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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: September 2000
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Mars 2001 to continue the odyssey Sep 29, 2000
A hint of intelligence at the cellular level Sep 27, 2000
Organic pigments found on Mars? Sep 27, 2000
First peer-reviewed journal devoted to astrobiology Sep 22, 2000
Superoxides could prevent Martian surface life Sep 22, 2000
Centaur's strange ice found by Hubble Sep 14, 2000
Mars Wars: Is one Beagle better than two Athenas? Sep 13, 2000
Meteorite clues to dawn of solar system Sep 5, 2000

Artist's conception of Mars 2001 Odyssey
Mars 2001 to continue the odyssey
(Sep. 29, 2000)

NASA's next Mars orbiter scheduled for launch toward the Red Planet on April 7, 2001, has been officially named Mars 2001 Odyssey, to commemorate the famous Clarke/Kubrick film. The probe will study the kinds of minerals on the surface and measure the amount of hydrogen in the shallow subsurfaces of the planet, which will give clues about the presence of water, either past or present. Additionally, the craft will obtain important data on the planet's radiation environment so that potential health risks to future human explorers can be evaluated. Mars 2001 Odyssey will enter Mars orbit in October 2001.

For more, go here.

A hint of intelligence at the cellular level
(Sep. 27, 2000)

Japanese researchers have shown that pieces of slime mold, attracted by food, can find the shortest way through a maze. Toshayuki Nakagi and his colleagues at the Bio-mimetic Control Research Center in Nagoya, Japan, say they believe the organism altered its shape to maximize its forging efficiency. "This remarkable process of cellular computation," the team writes in this week's Nature, "implies that cellular materials can show a primitive intelligence." For more, go here.

Organic pigments found on Mars?
(Sep. 27, 2000)

A Russian researcher claims to have found evidence of organic pigments in the western Utopia Planitia region of Mars. Using images obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope, Sergei Pershin, a Principal Investigator for the LIDAR experiment aboard NASA's failed Mars Polar Lander, believes he may have detected the spectral signatures of porphyrin and hopanoid molecules which are characteristic of cyanobacteria. N.b. These results are extremely tentative and should be regarded with a good degree of skepticism.

First peer-reviewed journal devoted to astrobiology
(Sep. 22, 2000)

Until now, papers and articles on astrobiology have had to be published in journals on more general subjects. But from 2001, a new journal, Astrobiology, will be available that specializes exclusively in this rapidly rising new field. Said publisher Mary Ann Liebert: "Astrobiology, in it its broadest sense, is developing as an area of distinct academic endeavor. This journal will provide a home for multidisciplinary studies and play an important role in the growth of the field." Astrobiology will be published both in paper an online. Its editor-in-chief will be Sherry Cady, assistant professor in the Department of Geology at Portland State University, Oregon.

Superoxides could prevent Martian surface life
(Sep. 17, 2000)

Laboratory simulations at JPL of the Martian surface environment have shown that the combination of harsh ultraviolet radiation, free oxygen ions in the atmosphere, mineral grains, and extremely dry conditions produces superoxide ions. These would explain the activity found in the Martian soil by the Viking landers in 1976, and almost certainly make life impossible at or very near the surface. A major goal of future research will be to establish the depth of the oxidizing layer.

For more, go here (Spaceflight Now) and here (New Scientist).

Artist's impression of ice crater on Asbolus
Centaur's strange ice found by Hubble
(Sep. 14, 2000)

The earliest seafloor hydrothermal vents – supposedly more than three billion years old – may be nothing more than deposits from underground springs active in the last few thousand years. That is the claim of two US geologists who carried out a new analysis of rocks from South Africa which were previously dated to the Archaean period – when life first began to diversify. The findings could have important implications for our understanding of the early Earth and the microbial life forms that lived there. But one authority on the geology of the Barberton greenstone belt - where the rocks are found – launched a vigorous defense of evidence that they contain ancient hydrothermal vents.

Read more. Source: BBC

Beagle 2
Mars Wars: Is one Beagle better than two Athenas?
(Sep. 13, 2000)

The chief scientist on the Beagle 2 project – Britain's miniature Mars lander that will piggyback aboard the European Mars Express probe in 2004 – believes it will do more science that NASA's two large rovers scheduled for launch in 2003. Whereas the rovers, each equipped with Cornell's Athena package will do only geological and sightseeing work, Beagle 2 will actually look for biogenic signatures including trace methane in the atmosphere and an elevated carbon-12 to carbon-13 ratio in the surface rocks.

For more, go here.

Sealed sample of Tagish Lake meteorite
Meteorite clues to dawn of solar system
(Sep. 5, 2000)

Researchers at Purdue University have analyzed 45 elements within the Tagish Lake meteorite (for earlier story on this, go here) and found that it represents a pristine sample of the original solar nebula from which the planets formed. This, together with the rapid collection of uncontaminated fragments of the carbonaceous chondrite following its fall in January, make the Tagish Lake meteorite one of the most valuable to science ever found.

For more, go here.


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