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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: September 2004
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dolphin pod
Are dolphins sensing global forces?
(Sep 24, 2004)

Dolphins, when dozing, swim in lazy circles. A new paper uncovers the odd fact that dolphins in the Northern Hemisphere swim in anticlockwise circles, whereas dolphins in the Southern Hemisphere swim in clockwise circles. The marine mammals only sleep with one half of their brains at a time, and continuously swim as they snooze. Wild dolphins, not just captive ones, have been seen to swim in circles when they sleep, and dolphins of various species had previously been shown to move preferentially anticlockwise.

Read more. Source: Nature

Mars explorers
Interplanetary exploration could seriously damage your health
(Sep 23, 2004)

Congratulations. You are an astronaut and you have been handpicked for a mission to Mars. You are at the peak of your physical condition, and your mental powers. And you are in big trouble. "If you survive the violence of the launch then there is a whole host of physiological problems waiting for you," says Kevin Fong who runs a space medicine course at University College London. "Bone and muscle waste at alarmingly high rates, you feel disoriented because of the effects of weightlessness on your inner ear, your heart can start beating erratically and a large number of astronauts spend the first couple of days feeling sick from space adaptation syndrome. All of this before you start thinking about radiation exposure and psychological stress."

Read more. Source: Guardian

Hubble image of distant galaxies
Hubble's deepest shot is a puzzle
(Sep 23, 2004)

Scientists studying the deepest picture of the Universe, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, have been left with a big poser: where are all the stars? The Ultra Deep Field is a view of one patch of sky built from 800 exposures. The picture shows faint galaxies whose stars were shining just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. But the image's revelation that fewer stars than expected were being born at this time brings into question current ideas on cosmic evolution.

Read more. Source: BBC

Jupiter drifted towards sun in its youth
(Sep 23, 2004)

Jupiter, the king of planets in the solar system, drifted tens of millions of kilometres towards the sun in its youth, a new study suggests. Jupiter’s migration could even have helped to form the Earth. The idea that planets migrate towards their stars has received considerable attention over the past decade, thanks to the discovery of around a hundred planetary systems besides our own. Most contain “hot Jupiters” – gas giants that sometimes orbit closer to their stars than Mercury is to the Sun.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Antarctic microbes
Rock bugs resist polar extremes
(Sep 23, 2004)

It seems wherever scientists look on Earth they can usually find some kind of lifeform eking out an existence. And microbe colonies discovered living under rocks in the Arctic and Antarctic are just the latest example. Their high-latitude polar habitats are among the most extreme on the planet, with damaging levels of ultraviolet light as well as sub-zero temperatures.

Read more. Source: BBC

Martian methane hints at oases of life
(Sep 22, 2004)

In the first published study to track methane on Mars, researchers have concluded that life is the only plausible source of the gas. The putative martians are hiding in a few isolated spots and the rest of the planet is totally sterile, they say. Teams at conferences have already discussed finding martian methane. But Vladimir Krasnopolsky, an atmospheric scientist from the Catholic University of America in Washington DC, says that his study, to be published shortly in the peer-reviewed journal Icarus1, is the first hard evidence for methane on the planet.

Read more. Source: Nature

Jupter Icy Moons Orbiter
NASA picks contractor for first Prometheus mission
(Sep 21, 2004)

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., selected Northrop Grumman Space Technology, Redondo Beach, Calif., as the contractor for co-designing the proposed Prometheus Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO) spacecraft. The contract award is for approximately $400 million, covering work through mid-2008. The Prometheus JIMO mission is an ambitious mission to orbit and explore three planet-sized moons, Callisto, Ganymede and Europa, of Jupiter. The moons may have vast oceans beneath their icy surfaces. A nuclear reactor would enable the mission, which would launch in the next decade.

Read more. Source: Spaceflight Now / NASA

Sirling engine at Los Alamos
Spacecraft powered by thunder
(Sep 21, 2004)

Thunderous sound waves could one day propel spacecraft to the edge of the solar system, say engineers who have developed a new type of acoustic engine. Current long-range spacecraft roam too far from the Sun to use solar power so instead carry plutonium bricks to fuel their engines. As the radioactive plutonium decays, it generates heat that produces an electric current between two different types of metal. This system uses no moving parts but the bricks are large, heavy, and difficult to produce. And these engines yield efficiencies of just 7%. So NASA is funding research into Stirling engines, like the one shown here at Los Alamos, which use temperature differentials between reservoirs of gas to create electricity.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Mars Express
New Mars data gives life clue
(Sep 20, 2004)

New data showing that patterns of water and methane in Mars' atmosphere overlap may have important implications for the idea that the planet could harbour life. The finding comes from the Mars Express probe in orbit around the Red Planet. If microbes are making methane seen in Mars' atmosphere, they would rely on water, so the association between the two has excited some researchers.

Read more. Source: BBC

Mars base
Body clocks 'hinder' space travel
(Sep 18, 2004)

Researchers think the human body clock could hinder space exploration. Russell Foster's team at Imperial College London, UK, is looking at how astronauts would cope away from Earth. Foster says our "circadian rhythm is crucial. It stops everything happening at once and co-ordinates the right things to happen at the right time". Whilst the human body is used to a 24-hour cycle, the day on Mars is an extra 39 minutes long, which could prove difficult for humans to adapt to.

Read more. Source: BBC

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