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The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite will take an elliptical path around Earth to observe stars for evidence of exoplanets

Nasa’s next planet-hunting mission has launched from Cape Canaveral air force station in Florida.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (Tess) took to the skies at 23.51 BST (18.51 EDT). It was deployed into Earth orbit 49 minutes later, to start a series of manoeuvres that will get it into its operational orbit by mid-June.

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In a new Netflix documentary, the tales of 13 female pilots who dreamed of becoming astronauts yet were denied the opportunity by Nasa are finally brought to light

When Neil Armstrong clambered down on to the surface of the moon, he famously declared that he had taken “one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”.

But what if that one small step had been taken by a woman? What kind of leap would that have represented, at a time when the American public was waking up to women’s rights?

Related: I Am Evidence: the shocking film on the truth about untested rape kits

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For decades, men have had all the glory in space exploration. Imagine how young girls would feel seeing a woman step on to the red planet

What do the names Kalpana Chawla, Mae Jemison, Valentina Tereshkova and Sally Ride mean to you? Until fairly recently, the names of these female space pioneers didn’t mean much to me. Despite being obsessed with all things space as a six-year-old girl, who thought a day out at the Jodrell Bank Observatory was as exciting as a trip to Disney World, I was never taught about them. I didn’t know that Dr (!) Tereshkova was the first woman to fly into space, that she was 26 when she went, and that when she took off she said, “Hey, sky! Take off your hat, I’m coming!” Nor did I know that Dr Chawla was the first Indian-born woman to go into space and that after she died in the Columbia disaster they named a hill on Mars after her.

A senior Nasa engineer, Allison McIntyre, said this week that the first person on Mars should be a woman. And she’s right, because despite the incredible work of many female scientists and engineers involved in space exploration, there has historically been a “space gap”.

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Plastic-eating enzymesClass in the northBrown carsSpring politicsFemale newsreadersComet Thatcher

I hope the artificially created enzymes will begin to help clean up the exponential increase in plastic waste (Researchers make plastic-eating mutant enzyme better, 17 April). Maybe better not to let the cultivated variants out into the wild though – and on no account call them Mutant 59...
Dr Hilary Gee
Grange over Sands, Cumbria

• Maxine Peake claims “there is only one class in the north, and that’s working class” (Arts are still preserve of middle-class people, study concludes, 16 April). So who are all those people buying quinoa with bulgar wheat at Waitrose in Wilmslow?
David Hoult
Stockport

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Scientists say rock fragments that hit the Earth in 2008 contain evidence of a lost planet that was part of the early solar system

Diamonds found in a meteorite that exploded over the Nubian desert in Sudan a decade ago were formed deep inside a “lost planet” that once circled the sun in the early solar system, scientists say.

Microscopic analyses of the meteorite’s tiny diamonds revealed they contain compounds that are produced under intense pressure, suggesting the diamonds formed far beneath the surface of a planet.

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Telescope hitching ride on a SpaceX rocket designed to spot alien worlds

If the vagaries of weather and rocket science do not intervene, the most ambitious search for alien worlds around the brightest stars in the sky will begin on Monday with the launch of Nasa’s newest planet-hunting spacecraft.

After final preparations at the weekend, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or Tess, is on course for take off as early as 6.32pm local time (11.32pm UK) from Cape Canaveral in Florida, the first opportunity mission controllers have to launch in a window that remains open until June.

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The grains of dust that originated in Comet Thatcher will be making their annual visit at the weekend

The Lyrid meteor shower will reach its peak in the pre-dawn sky on 22 April. This is the oldest known meteor shower, with records stretching back more than 2,500 years. The meteors appear to originate from a point in the constellation Lyra, hence the shower’s name. On Saturday night/Sunday morning this “radiant” will be in the eastern sky. So, wrap up warm, look east and be patient. Estimates suggest that between 15 and 20 meteors an hour will be visible. Some may be bright enough to cause brief shadows. Occasionally, outbursts of 100 meteors an hour have been recorded for the Lyrids. The last reported outburst came from the US in 1982. Before then, Japan reported one in 1945, and Greece in 1922. The Lyrids are tiny dust grains that once formed the tail of Comet Thatcher. This icy visitor from the outer solar system orbits the Sun every 415 years. It is next due to pass by in 2276.

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The next theatre of conflict is likely to be in Earth’s orbit – and may have dire consequences for us all

When you hear the phrase “space war”, it is easy to conjure images that could have come from a Star Wars movie: dogfights in space, motherships blasting into warp speed, planet-killing lasers and astronauts with ray guns. And just as easy to then dismiss the whole thing as nonsense. It’s why last month’s call by President Trump for an American “space force”, which he helpfully explained was similar to the air force but for err… space, was met with a tired eye-roll from most. But there is truth behind his words. While the Star Wars-esque scenario for what a space war would look like is indeed far-fetched, there is one thing all the experts agree on.​

“It is absolutely inevitable that we will see conflict move into space,” says Michael Schmitt, professor of public international law and a space war expert at University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.

Space is different from 50 years ago. It was a race between superpowers then; it’s everything now…

Blowing up satellites could trigger a chain reaction that swiftly surrounds the Earth with belts of debris

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The film director’s masterpiece, which has influenced scientists and artists alike, is 50 years old this month

Astronomers last week announced official names for the principal mountains and valleys of one of the solar system’s remotest objects, the tiny world of Charon. More than 3.6bn miles distant from the Sun, the moon – which orbits the dwarf planet, Pluto – was first observed closely in 2015 when the US probe New Horizons swept over its freezing, airless surface.

Now the features revealed by the robot craft have been given titles by the International Astronomical Union. And key among the explorers and scientists honoured are the film director Stanley Kubrick and the writer Arthur C Clarke.

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Multimillion dollar project will scan and make public methane leaks from oil and gas plants that are a major contributor to global warming

Methane leaking from oil and gas facilities around the world – a major contributor to global warming – is set to be spotted from space.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has announced it aims to launch a satellite called MethaneSAT by 2021 to scan the globe and make major leaks public. That information will then enable governments to force action, EDF hopes. Building and launching the satellite will cost tens of millions of dollars, but EDF says it has already raised most of the money.

Related: Rapid rise in methane emissions in 10 years surprises scientists

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