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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: September 2005
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Pioneer 10
Ant logic makes sense in space
(Sep 12, 2005)

A spacecraft skin is being developed that assesses the severity of any damage it suffers from space debris and other impacts. The project, which is inspired by the behaviour of ants, is seen as the first step towards a self-repairing craft. The team at CSIRO, Australia's national research organisation, is working with NASA on the project and has so far created a model skin made up of 192 separate cells. Behind each cell is an impact sensor and a processor equipped with algorithms that allow it to communicate only with its immediate neighbours.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Titan surface
Study suggests Titan may hold keys for exotic brand of life
(Sep 12, 2005)

Saturn's moon Titan has long been a place of interest to astrobiologists, primarily because of its apparent similarities to the early Earth at the time life first started. A thick atmosphere composed primarily of nitrogen and abundant organic molecules (the ingredients of life as we know it) are among the important similarities between these two otherwise dissimilar planetary bodies. Scientists have considered it very unlikely that Titan hosts life today, primarily because it is so cold (-289 degrees Fahrenheit, or -178 Celsius) that the chemical reactions necessary for life would proceed too slowly. Yet previously published data, along with new discoveries about extreme organisms on Earth, raise the prospect that some habitable locales may indeed exist on Titan.

Read more. Source: Southwest Research Institute

artist's impression of GD 362
Could Earth survive the Sunís demise?
(Sep 10, 2005)

Solar systems may continue to exist around stars that have reached the end of their lifetimes, flared up and collapsed. New evidence shows that asteroids and dust discs, and perhaps even planets, may circle white dwarf stars, the burned-out remnants of stars that have already undergone their all-consuming red-giant phase. This suggests that, for our solar system too, there is a possibility of life after the presumed death of the inner planets – when the Sun expands to such a bloated size that it envelops the orbit of the Earth and beyond. But it may be a grinding sort of life. The new findings, to be published in the Astrophysical Journal, are based on high-resolution spectroscopic imaging of the white dwarf GD 362.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Titan moon occupies 'sweet spot'
(Sep 9, 2005)

Earth and Saturn's moon Titan show striking similarities because both occupy "sweet spots" in our Solar System, researchers have said. Many processes that occur on Earth also take place on this moon, say scientists participating in the US-European Cassini-Huygens mission. Wind, rain and volcanism and tectonic activity all seem to play a role in shaping Titan's surface. One scientist even sees a way that life could survive on the freezing world.

Read more. Source: BBC

Flying reptiles just got bigger
(Sep 9, 2005)

Scientists are only now starting to recognise the astonishing size reached by pterosaurs, the flying reptiles that lived at the time of the dinosaurs. New discoveries in the Americas suggest some had wingspans of 18m (60ft). But there was nothing ugly about the way they moved through the air, according to expert Dr David Martill, of the University of Portsmouth. Their ability to utilise air currents, thermals and ground effects would astonish aeroplane designers, he said.

Read more. Source: BBC

Deep Impact collision
Comet's minerals hint at liquid water
(Sep 9, 2005)

The comet crashed into by NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft on 4 July 2005 contains material apparently formed by liquid water and not ice, according to new observations with the Spitzer Space Telescope. This could suggests the disc of gas and dust from which the solar system formed got mixed together billions of years ago, whisking matter from warm regions near the Sun outward – or that an unknown process may allow a layer of liquid water to exist beneath the dusty coatings on comets.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

human brain
'Proof' our brains are evolving
(Sep 9, 2005)

University scientists say they have found strong proof that the human brain is still evolving. By comparing modern man with our ancestors of 37,000 years ago, the Chicago team discovered big changes in two genes linked to brain size. One of the new variants emerged only 5,800 years ago yet is present in 30% of today's humans, they believe. This is very short in evolutionary terms, suggesting intense selection pressures, they told Science.

Read more. Source: BBC

Kuiper belt object
Distant solar system body may be cigar-shaped
(Sep 8, 2005)

One of the three large new bodies discovered recently in the outer solar system is spinning so quickly it has stretched into a cigar shape, according to new observations. If confirmed, the strange shape is sure to fuel the controversy over what constitutes a planet. The object, temporarily dubbed 2003 EL61, lies about 51 times farther away from the Sun than the Earth does, in a ring of rocky bodies called the Kuiper Belt. It was discovered in July 2005 by a team of Spanish researchers, who used its apparent brightness to estimate that it might be larger than Pluto.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Mars Express
Ice belt 'encircled Mars equator'
(Sep 8, 2005)

Europe's Mars Express probe may have found evidence for a band of ice that once spanned the Martian equator. A frozen sea and patterns of glacial activity on the planet may be a relic of this ancient belt of ice, says a top scientist. The ice may have formed just before five million years ago due to a change in the tilt of Mars. This change caused moisture from the poles to be deposited as snow at the equator.

Read more. Source: BBC

Mars Express
Martian methane probe in trouble
(Sep 8, 2005)

One of the best chances for solving Mars's methane mystery may have been lost. The Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS) on board the Mars Express orbiter seems to be broken, perhaps for good. The instrument's failure would be a blow for scientists who want to find out how the red planet is producing the methane that has been detected in recent years.

Read more. Source: Nature

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