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James Webb Space Telescope takes a giant step

It’ll have 7 times the collecting area of Hubble, and it’s scheduled for launch in 2018. James Webb Space Telescope … and more on this episode of EarthSky News. All the news you can fit into outer space LIVE on Slooh.com Mondays and Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. ET (1530 UTC). Or watch right here!

Happy Chinese New Year 2016!

Image via Science for All.

2016 is the Year of the Monkey. Image via science-all.com.

Over a billion people in China and millions around the world are celebrating the the Chinese New Year – the most important of Chinese holidays – this week. It’s a lunar new year and so the date is based on the date of new moon. The official start date this year is February 8, 2016, but the party started Sunday in Asia, with festivities continuing for 15 days.

Pluto has mysterious, floating hills

View larger. | Hills of water ice on Pluto ‘float’ in a sea of frozen nitrogen and move over time like icebergs in Earth’s Arctic Ocean—another example of Pluto’s fascinating geological activity. Image via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

Hills of water ice on Pluto ‘float’ in a sea of frozen nitrogen. They’re thought to move slowly over time, somewhat like icebergs in Earth’s Arctic Ocean. For the scale here, notice the feature informally named Challenger Colles – honoring the crew of the lost Space Shuttle Challenger. It appears to be an especially large accumulation of these hills, measuring 37 by 22 miles (60 by 35 km). Image via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

Just when you think Pluto couldn’t get any more fascinating, it does. NASA said on February 4, 2016 that numerous, isolated hills – possibly fragments of water ice from Pluto’s surrounding uplands – are floating on the nitrogen ice glaciers on the little world’s surface.

How far is Betelgeuse?

 Betelgeuse imaged in ultraviolet light by the Hubble Space Telescope and subsequently enhanced by NASA. The bright white spot is likely one of this star's poles. Image via NASA/ESA.

Betelgeuse imaged in ultraviolet light by the Hubble Space Telescope. Image via NASA/ESA.

Finding star distances isn’t easy. Here’s how it’s done, and why astronomers recently modified the distance estimate to the famous star Betelgeuse.

Violent, head-on crash created moon

On this episode of EarthSky News, an update on the idea that the early Earth collided with a Mars-sized proto-planet to make the moon. That and more. Join us.

Is our Milky Way galaxy a zombie?

View larger. | Milky Way over Morocco, by Besancon Arnaud.  Visit his website.

View larger. | Milky Way over Morocco, by Besancon Arnaud. Visit his website.

Like a zombie, the Milky Way galaxy may already be dead but it still keeps going. Our galactic neighbor Andromeda almost certainly expired a few billion years ago, but only recently started showing outward signs of its demise. Why do galaxies stop forming stars, change their shape and fade away?

This date in science: Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto

Clyde W. Tombaugh at his family's farm with his homemade telescope in 1928, two years before his discovery of Pluto.  Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Clyde W. Tombaugh at his family’s farm with his homemade telescope in 1928, two years before his discovery of Pluto. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

How close for asteroid 2013 TX68?

Artist's concept of an asteroid approaching Earth.

Artist’s concept of an asteroid approaching Earth.

Asteroid 2013 TX68 is a small asteroid with an uncertain trajectory that will pass close to Earth on March 5, 2016. Although the distance of its pass is not precisely known at this time, scientists say they will soon precisely define its orbit. It could fly past Earth as far away as 9 million miles (14 million km) or as close as 11,000 miles (17,000 km). For comparison, the moon’s distance is about a quarter-million miles.

The politico-economics of King Corn

Image via University of Minnesota

Image via University of Minnesota.

Saturn ring density is an illusion

Saturn, via the Cassini spacecraft.

Saturn and its rings, via the orbiting Cassini spacecraft.

Saturn’s rings look solid through telescopes and for, hundreds of years, many thought they were solid. But the solidity of Saturn’s rings turned out to be an illusion. Now researchers have discovered another optical illusion related to Saturn’s rings. New results show that the denser-looking areas in the rings don’t necessarily contain more material.