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Top Space Stories of the Week!

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(Image: © Sorbonne University/Etienne Pauthenet)

 Elephant seals helped a NASA scientist learn about Earth's oceans, a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule launched towards the International Space Station and scientists get their best look yet at a comet outburst. These are just some of the top stories this week from  

 First-known case of a white dwarf orbited by a planet. 

(Image credit: University of Warwick/Mark Garlick)

Astronomers found the first-known case of an exoplanet orbiting a white dwarf, which is described in new research published Wednesday (Dec. 4). A white dwarf is a superdense stellar corpse; it's the type of celestial body that the sun and many other stars will end up turning into when they reach the end of their nuclear-fusion lives. The white dwarf and Neptune-sized exoplanet from the new study are located a little over 2,000 light-years from Earth. 

Full Story: Evidence of an Alien Planet Spotted Around a White Dwarf, a Cosmic First 

 Astronauts perform the third spacewalk to repair Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. 

(Image credit: NASA)


Astronaut Andrew Morgan of NASA and astronaut Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency completed the third of a series of four challenging spacewalks to fix a cosmic ray detector. Together, these space-station crewmembers successfully transplanted a new coolant pump system for the $2 billion experiment, which was installed eight years ago to search for enigmatic "dark matter" and "dark energy."

Full Story: Spacewalkers Splice in New Pumps to Repair $2B Cosmic Ray Detector 

 Black hole has an unexpectedly huge mass for its neighborhood.  

(Image credit: YU Jingchuan, Beijing Planetarium, 2019)


A newly-spotted black hole in our galaxy is too large for modern theories to handle, according to researchers in a paper published Nov. 27. According to black hole models, the largest black hole in the Milky Way should not be more than 25 times the mass of the sun. Located 13,800 light-years from Earth, this newfound black hole appears to be 68 solar masses. 

Full Story: This Newfound Monster Black Hole Is Too Big for Theories to Handle

See Also: A Black Hole Is Boosting Star Birth in Multiple Galaxies from Trillions of Miles Away 

 SpaceX Dragon launches on cargo mission to space station. 

(Image credit: SpaceX)


On Thursday (Dec. 5), a SpaceX Dragon cargo spaceship launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This marked the third mission for this particular Dragon capsule, which made its first trip to the International Space Station in 2014, and its second delivery in 2017. The Falcon 9 descended back to Earth after the launch, and landed on a drone ship off the Florida coast. 

Full Story: SpaceX Launches Dragon Cargo Ship to Space Station for NASA, Sticks Rocket Landing

See Also: New, Emotionally Intelligent Robot CIMON 2 Heads to Space Station 

Parker Solar Probe offers illuminating insight about the sun. 

(Image credit: Steve Gribben/NASA/Johns Hopkins APL)


In four new papers, researchers discuss what they've learned thanks to the instruments of NASA's sun-kissing Parker Solar Probe. The studies, which were published on Wednesday (Dec. 4), feature the data collected during the probe's first two close approaches of the sun, on November 2018 and April 2019. As the mission's path around the sun shrinks, these close encounters will become more frequent. 

Full Story: NASA's Sun-Kissing Parker Solar Probe Is Lifting the Veil on Our Closest Star

See Also: 'Wow.' Astrophysicist Eugene Parker Reacts to Namesake Sun Probe's 1st Science Results (Video) 

 Rare minimoon flew over Australia. 

(Image credit: NASA/Robert P. Moreno Jr)


A group of researchers think a fireball that cascaded over the Australian desert may have been a minimoon. These ultra-rare bodies orbit Earth for a short period of time before hurling back out into space or, like what may have happened in this case, are pulled into the planet's atmosphere and break apart. This is only the second observation of a minimoon fireball.

Full Story: Scientists Spot Rare Minimoon Fireball Over Australia 

 Best look at a comet outburst yet.  

(Image credit: Farnham et al./NASA)


Occasionally a comet will blast off material that causes the icy body to appear brighter. Recently, scientists caught their best-ever look at a comet outburst. The observations came from NASA's alien planet-hunting TESS mission, short for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). In a paper published Nov. 22, scientists estimate that the comet spewed out about 2.2 million lbs (1 million kilograms) of material. 

Full Story: NASA Planet-Hunting Telescope Spots Massive Burp from a Comet 

 ESA makes plans for the next decade.  

(Image credit: ESA - S. Corvaja)


On Nov. 27 and 28, the European Space Agency's (ESA) 22 member states gathered in Seville, Spain to approve programs for the upcoming decade. The agency currently has their largest budget ever at just under $16 billion. Some of the programs for the 2020s include a space-based gravitational-wave detector, a new reusable spaceship and a continued commitment to the International Space Station. 

Full Story: ESA Gets Its Biggest Budget Ever, Supports Reusable Spaceship and ISS Extension

See Also: Europe Officially Signs on for Asteroid-Smashing Effort 

 Hats on elephant seals are helping us predict climate change. 

(Image credit: Sorbonne University/Etienne Pauthenet)


A paper published Monday (Dec. 2) describes how a NASA scientist gathered data from headpieces placed on elephant seals, all in an effort to better understand how oceans and their currents store energy on a warming planet. These bodies of water are buffering the impact of human carbon emissions on climate, so scientists need to pay special attention to how heat moves through the ocean to make accurate predictions. 

Full Story: NASA's New Climate Science Recruits Are Elephant Seals with Fancy Hats 

 Puzzling craters on Ryugu. 

(Image credit: JAXA)


The team from the Japanese Hayabusa2 mission to asteroid Ryugu identified 77 craters scattered across the space rock's surface, and their uneven distribution was a surprise to researchers. The scientists hope that when they analyze the samples from Ryugu, which are now on their way back to Earth and slated to arrive at the end of 2020, they can develop a deeper understanding about the asteroid's evolution and why it looks the way it does.

Full Story: There's Something Weird About the Craters of Asteroid Ryugu 

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