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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: February 2004
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Saturn looms large for spacecraft Feb 29, 2004
NASA poised to solve Mars mysteries Feb 28, 2004
Nearest young planet-forming star found Feb 27, 2004
Opportunity drills into Mars rock Feb 26, 2004
Mars rock pictures baffle scientists Feb 25, 2004
Earth almost put on impact alert Feb 24, 2004
Earth sows its seeds in space Feb 23, 2004
Mars rover hints at water activity Feb 22, 2004
New world found beyond Pluto Feb 20, 2004
Rosetta probe ready for lift-off Feb 20, 2004
Giant black hole rips star apart Feb 19, 2004
Distant galaxies line up in space Feb 18, 2004
Rover goes for longest trip yet Feb 17, 2004
Diamond star thrills astronomers Feb 16, 2004
Hubble sees most distant object Feb 16, 2004
Huygens probe aims for white-knuckle descent Feb 14, 2004
Mars Express stares at volcanos Feb 14, 2004
Mars rover reveals new details about rocks Feb 13, 2004
New star emerges from dust cocoon Feb 12, 2004
NASA to boost Mars rovers' distance mark Feb 12, 2004
Close-ups narrow theories on Mars bedrock Feb 11, 2004
Extrasolar waterworlds may be brimming with life Feb 11, 2004
Mars rover position pinpointed Feb 10, 2004
Opportunity peeks out over rim Feb 10, 2004
Comet lander named Philae Feb 9, 2004
Spirit makes drilling debut Feb 8, 2004
'Healed' Mars probe brushes away dust, revealing darker spot Feb 7, 2004
Rover takes first spin on Mars Feb 6, 2004
Secrets of the 'Evil Eye' galaxy Feb 5, 2004
Galactic building blocks seen swarming around Andromeda Feb 5, 2004
Round Mars grains excite NASA Feb 4, 2004
Whales proving they're smart Feb 4, 2004
Collision with comet may have hastened first plague epidemic Feb 4, 2004
The growing case for water on Mars Feb 4, 2004
Both Mars rovers back in action Feb 3, 2004
Oxygen and carbon discovered in exoplanet atmosphere Feb 3, 2004
Mars rover on track of watery mineral Feb 2, 2004
Mars Express renews speculation about algae on Mars Feb 2, 2004
Australian scientists, and their dog, say life once existed on Mars Feb 1, 2004

Saturn looms large for spacecraft
(Feb 29, 2004)

Saturn is getting ever bigger in the viewfinder of Cassini-Huygens' cameras. The US-European spacecraft is not due at the giant ringed planet until July but has just sent back another stunning image, taken from a distance of 69m km. The smallest features visible in the new picture – a composite of a series of exposures taken through different filters – are about 540 km across. The main probe Cassini will investigate Saturn for four years, with the Huygens despatched to the large moon Titan.

Read more. Source: BBC

Spirit's tracks
NASA poised to solve Mars mysteries
(Feb 28, 2004)

NASA scientists believe they are days away from concluding whether or not Mars once had water using data from the Mars rover Opportunity, they revealed on Thursday. Opportunity, which has been roaming inside a 20-metre crater on a plateau called Meridiani Planum for nearly five weeks, has been focusing its attention for the past three on a 30-meter outcrop of bedrock and its immediate environs. It has taken microscopic images and spectroscope data and ground portions of the rock surface to peer beneath its coating of dust. The site was chosen for its rich deposits of hematite, suggestive of a watery formation, and for its location within a region that some scientists say shows signs of once having been an ocean basin. The craft is now in the midst of grinding and examining several spots on the outcrop, to gather information about the details of the finely layered structure of the rock. Together with the chemical and mineralogical data already collected, this should provide the information needed to decide between the various theories - volcanic or sedimentary - about how the rock and soil in this region were formed. Image: Spirit's tracks, looking back toward lander.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

around HD70642
Nearest young planet-forming star found
(Feb 27, 2004)

Astronomers at the University of California, Berkeley, and University of Hawaii have discovered the nearest and youngest star with a visible disk of dust that may be a nursery for planets. The dim red dwarf star is a mere 33 light years away, close enough that the Hubble Space Telescope or ground-based telescopes with adaptive optics to sharpen the image should be able to see whether the dust disk contains clumps of matter that might turn into planets. "Circumstellar disks are signposts for planet formation, and this is the nearest and youngest star where we directly observe light reflected from the dust produced by extrasolar comets and asteroids – i.e., the objects that could possibly form planets by accretion," said Paul Kalas, assistant research astronomer at UC Berkeley and lead author of a paper reporting the discovery. Art: Scene from a moon orbiting the extra-solar planet in orbit around the star HD70642. © David A. Hardy

Read more. Source: Astrobiology Magazine

Opportunity drills into El Capitan rock
Opportunity drills into Mars rock
(Feb 26, 2004)

NASA's Opportunity rover extended its arm and played robot geologist, drilling into a Martian rock that has intrigued scientists back on Earth. The six-wheeled rover used the rock-abrasion tool on its instrument-tipped arm to grind a fraction of an inch into the surface of a rock in a formation dubbed "El Capitan," project manager Richard Cook said Tuesday. The rock's weathered surface was ground away so that the rover could examine the material underneath and photograph it in microscopic detail. Results were expected to take several days to reach Earth.

