon with hydrogen atoms at the edges. Astronomers have suspected for decades that these molecules are abundant in space, but none had been directly spotted before.

Simpler molecules with a single ring of carbon have been seen before. But “we’re now excited to see that we’re able to detect these larger PAHs for the first time in space,” says astrochemist Brett McGuire of MIT, whose team reports the discovery in the March 19 Science.

Studying these molecules and others like them could help scientists understand how the chemical precursors to life might get started in space. “Carbon is such a fundamental part of chemical reactions, especially reactions leading to life’s essential molecules,” McGuire says. “This is our window into a huge reservoir of them.”

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