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NASA ponders year-long space missions
(Apr 11, 2004)

NASA is considering a proposal from its Russian partner to double the length of missions to the International Space Station from six months to one year. The space station has been continually occupied for the past three-and-half years by eight crews that have stayed for various lengths of time, but never more than seven months. NASA has tried to limit space stays to about six months because of health concerns. After extended periods in zero gravity, muscles atrophy and bones begin to degenerate. However, President Bush's proposal of sending astronauts to Mars – a mission that would keep the crew in space for more than a year – adds a new dimension to the discussion.

Read more. Source: CNN

galaxy with dark matter halo
Dark matter 'found within decade'
(Apr 10, 2004)

The detection of dark matter may be possible within a decade, a Nobel prize winning physics professor has claimed. Prof Carlo Rubbia told a conference in Edinburgh, UK, that this breakthrough will change our view of our place in the universe. "All the visible objects in the Universe ... only account for 0.5% of the total, so the Universe as we know it is only a side-show," he said. Recent estimates suggest about 23% of our universe is made of dark matter. So far, attempts to prove the existence of dark matter have drawn a blank. Even huge particle accelerators with tunnels several miles in diameter have failed to create dark matter particles artificially.

Read more. Source: BBC

Storms merge on Saturn
Probe sees storms merge on Saturn
(Apr 10, 2004)

The US-European Cassini spacecraft has caught two huge, swirling storms in the act of merging on Saturn. It is just the second time this has been seen, occurring as Cassini nears Saturn to begin a four-year mission of exploration in orbit around the planet. Scientists observed events for about a month as two 1,000 km-wide storms approached on a collision course. The storms twisted around each other in a counter-clockwise direction as they merged over 19 and 20 March. The only other time this phenomenon has been witnessed was in August 1981 when Voyager captured images of storms partially merging.

Read more. Source: BBC

Spirit's planned route
Twin Mars Exploration Rovers set for extended encore
(Apr 9, 2004)

NASA has approved an extended mission for the Mars Exploration Rovers, handing them up to five months of overtime assignments as they finish their three-month prime mission. The first of the two rovers, Spirit, met the success criteria set for its prime mission. Spirit gained check marks in the final two boxes on April 3 and 5, when it exceeded 600 meters of total drive distance and completed 90 martian operational days after landing. Opportunity landed three weeks after Spirit. It will complete the two-rover checklist of required feats when it finishes a 90th martian day of operations April 26. Image: Spirit's planned course to Columbia Hills.

Read more. Source: Space Daily

Private spaceflight draws closer
(Apr 8, 2004)

The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has granted a licence to Scaled Composites for a sub-orbital launch of their SpaceShipOne rocket-plane. The license clears the way for an attempt on the X-prize later this year. The X-prize of $10m (5.4m) is for the first privately funded, non-governmental body that can launch a three-person craft into space twice in two weeks. To claim the prize SpaceShipOne will have to reach an altitude of 100 km, the "official" boundary of space.

Read more. Source: BBC

Asteroid protection plan proposed
(Apr 8, 2004)

An unmanned spacecraft should test ways to deflect a threatening asteroid, two astronauts have told the US government. Rusty Schweickart and Edward Lu said a mission of this type could be launched to an asteroid in 2015. In February, Earth was almost placed on impact alert because of an asteroid then thought to be on an impact course. Mr Schweickart told a hearing that "the media and the general public realise that asteroids are of more than passing interest."

Read more. Source: BBC

Sun's path around the Milky Way
Milky Way past was more turbulent than previously thought
(Apr 8, 2004)

A team of astronomers from Denmark, Switzerland and Sweden has achieved a major breakthrough in our understanding of the Milky Way, the galaxy in which we live. After more than 1,000 nights of observations spread over 15 years, they have determined the spatial motions of more than 14,000 solar-like stars residing in the neighbourhood of the Sun. For the first time, the changing dynamics of the Milky Way since its birth can now be studied in detail and with a stellar sample sufficiently large to allow a sound analysis. The astronomers find that our home galaxy has led a much more turbulent and chaotic life than previously assumed.

Read more. Source: European Southern Observatory

Telescopes take close-up of Titan
(Apr 7, 2004)

Astronomers at the Paranal Observatory in Chile have obtained the best images yet of Titan – Saturn's major moon. They show what may be clouds in its thick and hazy atmosphere of nitrogen, methane and oily hydrocarbons. The Chandra X-ray telescope in orbit also studied Titan's atmosphere as the moon passed in front of the glowing wreckage of an exploded star. In January 2005, we may find out more when the Huygens probe attempts a splashdown onto Titan's oily oceans.

Read more. Source: BBC

Genesis collector array
Solar wind sampler seals its scoops
(Apr 7, 2004)

NASA's wayfaring Genesis spacecraft has scooped up its last high-energy particle from the Sun, after collecting ions from the solar wind for two and a half years. The mission is intended to shed light on the formation of the Solar System nearly five billion years ago by revealing the Sun's composition. Its quarry will be the first material ever returned to Earth from beyond the Moon when it drops to Earth in September 2004. On 1 April, the lid was tightened on a canister containing the spacecraft's sapphire, silicon, gold, and diamond collector arrays. These are expected to hold the equivalent of 0.4 milligrams of protons, electrons, and ions of heavier elements such as helium and oxygen. "It's effectively like dipping your spoon into the Sun and being able to analyse that, almost like you would a sample of seawater," says Christopher Owen, a plasma physicist at Mullard Space Science Laboratory in Surrey, UK, who is not involved in the mission.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Mars Exploration Rover
Spirit rover finishes main mission
(Apr 6, 2004)

NASA's Spirit rover wrapped up its primary mission to Mars on Monday as it continued to roll across the planet's surface on an extended tour that could last through September. The unmanned robot, marking its 90th full day on Mars, had accomplished all of the tasks NASA considered essential to declare the joint mission a success. Its twin rover, Opportunity, was getting close to achieving the same. "Spirit has completed its part of the bargain, and Opportunity doesn't have much left to do," said Mark Adler, manager of the $820 million mission. The mission's key tasks included a requirement that one of the rovers travel at least 1,980 feet – a mark Spirit surpassed on Saturday.

Source: CNN /AP

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