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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: December 2003
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Stardust approaches Comet Wild 2 Dec 31, 2003
World's longest snake goes on show2 Dec 31, 2003
Mars Express shifts to polar orbit Dec 30, 2003
Mars Spirit rover on track for Gusev crater Dec 30, 2003
Beagle may have fallen into deep crater Dec 29, 2003
"Tiger team" heads eagle search Dec 28, 2003
Beagle hopes hang on mothership Dec 27, 2003
Mars Express in orbit; still no sound from Beagle Dec 26, 2003
Late Neanderthals "more like us" Dec 24, 2003
Beagle probe faces its biggest challenge Dec 23, 2003
Slim chance that all approaching Mars probes will survive Dec 22, 2003
The search for the lost Mars Polar Lander Dec 22, 2003
World waits on fusion reactor Dec 20, 2003
Sensational images from new telescope Dec 19, 2003
Beagle separates successfully from Mars Express Dec 19, 2003
Why is the Sun fading? Dec 18, 2003
Private rocket-plane breaks sound barrier Dec 18, 2003
Beagle probe enters crucial phase Dec 17, 2003
Oldest evidence for photosynthesis Dec 17, 2003
A new arm for our Galaxy Dec 17, 2003
Dust storms threaten Mars lander Dec 16 2003
Timeline for time travel still in fictional realm Dec 15, 2003
Cassini-Huygens science teams gear up for Saturn Dec 14, 2003
NASA to investigate bizarre life beyond Earth Dec 14, 2003
Carbon clue implies comets orbit other stars Dec 12, 2003
Astonishing uranium bug Dec 12, 2003
Oldest marsupial ancestor found Dec 12, 2003
Cave colors reveal mental leap Dec 11, 2003
How life could seed the Galaxy Dec 10, 2003
New research suggests Earthlike planets may be common Dec 10, 2003
Are giant falling ice balls a sign of global warming? Dec 10, 2003
Massive star revealed to have glowing disk Dec 9, 2003
Details of JIMO Jupiter probe emerge Dec 9, 2003
Odyssey hints at climate change on Mars Dec 9, 2003
Japan abandons Nozomi Mars mission Dec 9, 2003
Humans "could survive Mars visit" Dec 9, 2003
No fiery extinction for dinosaurs Dec 9, 2003
Trail of black holes and neutron stars points to ancient collision Dec 8, 2003
Europe heads for hottest year since records began Dec 8, 2003
Scanning the mysteries inside the Earth Dec 8, 2003
Saturn in Cassini's sights Dec 5, 2003
Sunlight's gentle nudge on asteroids detected Dec 4, 2003
Are mini black holes raining down on Earth? Dec 3, 2003
Solar activity reaches new high Dec 2, 2003
Neanderthal "face" found in Loire Dec 2, 2003
Stardust closes on its prey Dec 2, 2003
Is the Sun made mainly out of iron? Dec 2, 2003
Solar activity reaches new high Dec 2, 2003
Rocket failure weakens Japan's space program Dec 1, 2003

Stardust approaches Comet Wild 2
(Dec 31, 2003)

On a daring first-of-its-kind quest, an armored space probe will race past a three-mile-wide comet Friday to collect samples of the ancient relic that serves as a frozen time capsule from the formation of our solar system. NASA's Stardust spacecraft was launched in February 1999 on a seven-year, three-billion mile round-trip voyage to Comet Wild 2. After Friday's close encounter, the craft will head for home where a capsule containing tiny bits of the comet's heart will parachute to Earth in 2006. "This could prove to be a pivotal time for science, a remarkable opportunity to gather evidence that might actually tell us how the planets formed and give us clues about how life on Earth began," said Donald Brownlee, a University of Washington astronomer and principle investigator for the Stardust mission.

Read more. Source: Spaceflight Now

longest snake
World's longest snake goes on show
(Dec 31, 2003)

A primitive zoo in Indonesia is holding a 49-foot-python captured in a forest in Sumatra, a report said on Monday. If its vital statistics are confirmed, the python could be the world's longest snake. The reptile, which measures 14.85 metres and weighs in at 447 kilograms, the Suara Merdeka regional newspaper reported. According to the Guiness Book of Records, the world's longest snake ever captured was a reticulated python, which was 10-meters-long, and shot in Celebes Indonesia in 1912.

