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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: April 2005
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OWL
Ground telescopes to 'super-size'
(Apr 10, 2005)


A new generation of ground-based telescopes could be up to 10 times the size of existing instruments and have vision 40 times as sharp as the Hubble space telescope. Astronomers have been hailing the plans, as a European project to build an Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) enters a design testing phase. An ELT is vital if the pace of astronomical breakthroughs is to continue, say experts.

Read more. Source: BBC

merging black holes
Deepest X-rays tell merger story
(Apr 8, 2005)


Scientists have seen giant black holes growing rapidly in the cores of massive star-forming galaxies. The observations from the Chandra space telescope are the deepest X-ray images ever obtained, viewing events that are 10 billion light-years away. It is also clear most of these galaxies are merging with close neighbours.

Read more. Source: BBC

Titan
Possible signs of life on Titan
(Apr 7, 2005)


Is there life on Titan? A few months ago the question would have been ridiculous, but two US space experts will tell a Nasa astrobiology conference next week that the Cassini probe's trip to Saturn's moon has set up some intriguing possibilities. David Grinspoon, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and Dirk Schulze-Makuch, at Washington State University, say Cassini's images show geological features that could be caused by microbial activity.

Read more. Source: Guardian

Swift
Swift measures distance to gamma-ray bursts
(Apr 7, 2005)


NASA's Swift space telescope has been used to directly measure the distance to fleeting cosmic explosions, called gamma-ray bursts, for the first time. The measurements are crucial for determining how much energy the bursts unleash. Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are powerful blasts of high-energy gamma-ray photons thought to herald the birth of black holes. They typically last less than a minute but can produce afterglows at a range of wavelengths – from X-rays to radio waves – that linger for hours or weeks. The afterglows can reveal the distance and nature of the bursts, and Swift was designed to swivel towards them in about a minute.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Toumai reconstruction
Fleshing out the 'first ape-man'
(Apr 7, 2005)


Experts are a step closer to answering whether an ancient skull from Africa belonged to a possible human ancestor or to a creature closer to apes. Fresh fossil finds from Chad in central Africa, as well as a new analysis of the skull, seem to confirm "Toumaļ" was closer to us, Nature magazine reports. The Toumaļ specimen was unearthed in Chad in 2002 to international acclaim.

Read more. Source: BBC

Mars Exploration Rover
Mars rovers enjoy a new lease of life
(Apr 7, 2005)


The missions of the twin Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity - which have already surpassed all expectations – have been extended by a further 18 months. NASA officials announced on Tuesday that the rovers will be allowed to roll on well beyond the end of their second extension, which has just expired. And the agency is bypassing the usual requirement for a full review of the project every six months by granting the mission an extension to September 2006.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Spitzer Telescope
Telescope catches early starlight
(Apr 6, 2005)


Astronomers have seen the light coming from what could be some of the very first stars to shine in the Universe. These ancient objects burst into life probably no more than 600 million years or so after the Big Bang itself. The discovery, announced at the UK National Astronomy Meeting, suggests the evolution of galaxies got under way much earlier than previously believed.

Read more. Source: BBC

mystery star clusters in Andromeda
Galaxy has mystery star clusters
(Apr 5, 2005)


Unusual clusters of ancient stars have been found in the Andromeda Galaxy, which neighbours our own Milky Way. UK scientists say the groupings contain hundreds of thousands of stars but are spread out over far greater distances than presently can be explained. They told the National Astronomy Meeting these extended clusters were not seen in the Milky Way.

Read more. Source: BBC

exoplanet
Plenty of Earths await discovery
(Apr 5, 2005)


British researchers are more confident than ever that there are "Earths" out there waiting to be discovered. The scientists say perhaps a half of all the known planetary systems today could be harbouring habitable worlds. It must be said most of these systems are strange places where supergiant planets orbit close in to their stars. But Barrie Jones and colleagues say their modelling work suggests that even with this oddness, there should be room for small rocky planets.

Read more. Source: BBC

black hole
Black holes 'do not exist'
(Apr 4, 2005)


Black holes are staples of science fiction and many think astronomers have observed them indirectly. But according to a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, these awesome breaches in space-time do not and indeed cannot exist. Over the past few years, observations of the motions of galaxies have shown that some 70% the Universe seems to be composed of a strange 'dark energy' that is driving the Universe's accelerating expansion. George Chapline thinks that the collapse of the massive stars, which was long believed to generate black holes, actually leads to the formation of stars that contain dark energy.

Read more. Source: Nature

trilobites
Great extinction came in phases
(Apr 4, 2005)


The greatest mass extinction recorded in Earth history did not occur as a result of one single cataclysmic event. A joint UK-Chinese team tell Nature magazine the disaster that befell the planet 250 million years ago must have happened in phases. Their conclusion is based on the abundance of "organic fossils" found in rocks at Meishan in southern China. These suggest there were at least two episodes to the mass die-off that saw up to 95% of lifeforms disappear.

Read more. Source: BBC

GQ Lupi
Confirmed picture of a planet beyond the solar system
(Apr 2, 2005)


After a few close calls, astronomers have finally obtained the first photograph of a planet beyond our solar system. And this time they say they're sure. Though some doubt lingers about the mass of the object. The planet is thought to be one to two times as massive as Jupiter, according to the scientists who imaged it. It orbits a star similar to a young version of our Sun. The star, GQ Lupi, has been observed by a team of European astronomers since 1999. They have made three images using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile. The Hubble Space Telescope and the Japanese Subaru Telescope each contributed an image, too. The work was led by Ralph Neuhaeuser of the Astrophysical Institute & University Observatory (AIU).

Read more. Source: space.com

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