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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: September 2001
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The Blue Pools of Eros Sep 27, 2001
Portaits of a comet Sep 26, 2001
Deep Space encounter Sep 21, 2001
Evidence grows for recent climate change on Mars Sep 13, 2001
Hungarian claims of vegetation of Mars Aug 15, 2001


crater on Eros
The Blue Pools of Eros
(Sep. 27, 2001)


Researchers continue to be surprised by the images and other data sent back by the NEAR-Shoemaker probe which orbited and then, astonishingly, successfully landed on the surface of the asteroid Eros earlier this year. Eros is only a 34 × 11 × 11 km flying mountain, yet this tiny irregularly-shaped world is strewn with boulders, pitted with rocks, and, surprisingly, strange "mobile" soils. In low regions of the asteroid, scientists have observed "ponds" of bluish dust and speculated that they may have been lifted from beneath the surface by electrostatic forces subsequently to flow like liquid into the depressions. The boulders are also an oddity: how could such objects have avoided being lost into space given Eros's feeble gravity? Several papers in this week's Nature are devoted to the new findings.

comet Borrelly's nucleus
Portraits of a comet
(Sep. 26, 2001)


Deep Space 1 not ony survived its flyby of comet Borrelly last Saturday (Sep. 23) but sent back a series of stunning B&W images. This is only the second time we have glimpsed into the heart of an active comet to see clearly its nucleus. Giotto sent back a remarkable photo of Halley's nucleus in 1986, now DS1 has shown us detail on Borrelly that scientists could only have dreamed about. This little probe, with its innovative ion drive (which has run longer than any other spacecraft propulsion device in history), seems set to join Voyager, Viking, and Mars Global Surveyor, as one of the great success stories of unmanned spaceflight. For more images and news, go here (BBC) and here (Deep Space 1 website).

Deep Space 1 at comet Borrelly
Deep Space encounter
(Sep. 21, 2001)


The amazingly successful Deep Space 1 probe, powered by an ion engine, is about to climax its mission with a close encounter of comet Borrelly. DS1 was designed to test a range of novel technologies and completed this primary mission two years ago, so whatever comes next is a bonus. And whatever comes next is completely unpredictable given the bombardment that DS1 is sure to receive from dust particles as it closes in on Borrelly's nucleus. The ESA Giotto probe suffered a terrible battering during its rendezvous with Halley's Comet in March 1985, including the loss of its camera. But, if all goes well, DS1 will fly by Borrelly's nucleus around teatime EST (2230 GMT) on Saturday (Sep. 21) and send back data on the magnetic and electric fields inside the coma, infrared measurements of the nucleus (revealing what the surface is made of), and-if the probe's luck really holds-a black and white snapshot of the nucleus itself. With humankind in such a muddle back on Earth, it's good to remember that there's a cosmos waiting to be explored once we sort out our parochial problems. For more, go here (space.com article) and here (Deep Space 1 website).

Gully washers on Mars
Evidence grows for recent climate change on Mars
(Sep. 13, 2001)


New images of the Martian surface, taken by Mars Global Surveyor, provide the first direct evidence that the climate of Mars has changed significantly during the past 100,000 years-less than a thousandth of the timespan that scientists had previously estimated. If these new findings hold up, researchers will want to know what mechanisms are behind the climate change and what the implications might be for life near the surface. Says Nathalie Cabrole of NASA Ames: "As the soil reacts to the temperature change and flows downhill, material from the martian subsurface may be brought up. Any sort of microbiological community hiding out underground would be brought up to the surface. Even if life does not exist on Mars today, perhaps these gullies are bringing up fossils of past life on Mars."

For more, go here.

Mars
Hungarian claims of vegetation on Mars
(Sep. 7, 2001)


Three Hungarian researchers have claimed today that there is strong evidence of Martian life in some of the Mars Global Surveyor images. They point to numerous dark spots, similar in appearance to large colonies of microorganisms found in Antarctica, in craters in the Martian southern polar region. Biologist and team-member Tibor Ganti told Reuters: "These spots indicate that on the surface below the ice there are such organisms which, absorbing solar energy, are able to melt the ice and create conditions of life for themselves.'' The idea is that during the Martian winters the life-forms are protected by a thick blanket of ice which then melts as the planet's late spring temperatures climb to just above freezing. Large gray dark dune spots – with a diameter ranging from 10 to hundreds of meters – are left behind. These, the Hungarians claim, are freeze-dried organisms which reanimate once the colder, icy season sets in again.

Source: Reuters.

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