Read more. Source: Channel News Asia

Mars Express
Mars Express shifts to polar orbit
(Dec 30, 2003)

Europe's Mars Express orbiter, the "mothership" to Beagle 2, has carried out a major engine burn to sweep it into a polar orbit of the Red Planet. The spacecraft has been heading away from Mars, preparing for the manoeuvre – a crucial first step to bring it into a lower orbit around Mars. The orbit change will put Mars Express in prime position to talk to Beagle 2. European space agency controllers changed the orbit by firing the engine for four minutes at 0800 GMT.

Read more. Source: BBC

Mars Exploration Rover
Mars Spirit Rover on track for Gusev Crater
(Dec 30, 2003)

NASA's Spirit rover spacecraft fired its thrusters for 3.4 seconds on Friday, Dec. 26, to make a slight and possibly final correction in its flight path about one week before landing on Mars. Radio tracking of the spacecraft during the 24 hours after the maneuver showed it to be right on course for its landing inside Mars' Gusev Crater at 04:35 Jan. 4, 2004, Universal Time (8:35 p.m. Jan. 3, Pacific Standard Time.) Spirit's twin, Opportunity, will reach Mars three weeks later. "The maneuver went flawlessly," said Dr. Mark Adler, Spirit mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Read more. Source: NASA/JPL

Crater at center of projected Beagle landing site
Beagle may have fallen into deep crater
(Dec 29, 2003)

The first clear view of the specific area where the British Beagle 2 lander should have touched down Christmas Day has revealed a one-kilometer crater dead center in the target landing zone, but officials are quick to say the discovery doesn't dash their optimism of finding the missing craft. "This would be an incredibly unlucky situation," Colin Pillinger, lead scientist for the Beagle 2 project, said this morning. To date, all attempts using the American Mars Odyssey orbiter and radio telescopes in the U.K. and California have failed to detect a peep from Beagle. NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter snapped the landing site image 20 minutes after Beagle's scheduled 0254 GMT arrival December 25. The view isn't sharp enough to show the two-meter wide spacecraft. However, the image did uncover a crater not unlike the famous meteor impact crater in the southwest United States.

Read more. Source: Spaceflight Now

Beagle 2
"Tiger team" heads Beagle search
(Dec 28, 2003)

There is still no sign of life from the British-built Mars probe, Beagle 2. All attempts to contact the lander with the Mars Odyssey craft in orbit around the Red Planet and with large radio telescopes on Earth have drawn a blank. Scientists have now set up a "tiger team" to work through all the possible reasons for the lander's silence. The small group, based at the British National Space Centre, is drawing up a list of "blind" commands to send to Beagle that might prompt it to respond.

Read more. Source: BBC.

Beagle 2 on Mars
Beagle hopes hang on mothership
(Dec 27, 2003)

The British team behind the Beagle 2 mission to Mars has failed to contact the landing craft for the fifth time. There has been no signal since the probe's planned touchdown on the Red Planet early on Christmas Day. Team leader Professor Colin Pillinger says they are now pinning their hopes on the mothership, Mars Express. He told reporters: "Mars Express is our primary route of communication. It's the one we spent most of our time over the last four years testing. Really and truly now we're waiting until 4 January for a really big attempt with Mars Express." That date is when the spacecraft – which carried Beagle to Mars – gets itself into the correctly defined orbit to start communicating with and studying the planet's surface.

Read more. Source: BBC.

Mars Express in orbit
Mars Express in orbit; still no sound from Beagle
(Dec 26, 2003)

The scientist leading the Beagle project says he has not given up hope of contacting the missing Mars lander. The prospects for the UK-built probe look increasingly gloomy after it failed to transmit a signal on reaching the planet early on Christmas Day. A later radio sweep of Mars also failed to detect any sign of the probe, and there are fears it could have crashed into the planet's surface. But Professor Colin Pillinger said: "We will hang on testing and waiting." He told a press conference on Boxing Day the robotic probe was programmed to make several more transmissions in the coming days... Mars Express (Beagle's mothership, which carried it into space and set it loose about a week ago) should be in position soon to try to make contact with its "baby" early in the New Year. It succeeded in obtaining an orbit around the Red Planet, and scientists say it appears to be in a good condition.

Read more. Source: BBC.

