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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: January 2004
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International Space Station
Shuttle clouds station's future
(Jan 22, 2004)

The long-awaited finale to the US portion of the International Space Station (ISS) was to be just weeks away from launch by now, with the partner modules, including Europe's Columbus laboratory, finally at the front of the line for rides to orbit. The Columbia accident on 1 February 2003 indefinitely delayed those plans. And now, a US decision to retire the space shuttle fleet in six years has stripped away any last vestige of a clear future for the troubled ISS program.

Read more. Source: BBC

Big chill killed off Neanderthals
(Jan 22, 2004)

It is possibly the longest-running murder mystery of them all. What, or even who, killed humankind's nearest relatives, the Neanderthals who once roamed Europe before dying out almost 30,000 years ago? Suspects have ranged from the climate to humans themselves, and the mystery has deeply divided experts. Now 30 scientists have come together to publish the most definitive answer yet to this enigma. They say Neanderthals simply did not have the technological know-how to survive the increasingly harsh winters. And intriguingly, rather than being Neanderthal killers, the original human settlers of Europe almost suffered the same fate.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

The lander from Spirit
Rover's stunning image of lander
(Jan 21, 2004)

Nasa's Mars Rover Spirit has looked back at its landing pad and taken a stunning colour picture of the platform where it started its Martian adventure. Colours in the image have been adjusted but scientists have not yet determined the "true" colour of the Martian rocks. The rover will now pause by the rock Adirondack as it decides to use a grinder to examine the rock's interior.

Read more. Source: BBC

Newly-found Mars meteorite
Image courtesy:
Bruno Fectay and Carine Bidaut,

New-found Mars meteorite hints at past water
(Jan 21, 2004)

A rock found in the Atlas Mountains of southern Morocco in 2001 has been confirmed as Martian in origin. The meteorite's chemical signature was checked out by researchers at the UK's Southampton Oceanography Centre. The team that found it was led by experienced meteorite hunters Carine Bidaut and Bruno Fectay, who have now found six rocks from Mars – a record. The meteorite would have been blasted off the Red Planet by an impact and may hold clues to Mars' watery past.

Read more. Source: BBC

Spirit first soil sample region on Mars
Rover returns data on Mars soil
(Jan 21, 2004)

NASA's Mars Rover Spirit has delivered its first data on the minerals present in the soil of the Red Planet. Spirit has used two of its key scientific devices for the first time: its Mossbauer spectrometer and its alpha particle X-ray spectrometer. The results so far reveal the presence of the mineral olivine, which is a possible product of volcanic activity. Spirit will now pause to conduct tests on the mineral make-up of the football-sized rock Adirondack. Spirit used its science instruments to examine a patch of Martian soil about 3 centimetres (1.2 inches) across (shown in photo).

Read more. Source: BBC

rock on Mars named 'Adirondack'
Rocky task for Mars rover
(Jan 20, 2004)

NASA's Spirit rover is set to reach out with its arm and examine a sharply angled rock – dubbed by scientists "Adirondack" – that sits on the surface of Mars. Tuesday's date with the football-sized rock is the latest task assigned to the rover, which will use its microscopic imager and two spectrometers capable of detailing the minerals and elements that make up the rock. Spirit should then drill into the rock, perhaps as early as Wednesday, to reveal its interior. Scientists believe the rock is made of a volcanic material `You can think of it as a time capsule that contains a history of its formation," said Dave Des Marais, of NASA's Ames Research Center and a member of the mission science team.

Read more. Source: CNN

Valles Marineris seen by Mars Express
Europe's stunning Red Planet view
(Jan 19, 2004)

The first image of the Red Planet taken by Europe's Mars Express probe since it arrived in orbit has been released. The picture shows a part of the Valles Marineris, a giant canyon that runs across the middle of the planet. The image, taken from an altitude of 275 km, was obtained by the probe's High Resolution Stereo Camera and shows detail down to 12 metres. Mars Express will spend the next year studying the Martian atmosphere, the planet's structure, and its geology. Dr John Murray, of the Open University, UK, who is on the camera team, told BBC News Online: "This is the first 3D camera sent to Mars. "It is 10 times better than anything sent before. We have high hopes for it and how it will advance our understanding of Mars." He added: "These first images are the culmination of more than 10 years of work. In a matter of minutes, we are able to map an area greater than Great Britain and Ireland showing details down to a few metres in diameter.

Read more. Source: BBC

Spirit view of Mars rocks
Spirit moves into Martian rock garden
(Jan 19, 2004)

Easy pickings is what NASA's Spirit rover has found on Mars. Over the weekend, the robot was steered to a select rock at the Gusev Crater landing site, inching up to the target for detailed camera inspection. The scientific pace of Spirit is picking up. Once it wheeled off its landing base last Thursday, the robot parked itself on Mars and began to survey the scene. Rover control here at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) spotted a set of candidate rock types within a short driving distance for up-close scrutiny. Scientists identified three rocks as possible driving targets. Two were dubbed "Sushi" and "Sashimi" and sat in an area that was tagged the Wasabi region.

Read more. Source:

Mars from Mars Express
First Mars Express photos
(Jan 18, 2004)

Spectacular images taken by the European Mars Express orbiter have been posted on this German website. They show Valles Marineris (accompanying image) and lava flows on Acraeus Mons in unprecedented detail. Mars Express is capable of resolving detail, under some circumstances, as small as 2 meters. The first official photos are due to be released by ESA on June 20.

Read more. Source: Mars Society, Germany

Hubble Space Telescope
Why Hubble is being dropped
(Jan 17, 2004)

Without doubt the Hubble Space Telescope is one of the most important telescopes ever built. Its science is remarkable, its images iconic and it had much more to give. So why is it being abandoned? Few were expecting such an announcement about the demise of Hubble. Just a few weeks ago Steven Beckwith, the director of Hubble's home institution, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland, told BBC News Online that he was looking forward to the next servicing mission and the upgrade Hubble would receive. With Hubble's replacement – the James Webb Telescope – not due in orbit until 2012 at the earliest, he hoped that Hubble could survive until the handover. So why is NASA abandoning one of the most productive scientific instruments of all time? The main reason is safety. It is said that the decision was made solely by Nasa's chief, Sean O'Keefe, and that it was not related to President George Bush's new space plan for a return to the Moon and missions to Mars. Money was not an issue.

Read more. Source: BBC

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