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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: February 2005
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Mars Elysium
Mars pictures reveal frozen sea
(Feb 21, 2005)

A huge, frozen sea lies just below the surface of Mars, a team of European scientists has announced. Their assessment is based on pictures of the planet's near-equatorial Elysium region that show plated and rutted features across an area 800 by 900km. The team think a catastrophic event flooded the landscape five million years ago and then froze out. They tell a forthcoming edition of Nature magazine that sediments covered the ice, locking it in place.

Read more. Source: BBC

Spying on Enceladus
(Feb 21, 2005)

This spectacular view is a mosaic of four high resolution images taken by the Cassini spacecraft narrow angle camera on Feb. 16 during its close flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus. The view is about 300 kilometers (200 miles) across and shows the myriad of faults, fractures, folds, troughs and craters that make this Saturnian satellite especially intriguing to planetary scientists. More than 20 years ago, NASA's Voyager spacecraft gave hints of a surface cut by tectonic features, and subsequent images of other icy moons have revealed many different ways that stresses have acted on icy moon crusts.

Read more. Source: Spaceflight Now / JPL

Moon measurements might explain away dark energy
(Feb 20, 2005)

Plans to trace the Moon's orbit with extraordinary new accuracy could reveal kinks in Einstein's theory of gravity and help explain the mysterious accelerating expansion of the universe, says a US researcher. The acceleration cannot be explained by known forces in the Universe. To account for the behaviour, cosmologists have introduced the concept of a new, as yet unseen, force – dark energy. But Gia Dvali, of New York University, believes there could be another explanation. He thinks the accelerating expansion might be caused by unexpected properties of gravity, which are only seen over very large distances. Taking inspiration from string theory, which proposes the existence of several extra dimensions, Dvali, and NYU colleagues Gregory Gabadadze and Massimo Porrati, suggests that gravity may leak into an extra dimension on this large scale.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

image by Mars Express
Mars Express scuppers greenhouse hopes
(Feb 19, 2005)

If life exists on the surface of Mars, it has not encountered liquid water for several billion years, scientists say. It seems that the European Space Agency's orbiter, Mars Express, has found no evidence of the necessary greenhouse effect. The result comes from Mars Express's OMEGA instrument, which analyses visible and infrared light from the planet to reveal the chemical composition of the surface.

Read more. Source: Nature

brain-controlled robotic arm
Brain-controlled 'robo-arm' hope
(Feb 19, 2005)

Scientists in the US have created a robotic arm that can be controlled by thought alone. Developed at Pittsburgh University, it has a fully mobile shoulder and elbow and a gripper that works like a hand. In early tests, monkeys had tiny probes inserted into their brains and had their limbs restrained – but were then able to manipulate the robotic arm. The inventors believe it could help people who have lost limb function through disease or trauma.

Read more. Source: BBC

Space Shuttle
NASA sets May shuttle launch date
(Feb 19, 2005)

The US space agency (NASA) has set a new target date of May 15 to return the space shuttle to flight. The shuttle Discovery's primary mission is to test out new safety procedures imposed on NASA following the Columbia disaster two years ago. It will launch in daylight, so mission managers can check all systems in detail during take-off. NASA's fleet has been grounded since the Columbia disaster in January 2003, which killed seven astronauts. Mission engineers will be looking closely at the performance of the foam on the fuel tank, the tiles on the heat shield and the carbon material used on the wings.

Read more. Source: BBC

SGR 1806-20
Huge 'star-quake' rocks Milky Way
(Feb 18, 2005)

Astronomers say they have been stunned by the amount of energy released in a star explosion on the far side of our galaxy, 50,000 light-years away. The flash of radiation on 27 December was so powerful that it bounced off the Moon and lit up the Earth's atmosphere. The blast occurred on the surface of an exotic kind of star – a super-magnetic neutron star called SGR 1806-20. If the explosion had been just 10 light-years away, Earth could have suffered a mass extinction, it is said.

Read more. Source: BBC

Pearce rock
Rover investigates deep-set rock
(Feb 18, 2005)

The US space agency (NASA) robot rover Spirit has been studying what could be its most important rock to date on the surface of the Red Planet. The rock, dubbed Pearce, was found in exposed bedrock at Columbia Hills, an area of elevated land at Spirit's Gusev Crater landing site. The rock shows clear signs of having been altered by water in the past. "This may be what the bones of this mountain are really made of," said rover chief scientist, Steve Squyres.

Read more. Source: BBC

artist concept of terrestrial gamma-ray flash
Earth creates powerful gamma-ray flashes
(Feb 18, 2005)

Gamma rays that flash briefly in Earth's atmosphere during lightning storms are much more frequent and powerful than previously thought, a new study reveals. The rays – high-energy photons – exceed the energies of those from cosmic sources such as the explosive births of black holes and the new observations support a phenomenon predicted in 1925. Brief bursts of gamma rays coming from space have been observed since the 1960s. But in 1994, astronomers using NASA's orbiting Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory discovered the energetic photons in Earth's upper atmosphere. These terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs) last about a millisecond – shorter than most space-based bursts.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Mars Express
Martian water clues go wider and deeper
(Feb 18, 2005)

The mystery of where all the water-altered minerals are hiding on Mars may have been solved by the Mars Express orbiter. The riddle arises due to abundant evidence which points to the activity of running and standing water across the face of Mars, but with very few signs of the minerals that the interaction of water and volcanic rocks should produce – such as carbonates and sulphates. One exception is the haematite – a water-altered iron mineral – that led NASA to land Opportunity on Meridiani Planum. The absence of other such minerals was particularly puzzling in these vast, flat plains, which otherwise show strong evidence of once having been the basins of ancient Martian oceans. But now, new data from the Omega visible and near-IR imaging spectrometer onboard Mars Express has found a large region – 60 km by 200 km – that shows the clear spectral signature of calcium-rich sulphates, probably gypsum.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

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