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Spirit at the base of Columbia Hills
Rover 'in training' for hill trek
(Jul 14, 2004)

NASA's Spirit rover is gearing up for a challenging ascent on Columbia Hills, the high ground it will explore for clues to the history of water on Mars. Spirit is undergoing a "tune-up", a kind of training regime to prepare it for the climb. Its twin, Opportunity, is exploring inside the 130m-wide Endurance Crater, after which it will probably head south to the mysterious "etched terrain". Both rovers will soon begin preparing for the harsh winter on the Red Planet.

Read more. Source: BBC

brown dwarf binary
How to fail at being a star
(Jul 12, 2004)

At the 13th Cambridge Workshop on "Cool Stars, Stellar Systems, and the Sun," Dr. Kevin L. Luhman (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) announced the discovery of a unique pair of newborn brown dwarfs in orbit around each other. Brown dwarfs are a relatively new class of objects discovered in the mid-1990s that are too small to ignite hydrogen fusion and shine as stars, yet too big to be considered planets. "Are brown dwarfs miniature failed stars, or super-sized planets, or are they altogether different from either stars or planets?" asks Luhman. The unique nature of this new brown dwarf pair has brought astronomers a step closer to the answer.

Read more. Source: Harvard-Smithsonian

Hobby-Eberly Telescope
Texas observatory finds its first extrasolar planet
(Jul 11, 2004)

McDonald Observatory astronomers Bill Cochran, Michael Endl, and Barbara McArthur have exploited the Hobby-Eberly Telescope's (HET's) capabilities to rapidly find and confirm, with great precision, the giant telescope's first planet outside our solar system. The event serves as proof-of-concept that HET, combined with its High Resolution Spectrograph instrument, is on track to become a major player in the hunt for other worlds. With a mass 2.84 times that of Jupiter, the newly discovered planet orbits the star HD 37605 every 54.23 days. HD 37605 is a little smaller and little cooler than the Sun. The star, which is of a type called "K0" or "K-zero," is rich in heavy chemical elements compared to the Sun.

Read more. Source: Spaceflight Now / McDonald Obs.

Saturn's rings
Ice and mud make up Saturn's rings
(Jul 9, 2004)

Saturn's rings are a lot dirtier than originally believed, according to new observations by the Cassini spacecraft that show that the inner regions are packed with rock and mud. "We've known for decades the rings are mostly made of water," said Larry Esposito of the University of Colorado at Boulder. "Now we know the amount of water varies, increasing toward the outer edge of the rings.

Read more. Source: CNN /

Private space ship 'back to form'
(Jul 9, 2004)

SpaceShipOne, the world's first private spacecraft, is back on course for the Ansari X-Prize after solving technical hitches following June's historic trip. The craft, built by aviation pioneer Burt Rutan, had a major flight-control problem towards the top of its 100km record-breaking voyage above the Earth. Pilot Mike Melvill had to use a back-up system to maintain control of the craft But Rutan now says the problem was merely "a brief lockout" which only lasted three seconds.

Read more. Source: BBC

Sunspots reaching 1,000-year high
(Jul 8, 2004)

A new analysis shows that the Sun is more active now than it has been at anytime in the previous 1,000 years. Scientists based at the Institute for Astronomy in Zurich used ice cores from Greenland to construct a picture of our star's activity in the past. They say that over the last century the number of sunspots rose at the same time that the Earth's climate became steadily warmer. This trend is being amplified by gases from fossil fuel burning, they argue.

Read more. Source: BBC

Tau Ceti
Tranquil environment around Earth may be unusual
(Jul 7, 2004)

UK astronomers studying the Tau Ceti system have discovered that it contains ten times as much material in the form of asteroids and comets as our own solar system. Their discovery, being published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, suggests that even though Tau Ceti is the nearest Sun-like star, any planets that may orbit it would not support life as we know it due to the inevitable large number of devastating collisions. It also suggests that the tranquil space environment around the Earth may be more unusual than previously realised. (Art: courtesy David Hardy)

Read more. Source: PPARC / Spaceflight Now

Probe sees Titan's methane clouds
(Jul 5, 2004)

The Cassini-Huygens probe has seen what appear to be methane clouds and a giant impact crater on its first flyby of Saturn's biggest moon, Titan. The spacecraft used its instruments to peer through the haze of the moon's atmosphere to detect areas of varying brightness in unprecedented detail. The images indicate there has been geologic activity of some kind on Titan. The most prominent feature seen was a region of cumulous-like cloud near the south pole, which scientists say was about 450km across and about 15km above the surface.

Read more. Source: BBC

Cassini makes first Titan flyby
(Jul 3, 2004)

The international Cassini-Huygens probe has had its first opportunity to fly by Saturn's biggest moon, Titan. Already the spacecraft has managed to detect large linear features on Titan's surface which are obscured from Earth telescopes by its thick atmosphere. Imaging specialists said these could be tectonic structures – areas of crust which had been shaped by movement. Cassini flew to within 350,000km of the moon, the first of more than 40 visits it will make in the next four years.

Read more. Source: BBC

Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble harvests 100 new planets
(Jul 2, 2004)

The Hubble Space Telescope may have discovered as many as 100 new planets orbiting stars in our galaxy. Hubble's harvest comes from a sweep of thousands of stars in the dome-like bulge of the Milky Way. If confirmed it would almost double the number of planets known to be circling other stars to about 230. The discovery will lend support to the idea that almost every sunlike star in our galaxy, and probably the Universe, is accompanied by planets.

Read more. Source: BBC

Cassini enters orbit around Saturn
(Jul 1, 2004)

The international mission to SaturnCassini/Huygens – has successfully entered into orbit around the planet. The $3.3bn probe fired its main engine for 95 minutes on Thursday to slow it sufficiently to be captured by the gravity of the sixth planet. The spacecraft has travelled for more than six years and covered over three billion km to get to Saturn. The joint US-European mission can now start a four-year study of the ringed planet and its 31 known moons.

Read more. Source: BBC

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