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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: February 2004
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star being torn apart by black hole
Giant black hole rips star apart
(Feb 19, 2004)

A super-massive black hole has ripped apart a star and consumed a portion of it, according to data from ESA's XMM-Newton and NASA's Chandra X-ray observatories. These results are the best evidence yet that such a phenomenon, long predicted by theory, does actually happen. Astronomers believe that a doomed star came too close to a giant black hole after a close encounter with another star threw it off course. As it neared the enormous gravity of the black hole, the star was stretched by tidal forces until it was torn apart. This discovery provides crucial information on how these black holes grow and affect the surrounding stars and gas.

Read more. Source: ESA

chain of galaxies
Distant galaxies line up in space
(Feb 18, 2004)

Astronomers are puzzled by an image of a distant cluster of galaxies in which they are lined up like a string that is stretched across the Universe. The Japanese-built Subaru telescope, positioned on an extinct volcano in Hawaii, took the extraordinary picture. Astronomers think the cosmic alignment has something to do with the way the cluster of galaxies is being assembled. Most galaxies in the Cosmos belong to a cluster, and in turn galaxy clusters form clusters of themselves as well.

Read more. Source: BBC

Spirit tracks
Rover goes for longest trip yet
(Feb 17, 2004)

The Spirit rover went for its longest trip yet on the surface of Mars, traveling just over 88 feet (26.4 meters) but stopping short of the distance NASA had hoped it would cover, scientists said Monday. Engineers had hoped the rover would travel 164 feet (49.2 meters) on its way to a crater known as "Bonneville" to examine rocks and soil for evidence that water may have existed on the red planet, mission manager Jim Erickson said. "Spirit, she's put some more territory behind her," Erickson said. "We're closer but not as close as we'd wanted to be." The rover didn't cover the full distance because it spent more time than initially planned studying rocks and soil along the way, he said.

Read more. Source: CNN

inside the 'diamond star'
Diamond star thrills astronomers
(Feb 16, 2004)

Twinkling in the sky is a diamond star of 10 billion trillion trillion carats, astronomers have discovered. The cosmic diamond is a chunk of crystallised carbon, 1,500 km across, some 50 light-years from the Earth in the constellation Centaurus. It's the compressed heart of an old star that was once bright like our Sun but has since faded and shrunk. Astronomers have decided to call the star "Lucy," after the Beatles song, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

Read more. Source: BBC

remote object seen by Hubble
Hubble sees most distant object
(Feb 16, 2004)

The farthest object in the Universe yet detected has been seen by scientists using the Hubble and Keck telescopes. It is so distant its light must have set out when the Universe was just 750m years old to reach the Earth now. Details of the discovery were revealed by a team of astrophysicists from the California Institute of Technology. The new object was first seen in a series of observations of a cluster of galaxies known as Abell 2218, conducted with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys, installed on its last servicing mission. The object is not in the cluster but situated a long way behind it. Abell 2218 was simply used as a "gravitational lens" - a massive foreground object that can bend and magnify the light of objects much further away.

Read more. Source: BBC

artist's impression of Titan's surface
Huygens probe aims for white-knuckle descent
(Feb 14, 2004)

Scientists have been giving details of the Huygens space probe, which is due to land on Saturn's moon Titan in just under a year's time. The probe, a joint mission between the US and European space agencies, will focus on the oily oceans which researchers believe cover much of the surface. Huygens marks a new stage in man's quest to explore the Solar System. It will be the first time that a craft has landed on a moon other than our own. Depending on where it touches down, it may also be the first time that something made by the hands of humans has entered an ocean anywhere else than on Earth. But Titan's oceans are completely unlike Earth's – they are dark and oily, made of liquid methane and ethane.

Read more. Source: BBC

Olympus Mons seen by Mars Express
Mars Express stares at volcano
(Feb 13, 2004)

Europe's Mars Express space probe in orbit around the Red Planet has produced a stunning image of the highest volcano in the Solar System. The probe produced images of Olympus Mons, a 22 kilometre-high volcano. The images show the volcano's caldera, the circular depression from which magma erupts or is withdrawn. "I was amazed myself at how good it is," Professor Gerhard Neukum, principal investigator on the probe's camera told BBC News Online. Olympus Mons is almost three times the height of Mount Everest in the Himalayas. The Martian volcano's caldera alone has a depth of 3 km.

Read more. Source: BBC

Bedrock near Opportunity landing site
Mars rover reveals new details about rocks
(Feb 13, 2004)

NASA's Opportunity rover has revealed new details about the finely layered rocks that partially ring the shallow crater cradling the spacecraft. New photographs of the rock outcrop, no taller than a curb, show the layers aren't always parallel to one another, NASA said. That suggests the layers were laid down in a dynamic environment. Scientists believe volcanic ash blown across the landscape or dust, transported by water or wind, accumulated to form the angled layers visible in the sulfur-rich rock. "That generally means whatever medium the matrix was deposited in was in motion – whether it was the air or water," said Steve Squyres, a Cornell University astronomer and the mission's main scientist.

Read more. Source: CNN

New star in M78
New star emerges from dust cocoon
(Feb 12, 2004)

An amateur astronomer in the US has detected the emergence of a young star from the cocoon of gas and dust in which it was born. Such an event has only rarely been recorded by astronomers. "This is exciting for all astronomers, especially those interested in the birth of stars," University of Hawaii astronomer Bo Reipurth told the BBC. The new object was first spotted on 23 January by amateur astronomer Jay McNeil from his observatory at Paducah in Kentucky and had appeared alongside the well-known gas cloud known as Messier 78 (see photo).

Read more. Source: BBC

Spirit view of Mars
NASA to boost Mars rovers' distance mark
(Feb 12, 2004)

Not content to allow the Spirit rover to rest on its laurels, NASA wants to send the six-wheeled spacecraft on what should be longer drives on Mars. Spirit already has broken the one-day distance record on Mars by rolling nearly 70 feet across the planet's rocky surface. No other robot, including Spirit's twin, Opportunity, has ever rolled as far on Mars in a day. NASA, emboldened by the feat, plans to gradually increase that distance for both identical rovers. Eventually, it could command the pair to make daily trips of 140 feet and more. Spirit's longest drive so far took it three times the distance that NASA's tiny Sojourner rover ever traveled in a day during its own 1997 mission to Mars. "Probably it just will continue to climb from here," said mission manager Jim Erickson.

Read more. Source: CNN

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