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the week's top space stories

the first cat in space to get a memorial in paris, another gravitational wave has been detected, a contract to build a 3d space war lab, and the first interstellar space rock gets a hawaiian name in some of space.com top stories of the week.





stephen hawking biography

stephen hawking is regarded as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists in history. his work on the origins and structure of the universe, from the big bang to black holes, has revolutionized the field, while his best-selling books have appealed to readers who may not have hawking's scientific background. in this brief biography, we look at hawking's education and career — ranging from his discoveries to the popular books he's written — and the disease that's robbed him of mobility and speech. a challenging life british cosmologist stephen william hawking was born in england on jan. 8, 1942 — 300 years to the day after the death of the astronomer galileo galilei. he attended university college, oxford, where he studied physics, despite his father's urging to focus on medicine. hawking went on to cambridge to research cosmology, the study of the universe as a whole.  in early 1963, just shy of his 21st birthday, hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, more commonly known as lou gehrig's disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (als). he was not expected to live more than two years. completing his doctorate did not appear likely. yet, hawking defied the odds, not only attaining his ph.d. but also forging new roads into the understanding of the universe in the decades since. as the disease spread, hawking became less mobile and began using a wheelchair. talking grew more challenging and, in 1985, an emergency tracheotomy caused ...





first-of-its-kind satellite launches to track earth's weather like never before

the first in a series of four advanced polar-orbiting satellites launched to space on its third try early saturday (nov. 18), turning its watchful eye to improving the accuracy of weather forecasts and earth observations. the new joint polar satellite system-1 satellite, or jpss-1, launched into orbit atop a united launch alliance-built delta ii rocket at 4:47 a.m. est (0947 gmt), lighting up the predawn sky over its vandenberg air force base in california. the successful liftoff came after two scrubbed launch attempts earlier this week due to high winds and boats inside the launch range restriction zone offshore. "things went absolutely perfect today," nasa launch manager omar baez said after the jpss-1 launch. "the nation's got another wonderful weather asset up in space." [the jpss-1 weather satellite's mission in pictures] the national oceanic and atmospheric administration (noaa), in partnership with nasa, operates both geostationary satellites, like goes-16, which stay in a fixed spot over earth as they orbit, as well as polar-orbiting satellites, like suomi npp, which launched in 2011. suomi npp was originally intended to test the technology in store for jpss-1, officials said at a news conference sunday (nov. 12), but it has become a valuable weather and earth analysis satellite. the united launch alliance delta ii rocket carrying the joint polar satellite system-1 (jpss-1) weather satellite for nasa and noaa lifts off from space launch comp...





the advanced jpss-1 weather satellite's earth mission

credit: kim shiflett/nasa nasa and industry leaders participated in a prelaunch press conference at vandenberg afb. participants, from left, are steve volz, director of noaa’s satellite and information service, greg mandt, director of the noaa joint polar satellite system program, sandra smalley, director of the joint agency satellite division at nasa headquarters, omar baez, nasa launch director, and scott messer, united launch alliance program manager for nasa missions.





new video shows a creepily human-like robot doing a backflip

a new video shows a robot performing amazing acrobatic feats, from backflips to half-turn jumps. the eerily humanoid robot, called atlas, is 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) tall and weighs 165 pounds (75 kilograms), and uses lidar and stereovision to navigate in its surroundings, according to boston dynamics, which makes the robot. atlas is designed to be able to take on emergency situations where human life would normally be put at risk, such as going into buildings that have crumbled after an earthquake, or dealing with patients who have deadly, highly infectious diseases, according  to the defense advanced research projects agency (darpa). in the video, the newest version of the humanoid does a kind of jump training called plyometrics, leaping between raised platforms, doing a 180-degree turn in the air on raised platforms and performing a backflip off a platform. though he may not give american gymnast simone biles a run for her money right now, the robot does manage to stick the landing. [machine dreams: 22 human-like androids from sci-fi]  other videos show the robot stacking boxes on a shelf, ambling on a walk in the snow with a human "friend" and chasing after, and picking up, a box that's deliberately moved out of its reach. according to the boston dynamics website, atlas can carry payloads up to 24 lbs. (11 kg). atlas has other human-like abilities, such as a sense of balance, so it resists toppling when pushed, and can get back up after a fierce sh...





