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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: September 2005
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spokes in Saturn's rings
Cassini sees dusty 'spokes' in Saturn’s rings
(Sep 20, 2005)

The Cassini spacecraft has finally spotted dusty "spokes" in Saturn's rings that were first seen about 25 years ago. Researchers hope to monitor how the spokes wax and wane over time to see if the dusty streams signal a change in Saturn's rotation rate. Wedge-shaped trails of dust stretching up to 20,000 km in length were first seen radiating outward in Saturn's outer B ring during flybys of NASA's twin Voyager spacecraft in 1980 and 1981. Since then, the Hubble Space Telescope has also imaged the spokes, which are thought to be caused by dust particles that become charged and float above the plane of the main ring.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

'Better' DNA out of fossil bones
(Sep 20, 2005)

Improved technologies for extracting genetic material from fossils may help us find out more about our ancient ancestors. Scientists in Israel have just developed a new technique to retrieve better quality, less contaminated DNA from very old remains, including human bones. It could aid the study of the evolution and migration of early modern humans, as well as extinct populations such as our close relatives, the Neanderthals.

Read more. Source: BBC

astronauts on Moon
NASA to unveil vision for return to Moon
(Sep 19, 2005)

It was originally supposed to be a 60-day study, but on Monday – six months late – NASA will finally unveil the details of its plans to fulfill President George W Bush's call for a return to the moon by US astronauts. Details have leaked out after high-level briefings last week for the administration and members of Congress, and have already prompted some criticism of the plan. The plan is expected to be very similar to the Apollo lunar programme of the 1960s, but with a timetable of 13 years instead of 8, and a crew of four astronauts instead of two. The maximum time astronauts will spend on the Moon's surface is expected to be seven days rather than three.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Titan's long-sought sea revealed by radar
(Sep 18, 2005)

The first sea discovered on any surface other than Earth's may have been found on Saturn’s moon Titan. New radar images from the Cassini spacecraft, which made its eighth close approach to the moon on 7 September, have revealed what appears to be a very distinct shoreline, fed by meandering channels carved deeply in the surrounding terrain. The dark, flat region next to the bright shoreline "is the area where liquid or a wet surface has most likely been present, now or in the recent past," says Steve Wall, Cassini radar team deputy leader from NASA-JPL. And several long sinuous channels can be seen cutting through the bright region and ending at the shoreline, suggesting the existence of an Earth-like cycle of evaporation, rainfall and river systems to carry the liquid back to the sea.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Birthplace of famous Mars meteorite pinpointed
(Sep 17, 2005)

The original home of the world's most famous space rock, the Allen Hills Martian meteorite, has now been identified, thanks to data from the orbiting spacecraft Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey and a better understanding of cratering dynamics. The rock, called ALH84001, has been the subject of intense study ever since 1996 when scientists from NASA's Johnson Space Center startled the world by reporting that fossilised microbial life might be embedded inside it. The rock, which formed at the very dawn of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago, was blasted from the surface of Mars around 17 million years ago by an impact and made its way to Earth, landing in Antarctica.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Space Cycle
Space cycle makes artificial gravity
(Sep 16, 2005)

Astronauts may soon have another weapon in the fight against the muscle-wasting effects of living in space. And it's a surprisingly low-tech one: a cycle-powered centrifuge that creates its own 'gravity'. The contraption, called the Space Cycle, spins to create a force that mimics the pull of gravity. The device consists of a central spindle with a pair of attached harnesses, one of which has pedals that drive the machine's rotation.

Read more. Source: Nature

Black hole in search of a home
(Sep 15, 2005)

An international team of astronomers used two of the most powerful astronomical facilities available, the ESO Very Large Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope, to conduct a detailed study of 20 low redshift quasars. For 19 of them, they found, as expected, that these super massive black holes are surrounded by a host galaxy. But when they studied the bright quasar HE0450-2958 (in the center of this photo), some 5 billion light-years away, they couldn't find evidence for an encircling galaxy. This, the astronomers suggest, may indicate a rare case of collision between a seemingly normal spiral galaxy and a much more exotic object harbouring a very massive black hole.

Read more. Source: European Southern Observatory

asteroid Itokawa
Japanese probe parks near asteroid target
(Sep 14, 2005)

After two years of travel through the inner solar system, Japan's Hayabusa spacecraft has reached its target – asteroid Itokawa. The probe “parked” about 20 kilometres away from the asteroid on Monday. Launched on 9 May 2003, Hayabusa aims to be the first ever craft to bring pieces of an asteroid back to Earth. The spacecraft will immediately start mapping the asteroid and will determine its surface composition by analysing the spectra of the light it reflects. At the end of September, it will approach to about 7 km from the 630-metre-long asteroid and make a more detailed map.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Swift Explorer
Most distant cosmic blast sighted
(Sep 13, 2005)

Astronomers have witnessed the most distant cosmic explosion on record: a gamma-ray burst that has come from the edge of the visible Universe. Gamma-ray bursts are intense flares of high-energy radiation that appear without warning from across the cosmos. They can release as much energy in a few minutes as our Sun will emit in its expected 10-billion-year lifetime. The blast was observed by the Swift space telescope and by a number of ground-based observatories.

Read more. Source: BBC

Pluto color map
Hubble reveals new map of Pluto
(Sep 13, 2005)

Astronomers have produced a new colour map of Pluto, the most distant planet in our Solar System, using images from the Hubble Space Telescope. The detailed map shows areas likely to be methane frost and a bright spot perhaps made of frozen carbon monoxide. And another team has obtained the most precise estimate yet for the size of its moon, Charon.

Read more. Source: BBC

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