Volume: 05, Issue: 07 12/13/2006 
STS-116 Discovery night launch. Image credit: NASA.
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Artist's concept of Deep Impact. Image credit: NASA.
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This illustration compares the size of a gargantuan star and its surrounding dusty disk (top) to that of our solar system. Artist's Concept: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
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Other Articles in This Issue:
NASA Discovery Mission STS-116
NASA Images Suggest Water Still Flows in Brief Spurts on Mars
NASA Unveils Its Global Exploration Strategy and Lunar Architecture
Space Exhibits to Visit While on Winter Break

2006: The Year in Space

From 10 to one, we are counting down the most fascinating space news events from the past year. It has been an exciting year filled with many accomplishments and discoveries. We look forward to continuing to spread the news by sharing the exciting developments and achievements 2007 is yet to bring.

10. NASA's Spitzer Uncovers Hints of Mega Solar Systems
NASA's Spitzer space telescope has identified two huge "hypergiant" stars circled by monstrous disks of what might be planet-forming dust. The findings surprised astronomers because stars as big as these were thought to be inhospitable to planets. Dusty disks around stars are thought to be signposts for present or future planetary systems. Our own sun is orbited by a thin disk of planetary debris, called the Kuiper Belt, which includes dust, comets and larger bodies similar to Pluto.

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9. NASA Finds Saturn's Moons May be Creating New Rings
An observation by the Cassini spacecraft leads scientists to believe they will find the moons near newly discovered rings around the planet. With the sun poised behind Saturn, the scientists discovered two new rings and confirmed the presence of two others. The new rings are associated with one or more small moons and share their orbits with the moons, and scientists suspect a moon is lurking near a third ring. Under the cover of Saturn's shadow in mid-September, the entire ring system became visible, and never-before-seen microscopic particles began to appear.

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8. NASA Achieves Breakthrough in Black Hole Simulation
NASA scientists have reached a breakthrough in computer modeling that allows them to simulate what gravitational waves from merging black holes look like. The three-dimensional simulations, the largest astrophysical calculations ever performed on a NASA supercomputer, provide the foundation to explore the universe in an entirely new way.

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7. Deep Impact Team Reports First Evidence of Cometary Ice
Comet Tempel 1 was covered with a small amount of water ice. Those results, reported by members of NASA’s Deep Impact team, offer the first definitive evidence of surface ice on any comet. it appears that the surface ice used to be inside Tempel 1, but became exposed over time. The team reports that jets – occasional blasts of dust and vapor – may send this surface ice, as well as interior ice, to the coma, or tail, of Tempel 1.

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6. NASA's Pluto Mission Launched
The first mission to Pluto is under way after the successful launch on January 19, of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. New Horizons is the first mission in NASA's New Frontiers Program of medium-class spacecraft exploration projects. New Horizons will zip past Jupiter for a gravity assist and science studies in February 2007, and conduct the first close-up, in-depth study of Pluto and its moons in summer 2015.

For more information, please visit the following website:

5. NASA Unveils Its Global Exploration Strategy and Lunar Architecture Proposal
On December 4, 2006, NASA unveiled the initial elements of the Global Exploration Strategy and a proposed U.S. lunar architecture, two critical tools for achieving the nation's vision of returning humans to the moon. The Global Exploration Strategy focuses on two overarching issues: Why we are returning to the moon and what we plan to do when we get there.

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4. NASA Approves Mission and Names Crew for Return to Hubble
Shuttle astronauts will make one final house call to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope as part of a mission to extend and improve the observatory's capabilities through 2013. The Hubble servicing mission is an 11-day flight. Following launch, the shuttle will rendezvous with the telescope on the third day of the flight. Using the shuttle's mechanical arm, the telescope will be placed on a work platform in the cargo bay. Five separate space walks will be needed to accomplish all of the mission objectives.

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3. Water on Mars
NASA photographs have revealed bright new deposits in two gullies on Mars that suggest water carried sediment through them sometime during the past seven years. Liquid water, as opposed to the water ice and water vapor known to exist at Mars, is considered necessary for life. The new findings heighten intrigue about the potential for microbial life on Mars.

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2. Three Successful NASA Space Shuttle Missions
For the first time since 2002, NASA has had three successful space shuttle missions over the course this year. STS-121, STS-115, and STS-116 (assuming a safe return to Earth) each completed their assigned tasks. STS-121 was the second return to flight mission, demonstrating techniques for inspecting and protecting the shuttle's thermal protection system and replacing critical hardware needed for future International Space Station (ISS) assembly. STS-115 resumed the assembly of the ISS after a hiatus of four years. STS-116 focused on rewiring the ISS.

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1. Pluto No Longer a Planet
In August the International Astronomical Union resolved one of the most highly-debated topics in the cosmos by approving a specific definition that gives our solar system eight planets, instead of nine. Pluto is now re-assigned to a new category of celestial objects, called "dwarf planets."
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