Late Neanderthals "more like us"
(Dec 24, 2003)

Neanderthals were shedding their sturdy physique and evolving in the direction of modern humans just before they disappeared from the fossil record. Newly-identified remains from Vindija in Croatia, which date to between 42,000 and 28,000 years ago, are more delicate than "classic" Neanderthals. One controversial explanation is that these Neanderthals were interbreeding with modern humans in the region. Details of the research appear in the Journal of Human Evolution. Excavations also reveal the Vindija Neanderthals were developing advanced ways of making stone tools that mirror innovations elsewhere by modern humans.

Read more. Source: BBC.

Beagle descending
Beagle probe faces its biggest challenge
(Dec 23, 2003)

Beagle 2 has been carried to the vicinity of Mars by the Mars Express mothership, and released successfully to go its own way for the final leg of the journey. The easy part is over. Beagle's atmospheric entry, descent and landing on Mars on Christmas Day will be the most worrying six minutes in the history of unmanned space exploration. It is during that time, after it strikes the upper region of Mars' atmosphere at 20,000 kilometres per hour, that engineers hope that the speed at which it was designed and built, and the technical compromises that were made, will not jeopardise the mission.

Read more. Source: BBC.

Slim chance that all approaching Mars probes will survive
(Dec 22, 2003)

Early Christmas morning, a small armada of exploratory spacecraft will reach the red planet, some attempting to enter orbit, others to land – a very risky business because of the engineering and physical challenges that await the robotic probes. Together, they represent one of the most ambitious efforts yet to resolve the contradictions that persist in alternately intriguing and beguiling scientists. A British spacecraft, the Beagle 2, is scheduled to land on Mars early December 25. That same day, Europe's Mars Express should enter orbit around the planet. Mars Express successfully released Beagle 2 on Friday, after carrying it piggyback most of the way to Mars. Spirit, the first of NASA's identical robot explorers, is expected to land Jan. 3. Its sibling, Opportunity, is scheduled to settle on the opposite side of the planet January 24. The odds of all four spacecraft succeeding are slim.

Read more. Source: CNN.

Mars Polar Lander
The search for the lost Mars Polar Lander
(Dec 22, 2003)

On January 3, 1999, NASA's Mars Polar Lander roared away from Earth on a bold mission to explore a unique region of the red planet. The spacecraft was to gently set itself down near the border of Mars' southern polar cap, the first ever spacecraft to study the distant world's polar environment. After months of crossing interplanetary space, Mars Polar Lander was in the final minutes of slowing itself down, ready to make a self-controlled touch down. It was never heard from again. Nobody knows for sure exactly what occurred at journey's end. The loss of the Mars Polar Lander became a detective story that pitted photo analysts at a super-secret spy agency and NASA experts about the overall condition of the lost-to-Mars probe.

Read more. Source:

World waits on fusion reactor
(Dec 20, 2003)

A decision on where to site the world's first big nuclear fusion reactor has been postponed until next year. Officials from several countries meeting in Washington were divided on whether to build the international reactor in France or Japan. The US has been against the French option because of France's opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq. Nuclear fusion holds out the promise of virtually limitless pollution-free energy. Experts say the country hosting the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project will gain a potentially-lucrative head start in expertise and technology.

Read more. Source: BBC.

protostars imaged by the Spitzer Space Telescope
Sensational images from new space telescope
(Dec 19, 2003)

The first images from NASA's new infrared space telescope reveal the drama and beauty of the infrared Universe. The pictures also confirm that the agency's latest Great Observatory, which was launched in August, is working as planned. For example, the picture of The Elephant's Trunk Nebula (above) shows what is happening inside a dense, dust cloud almost 2500 light years away. The red glints are proto-stars, while the wisps and strands are cosmic dust that is being blasted by radiation from a nearby, ultra-bright star.

Read more. Source: New Scientist.

Beagle 2 separating from Mars Express
Beagle separates successfully from Mars Express
(Dec 19, 2003)

Beagle 2 has successfully separated from its "mothership" for the final leg of the journey to Mars. Mike McKay, flight operations director at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) at Darmstadt, Germany, confirmed the separation just after 1110 GMT. The tiny probe will now glide the last three million kilometres to the Red Planet alone; silent, powerless and in hibernation mode. The lander is expected to touch down on Mars on Christmas Day, to search for signs of life, past or present.

Read more. Source: BBC.

Why is the Sun fading?
(Dec 18, 2003)

Each year less light reaches the surface of the Earth. No one is sure why this is- or what it means for the future. In 1985, a geography researcher called Atsumu Ohmura at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology got the shock of his life. As part of his studies into climate and atmospheric radiation, Ohmura was checking levels of sunlight recorded around Europe when he made an astonishing discovery. It was too dark. Records show that over the past 50 years the average amount of sunlight reaching the ground has gone down by almost 3% a decade. What on Earth is going on?