here's what a volcano on mars looked like to mariner 9 in 1971

mariner 9, the first spacecraft to orbit a planet other than earth, travelled to mars and returned images of the surface, including this one of a martian shield volcano. the craft’s wide-angle and telephoto lenses captured the summit crater and grooves of the volcano. experts think the grooves likely resulted from subsurface magma flows, according to nasa.mariner 9 launched aboard an atlas-centaur slv-3c booster (ac-23) on may 30, 1971 and arrived at mars on nov. 14, 1971.  the craft continued atmospheric studies of the red planet started by mariners 6 and 7, and mapped more than 70 percent of the martian surface.  originally, mariner 9 was part of a two-spacecraft mission known as mariner mars 71, but mariner 8 failed to launch properly, so mariner 9 operated with a set of combined mission objectives. [photos: mars volcano views revealed by spacecraft] plans to use mariner 9 to map the surface of the red planet were delayed by a massive dust storm that began on sept. 22, 1971. by the time mariner 9 arrived  in november, only the summits of olympus mons and the three tharsis volcanoes  could be seen on mars’ surface. the storm became one of the largest global storms recorded on the red planet. the storm slowed later in the month and subsided in december, and the mapping campaign began. mariner 9 returned 54 billion bits (6.75 gigabytes) of scientific data, including more than 7,300 images of the red planet. the mariner 9 mission was terminated ...





geoengineering the climate could cause devastating african droughts

new research is shedding light on the potential consequences of geoengineering the planet. among the most prominent technological proposals for cooling earth's atmosphere involves spraying aerosols into the sky to reflect some of the sun's incoming radiation back into outer space. that approach, in a sense, has already been tested in nature. big volcanic eruptions have cooled the planet by injecting ash into the atmosphere. the mount pinatubo eruption in 1991, for example, cooled the planet by 1 degree fahrenheit for 15 months.  a new study based on advanced computer modeling and published in the journal nature communicationsfinds that spraying aerosols above the northern hemisphere would decrease the severity of atlantic ocean hurricanes, but spraying them in the southern hemisphere would have the opposite effect on the north atlantic. reducing hurricane activity in the atlantic might sound like a positive, knock-on benefit. but it comes with other likely consequences. "that sounds beneficial after the hurricane season we've just had," anthony jones of the university of exeter, one of the paper's authors, told seeker. "but if you just inject into the north, you also increase the risk of drought in the sahel."related: a geoengineering 'cocktail' could dull the pain of climate change the sahel is a region in africa bordering the sahara desert and is prone to acute drought. the united nations said in 2012 that 15 million people were malnouris...





first-of-its-kind satellite launches to track earth's weather like never before

the first in a series of four advanced polar-orbiting satellites has launched to space, turning its watchful eye to improving the accuracy of weather forecasts and earth observations.





in photos: the advanced jpss-1 weather satellite's earth mission

the joint polar satellite system-1 (jpss-1), the first of an advanced new fleet of weather satellites, launched into space on nov. 18, 2017 to begin its vital mission. see photos from the launch and preparations here in our mission gallery.





new video shows a creepily human-like robot doing a backflip

atlas, a new disaster robot can execute amazing human-like acrobatic feats such as backflips and in-air pirouettes.





here's what a volcano on mars looked like to mariner 9 in 1971

mariner 9, which arrived at mars in november of 1971, was the first spacecraft to orbit a planet other than earth, and sent back more than 7,000 images the red planet.





geoengineering the climate could cause devastating african droughts

injecting particles into the atmosphere would deflect some of the sun’s incoming radiation, but a new study predicts it would also likely alter tropical storm patterns in the atlantic and increase the risk of drought in africa.





stephen hawking biography

cosmologist stephen hawking is regarded as a brilliant theoretical physicist. his work on black holes and the big bang are topics of popular books.





