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Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Next US Mars probe set for launch
(Aug 10, 2005)

The US space agency's new robotic mission to Mars is set to blast off. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will scour the planet for suitable landing sites on future missions, in the quest to eventually send astronauts to Mars. The probe will investigate the history of water on the Red Planet and could identify suitable habitats for life. An Atlas V rocket carrying the probe is due to blast-off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Wednesday at 1254 BST (0754 EDT; 1154 GMT). Update: launch delay to no earlier than 0750 EDT, Aug. 11

Read more. Source: BBC

Cosmic rays 'harm pilots' sight'
(Aug 9, 2005)

Airline pilots may be at increased risk of eye damage because of their exposure to cosmic radiation, warn experts. The Icelandic researchers found commercial pilots were three times more likely than normal to develop cataracts – clouding of the lens of the eye. Cosmic rays – very energetic particles and radiation which bombard the Earth from outer space – have already been linked to cataracts among astronauts.

Read more. Source: BBC

asteroid impact
Earth's surface transformed by massive asteroids
(Aug 7, 2005)

A cluster of at least three asteroids between 20 and 50 km across colliding with Earth over 3.2 billion years ago caused a massive change in the structure and composition of the earth's surface, according to new research by ANU earth scientists. According to Andrew Glikson and John Vickers from the Department of Earth and Marine Sciences at ANU, the impact of these asteroids triggered major earthquakes, faulting, volcanic eruption and deep-seated magmatic activity and interrupted the evolution of parts of the Earth's crust.

Read more. Source: spaceref/Australia National Univ.

Moon soils store Earth's early breath
(Aug 5, 2005)

The Moon's soil preserves gases from the ancient Earth's atmosphere, say scientists who have studied results from the Apollo missions. The discovery hints that our planet's magnetic field switched on about 3.9 billion years ago. This in turn points to when life began on Earth, as the magnetic field protects us from a hail of DNA-damaging particles from space.

Read more. Source: Nature

Shuttle Discovery
Discovery may need more repairs
(Aug 4, 2005)

NASA scientists are trying to determine whether the US space shuttle Discovery will need more repairs before being given the all clear to return to Earth. On Wednesday an astronaut carried out a pioneering spacewalk to the orbiter's underside to remove protruding material threatening the heatshield's integrity. But engineers now fear the thermal blanket near the cockpit is damaged and needs repairs to stop it tearing off.

Read more. Source: BBC

Titan may be as dry as a bone
(Aug 4, 2005)

Saturn's moon Titan is as dry as a bone over most of its surface, suggest new infrared images from Earth. The work supports similar observations from the Cassini spacecraft, in orbit around the Ringed Planet. And it suggests previous radar studies from the ground – which hinted the giant moon was covered in liquid methane seas – were actually detecting signs of liquid that had long since vanished.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Mars from Mars Express
Methane on Mars: the plot thickens
(Aug 3, 2005)

Methane on Mars may be produced at rates 3000 times higher than previously thought and partially destroyed by dust storms, controversial new research suggests. The work is sure to reignite the debate over a possible biological origin for the gas, but another team reports that subsurface volcanism alone – and not life – can account for the gas. Sunlight is thought to destroy methane molecules in Mars's atmosphere over about 300 years. So recent discoveries of the gas by space- and ground-based instruments suggested it is actively being replenished by geological processes or, possibly, living microbes.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Astronomers to decide what makes a planet
(Aug 3, 2005)

The discovery of a new addition to our Solar System has prompted astronomers to fast-track plans to decide what is and is not a planet. The rules, which could be formulated by the end of this week, could more than double the number of local planets – or they could demote Pluto (shown here), leaving us with only eight in our neighbourhood. The number of planets appeared to rise to ten on 29 July, when US astronomers announced the discovery of 2003 UB313, a chunk of rock and ice that orbits near Pluto, around 15 billion kilometres from the Sun.

Read more. Source: Nature

Mars base
Cosmic rays may prevent long-haul space travel
(Aug 2, 2005)

The radiation encountered on a journey to Mars and back could well kill space travellers, experts have warned. Astronauts would be bombarded by so much cosmic radiation that one in 10 of them could die from cancer. The crew of any mission to Mars would also suffer increased risks of eye cataracts, loss of fertility and genetic defects in their children, according to a study by the US Federal Aviation Administration. Cosmic rays, which come from outer space and solar flares, are now regarded as a potential limiting factor for space travel. "I do not see how the problem of this hostile radiation environment can be easily overcome in the future," says Keran O'Brien, a space physicist from Northern Arizona University.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Space Shuttle
Space shuttle to get critical fix
(Aug 2, 2005)

An astronaut is to make unprecedented repairs to the space shuttle Discovery, NASA has announced. Stephen Robinson will remove strips that are sticking out between heat shield tiles on Discovery's belly. Nasa is concerned the dangling material – called gap fillers – could cause part of the shuttle to overheat as it re-enters the atmosphere. Astronauts have never fixed a shuttle's heat shields on a spacewalk before – or gone under an orbiting shuttle.

Read more. Source: BBC

2003 UB313
Astronomers detect '10th planet'
(Aug 1, 2005)

Astronomers in the United States have announced the discovery of the 10th planet to orbit our Sun. The largest object found in our Solar System since Neptune was discovered in 1846, it was first seen in 2003 but has only now been confirmed as a planet. Designated 2003 UB313, it is about 3,000km across, a world of rock and ice and somewhat larger than Pluto. Scientists say it is three times as far away as Pluto, in an orbit at an angle to the orbits of the other planets. Astronomers think that at some point in its history, Neptune likely flung it into its highly-inclined 44-degree orbit.

Read more. Source: BBC

ice lake on Mars
Ice lake found on the Red Plane>
(Aug 1, 2005)

A giant patch of frozen water has been pictured nestled within an unnamed impact crater on Mars. The photographs were taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on board Mars Express, the European Space Agency probe which is exploring the planet. The ice disc is located on Vastitas Borealis, a broad plain that covers much of Mars' far northern latitudes. The existence of the water-ice patch on Mars raises the prospect that past or present life will one day be detected.

Read more. Source: BBC

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