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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: March 2004
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Arecibo telescope
Radio search for ET draws a blank
(Mar 25, 2004)


Astronomers have completed their most sensitive search yet for radio signals from intelligent life in space. The Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, supported by Jodrell Bank, searched over a period of 10 years. The scientists looked at 800 nearby stars with no evidence of a signal from ET. They say they have learned a lot, and plan another search next year. The last star scrutinised by Project Phoenix – the most powerful search for intelligent life in space ever carried out – was HD 169882 – a fairly ordinary star lying just 88 light-years away. The result was that no signals indicative of an intelligent origin are coming from it, at least during the time it was observed. So if there are any aliens on a planet circling that star then perhaps they are not interested in signalling, or are doing it in a way we cannot yet detect.

Read more. Source: BBC

K-meson track
Theory of matter may need rethink
(Mar 25, 2004)


Particle physicists have seen a rare happening that may force a rethink of current theories of sub-atomic matter. After watching more than seven trillion disintegrations of the kaon particle they have seen three peculiar events when they expected to see just one. At present physicists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in the US do not know if this is a fluke or points the way to a deeper theory of matter. The research has been submitted to the Journal Physical Review Letters.

Read more. Source: BBC

Mars
Life on Mars – but 'we sent it'
(Mar 25, 2004)


There is life on Mars, a researcher has announced at a conference – unfortunately it is just spaceship-borne contamination. "I believe there is life on Mars, and it's unequivocally there, because we sent it," Andrew Schuerger of the University of Florida told the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas, recently. He has been granted funding from NASA's planetary protection office to help develop better sterilisation techniques for future missions. Schuerger says that of all the space probes sent to Mars, only the two Viking craft in 1976 were adequately heat sterilised. The procedures used for all missions since then, including NASA's twin rovers and Europe's Beagle 2, would have left some microbes aboard. After testing whether terrestrial organisms can survive simulated Martian conditions and the procedures used to sterilise spacecraft, he reckons there is a good chance some made it to Mars and might still be living there.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

humpback whale
Whales' sound fishing trick
(Mar 25, 2004)


Scientists believe they may have solved one of the mysteries of how humpback whales successfully hunt. It has long been known that some species of whale hunt by creating a cylindrical column of bubbles in which fish are corralled. But until now, no-one knew why the fish had refused to swim out. However, Professor Tim Leighton, of the Institute Sound and Vibration Research at the University of Southampton, UK, has said he believes the whales use sound to scare the fish into staying put. "If sound is propagating through water, the most potent, naturally occurring entity it can meet is a bubble," he told BBC World Service's Discovery programme. The bubbles slow sound down – a beam of sound aimed towards the bubbles will be trapped, bouncing around within the column at a speed of 1km/s. "If they ever try and leave the net, what they encounter is a very loud wall of sound," Professor Leighton added.

Read more. Source: BBC

2004 AS1
NASA considers impact alert plan
(Mar 24, 2004)


The US space agency NASA is clarifying the procedure for telling the President if the Earth is in danger of being hit by a newly discovered asteroid. It follows the discovery on 13 January of a possibly dangerous object – 2004 AS1 – which for just a few hours had some observers worried it would hit us. At the time some scientists were unsure at what stage to raise the alarm and who to call, but now the plan is clear. If necessary, the President would start a Federal Emergency Response Plan.

Read more. Source: BBC

Martia sea
Mars rover sits on ancient beach
(Mar 23, 2004)


The US space agency has announced that its robotic Mars rover Opportunity is parked on what was once the shore of a salty 2004 AS1 Martian sea. There is multiple evidence that the surface of Mars was awash with liquid water at some time in its past. But the latest findings from Nasa's robot explorers on the Red Planet are fleshing out a picture of what Mars must have been like when it was wet. Opportunity has been studying the rocks in a small crater since January. NASA scientists announced earlier this month that Opportunity's landing site at Meridiani Planum was once "drenched" in water. The announcement is significant because it lends greater weight to the hypothesis that Mars could have been a habitat for microbial life in the past.

Read more. Source: BBC

rim of Eagle crater
NASA's rover climbs out of Martian crater
(Mar 23, 2004)


NASA's Mars rover Opportunity on Monday managed to climb up and out of the crater that it explored for nearly two months, overcoming a slippery slope that left the vehicle spinning its wheels during an earlier attempt. The short drive across the sandy inner rim of Eagle Crater placed the rover outside the shallow depression for the first time since it landed Jan. 24. "The good news is we successfully charged up the rim," mission manager Matt Wallace said. Once out, the rover rolled nearly five meters (about 16.5 feet) before coming to a stop. An initial attempt to get out of the crater ended in failure on Sunday. The six-wheel-drive rover could not gain traction while trying to climb straight up the 16-degree slope of the three-meter (10-foot) deep depression.

Source: CNN/AP

lava lake on Io
Io's clues to early life on Earth
(Mar 22, 2004)


Investigations into lava lakes on the surface of Io, the intensely volcanic moon that orbits Jupiter, may provide clues to what Earth looked like in its earliest phases, according to researchers at the University at Buffalo and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "When I look at the data, it becomes startlingly suggestive to me that this may be a window onto the primitive history of Earth," said Tracy K. P. Gregg, Ph.D., assistant professor of geology in the UB College of Arts and Sciences. "When we look at Io, we may be seeing what Earth looked like when it was in its earliest stages, akin to what a newborn baby looks like in the first few seconds following birth," she added.

Read more. Source: University of Buffalo

SETI
Microsoft man funds ET search
(Mar 22, 2004)


Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, one of the richest men on Earth, today pledged to donate $13.5 million for research into extra-terrestrial life.With the contribution, Allen will have given $25 million for construction of the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), a network of 350 radio telescopes being built to find signs of life in space, said Thomas Pierson, director of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute.The radio telescopes will measure the density of the early universe, the formation of stars and magnetic fields.They will also be capable of searching for "possible signals from technologically advanced civilisations elsewhere in the galaxy," according to a SETI statement.The announcement of Allen's donation coincided with the completion of the project's research and development phases, which Allen funded with an $11.5 million donation.

Read more. Source: Sydney Morning Herald

Composite image of Comet Wild 2
New imagery of comet released from Stardust
(Mar 21, 2004)


On 2 January 2004, NASA's Stardust spacecraft successfully survived flying through the coma (dust and gas cloud) surrounding comet 81P/Wild 2, captured thousands of fresh cometary dust particles released from the surface just hours before, and is now on its way home for Earth return set for January 2006. During the flyby, the highest resolution images ever taken of a comet's nucleus were obtained and have been the subject of intense study since the flyby. To create the image shown here, a short exposure image showing tremendous surface detail was overlain on a long exposure image taken just 10 seconds later showing jets. Together, the images show an intensely active surface, jetting dust and gas streams into space and leaving a trail millions of kilometers long.

Read more. Source: Spaceflight Now/NASA-JPL

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