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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: May 2005
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self-replicating robot
US robot builds copies of itself
(May 12, 2005)


US researchers have devised a simple robot that can make copies of itself from spare parts. Writing in Nature, the robot's creators say their experiment shows the ability to reproduce is not unique to biology. Their long-term plan is to design robots made from hundreds or thousands of identical basic modules. These could repair themselves if parts fail, reconfigure themselves to better perform the task they have been set, or even to make extra helpers.

Read more. Source: BBC

GRB 050509b
Blast hints at black hole birth
(May 11, 2005)


Astronomers are poring over images of a distant galaxy for what may be evidence of the birth of a black hole. On Monday, the US space agency's (NASA) Swift satellite detected a brief burst of gamma-rays – high energy radiation – originating from deep space. Within a minute, Swift was homing in on the burst to be followed by dozens of the world's most powerful telescopes. It could be due to two neutron stars merging or a collision between a neutron star and black hole.

Read more. Source: BBC

TARDIS
Time travellers invited back from the future
(May 11, 2005)


One of the strongest arguments against time travel is that we are not overrun with curious tourists from the future. A university student in Boston plans to change that, by inviting budding Doctor Whos to the world's first time traveller convention this weekend. The organiser, Amal Dorai – a masters student in electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – aims to test the theory of time travel by inviting people from the future to the event.

Read more. Source: Guardian

Pioneer 10
Lost asteroid clue to Pioneer puzzle
(May 10, 2005)


Far-flung asteroids could help reveal the nature of the mysterious force that has nudged NASA's 33-year-old Pioneer 10 spacecraft about 400,000 kilometres off course. The so-called Pioneer anomaly could be accounted for by a force pulling the probe towards the sun with a strength of just one ten-billionth of the gravity at Earth's surface. But no one has managed to explain the nature of this force, and many suspect that it is just a systematic error in the data or a fault of the spacecraft design. Others have suggested sending another spacecraft to study the effect, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. But there might be a cheaper way to find an explanation. Gary Page of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and his colleagues have identified 15 asteroids that might also be subjected to the mysterious force.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Opportunity test
NASA plots escape for stranded Mars rover
(May 9, 2005)


NASA could take its first steps to rescue its Opportunity rover from a Martian sand dune on Monday. On 25 April, the ground control team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, woke up to find that Opportunity had not progressed to the point they expected. Some of its wheels had dug themselves into a sand dune, and were slipping. Controllers immediately halted Opportunity and instructed it to take pictures of its wheels. Its corner wheels were between halfway and three-quarters buried. “That’s not where we’d like them to be,” says Jim Erickson, the rovers’ project manager.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

possible identification of Mars Polar Lander
Image may be Mars Polar Lander
(May 8, 2005)


An imaging scientist thinks he may have found NASA's Mars Polar Lander (MPL). The US space agency probe went missing as it attempted to touch down at the Red Planet's south pole in 1999. Michael Malin's team has re-examined pictures taken by the orbiting Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, which searched for the lander in 1999-2000. He reports the assessment of the images in the July issue of Sky and Telescope magazine, and says they could help confirm why the mission failed.

Read more. Source: BBC

mice
Modified mice enjoy one-fifth more life
(May 6, 2005)


A mouse with the ability to mop up free radicals at the cellular level – and live longer as a result – has been created by scientists. The research is a boost for the free radical theory of ageing. This proposes that reactive oxygen species damage cells and tissues, leading to declining health and, eventually, death. “We hope that in future years, this knowledge can be applied to deliver similar benefits to humans,” says lead researcher Peter Rabinovitch, a pathologist working on ageing at the University of Washington, Seattle, US. The results may also encourage those on the fringes of mainstream research who long for immortality.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Phoebe
Phoebe moon may be captured comet
(May 5, 2005)


Saturn's pock-marked moon Phoebe could be a comet that was captured by the gravity of the ringed planet. Data from the Cassini spacecraft suggests it originated in the frozen outer Solar System region called the Kuiper Belt – a reservoir for comets. Two studies of Phoebe are carried in this week's issue of Nature magazine. The tiny satellite is very different in its chemical composition to Saturn's larger moons and circles the planet in the opposite direction to them.

Read more. Source: BBC

new moon of Saturn
Twelve new moons for Saturn
(May 5, 2005)


Astronomers have discovered 12 new moons orbiting Saturn, bringing its number of natural satellites to 46. The moons are small, irregular bodies – probably only about 3-7km in size – that are far from Saturn and take about two years to complete one orbit. All but one circles Saturn in the opposite direction to its larger moons – a characteristic of captured bodies. Jupiter is the planet with the most moons, 63 at the last count. Saturn now has 46. Uranus has 27 and Neptune 13.

Read more. Source: BBC

chimpanzee
Fastest-evolving genes in humans and chimps revealed
(May 3, 2005)


The most comprehensive study to date exploring the genetic divergence of humans and chimpanzees has revealed that the genes most favoured by natural selection are those associated with immunity, tumour suppression, and programmed cell death. These genes show signs of positive natural selection in both branches of the evolutionary tree and are changing more swiftly than would be expected through random mutation alone. Lead scientist Rasmus Nielsen and colleagues at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, examined the 13,731 chimp genes that have equivalent genes with known functions in humans.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Mars Express with Marsis deployed
Underground radar hunt for life on Mars
(May 2, 2005)


Scientists are about to deploy a giant radar telescope above Mars in a bid to pinpoint underground lakes and flooded caverns. Discoveries of these hidden seas would be a major boost for researchers seeking life on the Red Planet. Water is considered essential for the evolution of life. The instrument, called Marsis (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument), is carried on Europe's Mars Express satellite. Over the past 16 months, it has made several key discoveries of dried-up lakes and seabeds on the planet. Now it is hoped Marsis will find reservoirs of water beneath the surface.

Read more. Source: Guardian

2M1207b
Planet 'seen' around distant sun
(May 1, 2005)


European and American scientists say they have photographed a planet outside the Solar System for the first time. The European Southern Observatory group said the red image is the first direct shot of a planet around another star. The planet, known as 2M1207b, is about five times the size of Jupiter and is orbiting at a distance nearly twice as far as Neptune is from our Sun. The parent star and planet are more than 200 light-years away near the southern constellation of Hydra.

Read more. Source: BBC

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