the best black friday 2017 deals for space fans

black friday sales have already begun, space fans, so here's a roundup of the best deals online for out-of-this-world gifts. the turkey isn't even in the oven yet, but we're already turning our attention to scouring amazon.com to find holiday discounts and deals on things like telescopes and binoculars, and space-themed apparel, household items and toys. if you're looking for lego sets or "star wars"-related items, check out our lego deals page here and "star wars" deals page here. if you're searching for a new telescope and aren't sure which one is right for you, be sure to check out our telescope guide pages to find the best options for beginners, hobbyists, kids, skywatchers on the move and anyone on a budget. and check out our binoculars buying guide if you're looking for something more compact. for more ideas on gifts for the space fan in your life, check out our space gift guide and our space gift guide for kids. check back here, as we'll be adding new deals throughout the day. some of amazon.com's black friday deals will only last for a few hours, or the item may sell out, so don't miss your chance to buy coveted items. telescopes and binoculars:bushnell legend l-series binoculars: check out these bushnell legend l-series binoculars -- great for skywatching and moon-viewing -- for $130.99, down from an average price of $168.buy bushnell legend l-series 10x42mm binoculars on amazon.comg4free compact binoculars: another great disco...





earthquakes on venus could be detected by an atmospheric balloon

venus's atmosphere is the heaviest of any planet in the solar system, roughly equivalent to deep-ocean pressure at a depth of 1 kilometer. the crushing weight and layers of sulfuric acid make it utterly inhospitable — but investigators could read the planet's atmospheric pressure from above to find earthquakes on the hellish surface. a team at nasa's jet propulsion laboratory proposes deploying a balloon in the upper reaches of venus's atmosphere that would be equipped with a sensor to detect seismic activity. "on venus, the atmosphere has about 90 times the pressure as what you find on the surface of the earth. it's almost like an ocean surrounding the solid crust," siddharth krishnamoorthy, a postdoctoral associate with nasa's jet propulsion laboratory and a member of the team working on the venus mission, told seeker. he and his colleagues will present the proposal at the american geophysical union meeting in new orleans on thursday, dec. 14. floating at 34 miles above the surface, the balloon would operate in earth-like pressure and temperature conditions, no extra shielding needed. it would also be safe from the oven-like temperatures on the surface (864 degrees fahrenheit or 462 degrees celsius) that could fry unprotected spacecraft in seconds. there's even enough sunlight available to run the balloon's instruments on solar power. when an earthquake occurs on venus, the theory goes, it generates pressure waves in radio frequencies. these...





'slaughterbots' video depicts a dystopian future of autonomous killer drones

a graphic new video posits a very scary future in which swarms of killer microdrones are dispatched to kill political activists and us lawmakers. armed with explosive charges, the palm-sized quadcopters use real-time data mining and artificial intelligence to find and kill their targets. the makers of the seven-minute film titled slaughterbots are hoping the startling dramatization will draw attention to what they view as a looming crisis — the development of lethal, autonomous weapons, select and fire on human targets without human guidance. the future of life institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mitigating existential risks posed by advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence, commissioned the film. founded by a group of scientists and business leaders, the institute is backed by ai-skeptics elon musk and stephen hawking, among others. the institute is also behind the campaign to stop killer robots, a coalition of ngos, which have banded together to called for a preemptive ban on lethal autonomous weapons. the timing of the video is deliberate. the film will be screened this week at the united nations in geneva during a meeting of the convention on certain conventional weapons. established in 1980, the convention is a series of framework treaties that prohibits or restricts weapons considered to cause unnecessary or unjustifiable suffering. for example, the convention enacted a 1995 protocol banning weapons, such as lasers, sp...





'justice league' brings (some) light into dc extended universe

say this for "justice league," the dc comics/warner bros. offering that hits screens almost everywhere this week: it reverses the bleak course of prior dc extended universe movies. the movie and its plot are born into a world saddened by the death of superman (as seen in 2016's batman v. superman: dawn of justice), and starts with similar somber notes. steppenwolf and his parademons, a fairly deep cut for mainstream audiences (but still a callback to bvs) are introduced as the big bads, and the mood gets darker still. but eventually, a grudging camaraderie comes about and a light usually not seen in the dceu shines through - for the most part. batman and wonder woman are the driving forces of both the plot and the eventual formation of a very informal 'justice league' - those words are never actually spoken by any character in the movie. whereas a previous viewing of their previous flicks in this continuity-driven middle stop toward an preordained sequel are certainly helpful, they're fortunately not needed. a cliff’s notes version spoken by the characters in-film will get you through. the movie does a fine job introducing and developing its new-to-the-movies heroes aquaman, flash, and cyborg. dc is still on its perpetual quest to make aquaman somehow cool™, which in this instance makes him a whiskey-swilling malcontent who seems to like the white stripes. flash is played as a new-hero-on-the-block, unsure of his abilities and full of wide-eyed wond...