Read more. Source: Guardian.

SpaceShipOne breaking the sound barrier
Private rocket-plane breaks sound barrier
(Dec 18, 2003)

The sound barrier has been breached by a privately built rocket-plane, the first time it has been done without government help. Scaled Composites of California flew their SpaceShipOne rocket-plane at Mach 1.2 to an altitude of 68,000 ft. The company is run by Burt Rutan, who was behind the Voyager aircraft that flew non-stop around the world without refuelling in 1986. Analysts say that SpaceShipOne could reach space on a mission next year.

Read more. Source: BBC.

Beagle 2 entering Martian atmosphere
Beagle probe enters crucial phase
(Dec 17, 2003)

The British spacecraft Beagle 2 is about to begin the final leg of its journey to the surface of Mars. On Friday, it will be released from its "mothership", Mars Express, to travel the last three million kilometres to a rocky plain on the Red Planet. Beagle 2 is expected to land on Mars on Christmas Day, when it will search for signs of life, past or present. At the same time, Mars Express, Europe's first solo mission to another world, will go into orbit around Mars.

Read more. Source: BBC.

Isua rocks
Oldest evidence of photosynthesis
(Dec 17, 2003)

Scientists claim to have found the oldest evidence of photosynthesis – the most important chemical reaction on Earth – in 3.7 billion-year-old rocks. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants, algae and certain bacteria convert sunlight to chemical energy. Danish researchers say rocks from Greenland show life-forms were using the process about one billion years earlier than has previously been shown.

Read more. Source: BBC.

outer ring of gas in the Galaxy
A new arm for our Galaxy?
(Dec 17, 2003)

Observations made with CSIRO's Parkes radio telescope and Australia Telescope Compact Array strongly suggest that our Galaxy has an extra spiral arm, not previously known. Astronomers think that our Galaxy looks like many of the others that we see in the Universe: a central ball-shaped bulge of stars, with arms of gas, dust, and stars sweeping out from the bulge. The arms are also full of hydrogen gas – the raw material for forming stars. Radio telescopes can detect a strong radio signal from this gas. The astronomers found the new arm by determining the position of an unusual concentration of gas.

Read more. Source: CSIRO.

Dust storms threaten Mars landers
(Dec 16, 2003)

A series of dust storms could threaten the success of three space probes heading for Mars, astronomers warn. The scientists say some small storms are combining to obscure a large part of the planet's northern hemisphere. If they build into a global storm, which can happen, it could interfere with the solar panels the probes use to generate power for their instruments. On 25 December, Europe's Beagle 2 will land, followed by two US rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, on 3 and 24 January. Photo taken Dec. 13.

Read more. Source: BBC.

time machine
Timeline for time travel still in fictional realm
(Dec 15, 2003)

When the Wright Brothers defied gravity a century ago, they also supposedly defied science. After all, hadn't scientists said that human-controlled heavier-than-air flight was impossible? Back then, flying through the atmosphere was just as much science fiction as H. G. Wells' recent fantasy about traveling through time. Today, science-fiction fans may wonder whether barriers to time travel could also be so simply solved. For now, just as a century ago, the most knowledgeable scientists do not deny the possibility – in theory at least – of going back in time.

Read more. Source: Dallas Morning News.

Huygens on Titan
Cassini-Huygens science teams gear up for Saturn
(Dec 14, 2003)

The most recent spacecraft telemetry was acquired from the Goldstone tracking station on Monday, December 8. The Cassini spacecraft is in an excellent state of health and is operating normally. Information on the present position and speed of the Cassini spacecraft may be found on the "Present Position" web page here. Cassini is 178 days from its first encounter in the Saturn system – a flyby of the little moon Phoebe.

Read more. Source: Space Daily.

strange life
NASA to investigate bizarre life beyond Earth
(Dec 14, 2003)

NASA is assessing support for a major look into the limits of organic life in planetary systems. The purpose of the imaginative study is twofold: To evaluate the possibility that "non-standard" chemistry may support life in known solar system environments and conceivably in extrasolar settings; and to define broad areas that might guide NASA and other agencies to fund efforts to expand knowledge in this area. The assessment would take place over a 15-month time period, undertaken by a National Academy of Sciences study group within the National Research Council's Space Studies Board in Washington, D.C.

