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NASA finds 'lost' lunar spacecraft orbiting moon nearly a decade after it disappeared

Nearly a decade after scientists lost contact with the first unmanned Indian lunar spacecraft to shoot into space, NASA scientists said the spacecraft has been found.

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The Indian Space Research Organization launched Chandrayaan-1 in October 2008 for "chemical, mineralogical and photo-geologic mapping of the Moon," according to The Indian Express. Less than a year later, researchers said they lost contact with the spacecraft.

But on Thursday, NASA scientists announced that they found Chandrayaan-1 and NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter 237,000 miles above the Earth's surface while scanning the lunar poles.

"Finding (the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) was relatively easy, as we were working with the mission's navigators and had precise orbit data where it was located," Maria Brozovic, a radar scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said in a NASA report. "Finding India's Chandrayaan-1 required a bit more detective work because the last contact with the spacecraft was in August of 2009."

The Indian spacecraft, which is small at about half the size of a smart car, was found using existing interplanetary radar technology.

"Although the interplanetary radar has been used to observe small asteroids several million miles from Earth, researchers were not certain that an object of this smaller size as far away as the moon could be detected, even with the world's most powerful radars," NASA said in its report. "Chandrayaan-1 proved the perfect target for demonstrating the capability of this technique."

Scientists said the discovery could be pivotal to planning future moon missions.

The large radar antennas at NASA's Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia working in tandem might be used to detect and track "even small spacecraft in lunar orbit," scientists said.

Meanwhile, NASA researchers said, "Ground-based radars could possibly play a part in future robotic and human missions to the moon, both for a collisional hazard assessment tool and as a safety mechanism for spacecraft that encounter navigation or communication issues."

Stephen Hawking: People must control aggression or face humanity's demise

While physicist Stephen Hawking is optimistic about the future, he warned in an interview published Tuesday that, with the pace of technological advancement, humans must gain control over their aggressive instincts in order to survive.

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The famed English scientist told The Times that the issue lies in the instincts humanity has honed to survive so far.

"Since civilization began, aggression has been useful inasmuch as it has definite survival advantages," he told the British newspaper. "It is hard-wired into our genes by Darwinian evolution. Now, however, technology has advanced at such a pace that this aggression may destroy us all by nuclear or biological war. We need to control this inherited instinct by our logic and reason."

>> Related: Stephen Hawking: Be wary of answering if space aliens come calling

He suggested that the creation of a world government might be necessary to ensure that humanity is addressing high-impact challenges, such as climate change and the rise of artificial intelligence.

"We need to be quicker to identify such threats and act before they get out of control. This might mean some form of world government," Hawking said. "But that might become a tyranny."

It's not the first time that Hawking has said that humanity needs to be aware and cautious to ensure the survival of our species. Last year, he predicted that humanity would see a catastrophic disaster within the next 1,000 years that could ultimately lead to our demise if we fail to establish colonies on other planets.

He warned in a 2015 Ask Me Anything segment on Reddit that artificial intelligence could one day surpass human intelligence "by more than ours exceeds that of snails."

"All this may sound a bit doom-laden but I am an optimist," Hawking told The Times. "I think the human race will rise to meet these challenges."

Asteroid passes inside Earth’s satellite ring, ’20 times closer than moon’

A small asteroid passed so close to the Earth on Thursday, at one, point, it was 20 times closer than the moon, NASA said.

The space rock was detected by astronomers at the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona just six hours before its closest approach to Earth.

>> Read more trending news  

The space rock, named 2017 EA, measured about 10 feet across and streaked safely through Earth’s atmosphere without incident, making its closest approach at 6:04 am Pacific Standard Time at an altitude of 9,000 miles above the Pacific Ocean, the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) said on its website.

Ground-based telescopes can no longer see the asteroid, but astronomers can now accurately track 2017 EA. It won’t approach Earth for at least a hundred years, according to CNEOS.

Tanning beds costing millions in U.S. medical bills, study finds

The rosy glow of indoor tanning pales in comparison to the millions of dollars in medical costs associated with tanning beds.

A new study, published in the Journal of Cancer Policy, found that tanning beds caused more than 250,000 cases of skin cancer and 1,200 deaths in 2015, at a cost of more than $340 million in medical bills.

>> Read more trending news  

“The use of tanning devices is a significant contributor to illness and premature mortality in the U.S., and also represents a major economic burden in terms of the costs of medical care and lost productivity,” researchers from the University of North Carolina concluded.

Previous studies have found significant health risks in the use of tanning beds because they emit UV-A and UV-B rays, which have been linked to cell damage, including DNA mutations and skin cancers.

>> Got a question about the news? See our explainers here 

Scientists called indoor tanning “a public health hazard in the United States,” estimating that some 30 million people use tanning devices at least once a year and an estimated 35 percent of adults in the U.S. have used the devices.

