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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: October 2005
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Virgin Galactic craft
Clear skies for Virgin spaceliner
(Oct 23, 2005)


Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has collected $10m in deposits from people wanting a quick ride beyond Earth's atmosphere. Another 34,000 would-be astronauts have registered for rides aboard a commercial version of the experimental Ansari X Prize winner SpaceShipOne. The cost to experience four to five minutes of weightlessness is about $200,000 (113,242).

Read more. Source: BBC

Titan
Cracks or cryovolcanoes make clouds on Titan
(Oct 21, 2005)


Like the little engine that could, geologic activity on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan – maybe outgassing cracks and perhaps icy cryovolcanoes – is belching puffs of methane gas into the atmosphere of the moon, creating clouds. This is the conclusion of planetary astronomer Henry G. Roe, a postdoctoral researcher, and Michael E. Brown, professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology. Roe, Brown, and their colleagues at Caltech and the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii based their analysis on new images of distinctive clouds that sporadically appear in the middle latitudes of the moon's southern hemisphere. The research will appear in the October 21 issue of the journal Science.

Read more. Source: Spaceflight Now/Caltech

Final Titan launch
Goodbye, Titan
(Oct 20, 2005)


The mighty Titan – a pillar in American rocketry for five decades – flew into orbit for the final time Wednesday, capping a distinguished career of heavy-lifting that has spanned the nation's space age. The 16-story vehicle roared off its Vandenberg Air Force Base launch pad in California at 11:05 a.m. PDT (2:05 p.m. EDT; 1805 GMT) carrying a top-secret spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. Less than 10 minutes later, the Lockheed Martin-built rocket completed its job by deploying the spacecraft payload.

Read more. Source: Spaceflight Now

plesiosaur bottom-feeding
Plesiosaur bottom-feeding shown
(Oct 20, 2005)


A sea creature killed just before it could defaecate has given new insight into the feeding habits of plesiosaurs. The fossilised contents of its lower intestine show the long-necked marine reptile had a fondness for clams and snails – food items from the sea floor. Plesiosaurs existed in dinosaur times and were thought to be hunters of fish, squid and other free-swimming prey. But a research team tells Science magazine that the discovery suggests plesiosaur diets were far more varied.

Read more. Source: BBC

NGC 1097
Ravenous black hole enjoys star-studded banquet
(Oct 19, 2005)


The inexorable spiral of matter down the gullet of a giant black hole has been captured in unprecedented detail by the Very Large Telescope in Chile. NGC 1097, a spiral galaxy about 45 million light years from Earth, glows relatively brightly at its centre. That suggests a black hole is devouring surrounding stars and gas there, but the light's glare has overwhelmed any detailed images of the process. Now, astronomers have used one of the VLT's four 8-metre telescopes to take near-infrared images of matter whirling towards the galaxy's heart.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

zombie worm
Sweden discovers 'zombie worms'
(Oct 19, 2005)


A new species of marine worm that lives off whale bones on the sea floor has been described by scientists. The creature was found on a minke carcass in relatively shallow water close to Tjarno Marine Laboratory on the Swedish coast. Such "zombie worms", as they are often called, are known from the deep waters of the Pacific but their presence in the North Sea is a major surprise.

Read more. Source: BBC

weightlessness
Weightless space travel may suppress immune system
(Oct 17, 2005)


A set of crucial immunity genes do not turn on in a simulated microgravity environment, suggest the results of a new study. The findings may help explain why astronauts get sick so easily. The changes affect the activation of T-cells, a type of white blood cell that helps defend the body against disease. Other than weightlessness, the only other situation that severely diminishes T-cell function is HIV infection.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

China's second manned space flight
China spacecraft returns to Earth
(Oct 16, 2005)


China's Shenzhou VI spacecraft has returned to Earth, after five days in orbit, says state news agency Xinhua. The craft, carrying two astronauts, landed at 0432 on Monday (2032 GMT on Sunday), Xinhua reported. Helicopters, rescue teams and medics were sent to the landing site which was not specified by the agency but was said to be in China's Inner Mongolia. It is the second manned spaceflight for China – only the third country to successfully put a man into space.

Read more. Source: BBC

watery Mars
Bacterial genes could put plants on Mars
(Oct 16, 2005)


Biologists have embarked on a project to engineer plants that could withstand the harsh environment of Mars, using genes from hardy bacteria that thrive around deep-sea vents on Earth. It is one of the schemes given further funding by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, which promotes futuristic ideas on the leading edge of innovation. Humans would need oxygen, food and some form of carbon dioxide removal system to live on Mars. In theory, this could be achieved using plants, and it would be less expensive than constructing habitats to simulate the Earth.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

hobbit cave
Team widens search for 'Hobbits'
(Oct 14, 2005)


The team behind the "Hobbit" finds have been widening their search for remains of the strange little humans on Flores island – with tantalising results. Since last year, the remains of at least nine individuals have been found in a cave on the Indonesian island. The discovery team has now excavated more than 500 stone tools from another, much older, site about 40 km away. They believe a population ancestral to the Hobbits may have lived at this site, which is 850,000 years old.

Read more. Source: BBC

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