Read more. Source:

Carbon clue implies comets orbit other stars
(Dec 12, 2003)

Carbon ions have been seen for the first time in a comet's tail by US scientists. The finding suggests that comets, so far seen only in our own Solar System, might well orbit other stars. This conclusion stems from the fact that similar charged particles have been measured in the light from a nearby star, Beta Pictoris, which is surrounded by a dusty disk. "The theory is that comets in the Beta Pictoris system are plunging into the star and being evaporated, or at least falling toward it," says Matthew Povich, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and lead author of the new study.

Read more. Source: New Scientist.

Astonishing uranium bug
(Dec 12, 2003)

US scientists have decoded and analysed the genome of a bacterium which could help clear up radioactive waste and possibly even generate electricity. The Geobacter species has genes that allow it to convert uranium and other radionuclides dissolved in water to solid compounds that can be extracted. Its ability to manipulate electrons in metals could form the basis of a bio-battery, the US Energy Department says. The organism, called Geobacter sulfurreducens, was found in a soil sample in Oklahoma that was contaminated by hydrocarbons – the breakdown products of fossil fuel combustion. Researchers at The Institute for Genomic Research (Tigr) and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, say the bacterium has extraordinary capabilities.

Read more. Source: BBC.

Sinodelphys szalayi
Oldest marsupial ancestor found
(Dec 12, 2003)

A mouse-sized fossil found in China may be the oldest ancestor of modern marsupials – the mammal family that includes kangaroos and koalas. The creature, which was unearthed in Liaoning province, extends the ancestry of marsupials by 50 million years. The stunning specimen preserves an imprint of the animal's coat of hair and analysis of its feet suggests it was adapted to climbing in trees.

Read more. Source: BBC.

rock from Qafzeh cave
Cave colors reveal mental leap
(Dec 11, 2003)

Red-stained bones dug up in a cave in Israel are prompting researchers to speculate that symbolic thought emerged much earlier than they had believed. Symbolic thought – the ability to let one thing represent another – was a giant leap in human evolution. It was a mental ability that allowed sophisticated language and maths. New excavations show that a red colour made from ochre was used in burials 100,000 years ago, much earlier than other examples of colour association.

Read more. Source: BBC.

star map
How life could seed the Galaxy
(Dec 10, 2003)

Astronomers may have shown how microbes from Earth could be spread throughout the galaxy taking life to other worlds (see panspermia). Scientists at Armagh Observatory and Cardiff University say bacteria could get into space on rocks blasted off the planet by an asteroid or comet impact. Their calculations then indicate the microbes would eventually leak out of our Solar System to seed other regions. The work is reported in two independent papers published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The implication of the papers is that life could be widespread throughout the galaxy and may not have originated on our planet.

Read more. Source: BBC.

Earthlike planet
New research suggests Earthlike planets may be common
(Dec 10, 2003)

Astrobiologists disagree about whether advanced life is common or rare in our universe. But new research suggests that one thing is pretty certain – if an Earthlike world with significant water is needed for advanced life to evolve, there could be many candidates. In 44 computer simulations of planet formation near a sun, astronomers found that each simulation produced one to four Earthlike planets, including 11 so-called "habitable" planets about the same distance from their stars as Earth is from our sun.

Read more. Source: University of Washington.

giant hailstone
Are giant falling ice balls a sign of global warming?
(Dec 10, 2003)

A Spanish-American scientific team will be scanning the United States this winter for what might be one of the weirdest byproducts of global warming: great balls of ice that fall from the sky. The baffling phenomenon was first detected in Spain three years ago and has since been reported in a number of other countries, including the United States. So scientists now plan to monitor in a systematic way what they call "megacryometeors". "I'm not worried that a block of ice may fall on your head," said Dr. Jesus Martinez-Frias of the Center for Astrobiology in Madrid. "I'm worried that great blocks of ice are forming where they shouldn't exist." Ice balls, which generally weigh 25 to 35 pounds but can be much bigger, have punched holes in the roofs of houses, smashed through car windshields, and whizzed right past people's heads. The photo here is of a replica of the world's heaviest known hailstone, which weighed a mere 1.67 pounds!

