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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: March 2004
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Eclipse of Mars by Phobos
Opportunity views Martian eclipses
(Mar 12, 2004)


Nasa's Mars rover Opportunity has begun recording eclipses on the Red Planet, the first time the phenomenon has been witnessed on another world. The rover's panoramic camera has taken pictures of the moons Deimos and Phobos as they passed in front of the Sun on 4 March and 7 March respectively. Mars is currently in the middle of an eclipse season, during which its moons will pass repeatedly across the Sun. The eclipses don't look like Earth ones as Mars' moons have irregular shapes. "They will be pretty cool events and a first for the world's space programme," Jim Bell, head of Nasa's panoramic camera, or pancam, team told BBC News Online.

Read more. Source: BBC

Rim of Bonneville crater
NASA rover looks into the abyss
(Mar 11, 2004)


The US space agency's Mars rover Spirit has arrived at a large crater on the Red Planet called Bonneville and has taken a picture of its interior. The rover is now perched on the south-west edge of Bonneville and will soon take measurements of the crater before heading towards high ground. Spirit has also made observations of the night sky and has taken the first picture of Earth from another planet. Scientists have no firm decisions about whether to drive into Bonneville. The crater could tell scientists more about the underground geology of Mars. "It was something no one had seen from a vantage point like this," said mission scientist Matt Golombeck.

Read more. Source: BBC

South African Large Telescope
Super telescope to probe deep space
(Mar 11, 2004)


Huge white domes make a jarring sight amid the landscape of South Africa's arid Karoo region. Perched on a wind-swept hilltop, they house telescopes of different shapes and sizes that search the star-filled skies in this remote corner of the Earth for the secrets of the universe. Those skies will soon be scanned by a super scope that will probe far deeper into space than any of its neighbors – the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), which will be 12 yards in diameter. "This is for deep space observation," said Hitesh Gajjar, an electrical engineer involved in the project, as he pointed with pride at SALT – a massive hexagon filled with 91 smaller mirrored hexagons, of which 18 are in place.

Source: CNN/Reuters


Particle collison
'God particle' may have been seen
(Mar 10, 2004)


A scientist says one of the most sought after particles in physics – the Higgs boson – may have been found, but the evidence is still relatively weak. Peter Renton, of the University of Oxford, says the particle may have been detected by researchers at an atom-smashing facility in Switzerland. The Higgs boson explains why all other particles have mass and is fundamental to a complete understanding of matter. Dr Renton's assessment of the Higgs hunt is published in Nature magazine. "There's certainly evidence for something, whether it's the Higgs boson is questionable," Dr Renton, a particle physicist at Oxford, told BBC News Online. "It's compatible with the Higgs boson certainly, but only a direct observation would show that."

Read more. Source: BBC

Chandra X-ray map of Saturn
X-rays from Saturn pose puzzles
(Mar 10, 2004)


The first clear detection of X-rays from the giant, gaseous planet Saturn has been made with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. Chandra's image shows that the X-rays are concentrated near Saturn's equator, a surprising result since Jupiter's X-ray emission is mainly concentrated near the poles. Existing theories cannot easily explain the intensity or distribution of Saturn's X-rays. Chandra observed Saturn for about 20 hours in April of 2003. The spectrum, or distribution with energy of the X-rays, was found to be very similar to that of X-rays from the Sun. "This indicates that Saturn's X-ray emission is due to the scattering of solar X-rays by Saturn's atmosphere," said Jan-Uwe Ness, of the University of Hamburg in Germany and lead author of a paper discussing the Saturn results in an upcoming issue of Astronomy & Astrophysics. "It's a puzzle, since the intensity of Saturn's X-rays requires that Saturn reflects X-rays fifty times more efficiently than the Moon."

Read more. Source: Chandra X-ray Observatory/Harvard

Hubble deep field view
Hubble's deep view of the cosmos
(Mar 9, 2004)


The Hubble Space Telescope has obtained the deepest view ever of the cosmos, detecting the youngest and most distant galaxies ever seen by astronomers. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field is the result of a prolonged look over four months at just one small patch of sky. This historic image takes astronomers close to the Big Bang itself, unveiling the first galaxies that emerged from the end of the so-called "dark ages." The image is expected to be unsurpassed until a new telescope is put in orbit.

Read more. Source: BBC

Mars Exploration rover
Mars rovers' lifetime boosted
(Mar 9, 2004)


The US space agency's Mars rovers may work for up to 240 days on the Red Planet, about 150 more than the mission team had originally projected. Mission engineers have analysed power data for both Spirit and Opportunity which shows the vehicles are performing much better than they had expected. It means the rovers can keep scouting Mars for many more interesting rocks. Lead scientist Professor Steve Squyres made the announcement by satellite link-up to a Mars conference in London. But the mission team adds that its original estimates of Mars' environment and the rovers' performance were very conservative.

Read more. Source: BBC

Opportunity drilling sites
Rover fails to dent Martian rock
(Mar 9, 2004)


Scientists planned to run tests on the rover Opportunity on Monday after it failed to grind a hole in Martian rock, NASA officials said. The rover tried Sunday, unsuccessfully, to use one of its many tools to grind away at an outcropping dubbed "Flat Rock," NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement on its Web site. Scientists hope to learn more about the rock's chemical composition from scrapings off of its exterior. Tests on the rover were planned for Monday and the rover could take another shot at Flat Rock later in the week, officials said. Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, Opportunity's twin rover, Spirit, maneuvered Sunday around several obstacles in a 72-foot (21-and-a-half-meter) trip toward a large depression scientists have nicknamed "Bonneville Crater."

Source: CNN/AP

Beagle entering Martian atmosphere
Beagle descent possibly too fast
(Mar 8, 2004)


The Beagle 2 lander could have crashed into Mars because the atmosphere on the planet was less dense than expected. Mission scientists told a London meeting the probe may simply have been going too fast for its parachute and airbags to bring about a soft landing. The Royal Society conference also heard photographic evidence had found four bright spots, dubbed the "string of pearls", on the surface of the planet. Scientists are studying the images to see if they show the lander's remains. They want to know if the spots are the probe's airbags and chute or are merely an artefact of the imaging process.

Read more. Source: BBC

Mars bunny
The great 'bunny' chase at Mars rover landing site
(Mar 8, 2004)


Like a rabbit in a hat, the identity of an oddity that looks like "bunny ears" in a picture from Mars has eluded the science and engineering teams. The public, also fascinated with the mysterious object, has asked in a slew of e-mails: What is it? It is a yellowish object measuring about 4 to 5 centimeters long that made its debut when Opportunity's eyes welcomed Earth to a new neighborhood on Mars in her mission success panoramic image. Meridiani Planum is a landscape unlike any other stop on our decades-long tour of the red planet. Still, it wasn't the conspicuous bedrock outcropping near the horizon that initially fascinated many people. It was the "bunny ears." Temporarily sharing a large workroom in the building that houses rover mission control, engineers were still meticulously reconstructing the events of entry, descent and landing and scientists were anxiously poring over the pictures their most recently successful twin was returning. Jeff Johnson, a scientist from the U.S. Geological Survey and a member of the panoramic camera team, heard from others about a small, fuzzy-looking object in the mission success panorama. Viewing the image on his computer screen, Johnson wondered aloud, "What in the world is this?"

Read more. Source: Spaceflight Now/NASA JPL

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