is star wars battlefront 2 worth buying yet?

it's been a turbulent launch week for star wars battlefront 2. after facing heated fan backlash, ea has already made two huge changes to its long-awaited star wars shooter: first, reducing the amount of credits you'll need to unlock heroes such as luke and vader, and, more shockingly, completely removing paid microtransactions from the game. with battlefront 2's pay-to-win drama seemingly behind us, one question remains: is the actual game any good? the answer is yes —though there are some major caveats. we've searched our feelings, and here's what we love and hate about star wars battlefront 2.the goodthe single-player campaign (mostly) delivers. playing as imperial commander iden versio, you get to experience the aftermath of the empire's final defeat through a 4-hour campaign filled with fun, varied combat missions and incredibly lifelike cutscenes. while the campaign has some issues (which we'll explain below), its sense of humor and adventure feels true to the films, and its thrilling final battle showcases the best of battlefront's on-foot and vehicular combat.it's the best-looking star wars game ever. from the cantinas of mos eisley to the sweeping forests of kashyyyk, battlefront 2's environments are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and painstakingly reverent to the movies. the game's sound design is equally top-notch, with beefy explosions, authentic blaster noises, and signature star wars scores that make every multiplayer match feel like a movie s...





best black friday deals 2017

attention, lego fans! we're big lego fans here at space.com, and whether you're looking for the perfect gift for the space-loving lego fan in your life or looking for something to add to your personal collection, we've got you covered. we've scoured amazon.com for the best deals on lego sets that are space or science-themed, as well as many science-fiction-themed sets. in anticipation of the holiday shopping season, amazon.com has already started putting items on sale ahead of black friday (nov. 24), when a swarm of items will be discounted. don't forget to check here back regularly, as we'll be adding new deals leading up to and throughout nov. 24.  some of amazon.com's black friday deals will only last for a few hours, or the item may sell out, so don't miss your chance to buy coveted items. and check out our star wars deals and space fan deals to find that perfect gift! if you're searching for a new telescope and aren't sure which one is right for you, be sure to check out our best binoculars and telescope guide pages to find the best options for beginners, hobbyists, kids, skywatchers on the move and anyone on a budget. for more ideas on gifts for the space fan in your life, check out our space gift guide and our space gift guide for kids.lego friends amusement park roller coaster: the lego friends series is one of the company's most popular, and we especially love the tiny rocket features in this amusement park set. marked down from...





best astronomy and astrophysics books to read in 2017

the universe through the eyes of an astronomer or astrophysicist is a fascinating place — and a good book can give you a glimpse of that world without requiring years of study. here are the space.com writers' and editors' recommendations of astronomy and astrophysics books that will thrill, puzzle, intrigue and blow your mind. (we are constantly reading new and classic space books to find our favorite takes on the universe. our recently-read books in all categories can be found at best space books. you can see our ongoing space books coverage here.) 'making contact' (pegasus books, 2017)by jill tarter"making contact: jill tarter and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence" (pegasus books, 2017) by sarah scolescredit: pegasus books fifty years ago, only a handful of scientists were hunting for signals from other civilizations as part of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (seti). in "making contact," science writer sarah scoles explores the biography of one of the most influential seti scientists, jill tarter. scoles follows a mostly linear path through tarter’s life, occasionally breaking into the present to bridge connections. while the biography traces the history of seti, its primary focus is on tarter: her childhood relationships with her parents that helped drive her, her education as the sole woman in her engineering class in the 1960s, and her struggle with scientists and bureaucrats who didn’t think hunting for alien si...