& SCIENCE NEWS: May 2000
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& science news > space & science news: May 2000
Advanced Space Propulsion Workshop at
(May 31, 2000)
The 11th annual Advanced Space Propulsion Research Workshop, sponsored
by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Marshall Space Flight Center,
runs from May 31 to June 2, 2000, at JPL in Pasadena, California.
Topics at this year's sessions include advanced chemical propulsion,
nuclear fission propulsion, solar sails, tethers, micropropulsion,
advanced electrical propulsion, and fusion propulsion. For details
go to here.
| New Martian meteorite find
(May 23, 2000)
A brownish grey stone weighing 1,056 gm (2.3 pounds), found earlier
this year in the Dhofar region of Oman, is thought to be only the
15th known meteorite to originate from Mars.
Analysis of the rock's mineralogy by scientists at the Vernadsky Institute
in Moscow and the University of Tennessee suggest that it shows no
signs of having been melted during its passage through the Earth's
atmosphere. This may be because it is a fragment of a once larger
meteorite. Researchers say that it has been subject to considerable
weathering on Earth but has similarities to the famous Martian meteorite
ALH84001. For more
information go here.
| Rhythm of life in Viking data?
(May 19, 2000)
NASA plans to make available the original data from the Viking
biology experiments following a suggestion by Joseph Miller, at Texas
Technical University Health Sciences Center, in Lubbock, that the
data contains evidence of a circardian rhythm – a daily periodicity
due to Martian life. Miller points to the results of the so-called
Labeled Release experiment
as the source of his hypothesis. For many years, gas releases observed
during the course of that experiment have been attributed by its designer,
Gilbert Levin, President of Biospherics Inc., Beltsville, Maryland,
to the presence of microorganisms on Mars, although other specialists
favor a nonbiological explanation. Now Miller has added fuel to the
controversy. However, getting access to the original results has not
proven easy. The relevant Viking data is currently held on microfiche
and will need to be digitized to put it in electronically-usable form
– a process that may take NASA about three months. One former
Viking scientist who won't be holding his breath is Gerald Soffen.
He suspects that Miller's circadian rhythms may be no more than effects
caused by heating and cooling of the spacecraft's instruments. But
as Miller insists there is only one way to be sure: "That is to get
the data and do the analysis... I could tell right away whether there
is anything going on or not."
For more on this story go here.
NASA plans first interstellar mission
(May 13, 2000)
NASA's Marshall Space Flight
Center in Huntsville, Ala., is developing space
sails technology to power a mission partway to the stars. "This
will be humankind's first planned venture outside our solar system,"
said Les Johnson, manager of Interstellar Propulsion Research at the
Marshall Center. The interstellar
probe will travel over 23 billion miles (250 astronomical units)
beyond the edge of the solar system on a mission lasting an estimated
15 years. Proposed for launch in about 2010, the interstellar precursor
probe will reach a maximum speed of 58 miles per second – five
times faster than Voyager, yet will require no fuel. It will be powered
by light from the Sun striking a sail spanning 440 yards – twice
the diameter of the Louisiana Superdome. Experiments are currently
being conducted at Marshall to find the best material for this giant
structure, one leading candidate being a carbon fiber material whose
density is less than one-tenth ounce per square yard – the equivalent
of flattening a raisin to the point that it covers a square yard.
In space the material would unfurl like a fan when it's deployed from
an expendable rocket. Marshall is partnering with the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena which has overall responsibility for NASA's
| ESO discovery of 8 new exoplanets and
(May 4, 2000)
A team of astronomers at the Geneva Observatory has announced the
discovery of eight new, very-low mass companions to solar-type stars
bringing the total number of known exoplanets to over 40. The masses
of these objects range from less than that of planet Saturn (in the
case of the companion to HD 168746) to about 15 times that of Jupiter.
The new results were obtained by means of high-precision radial-velocity
measurements with the Coralie
spectrometer at the Swiss 1.2-m Leonhard Euler telescope at the ESO
La Silla Observatory. While six of the objects are most likely bona
fide exoplanets, two are apparently very low-mass brown
dwarfs. "The present discoveries complete and enlarge our still
preliminary knowledge of extra-solar planetary systems, as well as
the transition between planets and brown dwarfs", say Mayor and Queloz,
on behalf of the Swiss team.
for the ESO press release, including a description of each of the
| Tar-like molecules found by Stardust
(May 3, 2000)
The first measurements of interstellar dust particles by NASA's Stardust
probe indicate they contain tar-like molecules much more complex than
any substances previously found in space. If confirmed, this discovery
could mean that molecules drifting in space before the Earth was formed
may have helped start life on our planet and by implication elsewhere
in the Universe. To date, five interstellar dust particles have been
captured by the German-built Cometary and Interstellar Dust Analyser
(Cida), onboard the spacecraft.
125th anniversary of pioneering astrobiologist
(May 1, 2000)
May 1 marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of the Russian astronomer
who, in his 1959 book, first used the term "astrobiology"– Gavriil
Adrianovich Tikhov (1875-1960).
(The word was later introduced in the West by Hubertus Strughold
at a U.S.A.F. lunar and planetary colloquium.) Tikhov served at the
Pulkovo Main Astronomical Observatory(1906-1941), Leningrad University
(1919-1931), Lesgaft Institute for Natural Sciences (1919-1949), and
the Department for Astrobotanics of the Academy of Science of Kazakhstan
(1947-1960). In addition to astrobiology, he carried out research
in photometrics, optics of the atmosphere, astrophysics, and solar
and lunar eclipses. For more bibliographical details go here.
Thanks to Prof. Viktor Tejfel of the Laboratory
of Lunar and Planetary Physics, Fessenkov Astrophysical Institute,
Kazakhstan, for notification.
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