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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: May 2004
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Trifid Nebula
Theory proposes new view of Sun and Earth's creation
(May 24, 2004)


Like most creation stories, this one is dramatic: we began, not as a mere glimmer buried in an obscure cloud, but instead amidst the glare and turmoil of restless giants. Or so says a new theory, supported by stunning astronomical images and hard chemical analysis. For years most astronomers have imagined that the Sun and Solar System formed in relative isolation, buried in a quiet, dark corner of a less-than-imposing interstellar cloud. The new theory challenges this conventional wisdom, arguing instead that the Sun formed in a violent nebular environment - a byproduct of the chaos wrought by intense ultraviolet radiation and powerful explosions that accompany the short but spectacular lives of massive, luminous stars. Image: Part of Trifid Nebula in which evidence for the new theory has been found.

Source: Arizona State University

Archaeopteryx
Four-winged birds may have been first fliers
(May 23, 2004)


The first birds were probably four-winged gliders, and only later evolved into the sophisticated flapping fliers with light skeletons and two wings that we see today. This view of avian evolution is supported by a new study of Archaeopteryx, the most famous bird fossil, which reveals it had long feathers on its back and legs, as well as on its wings. The first Archaeopteryx was discovered 140 years ago, and is now kept in Germany's Humboldt Museum in Berlin. Over the years there have been anecdotal reports that faint feathers can be seen on its hind legs. These have now been confirmed by an analysis of the specimen by zoologist Per Christiansen of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and palaeontologist Niels Bonde of Copenhagen's Geological Institute.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

orbit of 2004 JG6
New asteroid has smallest solar orbit
(May 22, 2004)


A newly-discovered asteroid has the smallest orbit around the Sun ever seen for a space rock. It is also only the second known asteroid to have an orbit that lies entirely within the Earth's – the first was discovered in 2003. Such asteroids are very difficult to detect because their position in relation to the Sun and the Earth means they rarely appear in the night sky. The asteroid, designated 2004 JG6, was spotted earlier in May by Brian Skiff, part of the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search (LONEOS), in Flagstaff Arizona, US. It has an orbit that crosses the orbits of Venus and Mercury, and it passes less than 50 million kilometres from the Sun every six months.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Sun
Cosmos 'a billion years older'
(May 21, 2004)


The Universe could be a billion years older than was thought, according to Italian and German scientists. Measurements made in an underground laboratory suggest an atomic reaction that produces energy inside stars is slower than was believed. It means that estimates of stellar lifetimes are too short. A readjustment gives the Universe an age of 14.7 instead of 13.7 billion years. The results are to be published in the journal Physics Review Letters. The new result comes from Luna – the Laboratory for Underground Nuclear Astrophysics – situated underneath Gran Sasso mountain in Italy.

Read more. Source: BBC

purported nanobacteria
Claim made for new form of life
(May 20, 2004)


Some claim they are a new life form responsible for a wide-range of diseases, including the calcification of the arteries that afflicts us all as we age. Others say they are simply too small to be living creatures. Now a team of doctors has entered the fray surrounding the existence or otherwise of nanobacteria. After four years' work, the team, based at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has come up with some of the best evidence yet that they do exist. Cautiously titled "Evidence of nanobacterial-like structures in human calcified arteries and cardiac valves", the paper by John Lieske and his team describes how they isolated minuscule cell-like structures from diseased human arteries. These particles self-replicated in culture, and could be identified with an antibody and a DNA stain. "The evidence is suggestive," is all Lieske claims.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Chandra view of cluster of galaxies
Universe given mid-life booster
(May 19, 2004)


The orbiting Chandra X-ray telescope has shown that the expansion of the Universe received a kick midway through its life, about six billion years ago. Its images of clusters of galaxies, such as the one shown here have provided astronomers with a new way to probe the history of the cosmos. It casts new light on the unknown "dark energy" that dominates the Universe. Using the data, astronomers estimate that dark energy makes up about 75% of the Universe, "dark matter" about 21%, and visible matter only about 4%.

Read more. Source: BBC

Great Salt Lake
Utah microbes point to Mars
(May 19, 2004)


The Great Salt Lake in Utah has an otherworldly quality to it. It is a pink-tinged hyper-saline lake trimmed with a halo of salt that encrusts everything it touches. With water levels at a 30-year low, the salt load has reached a saturation point of 30%, giving it 10 times the salinity of seawater. Life just should not be able to exist here, but scientists are finding that the lake is teeming with life. This inland sea is home to dozens of species of salt-loving micro-organisms – so-called halophiles – that thrive in the sodium-chloride-rich soup.

Read more. Source: BBC

GoFast amateur rocket blasts off
Amateur rocket fired into space
(May 18, 2004)


An amateur unmanned rocket has been launched into space from the Nevada desert – the first time this has been achieved by a privately-built vehicle. The Civilian Space eXploration Team's 6.5m (21ft) GoFast rocket is understood to have exceeded an altitude of 100km. "It just roared off the pad and flew into space," said rocketeer and CSXT avionics manager Eric Knight. The GoFast vehicle and its payload sent back signals from space before falling down to Earth for recovery.

Read more. Source: BBC

Huygens arriving at Titan
Scientists look to Saturn moon in search for life
(May 18, 2004)


While the Cassini spacecraft has been flying toward Saturn, chemists on Earth have been making plastic pollution like that raining through the atmosphere of Saturn's moon, Titan. Scientists suspect that organic solids have been falling from Titan's sky for billions of years and might be compounds that set the stage for the next chemical step toward life. They collaborate in University of Arizona laboratory experiments that will help Cassini scientists interpret Titan data and plan a future mission that would deploy an organic chemistry lab to Titan's surface. Chemists in Mark A. Smith's laboratory at the University of Arizona create compounds like those condensing from Titan's sky by bombarding an analog of Titan's atmosphere with electrons. This produces "tholins" – organic polymers found in Titan's upper nitrogen-methane atmosphere.

Read more. Source: University of Arizona

Lion stone
Rover starts crater science tasks
(May 16, 2004)


The US space agency's Mars rover Opportunity has begun investigating rocks along the rim of the large crater it is perched by on the Red Planet. The rover has conducted scientific tests on Lion Stone (shown here), a 30cm-long rock by the edge of Endurance Crater. Opportunity has been making a three-week trip to Endurance Crater, which could reveal even more about the history of liquid water on Mars. Scientists must now decide whether to risk sending the rover into the crater. There is a real possibility, they say, that it might not be able to get out.

Read more. Source: BBC

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