A 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found some 13 percent of students in the 9th through the 12th grades used a tanning bed at least once a year, too.

Ultimately researchers said they hoped information in this study and others like it will help reduce the use of tanning beds.

Millions at risk from earthquakes related to gas and oil industries, USGS warns

More than 3 million people in the central United States, the majority in Kansas and Oklahoma, are at risk for human-induced earthquakes this year, the U.S. Geological Survey warned in a new report released Wednesday.

Combined with people at risk for ground-shaking hazards from natural quakes in the same region, the numbers of those in potential quake zones is around 4 million, the USGS said.

>> Read more trending news 

 Residents in these areas face a significant chance of property damage from induced seismic activity in 2017, the report said.

“The good news is that the overall seismic hazard for this year is lower than in the 2016 forecast, but despite this decrease, there is still a significant likelihood for damaging ground shaking in the CEUS  (central U.S.) in the year ahead,” said Mark Petersen, the chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project.

This year’s forecast is lower than last year because there were fewer significant quakes in 2016 than 2015.

“This may be due to a decrease in wastewater injection resulting from regulatory actions and/or from a decrease in oil and gas production due to lower prices,” the USGS report said.

Some scientists say the quakes result from fracking, which includes a process of collecting wastewater and using high pressure to inject it into deep underground wells, which can ultimately cause dormant faults to shift, according to the USGS.

>> Got a question about the news? See our explainers here 

“The forecast for induced and natural earthquakes in 2017 is hundreds of times higher than before induced seismicity rates rapidly increased around 2008,” Petersen said.

“Millions still face a significant chance of experiencing damaging earthquakes, and this could increase or decrease with industry practices, which are difficult to anticipate.”

This is only the second year that the USGS annual earthquake risk maps have included human-induced quakes. Previous maps only identified hazards from natural earthquakes.

Lego set to honor women of NASA, including Katherine Johnson of 'Hidden Figures'

Lego fans, we have liftoff.

The Denmark-based toy maker announced Tuesday that it will release a fan-designed Women of NASA set featuring minifigures of mathematician Katherine Johnson – whose story was told in the Academy Award-nominated film "Hidden Figures" – and four other trailblazers.

>> Read more trending news

Everything is AWESOME! @LegoNASAWomen has been approved by #LEGO and will soon be available in stores!!! https://t.co/jCqq6ce9FM pic.twitter.com/Yj2ZOOiS1h— Lego NASA Women (@LegoNASAWomen) February 28, 2017

Science editor and writer Maia Weinstock submitted the set to the Lego Ideas competition "to celebrate accomplished women in the STEM professions," a Lego Ideas spokeswoman said in a video.

"We're really excited to be able to introduce Maia's Women of NASA set for its inspirational value as well as build-and-play experience," the spokeswoman said.

>> Watch the video here

According to its project description page, the set also features minifigures of Sally Ride, America's first woman in space; Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space; computer scientist Margaret Hamilton; and astronomer Nancy Grace Roman.

Lego said it is still working on the set's design and will have more details about pricing and availability later this year or early next year.

Read more here.

Risks of smoking-related lung disease lowered by fruits, veggies, study says

Past and current smokers can lower the risks of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD., by eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

Swedish researchers studied 44,000 men between the ages of 45 and 79 over a 13-year period. About one in four were current smokers and almost two-thirds were former smokers.

>> Read more trending news  

The research, published in the Thorax, found just over 1,900 new cases of COPD during the study period. Current and former smokers, who ate more than five servings of fruits and vegetables every day were 40 percent and 34 percent less likely to develop the lung disease, respectively. For each additional serving above five, researchers discovered a 4 percent lower risk of COPD in former smokers and an eight percent reduction in risk in current smokers.

Scientists did not see any benefit in eating lots of fruits and vegetables in reduction of COPD risks for non-smokers.

>> Got a question about the news? See our explainers here  

 Researchers believe it’s the anti-oxidants in fruits and vegetables that could help curb or reduce the harmful effects of smoking.

Chronic lower respiratory disease, primarily COPD, was the third leading cause of death in the U.S in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost 16 million Americans reported being diagnosed with the lung disease.

Bees create buzz by learning to play golf

Bumblebees playing an improvised game of golf are creating quite a buzz among scientists.

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The bees have learned to push a ball into a hole to receive a reward, New Scientist reported.

Scientists know that bees can learn to pull a string to reach an artificial flower containing sugar solution. Bees sometimes have to pull parts of flowers to access nectar, so this isn’t a difficult concept to learn. So Olli Loukola at London’s Queen Mary University tried a more complex task.

Loukola wanted to see if bees could learn to move an object that was not attached to a reward, New Scientist reported. His team built a circular platform with a small hole in the center that was filled with a sugar solution. A researcher showed the bees how to “putt” a ball across the “green,” using a plastic bee on a stick that demonstrated how to move the round object.

