Universe Today #813 - April 1, 2004
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HOW MANY HABITABLE EARTHS ARE OUT THERE?
Apr 1, 2004 - Although more than 100 planetary systems have been discovered, astronomers have only found large, Jupiter-sized planets. The real prize will be to discover Earth-sized planets in orbits where liquid water could be present. A new simulation by a team from Open University "injected" Earth-sized planets into the habitable zone of the star systems already discovered. About half of the systems already found could have Earth-sized planets in stable orbits in the habitable zone. It will still be several years before there are instruments built that can detect them.
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ASTRONOMERS DISCOVER MINI-GALAXIES
Apr 1, 2004 - A survey with the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) has revealed dozens of miniature galaxies the nearby Fornax galaxy cluster. These are a class of galaxies known as "ultra compact dwarfs" (UCDs). These objects were completely unknown until a few years ago, and now astronomers believe that they are very common. Perhaps they are leftover primordial building blocks that merged together to form larger galaxies. They are incredibly small, only about 120 light-years across, but they can contain tens of millions of stars.
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VENUS NEAR PLEIADES FOR A FEW DAYS
Apr 1, 2004 - Venus, currently the brightest "star" in the sky, will spend the next few days passing through the Pleiades star cluster, making for a beautiful sky show. Venus is easy to see, it's that blazingly bright "star" high in the Western sky after sunset. Pleiades is much dimmer; a collection of young stars that looks like a miniature dipper that's hard to see in polluted city skies. On April 2, Venus will be right below the cluster; on April 3 it will be in the handle; and then April 4 it will have passed completely through. Find some dark skies over the next few nights to really appreciate the view - it won't happen again for another 8 years.
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NEW IMAGES OF TITAN
Apr 1, 2004 - Saturn's moon Titan is the largest in the Solar System; at 5,150 km in diameter, it's larger than Mercury and Pluto. It's unique because it has an unusual hazy atmosphere of nitrogen, methane, and hydrocarbons. The Voyager spacecraft took a quick look at Titan, but Cassini and the Huygen spacecraft will make detailed observations when they arrive later this year. Until then, huge observatories on Earth are working to gather as much information as possible about Titan. This will help give some perspective when the spacecraft arrive, and optimize the data they gather.
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