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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: December 2005
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Ash and pumice was thrown out at vent sites along the 60 km segment
Geologists witness 'ocean birth'
(Dec 12, 2005)


Scientists say they have witnessed the possible birth of a future ocean basin growing in north-eastern Ethiopia. The team watched an 8-meter rift develop in the ground in just three weeks in the Afar desert region last September. It is one small step in a long-term split that is tearing the east of the country from the rest of Africa and should eventually create a huge sea. The UK-Ethiopian group says it was astonished at the speed with which the 60km-long fissure system developed.

Read more. Source: BBC

future Neptune mission, artist's impression
US group proposes Neptune mission
(Dec 11, 2005)


Neptune and its largest moon, Triton, could be the targets of a major space mission in the decades ahead, if a group of US researchers gets its way. The team has put together a concept for a "mothership" and probes that would investigate the ice giant which orbits some 4.5bn km from the Sun. So far, only one spacecraft, Voyager 2, has visited Neptune – a flyby in 1989.

Read more. Source: BBC

Milky Way's major spiral arms
Spiral arm of Milky Way looms closer than thought
(Dec 9, 2005)


One of the Milky Way's star-studded spiral arms lies twice as close to Earth as some previous estimates suggested. New research has produced the most accurate distance measurement ever made of the arm, which could help astronomers understand how our galaxy's spiral structure formed. The Milky Way appears to be made up of four main arms that curve around its centre like a pinwheel. "However, our view from the interior makes it difficult to determine its spiral structure," writes a team led by Ye Xu of the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory in China, in Science.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Atacama Desert
Chile desert's super-dry history
(Dec 8, 2005)


The Atacama desert in South America has been in a super-dry state far longer than any other location on Earth - nearly 40 million years in some places. The Atacama is well known for its lack of rainfall, but scientists are only now getting a handle on how long it has experienced low precipitation levels. Dr Tibor Dunai from Edinburgh, UK, is working in the region to date surfaces. His team reports the existence of hyper-arid conditions in the desert have lasted at least 20 million years.

Read more. Source: BBC

ice core sample
Extreme bugs back idea of life on Mars
(Dec 8, 2005)


Methane-producing microbes have been discovered in two extreme environments on Earth - buried under kilometres of ice in Greenland and living in hot, dry desert soil. The findings lend weight to the idea that similar organisms may have lived on Mars. Live microbes making methane were found in a glacial ice core sample retrieved from three kilometres under Greenland by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, US. It is the first time such archaea have been found at that depth, says Buford Price, one of the research team, which published its results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

scene from the film Deep Impact
It's called Apophis. It's 390m wide. And it could hit Earth in 31 years time
(Dec 7, 2005)


In Egyptian myth, Apophis was the ancient spirit of evil and destruction, a demon that was determined to plunge the world into eternal darkness. A fitting name, astronomers reasoned, for a menace now hurtling towards Earth from outerspace. Scientists are monitoring the progress of a 390-metre wide asteroid discovered last year that is potentially on a collision course with the planet, and are imploring governments to decide on a strategy for dealing with it.

Read more. Source: Guardian

new species of mammal in Borneo
Mystery mammal discovered in Borneo’s forests
(Dec 6, 2005)


A mysterious red furry creature, captured on film in the dense forests of Borneo, could be a new species of carnivore. The mammal, which is slightly larger than a domestic cat, has dark red fur and a long, bushy tail. It was snapped twice at night by a camera trap set up by researchers from the conservation group WWF. Its general shape – with a possibly pointed snout, small ears, and large powerful hind legs – suggests it is a meat-eater. It has some similarities with martens or civets and could belong to these groups, or it may belong to an entirely new group, says WWF.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

XCOR EZ-rocket
XCOR rocket plane soars into record book
(Dec 5, 2005)


XCOR's EZ-Rocket flew into the history books today. The craft made a record-setting point-to-point flight, departing here from the Mojave California Spaceport, gliding to a touchdown at a neighboring airport in California City. The rocket plane was piloted by Dick Rutan, no stranger to milestone-making voyages. In 1986, Rutan was co-pilot on the Voyager airplane that made the first nonstop, around-the-world flight without refueling. The EZ-Rocket is a modified Long-EZ homebuilt aircraft. The vehicle is propelled by twin 400-pound thrust, regeneratively cooled rocket engines and fueled by isopropyl alcohol and liquid oxygen.

Read more. Source: space.com

The energetic bubbles – the darker regions – span 300,000 light years (Image: NASA/CXC/IoA/A.Fabian et al)
Black hole's colossal sphere of influence revealed
(Dec 3, 2005)


The observation of colossal bubbles of energetic particles in space by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has revealed the enormous sphere of influence exerted by some black holes. This vast reach can also slow down the growth of surrounding galaxies by slowing star formation. “Direct observational evidence for a black hole having a large influence has not been forthcoming till now,” says Andrew Fabian, at Cambridge University, UK and leader of the study. “But we think this image really shows something going on.”

Read more. Source: New Scientist

controversial footprint
Study treads on footprint claim
(Dec 2, 2005)


Impressions in volcanic ash hailed as footprints made by the earliest known human settlers in the Americas may not be what they seem, Nature journal says. If confirmed, the 40,000-year-old marks would have debunked accepted theories of human migration into the Americas. But the ash has now been dated to 1.3 million years ago – more than a million years before modern humans evolved.

Read more. Source: BBC

Titan
Titan's atmosphere revealed as multilayered mystery
(Dec 1, 2005)


Titan's atmosphere is remarkably like Earth's, but even more complex and multilayered, according to results from the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe. The lander also saw signs of lightning and found chemical clues to the source of Titan's methane, which probably bubbles up from deep inside Saturn’s giant moon. Titan is the only satellite in the solar system to have any appreciable atmosphere. It is mainly nitrogen, like Earth’s air, but it is 10 times as dense as our terrestrial atmosphere. As a result, the parachute-braked descent of Huygens to the surface in January took a leisurely 2.5 hours, giving it ample time to sample the gases around it.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

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