Read more. Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Massive star revealed to have glowing disk
(Dec 9, 2003)

A shroud of gas swaddling a massive star has been seen to glow from its own heat for the first time, reveal astronomers. The discovery backs a theory that the heavy giants form from a clouds of gas collapsing into rotating disks. Understanding the origins of the massive stars – those with about ten to a hundred times more mass than the Sun – is important as they may provide insight on the early universe. Observations from the UK Infrared Telescope in Hawaii show that the gas cocoon around a massive star 20,000 light years away from Earth glows from violent shock waves.

Read more. Source: New Scientist.

Details of JIMO Jupiter probe emerge
(Dec 9, 2003)

Scientists have been giving details of a proposed US mission to the moons of Jupiter that may possibly support life - Europa, Callisto and Ganymede. The huge probe, which would visit each in turn to study sub-surface oceans, will need to be powered by a nuclear reactor and this may be controversial. The US space agency calls the concept craft the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter. Its design and mission were described at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

Read more. Source: BBC.

Mars Odyssey
Odyssey hints at climate change on Mars
(Dec 9, 2003)

Mars may be going through a period of climate change, new findings from NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter suggest. Odyssey has been mapping the distribution of materials on and near Mars’ surface since early 2002, nearly a full annual cycle on Mars. Besides tracking seasonal changes, such as the advance and retreat of polar dry ice, the orbiter is returning evidence useful for learning about longer-term dynamics. The amount of frozen water near the surface in some relatively warm low-latitude regions on both sides of Mars' equator appears too great to be in equilibrium with the atmosphere under current climatic conditions, said Dr. William Feldman of Los Alamos National Laboratory, N.M. He is the lead scientist for an Odyssey instrument that assesses water content indirectly through measurements of neutron emissions. "One explanation could be that Mars is just coming out of an ice age," Feldman said.

Read more. Source: JPL.

Japan abandons Nozomi Mars mission
(Dec 9, 2003)

Japan has given up on its first interplanetary space mission on the final leg of the journey to Mars. Officials have decided not to put the Nozomi spacecraft into orbit around the planet. Last-ditch attempts to fix an onboard electrical fault have failed, and the probe will be steered off into space. This will stop Nozomi crashing into Mars and possibly contaminating its environment, which may once have harboured life – and perhaps still does.

Read more. Source: BBC.

Mars base
Humans "could survive Mars visit"
(Dec 9, 2003)

Scientists say measurements taken by the US space agency's Mars Odyssey craft prove that a human mission could survive on the Martian surface. Instrument data show radiation around the Red Planet might cause some health problems but is unlikely to be fatal. Mars Odyssey has sent back a wealth of information about Earth's neighbour since it went into orbit two years ago.

Read more. Source: BBC.

No fiery extinction for dinosaurs
(Dec 9, 2003)

It is unlikely the dinosaurs perished in a global firestorm triggered by the asteroid strike on Earth 65 million years ago, scientists have claimed. A popular theory suggests the impact, which was centred on Chicxulub in Mexico, generated enough energy to set off a raging worldwide inferno. But a new study shows rocks laid down at the time contain little charcoal – a possible tell-tale record of fires.

>Read more. Source: BBC.

Trail of black holes and neutron stars points to ancient collision
(Dec 8, 2003)

A NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory image of the elliptical galaxy NGC 4261 has revealed a trail of black holes and neutron stars stretching more than 50,000 light years across space. This spectacular structure is thought to represent the aftermath of the destruction of a smaller galaxy that was pulled apart by gravitational tidal forces as it fell into NGC 4261.

Read more. Source: Chandra X-ray Observatory/NASA.

Europe heads for hottest year since records began
(Dec 8, 2003)

This year is likely to prove the hottest recorded in Britain. It will also be memorable for continental Europe's hottest summer, which exceeded previous records by such an enormous amount that one of Britain's leading climate scientists is now prepared to attribute its extreme heat directly to global warming. Even though three weeks of temperatures have still to be registered, 2003 – already notable for Britain's hottest day on 10 August, when the thermometer registered 38.5C (101.3F) at Faversham in Kent – is on course to be the hottest year as a whole in Britain in nearly 350 years of reliable records.

