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Spherules on Mars
Mystery of the Martian 'blueberries' solved
(Mar 17, 2004)

The Mars rover Opportunity has now solved the key puzzle it was sent to the Meridiani Planum to figure out: where is the hematite that was spotted in the area by the Mars Global Surveyor orbiter? The answer is in the "blueberries", the tiny mineral spheres that litter the rover's landing site. The question was a key one, because hematite almost always forms in water, and water is thought to be a pre-requisite for life. Scientists led by Arizona State University's Phil Christensen revealed their discovery at the Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference in Houston, Texas, on Tuesday. Finding the hematite in the spheres makes sense, because earlier data from the rover showed the spheres are almost certainly concretions formed when water deposited layer after layer of minerals around a minute grain of sand.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Beagle 2
Mars mission criticized by watchdog
(Mar 17, 2004)

A public spending watchdog criticized scientists behind the doomed Beagle 2 mission to Mars Tuesday for neglecting to highlight the chances of mission failure when they applied for British government funding. The government plowed more than $40 million into the British-built Mars lander, which has not been heard from since it was ejected from its mother ship in mid-December. Beagle 2 – Europe's first attempt to land a probe on the Red Planet – was designed to search for clues of life on Mars. The tiny lander was due to spend six months probing and analyzing rocks and soil with its robotic arm, sending back data via the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter. Mission controllers now believe it's likely that the lander crash-landed on the Red Planet on Christmas Day, probably because the atmosphere was less dense than expected.

Source: CNN/AP

giant solar flare
Sun's massive explosion upgraded
(Mar 16, 2004)

The massive solar flare that erupted from the Sun last November was far bigger than scientists first thought. At the time, satellite detectors were unable to record its true size because they were blinded by its radiation. But University of Otago physicists say they have now estimated the probable scale of the huge explosion by studying how X-rays hit the Earth's atmosphere. They tell Geophysical Research Letters the X45 class event was more than twice as big as the previous record flare. Fortunately, the Earth did not take a direct hit from this immense blast of radiation and matter. Had it done so, several orbiting satellites would almost certainly have been damaged and there could have been considerable disruption of radio communications and power grids on the planet's surface.

Read more. Source: BBC

bone found in Kozarnika cave
Early human marks are 'symbols'
(Mar 16, 2004)

A series of parallel lines engraved in an animal bone between 1.4 and 1.2 million years ago may be the earliest example of human symbolic behaviour. University of Bordeaux experts say no practical process, such as butchering a carcass, can explain the markings. But many researchers believe the capacity for true symbolic thinking arose much later with the emergence of modern humans, Homo sapiens. The 8cm-long bone was unearthed at the Kozarnika cave in north-west Bulgaria. Another animal bone found at the site is incised with 27 marks along its edge.

Read more. Source: BBC

New planet may have a moon
(Mar 16, 2004)

The distant object that some astronomers think could be the Solar System's 10th planet may have a moon. The new planetary candidate, which has been named Sedna, rotates more slowly on itself than expected, suggesting it may have a satellite orbiting it. One of the scientists who found Sedna has been giving further details of its discovery at a news conference. Observations show it measures less than 1,700km (about 1,000 miles) in diameter, which is smaller than Pluto. "We think that there's evidence there is a satellite around Sedna," said Dr Mike Brown, of the California Institute of Technology, US, and leader of the research team that found the body.

Read more. Source: BBC

Plan to melt through Europa's ice
(Mar 15, 2004)

Researchers are testing technology that could allow a lander to melt through the ice crust of Jupiter's moon Europa to reach the water ocean beneath. Space scientists want to send a craft to the Jovian moon because its ocean might, in theory, harbour life. Once through the 10-30km ice sheet, the probe could take a sample of water, to analyse it for microbial life. But significant engineering challenges remain before the German Aerospace Centre lander could be sent to Europa. "The idea is to land on Europa and somehow get through the ice," the centre's Dr Stephan Ulamec told BBC News Online. "One needs some kind of melting probe which can melt through the ice and carry out investigation in the liquid ocean expected underneath." The prototype being tested by Dr Ulamec is a 225cm-long hollow aluminium cylinder with a copper melting head powered by an electrical cable.

Read more. Source: BBC

Astronomers find new planet or planetoid around Sun
(Mar 15, 2004)

Astronomers have discovered a new world circling the Sun farther away than other planets. Found in an outer Solar System survey by the recently launched Spitzer Space Telescope, it has been called Sedna after the Inuit goddess of the ocean. Observations show it is about 2,000 km across, and it may even be larger than Pluto which is 2,250 km across. The Hubble Space Telescope has also seen it. Details will be announced by the US space agency NASA on Monday. Sedna is the largest object found circling the Sun since the discovery of Pluto in 1930. Its size is uncertain.

Read more. Source: BBC

Clumps in Saturn's rings
Clumps seen in Saturn's rings
(Mar 14, 2004)

Scientists have only a rough idea of the lifetime of clumps in Saturn's rings – a mystery that Cassini may help answer. The latest images taken by the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft show clumps seemingly embedded within Saturnís narrow, outermost F ring. The narrow angle camera took the images on Feb. 23, 2004, from a distance of 62.9 million km. The two images taken nearly two hours apart show these clumps as they revolve about the planet. The small dot at center right in the second image is one of Saturn's small moons, Janus, which is 181 km, across. Like all particles in Saturn's ring system, these clump features orbit the planet in the same direction in which the planet rotates. This direction is clockwise as seen from Cassini's southern vantage point below the ring plane. Two clumps in particular, one of them extended, is visible in the upper part of the F ring in the image on the left, and in the lower part of the ring in the image on the right. Other knot-like irregularities in the ring's brightness are visible in the image on the right.

Read more. Source: NASA/JPL

Mystery of Uranus and Neptune magnetic fields solved?
(Mar 13, 2004)

Geophysicists might have solved one of the biggest mysteries in the solar system - why do the magnetic fields of Uranus and Neptune differ from those of the other planets? Computer simulations by Sabine Stanley and Jeremy Bloxham of Harvard University suggest that the two planets have a fluid core that is surrounded by a relatively thin outer layer. The Earth and other planets such as Jupiter and Saturn have an inner rocky core that is surrounded by a thick convecting shell. The results mean it may be possible to use magnetic fields to learn more about the internal structure and composition of planets. Photo: Voyager 2 image of Neptune.

Read more. Source: PhysicsWeb

Rosetta encounters an asteroid
Asteroid targets picked for Rosetta
(Mar 12, 2004)

Today the Rosetta Science Working Team has made the final selection of the asteroids that Rosetta will observe at close quarters during its journey to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Steins and Lutetia lie in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Rosetta's scientific goals always included the possibility of studying one or more asteroids from close range. However, only after Rosetta's launch and its insertion into interplanetary orbit could the ESA mission managers assess how much fuel was actually available for fly-bys. Information from the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Germany enabled Rosetta's Science Working Team to select a pair of asteroids of high scientific interest, well within the fuel budget.

Read more. Source: ESA

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