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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: June 2002
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Evidence of ancient Martian flood Jun 21, 2002
A dozen more planets, including a second extrasolar Jupiter Jun 18, 2002
New planets have a familiar look Jun 13, 2002
Europan life: The good news and the bad Jun 5, 2002


Ma'adim Vallis
Evidence of ancient Martian flood
(Jun. 21, 2002)


One of the longest valley systems on Mars, called Ma'adim Vallis (Hebrew for "Mars") was carved by water that flooded through a breach in the wall of a large lake, some 3.5 billion years ago. The 860-km-long valley, in the southern highlands of the Red Planet, was inundated by 160,000 million cubic km of water that poured out of a 450-km-wide basin to the north. This extraordinary new claim is simply the latest addition to the body of evidence that suggests that Mars was covered extensively by liquid water between 3 and 4 billion years ago.

For more on this, go here.

Jupiter, artist impression
A dozen more planets, including a second extrasolar Jupiter
(Jun. 18, 2002)


European astronomers have announced the discovery 12 more extrasolar worlds, in addition to the batch unveiled by the California-Carnegie group a few days ago. What's more, this new assortment, found by a team at the Geneva Observatory, includes another Jupiter-like world in a Jupiter-like location. This is great news for those who feared that well-placed jovians (from the point of view of life on inner, terrestrial worlds) might be few and far between. It's now starting to look as if gas giants in wide, near-circular orbits, which would help deflect a potential deluge of cometary and asteroidal impactors away from the "life zone" at Earth-like distances, may occur pretty routinely. The new Jupiter orbits HD190360A (a.k.a. Gliese 777A), a relative neighbor of the Sun's at a distance of 52 light-years from the Earth.

For more, go here (spaceref.com).

55 Cancrii
New planets have a familiar look
(Jun. 13, 2002)


A planet in a Jupiter-like orbit and a planet only 40 times more massive than Earth are among the lastest batch of 13 extrasolar planets whose discovery was announced today (June 13) by Geoff Marcy, of the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues. 55 Cancri (top left bright star in the photo), 41 light-years away, was already known to have one world, circling in a very tight circular orbit; now a second has been added, in a 13-year orbit similar to that of Jupiter. The new lightweight record has been smashed by a planet in the HD49674 system in Auriga. These are exciting breakthroughs for the astrobiologist. They suggest we are on the verge of finding more and more planetary systems that resemble our own and that might be the homes of life. It is only now that extrasolar planet searches are reaching the point where they have run long enough to pick up "normal" gas giants in wide, reasonably circular orbits. It will be some time yet before instruments become available that can pick up worlds as small as the Earth. But that there are plenty of other Earths out there seems virtually certain.

For more, go here (California and Carnegie Planet Search) and here (BBC).

Europa
Europan life: The good news and the bad
(Jun. 5, 2002)


While all the recent news from Mars concerning the possibility of life there has been positive, the latest reports on Europa come as a mixed bag. The good news comes Elisabetta Pierazzo, currently at the Planetary Science Institute, and Chris Chyba of the SETI Institute. Critical to hopes of finding at least microbial life on Europa is the presence of sufficient biogenic material-elements and organics that provide the buildings blocks and a suitable chemical energy source for a viable ecosystem. Pierazzo and Chyba conclude that impacting comets have provided the Jovian moon with plenty of the "right stuff." The trouble is, even if there is life in that sub-ice ocean on Europa, we may have the dickens of a time getting to have a look at it. The only method available, short of a manned mission with drilling gear, is a probe with a heated tip-a cryobot-that can melt its way down through the ice. But for that to work the ice can't be too thick. And here's the snag: according to research published recently in Nature, based on the depth of the moon's largest craters, Europa may have an ice layer at least 19 km (13 miles) thick. For more, on this, go here (BBC).

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