Read more. Source: Independent.

mantle plume
Scanning the mysteries inside the Earth>
(Dec 8, 2003)

Like doctors taking a sonogram of a human body, Princeton geoscientists have captured images of the interior of the Earth and revealed structures that help explain how the planet changes and ages. The scientists used tremors from earthquakes to probe the inside of the planet just as sound waves allow doctors to look inside a mother's womb. The technique, a greatly refined version of earlier efforts, produced a surprisingly sharp image and yielded the first direct measurements of giant spouts of heat, called mantle plumes, that emanate from deep within the planet. Mantle plumes are believed to cause island chains, such as the Hawaiian Islands and Iceland, when the Earth's crust passes over the column of heat. Although accepted by most scientists, the existence of mantle plumes has been fiercely contested by a minority of researchers in recent years. "This is the first visual evidence that mantle plumes exist," said Raffaella Montelli, a Princeton geoscientist and the lead author of a paper published online by the journal Science on Dec. 4.

Read more. Source: Princeton.

Saturn in Cassini's sights
(Dec 5, 2003)

One year since last sighting Saturn, and less than eight months before reaching the planet, the cameras on NASA's Cassini spacecraft have caught another glimpse of the ringed planet, growing more detailed with time. The planet was 111 million kilometers (69 million miles) from the spacecraft when the images were taken last week, about the equivalent of three-fourths of the distance between Earth and the Sun. The image shows details in the rings and atmosphere not seen a year ago, as well as five of Saturn's icy moons.

Read more. Source: NASA/JPL.

asteroid Gaspra
Sunlight's gentle nudge on asteroids detected
(Dec 4, 2003)

Astronomers have detected the delicate force of sunlight on an asteroid's orbit for the first time. The long-predicted effect has been blamed for propelling some asteroid fragments from the Solar System's main asteroid belt into the region near Earth, where they can threaten the planet. But its subtle action on asteroid orbits has been difficult to measure with optical telescopes. Instead, Steve Chesley, Steve Ostro and colleagues at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, used the radar range finder at Arecibo in Puerto Rico. They used this to track a near-Earth asteroid called Golevka. The team took precise measurements of Golevka's position regularly between its discovery in 1991 and its most recent Earth pass in May. This showed it was not quite in the position that would be predicted based on gravitational forces alone.

Read more. Source: New Scientist.

Are mini black holes raining down on Earth?
(Dec 3, 2003)

Are mini black holes raining down through the Earth's atmosphere? It is possible, says a team of physicists. They think this could explain mysterious observations, called "Centauro-events" (see photo), from mountain-top experiments over the past 30 years. Ordinary black holes form when stars explode at the end of their lives. If some of physicists' favourite theories about extra dimensions are correct, it would also be possible for high-energy cosmic-ray particles from space to create black holes when they collide with molecules in the Earth's atmosphere. These black holes would be invisibly small, with a mass of only 10 micrograms or so. And they would be so unstable that they would explode in a burst of particles within around a billion-billion-billionth of a second.

Read more. Source: New Scientist. Alternative article. Source: CERN.

Addendum On Feb. 2, 2004, Dr. Vladimir Kopenkin, of Moscow State University, sent me this message, which offers a less exotic but far more credible explanation:

It is generally believed that Centauro I event is one of the most famous long standing mysteries of cosmic ray physics. Certainly, this event was the "key stone" for the outlining of so-called Centauro phenomenon. Any other so-called "candidate" event could not stand alone, without the existence of the Centauro I.

This photo certainly shows cosmic ray family that was named "Centauro I". I confirm it. But association of this experimental event with something exotic is not necessary (even if it seems very attractive at first sight, we have to rely on facts and evidence).

Your article is based on the information published in December 2003 (New Scientist), which, in turn, takes as a source an internet preprint (hep-ph/0311318) published in November 25 2003 ("black hole novel"). These two articles, as well as an "alternative article" (CERN Courier), always repeat the same discussion on exotics. Due to 30 years history it was repeated so many times...

But... "No matter how beautiful a physicist's invention is, it suffers a terrible vulnerability. it can be proved wrong." By other words, we believe that exotic ideas are not shown to be true simply by finding the evidence that supports them. The best way of proving the correctness of exotic idea is to do everything possible to show it to be false – and fail...) Let me point your attention to the article published in September 2003. Journal reference: Physical Review D 68, 052007 (2003). Here is a brief story:

The new analysis of Centauro I reveals that there is a difference in the arrival angle between the upper block and lower block events, so the two are not products of the same interaction. That leaves only the lower chamber data connected to the Centauro I event. By other words, the man-horse analogy becomes redundant. There is only an obvious "tail", and no "head". The original detector setup had gaps between neighboring blocks in the upper chamber. Linear dimensions of gaps were comparable to the geometrical size of the event. The signal observed in the lower detector was similar to an ordinary interaction occurred at low altitude above the chamber, thus providing a natural solution - passing of a cascade of particles through a gap between the upper blocks.


