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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: March 2004
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Past view of Mars
How the little green men met their makers
(Mar 7, 2004)


Now that there's conclusive evidence that at least part of Mars was once a water-soaked place where living things could have wriggled, swam or slithered, it takes only a few more leaps of speculation to wonder how they might have died. Did their eyes bug out like Arnold Schwarzenegger's in "Total Recall"? Not likely – hypothetical Martian creatures probably wouldn't have had enough time to evolve eyes before the planet became the cold and arid place it is today. In the optimistic picture of life on Mars, a thick blanket of carbon dioxide created a greenhouse effect that warmed the planet for its first billion years or so, and lakes and oceans dotted the surface. (The pessimistic view is that it was always cold and lifeless.) But for at least 500 million years, Mars, like Earth, endured a period known as "heavy bombardment," when it was repeatedly whacked by meteors large enough to vaporize the oceans.

Read more. Source: New York Times (requires registration)

Chicago fire
Did a comet trigger the Great Chicago Fire of 1871?
(Mar 7, 2004)


Perhaps it was not Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking over a lantern that sparked the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which destroyed the downtown area and claimed 300 lives. New research lends credence to an alternative explanation: The fire, along with less-publicized and even more deadly blazes the same night in upstate Wisconsin and Michigan, was the result of a comet fragment crashing into Earth's atmosphere. The comet theory has been around – and most often discarded – since at least 1883, but Robert Wood, a retired McDonnell Douglas physicist, said never before has the orbital parameters of the rogue comet been taken into consideration.

Source: Discovery

Spirit photo of rock named Humphrey
Another Mars rover finds more evidence of water
(Mar 6, 2004)


NASA's Spirit rover has found evidence of past water activity in a volcanic rock on the other side of Mars from where its twin, Opportunity, discovered signs that ground there had once been drenched. The amount of water at Spirit's site in Gusev Crater would have been much less than what is indicated at Opportunity's site in Meridiani Planum, Ray Arvidson, deputy principal investigator of the rover mission, said Friday. The findings came from aggressive study of a rock dubbed "Humphrey" that Spirit came across en route from its landing site to a big crater named "Bonneville," Arvidson told a Jet Propulsion Laboratory news conference.

Read more. Source: CNN

El Capitan rock
How much water on Mars?
(Mar 5, 2004)


Now that NASA's Opportunity rover has established a locale on Mars where rocks were once drenched in water, it is in a race against time and battery life to learn how widespread and deep the water was. Was there a giant sea, or did less conspicuous groundwater percolate locally through the subsurface of Meridiani Planum? Opportunity has yet to creep out of the shallow depression in which it fortuitously landed. Additional observations, potentially crucial, will be made in the next week or so at home base. And then the robot will hit the road, with plans for two lengthy journeys in search of additional rock outcroppings.

Read more. Source: CNN/space.com

Hecates Tholus
Mars volcano shows 'water flow'
(Mar 5, 2004)


Close-up pictures taken by Europe's Mars Express probe of a volcano on the Red Planet reveal water could have flowed on its flanks in the past. Images of the 5,300m-high mountain, Hecates Tholus, taken 275km above Mars, also show signs of cratering on the slopes caused by volcanic activity. The caldera, a circular depression from which magma erupts or is withdrawn, can be seen in detail in the pictures. Scientists say numerous collapses have reshaped the caldera over time. Lines seen radiating outwards on the picture are thought to be flow features related to water.

Read more. Source: BBC

Beagle 2
Scientists lobby on 'Beagle pups'
(Mar 4, 2004)


Scientists are lobbying Europe's space agency to request that it put landers on some of its upcoming missions. It follows talks about possibilities for dropping science payloads on to other worlds after the enthusiasm sparked by Beagle and the Mars rovers. Researchers, including the UK's Prof Colin Pillinger, have discussed landers for The Moon, Mars's satellites Phobos and Deimos, and Jupiter's moon Europa. They hope top-level support could also open doors on future Nasa missions. The scientists met recently at the German Aerospace Centre in Cologne for a workshop to discuss new ideas for landing targets and technology.

Read more. Source: BBC

El Capitan rock on Mars
The chemistry of Mars
(Mar 3, 2004)


One of the foundations supporting NASA's case for water's past presence on Mars, at least near the rover Opportunity, is salty chemical forms of sulfur known as sulfates. These mineral salts were found in abundance during Opportunity's studies of a rock outcrop sitting in its Meridiani Planum landing site. "With this quantity of sulfates, you kind of have to have a lot of water involved," explained Steven Squyres, principal investigator of Opportunity's science package and a professor at Cornell University. Chief among the sulfates found is jarosite, a hydrated iron sulfate detected by Opportunity's Moessbauer spectrometer, a device that scans for iron-bearing minerals. "On Earth, the only place we see this mineral is in areas where there is liquid water," said Cathryn Weitz, a program scientist with the Mars Exploration Rovers program, which includes Opportunity, and Mars Express. Jarosite is typically found in acidic lakes or such as hot springs, she added. Image: Opportunity image of El Capitan rock.

Read more. Source: space.com

Mars Expedition Rover
NASA: Liquid water once on Mars
(Mar 2, 2004)


NASA scientists say the Mars rovers have found what they were looking for – hard evidence that the red planet was once "soaking wet." "We have concluded the rocks here were once soaked in liquid water," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University. He's the principal investigator for the science instruments on Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit. "The second question we've tried to answer: Were these rocks altered by liquid water? We believe definitively, yes," Squyres said. Squyres and other NASA officials made the announcement at NASA headquarters in Washington, after several days of giving tantalizing hints that something significant had been discovered.

Read more. Source: CNN

Rosetta launch
Rosetta heads for comet
(Mar 2, 2004)


Europe's Rosetta spacecraft has launched successfully and is now heading into space on its daring journey to chase and land on a comet. The 600m probe lifted off at 0717 GMT from its launchpad in Kourou, French Guiana on an Ariane 5 rocket after being delayed for two days in a row. Rosetta is primed for a 7bn-km journey to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The probe has separated from the upper stage of the Ariane rocket and left Earth orbit for the outer solar system.

Read more. Source: BBC

asteroid impact
Dinosaur impact theory challenged
(Mar 1, 2004)


Scientists may have destroyed the well-established theory that a single, massive asteroid strike killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. New data suggests the Chicxulub crater in Mexico, supposedly created by the collision, predates the extinction of the dinosaurs by about 300,000 years. The authors say this impact did not wipe out the creatures, rather two or more collisions could have been responsible. The report is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read more. Source: BBC

Abell 1835
VLT smashes record for farthest known galaxy
(Mar 1, 2004)


Using the ISAAC near-infrared instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope, and the magnification effect of a gravitational lens, a team of French and Swiss astronomers has found several faint galaxies believed to be the most remote known. Further spectroscopic studies of one of these candidates has provided a strong case for what is now the new record holder – and by far – of the most distant galaxy known in the Universe. Named Abell 1835 IR1916, the newly discovered galaxy has a redshift of 10 and is located about 13,230 million light-years away. It is therefore seen at a time when the Universe was merely 470 million years young, that is, barely 3 percent of its current age. This primeval galaxy appears to be ten thousand times less massive than our Galaxy, the Milky Way. It might well be among the first class of objects which put an end to the Dark Ages of the Universe.

Read more. Source: European Southern Observatory

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