The researchers trained three groups  bees differently, New Scientist reported. One group watched a previously trained bee solving the task; another was shown the ball moving into the hole, pulled by a hidden magnet; and a third group was given no demonstration, but was shown the ball already in the hole containing the reward.

The researchers then let the bees do the task on their own. The bees that watched others move the ball were the most successful and took less time to solve the task. Bees that saw the magnetic demonstration also were more successful than those that did not view it.

When the bees were trained with three balls placed at different distances from the hole, most of the successful bees moved the one closest to the hole. This showed that they were able to make generalizations to solve the task more easily, rather than copying exactly what they had seen, New Scientist reported. They also succeeded when faced with a black ball after being trained with a yellow one, showing they weren’t just attracted to the specific color.

“They don’t just blindly copy the demonstrator; they can improve on what they learned,” Loukola said. He thinks this cognitive flexibility could help the bees forage successfully in changing natural environments. “This ability to copy others and improve upon what they observe, I think that’s really important.”

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Space travel is measured in light years, but what's a light year anyway?

Stars and galaxies in outer space are just so far away, it’s hard to comprehend the staggering distances.

Scientists have come up with ways to measure space distance that are easier to understand.

A light year is one of those space measurements and is similar to how a mile or kilometer measures distance on Earth. Distances in space are so vast, though, that a mile or a kilometer is just too small a number to be useful, because of the huge numbers involved in space travel. Light years work better.

A light year is measured by the time it takes a ray of light to travel a given distance.

While a light year has nothing to do with time as we know it on Earth, it does measure the distance that light travels, or the time it takes the light to move in one year, according to NASA.

>> Read more trending news  

Since light moves at about 186,000 miles or about 300,000 kilometers a second, it can travel almost 6 trillion miles or about 10 trillion kilometers in a year.

If people could travel at the speed of light, they would be able to circle the Earth more than seven times in just a second.

In one second, light travels a distance of one light second, and in a year, light travels a distance of one light year.

Related: Nasa finds 7 'Earth-sized planets' orbiting star just 40 light years away

The moon is a little over one light second from Earth, meaning it would take a beam of light on Earth a little more than a second to reach the moon. The sun, which is 93 million miles from earth, is measured in light minutes and is some eight light minutes away.

Mars is under 25 light minutes from Earth, depending on its orbit around the sun, and the other planets in the solar system are several light hours from Earth.

The Milky Way galaxy, for example, measures about 150,000 light years across. The Andromeda galaxy, the nearest large galaxy, is more than 2 million light years away.

How long does it take to travel a light year? Here’s an example. The next closest star after the sun, is called Proxima Centauri. It is just over 4 light years away. If a spacecraft were traveling 38,000 miles per hour, it would still take 80,000 years to reach the star, according to the University of Virginia Physics Department.

Scientists find 7 'Earth-sized planets' orbiting star 40 light-years away, NASA says

Forthy light-years from Earth, scientists have discovered seven "Earth-sized planets" in the largest-ever cache of planets found around a single star outside of our solar system.

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"The discovery gives us a hint that finding a second Earth is not just a matter of if, but when," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. "You can just imagine how many worlds are out there that have a shot at becoming a habitable ecosystem that we can explore."

Three of the newly discovered planets are in what's known as the habitable zone, the area around a star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water, according to NASA. The Hubble Space Telescope has started to scan four of the planets, including the three found in the habitable zone.

New record! We've found 7 Earth-sized planets around a single star outside our solar system; 3 in habitable zone: https://t.co/GgBy5QOTpK pic.twitter.com/NEavRSXDU2— NASA (@NASA) February 22, 2017

The planets were found by astronomers using ground and space telescopes around an ultracool, red dwarf star named TRAPPIST-1, according to the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO).

The findings were published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature. The paper's lead author, astronomer Michael Gillon, described the planets as "the seven wonders of TRAPPIST-1."

"The energy output from dwarf stars like TRAPPIST-1 is much weaker than that of our sun," said Amaury Triaud, one of the co-authors of the Nature paper. "Planets would need to be in far closer orbits than we see in the solar system if there is to be surface water. Fortunately, it seems that this kind of compact configuration is just what we see around TRAPPIST-1."

Scientists characterized the discovery as a significant leap in the search for alien life during a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.

"Answering the question, 'Are we alone?' is a top science priority, and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal," Zurbuchen said.

The planets were spotted when scientists noticed dips in TRAPPIST-1's light output, according to ESO. The discovery was made using Spitzer, an infrared telescope that trails Earth as it orbits the sun, NASA officials said.

Astronomers determined that the dips were caused by the planets as they passed between the star and Spitzer.

The planets have been temporarily named with letters, TRAPPIST-1b through TRAPPIST-1h, in order of increasing distance from their parent star.

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