Of course, the behavior of Nature is more complex than people imagined... Nevertheless... As you can see, in present case, mundane explanation without any exotic guesswork provides an answer. Even the name "Centauro" is not relevant for the family's appearance ... What is really new: A decades old cosmic ray mystery can be explained without exotics.

Giant solar flare
Solar activity reaches new high
(Dec 2, 2003)

Geophysicists in Finland and Germany have calculated that the Sun is more magnetically active now than it has been for over a 1000 years. Ilya Usoskin and colleagues at the University of Oulu and the Max-Planck Institute for Aeronomy say that their technique – which relies on a radioactive dating technique – is the first direct quantitative reconstruction of solar activity based on physical, rather than statistical, models.

Read more. Source: PhysicsWeb.

Neanderthal face
Neanderthal "face" found in Loire
(Dec 2, 2003)

A flint object with a striking likeness to a human face may be one of the best examples of art by Neanderthal man ever found, the journal Antiquity reports. The "mask", which is dated to be about 35,000 years old, was recovered on the banks of the Loire at La Roche-Cotard. It is about 10 cm tall and wide and has a bone splinter rammed through a hole, making the rock look as if it has eyes. Commentators say the object shows the Neanderthals were more sophisticated than their caveman image suggests. "It should finally nail the lie that Neanderthals had no art," Paul Bahn, the British rock art expert, told BBC News Online. "It is an enormously important object."

Read more. Source: BBC.

comet Wild 2
Stardust closes on its prey
(Dec 2, 2003)

Forty-nine days before its historic rendezvous with a comet, NASA's Stardust spacecraft successfully photographed its quarry, comet Wild 2 (pronounced Vilt-2), from 25 million kilometers (15.5 million miles) away. The image, the first of many comet portraits it will take over the next four weeks, will aid Stardust's navigators and scientists as they plot their final trajectory toward a Jan. 2, 2004 flyby and collection of samples from Wild 2. "Christmas came early this year," said Project Manager Tom Duxbury at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Our job is to aim a 5 meter (16 foot) long spacecraft at a 5.4 kilometer (3.3 mile) wide comet that is closing on it at six times the speed of a bullet.

Read more. Source: Space Daily.

the Sun
Is the Sun made mainly out of iron?
(Dec 2, 2003)

Our supposedly middle-aged sun has been behaving like an adolescent of late, hurling huge clouds of particles at us after its face broke out in spots. Its celestial hissy fit has damaged satellites, sent the occupants of the International Space Station scurrying for cover, and forced aircraft to change routes to avoid excessive cosmic radiation. The sun's outburst has also produced some spectacular displays in the heavens, yet the weirdest Earth-bound manifestation to date takes the form of a scientific paper, written by an American physicist. Oliver Manuel, a professor of nuclear chemistry at the University of Missouri-Rolla, says the recent solar storms are symptomatic of the sun being made chiefly out of iron.

Read more. Source: Sydney Morning Herald/Telegraph, London.

dinosaur footprint
Dinosaur family footprints found
(Dec 2, 2003)

A rare piece of evidence pointing to a dinosaur mothering her young after they had left the nest has been discovered on the Isle of Skye. Dinosaur footprints found on a remote beach on the island reveal an adult ornithopod – a bipedal plant-eating dinosaur – walking along a muddy lake edge, with up to 10 smaller individuals. The find on a slab of sandstone is thought to be a world first for palaeontologists. The 170 million year old footprints were discovered by the isle's Staffin Museum curator, Dugald Ross and hotelier, Paul Booth, last year.

Read more. Source: BBC.

Rocket failure weakens Japan's space program
(Dec 1, 2003)

Japan's beleaguered space programme suffered a blow this Saturday when a rocket carrying two spy satellites was forced to self-destruct 10 minutes into flight. The satellites were to bolster two other instruments sent into orbit this March to keep tabs on the military machinations of neighbouring North Korea. Japan's space programme "is in deep trouble" says John Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University in the US. "They've had too many failures of this rocket," he says, referring to two botched launches in the late 1990s. In addition, this October Japan lost contact with its Advanced Earth Observing Satellite-II (ADEOS-II), also called Midori-II, just 10 months into a three-year mission.

Read more. Source: New Scientist.


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