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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: February 2004
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Broken spherule at the bottom-center of a 3-cm-wide image
Close-ups narrow theories on Mars bedrock
(Feb 11, 2004)

The latest close-ups taken by the Mars rover Opportunity leave just two serious possibilities for the method of formation of the layered rocks it is examining, lead scientist Steve Squyres said on Monday. The rocks are the first bedrock ever analysed on Mars – other rocks were only loose boulders. The strata are tantalising the science team as they might provide conclusive proof of water-lain sediments. This would show that Mars was once a much wetter place and increase the chance that life existed. The images, including pictures from the craft's microscope, show the rock is made of extremely fine-grained material – too fine for it to have been sediments formed in standing water, or windblown sand, or any kind of lava flows. And it forms extremely thin layers embedded with spheres about the size of peppercorns, whose uniformity rules out the idea that they could be formed by wave erosion of pebbles. Image: Scientists are closely studying the broken spherule at the bottom-center of this 3-cm-wide photo.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Extrasolar waterworlds may be brimming with life
(Feb 11, 2004)

Picture a giant, blue-white world with a planet-wide ocean hundreds of times bigger than the Earth's and 10 times as deep. According to planetary physicists in France and America, such "ocean planets" could be common – and possibly the best places in our galaxy to find life. Until recently, nobody suspected the existence of giant water-worlds, but in the past decade astronomers have discovered more than 100 planets orbiting nearby stars. These "extrasolar" planetary systems have changed our ideas of the kind of planets that are possible.

Read more. Source: Independent

Landing site of Opportunity from space
Mars rover position pinpointed
(Feb 10, 2004)

NASA has pinpointed the position of its robot explorer Opportunity, the second of two rovers which are now on the Martian surface. Images taken from space show the lander sitting in a tiny impact crater on Meridiani Planum, a flat plain rich in the iron-rich mineral grey haematite. Opportunity has also examined layered rocks in the crater and has found spherical granules embedded in them. They may have been formed by volcanism or by the action of liquid water.

Read more. Source: BBC

Opportunity panorama from crater rim
Opportunity peeks out over rim
(Feb 10, 2004)

The Mars rover Opportunity has moved to the lip of the crater in which it landed and peeked out over the rim, mission scientists say. An image taken from that location shows part of the lander's shell and its parachute lying off in the distance across a flat, empty plain. The rover has been using onboard instruments to study a rock outcropping near the edge of the crater. It first focused on a rock that has been nick-named Stone Mountain, and took microscopic images of its surface. Mission scientists plan to study other rocks in the outcropping in a similar fashion over the next few days.

Read more. Source: CNN

Rosetta lander
Comet lander named Philae
(Feb 9, 2004)

The small robotic probe that Europe is despatching to land on a comet has been named "Philae" by a 15-year-old girl. Philae is the island in the river Nile which played a crucial role in cracking the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone to unlock the secrets of ancient Egypt. The main spacecraft that will carry the lander on its 10-year voyage to the comet has already been named Rosetta. The duo are due to leave Earth from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana on 26 February atop an Ariane 5 rocket. Their target is 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a mountainous ball of ice, rock and dust.

Read more. Source: BBC

MER abrasion tool
Spirit makes drilling debut
(Feb 8, 2004)

NASA says one of its unmanned rover vehicles on Mars has drilled into a rock, the first time this has been done by a robot vehicle. A NASA said that Spirit, took nearly three hours to drill the 2.7mm (0.1 inch) hole. The agency hopes it will provide clues about the geological past of Mars. The drilling is a boost for the NASA mission – Spirit malfunctioned shortly after it landed last month but resumed its investigations on Friday.

Read more. Source: BBC

Spirit examines the rock named Adirondack
'Healed' Mars probe brushes away dust, revealing darker spot
(Feb 7, 2004)

Scientists declared NASA's Spirit rover completely "healed" on Friday, after the probe suffered computer problems that engineers now say they made worse during their diagnosis. Spirit marked its return to science operations by brushing off the dust from a rock nicknamed Adirondack, revealing a surprisingly dark surface underneath. Meanwhile, half a world away, the twin Opportunity rover closed in on another geological mystery an outcropping of Martian bedrock called "Snout." At the end of Friday's workday, the six-wheeled robot geologist was about half a yard (meter) away from its target, and roughly 23 feet (7 meters) from its landing platform.

Read more. Source: MSNBC

Opportunity views bedrock in distance
Rover takes first spin on Mars
(Feb 6, 2004)

NASA took the rover Opportunity on its first real drive on Mars, a trip across pebbly soil that appears to be unlike anything else seen on the surface of the red planet, scientists said Thursday. Opportunity rolled forward about 10 feet overnight, leaving it halfway to an outcrop of rocks that scientists want to spend days studying, said Guy Webster, a spokesman for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It was the first time the rover had moved since leaving its lander Saturday. Scientists were deciding Thursday whether they wanted to conduct more soil tests on the way to the outcrop.

Read more. Source: CNN

Secrets of the 'Evil Eye' galaxy
(Feb 5, 2004)

The collision of two star systems has created a merged galaxy with an unusual appearance and bizarre motions. The galaxy M64 has a dark band of dust in front of its bright nucleus, giving rise to its nicknames of the "Black Eye" or "Evil Eye" galaxy. Observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope show that gas in the galaxy flows one way in the centre and in the opposite direction further out. This strange behaviour is the result of a galactic collision, say scientists.

Read more. Source: BBC

Hydrogen clouds around M31
Galactic building blocks seen swarming around Andromeda
(Feb 5, 2004)

A team of astronomers using the National Science Foundation's Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) has made the first conclusive detection of what appear to be the leftover building blocks of galaxy formation – neutral hydrogen clouds – swarming around the Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest large spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. This discovery may help scientists understand the structure and evolution of the Milky Way and all spiral galaxies. It also may help explain why certain young stars in mature galaxies are surprisingly bereft of the heavy elements that their contemporaries contain.

Read more. Source: NRAO

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