& SCIENCE NEWS: August 2002
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& science news > space & science news: August 2002
Something stirs in the Andromeda Chamber
(Aug. 28, 2002)
Researchers at the University of Arkansas, led by Timothy Kral, have
used a device called the Andromeda Chamber to show that methanogens
(methane-producing microbes) could grow at the low pressures found
on Mars. Their findings strengthen claims that life could have existed
on the Red Planet in the past, present, or at some point in the future.
The chamber, which was originally constructed for comet simulations,
consists of an insulated compartment with heating and cooling elements.
A sample container can be lowered into the chamber, which contains
various detection and monitoring instruments. The researchers grew
methanogenic cultures in bottles and froze them. They then placed
them below the surface of the soil simulant in the sample container.
With the recent successful missions to Mars, and especially the discovery
that there is probably a vast ocean of frozen water below the surface,
there is a greater possibility that life may exist below the surface
today. Since methane is a greenhouse gas methanogens could be used
to raise Mars' surface temperature, eventually terraforming the planet
so that it could support life.
Meteorite hits girl
(Aug. 27, 2002)
The odds against being hit by a meteorite are billions to one –
but a teenager in North Yorkshire may have had one land on her foot.
Siobhan Cowton, 14, was getting into the family car outside her Northallerton
home at 1030 BST on Thursday when a stone fell on her from the sky.
Noticing it was "quite hot", she showed it to her father Niel. The
family now plan to have the stone analysed by scientists at Durham
more. Source: BBC.
New approaches in SETI
(Aug. 18, 2002)
Scientific interest is growing in extending current SETI
searches to embrace the possibility that there may be evidence of
exterrestrial intelligence in the Solar System. While conventional
SETI approaches, involving the attempt to detect electromagnetic signals
(microwave and visible) across interstellar distances is continuing,
a growing body of scientists and engineers recognizes that we have
paid too little attention, at a professional level, to looking for
signs of ETI on our doorstep. One of the problems for professional
scientists is that the fields of SETV (Search for Extraterrestrial
Visitation) and SETA (Search for Extraterrestrial Artifacts) have
been strongly tainted by wild, popular speculation about UFOs, Martian
cities, and the like, based on poor quality data. Because there is
a strong desire to believe in alien involvement, it is very easy for
people to imagine they see evidence for it in every anomalous light
in the sky or fuzzy shape on Mars. Serious SETV and SETA starts from
the assumption (as in the case of mainstream SETI) that, while we
have no good evidence for ETI in the Solar System at present, searches
based on well-designed protocols are worthwhile. This website supports
For more information on scientific SETV and SETA, visit these sites:
setv.org, and Allen
Tough's paper on interstellar probes. See also these entries,
from Astrobiology Central's A-Z: Bracewell
probes and sentinel
hypothesis. More to come on this exciting topic in the weeks ahead.
Alien intelligence – crow-style!
(Aug. 12, 2002)
The ability to make tools was once thought to lie solely within the
purview of humans. Then in the 1960s Jane Goodall discovered that
chimpanzees, too, fashion implements to perform certain tasks. Since
then, researchers have observed tool use in a variety of animals.
Nonhuman primates are widely thought to be the most sophisticated
tool-users after us. Now observations of an innovative New Caledonian
crow named Betty could alter that view.
Read more. Source: Scientific American.
Could antigravity be real?
(Aug. 7, 2002)
H. G. Wells, in The First Men in the Moon, whisks his astronauts
to the lunar surface courtesy of a spaceship covered in the antigravity
substance, cavorite. But the idea of anything that can oppose or shield
against gravity has always seemed to most scientists about as credible
as a perpetual motion machine. Now, it seems, practical antigravity
is being taken seriously-seriously enough for Boeing, British defence
Systems, and NASA,
among others, to pump R&D funds into it. The focus of interest is
the Podkletnov effect, named after Russian physicist Evgeny Podkletnov
who discovered it while doing a routine test on a superconductor in
his lab at the Tampere University of Technology, Finland, in 1992.
Take a large yttrium-barium-copper-oxide superconducting disk suspended
in nitrogen vapor and cooled to around -233°C, levitate the disk
in a magnetic field and spin it up to 5,000 rpm and – bingo
– objects placed above the disk lose around 1% of their weight.
Or so Podkletov claims. The trouble is no one's yet been able to replicate
his results. However, there are theories waiting in the wings to explain
the effect if it proves real. At the University of Alabama, Ning Li
claims to have predicted the antigravity effect in 1989. Her theory
suggests that if a time-varying magnetic field is applied to a superconductor,
charged and deformed lattice ions within the superconductor can absorb
enormous amounts of energy, which would cause the lattice ions to
spin rapidly about their equilibrium positions and create a minuscule
gravitational field. If these charged, rotating, lattice ions were
lined up with each other by a strong magnetic field, Li says, the
resulting change in local gravity would be measurable. Early in 2002,
Raymond Chiao at the University of California, Berkeley, put forward
his own theory relating gravity and superconductors. He predicted
that bombarding a superconductor with electromagnetic waves would
produce gravitational radiation and is now attempting to prove his
theory by experimentation.
For more, go to the Quantum
Cavorite website. More on Boeing and antigravity: Jane's
Defence Weekly article and American
Martian meteorite positive life signs?
(Aug. 4, 2002)
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 defence of evidence that they
contain ancient hydrothermal vents.
Read more. Source: Spaceflight Now/NASA.
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