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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: December 2005
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New Horizons probe
Pluto probe prepares for decade-long mission
(Dec 21, 2005)

NASA is taking extra precautions to ensure its first mission to Pluto blasts off successfully, postponing the opening of its launch window by six days to 17 January 2006. But any further delays could add years to the mission. The 35-day launch window for the New Horizons spacecraft was set to begin on 11 January. But NASA postponed it to recheck the fuel tank on the first stage of its Atlas 5 launcher, following the failure of a similar tank during factory tests in September 2005.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Possible Beagle 2 crash site
Beagle 2 probe 'spotted' on Mars
(Dec 20, 2005)

The scientist behind the British Beagle 2 mission to the Red Planet says the craft may have been found in pictures of the Martian surface. Colin Pillinger says the images suggest the mission very nearly worked, but Beagle somehow failed to contact Earth. He thinks the craft may have hit the ground too hard - as the atmosphere was thinner than usual because of dust storms in that region of Mars. This may have damaged onboard instruments, preventing the call home.

Read more. Source: BBC

woolly mammoth
Extinct mammoth DNA decoded
(Dec 19, 2005)

Scientists have pieced together part of the genetic recipe of the extinct woolly mammoth. The 5,000 DNA letters spell out the genetic code of its mitochondria, the structures in the cell that generate energy. The research, published in the online edition of Nature, gives an insight into the elephant family tree. It shows that the mammoth was most closely related to the Asian rather than the African elephant.

Read more. Source: BBC

Falcon 1
Space-X announces launch date for Falcon 1 rocket
(Dec 17, 2005)

The first launch of the new Falcon 1 rocket is scheduled for 19 December at 1900 GMT, during an eight-hour launch window. Space Exploration Technologies (Space-X), the company that built the rocket, had said the launch could happen around 20 December, depending on US Army missile testing on the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean atoll, from which they are launching. Falcon 1 will carry an experimental satellite called FalconSat-2 into space for the US Air Force Academy and the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Milagro detector
Observatory spots galaxy's most energetic gamma rays
(Dec 16, 2005)

Physicists have measured the highest energy photons ever seen emerging from our galaxy, the Milky Way. Previous observations with the orbiting Compton Gamma Ray Observatory had found very high energy (VHE) gamma rays emanating from the equator of the galactic disc at up to 30 billion electronvolts. Now, using three years’ worth of data from the Milagro Gamma Ray Observatory in New Mexico, US, physicists from nine institutions have found gamma rays with an average energy of 3.5 trillion electronvolts.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Alien search merges with other home projects
(Dec 16, 2005)

SETI@home, a downloadable screensaver that lets the public donate their unused computer time to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, switches off today. But it is not going away: it is simply joining forces with similar distributed-computing projects on topics from climate models to cures for diseases. The move should boost the number of users, upping the computing power available to search for messages from alien life.

Read more. Source: Nature

spider bots and space web
Space 'spiders' could build solar satellites
(Dec 15, 2005)

A mission to determine whether spider-like robots could construct complex structures in space is set to launch in January 2006. The spider bots could build large structures by crawling over a "web" released from a larger spacecraft. The engineers behind the project hope the robots will eventually be used to construct colossal solar panels for satellites that will transmit solar energy back to Earth. The satellites could reflect and concentrate the Sun's rays to a receiving station on Earth or perhaps beam energy down in the form of microwaves.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Virgin Galactic's spacecraft in orbit, simulation
Virgin Galactic announces its first 100 space tourists
(Dec 14, 2005)

The first 100 space tourists scheduled to take suborbital flights from the spaceport being built by Virgin Galactic were announced on Tuesday. Although its putative tourist spacecraft may not be off the drawing board yet, a confident Virgin Galactic revealed the “founder’s group” will be flying from the port near Roswell, New Mexico – fabled as the site of a supposed UFO crash in 1947. The 100 people include a woman in her nineties (who learned to skydive when she was 85), and a honeymooning couple from Washington DC.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

orbit of 2004_XR190
Strange new object found at edge of Solar System
(Dec 14, 2005)

A large object has been found beyond Pluto travelling in an orbit tilted by 47 degrees to most other bodies in the solar system. Astronomers are at a loss to explain why the object's orbit is so off-kilter while being almost circular. Researchers led by Lynne Allen at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, first spotted the object in observations made with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in December 2004. Since October 2005, they have made follow-up observations that have revealed the object's perplexing path. Tentatively named 2004 XR190, the object appears to have a diameter of between 500 and 1000 kilometres, making it somewhere between a fifth and nearly half as wide as Pluto.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Hayabusa touching down on asteroid
Hopes fade for troubled Japanese asteroid probe
(Dec 13, 2005)

Hope that Japan's Hayabusa spacecraft will return to Earth is fading as mission controllers remain unable to regain complete control of its orientation. The spacecraft was designed to bring the first-ever asteroid samples back to Earth for analysis. But recent data suggest that, during a landing attempt on 26 November, it did not fire metal pellets into the 600-metre-long asteroid Itokawa to draw up material for collection. Now mission controllers have little hope the spacecraft will be able to get back to Earth – even without its quarry – because of continuing problems with its fuel thrusters.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

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