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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: April 2004
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dust devil on Mars
Dust storms may bedevil Mars explorers
(Apr 21, 2004)


Whirling dust devils on Mars probably generate high-voltage electric fields and associated magnetic fields that would need to be considered by future human explorers, scientists said Tuesday. The conclusion is based on studies in Arizona and Nevada, where researchers raced across the deserts to catch dust devils and drive right through them. They found unexpectedly large electric fields exceeding 4,000 volts per meter.

Source: CNN/space.com

Gravity B launch
Gravity B probe successfully launched
(Apr 20, 2004)


A satellite that will put Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity to the test has been launched successfully into space. The US space agency's $700m (387m) probe launched on a Boeing Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg Air Base in California at 1657 GMT. The probe will orbit around the Earth for more than a year on its mission. Gravity Probe B will test Einstein's ideas about space and time and how the Earth distorts them.

Read more. Source: BBC

comet-star collision
Comet destroyed in stellar crash
(Apr 20, 2004)


Astronomers have seen a comet vaporise into a cloud of gas as it plunged on to the fiery surface of a hot, young star. The comet – a 100km-wide body made of rock and ice – was ripped apart and destroyed by the heat of the star. Its demise was witnessed by observers using the giant Hobby-Eberly Telescope in Texas to observe the star Lk H-alpha 234, which is 3,200 light-years away. "This is a quite extraordinary event," says Professor Eric Feigelson, of Penn State University, US. "This discovery is significant because this is the youngest star ever found with this kind of infall of a comet-like body," says Jian Ge, assistant professor of astronomy at Penn State.

Read more. Source: BBC

view from Opportunity
Opportunity dashes 140 meters
(Apr 19, 2004)


Three days after switching to new software with mobility-enhancing features, NASA's Opportunity shattered the record for a single day's driving on Mars. The rover covered 140.9 meters (462 feet) during its 82nd sol on Mars, ending at 2:15 p.m. PDT, Saturday, May 17. That is about 40 meters farther than either the best previous one-day drive, by Opportunity two weeks ago, or the total distance covered by NASA's smaller Sojourner rover during its entire three-month mission in 1997. The first 55 meters (180 feet) was done as a "blind" guided drive based on images acquired previously. Speed during that session averaged 120 meters (394 feet) per hour. For the rest, Opportunity used autonomous navigation, watching for obstacles, choosing its own path, and averaging 40 meters (131 feet) per hour.

Read more. Source: Space Daily

SETI
British scientists seek alien worlds
(Apr 18, 2004)


A hunt for new worlds was launched yesterday by a British-led project that aims to uncover thousands of alien planets, providing a massive boost for the search for extraterrestrial life.The idea that myriad alien worlds and life might exist throughout the universe seems increasingly plausible to many scientists. To date, the search for these so called "extrasolar planets" has been dominated by a team led by Prof Geoff Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley. So far, the tally is 123, all "gas giants" similar to our own Jupiter.Yesterday Europe launched a new planet hunt with the inauguration of SuperWASP at the Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory in the Canary Islands."SuperWASP is the most ambitious project of its kind," according to the project's principal investigator, Dr Don Pollacco of Queen's University Belfast, where the prototype telescope was developed.

Read more. Source: Daily Telegraph

Star trek comm badge
Star Trek communicator ready to go
(Apr 17, 2004)


If you have ever wanted to emulate Star Trek and talk to colleagues via a lapel communicator, then now is your chance. US firm Vocera has created a wireless voice communicator just like they use in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Similar to the TV series, all you do to contact someone is press the talk button on the lapel badge, say their name, and you will be put through. The gadget is proving popular in hospitals to make it easier for nurses to find and get advice from doctors.

Read more. Source: BBC

Bounce Rock
Mars rover finds rock like meteorites that fell to Earth
(Apr 17, 2004)


NASA's Opportunity rover has examined an odd volcanic rock on the plains of Mars' Meridiani Planum region with a composition unlike anything seen on Mars before, but scientists have found similarities to meteorites that fell to Earth. "We think we have a rock similar to something found on Earth," said Dr. Benton Clark of Lockheed Martin Space Systems. The similarity seen in data from Opportunity's alpha particle X-ray spectrometer "gives us a way of understanding 'Bounce Rock' better," he said. Bounce Rock is the name given to the odd, football-sized rock because Opportunity struck it while bouncing to a stop inside protective airbags on landing day.

Read more. Source: Space Daily

remote exoplanet in Sagittarius
Cosmic magnifying glass finds distant planet
(Apr 16, 2004)


Astronomers used a sort of cosmic magnifying glass to find a hidden planet in the heart of the Milky Way, the first time this method has been used to detect a planetary system. The technique – known as gravitational microlensing – holds the promise of turning up more planets that are orbiting stars besides our sun, and could be used by amateur astronomers to help confirm future discoveries, scientists said on Thursday in a telephone news conference. In this case, researchers found a planet a bit more massive than Jupiter orbiting a star about 17,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius.

Source: CNN/Reuters

early cave jewellery
Cave yields 'earliest jewellery'
(Apr 15, 2004)


The oldest pieces of jewellery made by modern humans have emerged in Africa. Shell beads found in Blombos Cave on the southern tip of the continent are 75,000 years old, scientists say. The pea-sized items all have similar holes which would have allowed them to be strung together into a necklace or bracelet, the researchers believe. Christopher Henshilwood and his team have told Science magazine the find is probably one of the first examples of abstract thought seen in our ancestors. "The beads carry a symbolic message. Symbolism is the basis for all that comes afterwards including cave art, personal ornaments and other sophisticated behaviours," Professor Henshilwood, of the University of Bergen, Norway, told BBC News Online.

Read more. Source: BBC

horn
Big Bang glow hints at funnel-shaped Universe
(Apr 15, 2004)


Could the Universe be shaped like a medieval horn? It may sound like a surrealist's dream, but according to Frank Steiner at the University of Ulm in Germany, recent observations hint that the cosmos is stretched out into a long funnel, with a narrow tube at one end flaring out into a bell. It would also mean that space is finite. Adopting such an apparently outlandish model could explain two puzzling observations. The first is the pattern of hot and cold spots in the cosmic microwave background radiation, which shows what the Universe looked like just 380,000 years after the Big Bang. It was charted in detail in 2003 by NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe. WMAP found that the pattern fades on the largest scales: there are no clear hot or cold blobs more than about 60 degrees across.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

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