Read more. Source: CNN

Close up of El Capitan rock
Mars rock pictures baffle scientists
(Feb 25, 2004)

Microscopic photographs of a Mars rock taken by NASA's Opportunity rover have triggered excitement among scientists, even if they aren't unanimous on exactly what they're seeing. The images, posted on Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars rovers Web site, show a highly detailed surface on a rock dubbed "El Capitan" that has been undergoing examination by the robot geologist. "They are just very beautiful things and it's not at all clear that we understand what we're looking at," mission official Rob Manning said in a teleconference with reporters on Monday.

Read more. Source: CNN

2004 AS1
Earth almost put on impact alert
(Feb 24, 2004)

Astronomers have revealed how they came within minutes of alerting the world to a potential asteroid strike last month. Some scientists believed on 13 January that a 30m object, later designated 2004 AS1, had a one-in-four chance of hitting the planet within 36 hours. It could have caused local devastation and the researchers contemplated a call to President Bush before new data finally showed there was no danger. The procedures for raising the alarm in such circumstances are now being revised. At the time, the president's team would have been putting the final touches to a speech he was due to make the following day at the headquarters of NASA.

Read more. Source: BBC

Earth sows its seeds in space
(Feb 23, 2004)

The Earth could be scattering the seeds of life throughout our Galaxy. Microbes could ride on specks of dust, powered by the Sun's rays, says William Napier, an astronomer at the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland. Scientists have pondered whether life might ride between star systems ever since the nineteenth century. Some think that a collision between a life-bearing planet and another celestial body could scatter stones and boulders into space carrying living organisms. These deep-frozen spores could then make their way to other worlds - an idea called panspermia.

Read more. Source: Nature

shiny pebbles in trench dug by Opportunity
Mars rover hints at water activity
(Feb 22, 2004)

The latest close-up inspections of Martian soil and rock by the NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity continue to provide tantalising and unexpected results. A rock that had looked sedimentary proved to be volcanic, while a freshly-dug trench is showing what may be hints of some recent water activity. Opportunity has now completed a full set of microscopic imaging and two kinds of spectroscopy inside a trench that it dug earlier this week. By spinning one wheel while locking the other five, the rover gouged out a furrow 50 centimetre long and 10 centimetre deep in the soft, powdery soil. On Thursday, it placed its instrument arm on six different locations on the side and bottom of the trench. The sides of some tiny spheres were spotted embedded in the soil in the trench side – similar to those seen earlier on the soil and in an outcrop of bedrock. But the ones in the trench appear shiny and polished. This could indicate sedimentary origins, with the stones becoming buffed gently as they rolled at the bottom of shallow water.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

2004 DW
New world found beyond Pluto
(Feb 20, 2004)

Astronomers have found a large world of ice and rock circling the Sun beyond the most distant planet, Pluto. Preliminary observations suggest it may be up to 1,800 km across, making it the largest body other than a true planet to be discovered orbiting the Sun. Designated 2004 DW, it was found on 17 February by an automated sky survey telescope in California. Since 1992 some 800 bodies have been found in the outer Solar System, five could be larger than 1,000 km across. 2004 DW was found by California Institute of Technology astronomers Chad Trujillo and Mike Brown, and David Rabinowitz of Yale University, the same team that discovered Quaoar in 2002.

Read more. Source: BBC

Rosetta lander
Rosetta probe ready for lift-off
(Feb 20, 2004)

European space scientists are counting down to the launch of Rosetta, the mission to put a lander on a comet. The 600m, 12-year space expedition is scheduled to launch from French Guiana's Kourou spaceport on 26 February aboard an Ariane-5 G+ rocket. But the high-risk mission will need to overcome major technical challenges. "Rosetta will be the first ever spacecraft to perform a soft landing on a comet's nucleus," UK science minister Lord Sainsbury told a news conference. "This will allow Rosetta to carry out more in-depth study (of a comet) than has ever been done before."

Read more. Source: BBC

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