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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: March 2004
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Opportunity explores exposed bedrock
Mars rovers to embark on final mission
(Mar 20, 2004)


With their primary goal of finding signs of water on Mars achieved, NASA's twin robot-geologists soon will make tracks across the Red Planet's barren surface until their batteries run out, NASA officials said on Thursday. The rovers, each carrying a suite of scientific tools, were finishing tests in and around two craters on opposite sides of the planet where scientists have found hoped-for clues that liquid water played a part in forming rocks and soil. Both rovers are nearing the end of their planned 90-day missions with enough life left in their solar-powered batteries to attempt long drives across the planet's surface in search of more geologic information.

Source: CNN/Reuters

Moon polar region
Lunar mountain has eternal light
(Mar 19, 2004)


There is a "peak of eternal light" on the Moon – a region from which the Sun never sets, according to astronomers. A team led by Dr Ben Bussey of Johns Hopkins University in the US looked at images of the Moon's poles taken by the 1994 Clementine lunar spacecraft. The researchers produced a movie to show how illumination over the regions changed during a whole month. They found four areas on the rim of Peary, a 73k-wide crater, that appear to stay light for the entire Moon day. Finding a permanently illuminated peak makes the lunar north pole an enticing region for exploration and for the site of the first Moonbase.

Read more. Source: BBC

life chip
'Life chip' ready for 2009 Mars missions
(Mar 19, 2004)


A miniature laboratory that can spot a tell-tale chemical signature of life is ready to be part of a 2009 Mars mission. The device will look for amino acids, the molecular building blocks of proteins. "Amino acids are the best molecules to look for if you want to find evidence of life that existed a long time ago. Unlike DNA, they could last for tens of thousands of years on Mars without changing," says Alison Skelley, a chemist at University of California, Berkeley, who helped build the 'life chip'.

Read more. Source: Nature

2004 FH
Space rock makes closest approach
(Mar 18, 2004)


Astronomers are watching a small object as it makes the closest approach to the Earth of any space rock yet discovered. Called 2004 FH it is estimated to be only 25 m across. It was found by an automated sky survey on Tuesday. At 2208 GMT tonight it will pass just 43,000 km from the Earth. There is no danger of a collision, say scientists. Such close approaches probably occur quite frequently but go unnoticed. If it were to strike the Earth it would burn up in the atmosphere. The asteroid will make its closest approach while streaking over the southern Atlantic Ocean. It should be visible through binoculars to stargazers across the southern hemisphere, as well as throughout Asia and Europe.

Read more. Source: BBC

Martian 'UFO'
UFO streaks through Martian sky
(Mar 18, 2004)


The US Spirit rover on Mars has seen a UFO streak across the Red Planet sky. Astronomers say it could be the first meteor seen from the surface of another world, or a redundant orbiting spacecraft sent to Mars 30 years ago. "We may never know, but we are still looking for clues," said Dr Mark Lemmon, from Texas A&M University. Whatever it was, Spirit was lucky to catch sight of the UFO as the rover's main mission is to look downwards to study rocks and soil on the planet.

Read more. Source: BBC

Moon
No Moon, no life on Earth, suggests theory
(Mar 18, 2004)


Without the Moon, there would have been no life on Earth. Four billion years ago, when life began, the Moon orbited much closer to us than it does now, causing massive tides to ebb and flow every few hours. These tides caused dramatic fluctuations in salinity around coastlines which could have driven the evolution of early DNA-like biomolecules. This hypothesis, which is the work of Richard Lathe, a molecular biologist at Pieta Research in Edinburgh, UK, also suggests that life could not have begun on Mars.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Mars dune
Rover inspects Martian dune
(Mar 18, 2004)


NASA's Spirit rover rolled 59 feet (17.7 meters) around the rim of a crater to begin inspecting firsthand a drift of windblown material that puzzles scientists. Scientists sent the six-wheeled robot geologist to the dune, nicknamed "Serpent," to analyze its composition. They are unsure whether it is a pile of sand or dust. NASA planned for Spirit to analyze the material Wednesday before driving over the dune to a site from which it can take panoramic pictures of the surrounding terrain. Halfway around Mars, Spirit's twin rover, Opportunity, began to wrap up analysis of a rock outcrop at its landing site.

Source: CNN/AP

INTEGRAL map of Galaxy's X-ray sources
Mystery of Milky Way's gamma rays solved
(Mar 18, 2004)


A mysterious gamma-ray glow that suffuses our galaxy has been tracked down to a set of distinct sources – many of them black holes. The new work settles a 30-year-old debate about where "soft", or relatively low energy, gamma rays come from and lays to rest convoluted theories devised to account for the radiation. "There was a profound mystery in gamma-ray astronomy about what was seen from our own galaxy ... now the mystery is solved," says Neil Gehrels, at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Gamma rays are absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere, so the first measurements were not made until high-altitude balloon flights in the late 1960s. These showed the Milky Way was awash with gamma-rays, but their origin could not be pinned down accurately.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Mars
Martian soil is 'same everywhere'
(Mar 18, 2004)


The soil on Mars could be identical almost everywhere showing that, like on the Moon, its composition is unrelated to the immediately underlying rocks. Study by the US rovers which touched down in January would suggest the soil has been mixed up by wind and impacts. Its make-up is roughly the same as that found at the landing sites of the two Viking landers in 1976 and the Mars Pathfinder mission in 1997. NASA revealed the soil data at the 2004 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

Read more. Source: BBC

Mars south polar cap
Mars spacecraft wallows in water
(Mar 17, 2004)


The latest data returned from Europe's Mars Express orbiter confirms there are substantial quantities of water-ice held at the Red Planet's south pole. Scientists say the spacecraft has seen the water-ice in three distinct zones: mixed with carbon dioxide, all on its own and in vast tracts mixed with dust. The data was collected during the local summer when the southern cap was small.

Read more. Source: BBC

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