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STS-41G crew film
The October 1984 flight of space shuttle Challenger featured a diverse set of accomplishments. The Earth Radiation Budget Satellite environmental spacecraft was deployed and a planet-mapping radar was tested. The seven-person crew was led by Bob Crippen and included the first Canadian in space, Marc Garneau, and the first time two women, Sally Ride and Kathryn Sullivan, had flown aboard one flight. Sullivan and Dave Leestma also conducted a spacewalk to demonstrate techniques for refueling satellites. The crew narrates this post-flight film of STS-41G.

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STS-37 anniversary
On April 5, 1991, space shuttle Atlantis lifted off from Kennedy Space Center carrying the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory -- NASA's second Great Observatory. Launch occurred at 9:23 a.m. from pad 39B.

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Crew news conference
The combined Expedition 12 and 13 crews, along with visiting Brazilian astronaut Marcos Pontes, hold this in-flight news conference with reporters in Houston, Cape Canaveral and Moscow on April 3. The crews are handing over duties during this week-long handover before Expedition 12 returns to Earth from the space station.

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Soyuz docking
The Russian Soyuz TMA-8 spacecraft carrying the Expedition 13 resident crew successfully docks to the Zarya module of the International Space Station under automated control.

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Next station crew
Full coverage of the Expedition 13 crew's launch aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to begin a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station.

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Solar eclipse from ISS
External cameras on the International Space Station captured this incredible footage of the March 29 solar eclipse. The station flew through the eclipse over the Middle East as the moon passed in front of the sun and cast its shadow on the Earth.

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Total solar eclipse
A total solar eclipse occurred March 29. This video from Side, Turkey shows the period of totality when the moon slid between the Earth and Sun. The eclipse revealed the Sun's glowing outer halo of million-degree gas, called the solar corona.

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Dawn mission reborn
In early March, NASA cancelled its Dawn mission built to orbit two of the solar system's largest asteroids using ion engine propulsion. Technical problems and cost overruns were blamed. But in this news conference from March 27, agency officials announce NASA's decision to reverse the cancellation and restart the mission.

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Mercury's formation impact splattered Earth
Posted: April 5, 2006

New computer simulations of Mercury's formation show the fate of material blasted out into space when a large proto-planet collided with a giant asteroid 4.5 billion years ago. The simulations, which track the material over several million years, shed light on why Mercury is denser than expected and show that some of the ejected material would have found its way to the Earth and Venus.

"Mercury is an unusually dense planet, which suggests that it contains far more metal than would be expected for a planet of its size. We think that Mercury was created from a larger parent body that was involved in a catastrophic collision, but until these simulations we were not sure why so little of the planet's outer layers were reaccreted following the impact," said Dr Jonti Horner, who is presenting results at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting on 5th April.

To solve this problem, Dr Horner and his colleagues from the University of Bern ran two sets of large-scale computer simulations. The first examined the behaviour of the material in both the proto-planet and the incoming projectile; these simulations were among the most detailed to date, following a huge number of particles and realistically modelling the behaviour of different materials inside the two bodies.

At the end of the first simulations, a dense Mercury-like body remained along with a large swathe of rapidly escaping debris. The trajectories of the ejected particles were then fed in to a second set of simulations that followed the motion of the debris for several million years. Ejected particles were tracked until either they landed on a planet, were thrown into interstellar space, or fell into the Sun.

The results allowed the group to work out how much material would have fallen back onto Mercury and investigate other ways in which debris is cleared up in the Solar System.

The group found that the fate of the debris depended on whereabouts Mercury was hit, both in terms of its orbital position and in terms of the angle of the collision.

Whilst purely gravitational theory suggested that a large fraction of the debris would eventually fall back onto Mercury, the simulations showed that it would take up to 4 million years for 50% of the particles to land back on the planet and in this time many would be carried away by solar radiation. This explains why Mercury retained a much smaller proportion than expected of the material in its outer layers.

The simulations also showed that some of the ejected material made its way to Venus and the Earth. While this is only a small fraction, it illustrates that material can be transferred between the inner planets relatively easily. Given the amount of material that would have been ejected in such a catastrophe, it is likely that there is a reasonable amount (possibly as much as 16 million billion tonnes [1.65x10^19 kg]) of proto-Mercury in the Earth.

The 2006 RAS National Astronomy Meeting is hosted by the University of Leicester. It is sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society, the UK Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), the University of Leicester and the National Space Centre, Leicester.