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artist's impression of Mars rover
Rock maps revise Martian history
(Apr 20, 2006)

Mineral maps based on data from Europe's Mars Express probe are helping scientists piece together a detailed picture of the Red Planet's history. Life on Mars was most likely during the planet's infancy, the data suggest. The maps show the planet had three distinct geological eras; the team believes the earliest of these would have been the most hospitable for life.

Read more. Source: BBC

LOX-methane engine testing. (Image: NASA)
Record test firing for futuristic rocket engine
(Apr 20, 2006)

NASA has test-fired a rocket engine fuelled by liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid methane for a record 103 seconds. A fully functioning engine is probably years away, but its efficiency means it could one day be used to take people to Mars. The LOX-liquid methane combination is about 20% more efficient than traditional "hypergolic" fuels, which ignite on contact. It also leaves behind less residue than fuels such as kerosene, helping prevent blockages in engines.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Dry Valleys, Antarctica
Secret rivers found in Antarctic
(Apr 20, 2006)

Antarctica's buried lakes are connected by a network of rivers moving water far beneath the surface, say UK scientists. It was thought the sub-glacial lakes had been completely sealed for millions of years, enabling unique species to evolve in them. Writing in the journal Nature, experts say international plans to drill into the lakes may now have to be reviewed. Any attempts to drill into one body of water risks contaminating others.

Read more. Source: BBC

Simulation of two black holes colliding. (NASA)
Black hole mergers modelled in 3D
(Apr 20, 2006)

Simulations on a supercomputer have allowed NASA scientists to understand finally the pattern of gravitational waves produced by merging black holes. The work should help the worldwide effort that is currently underway to make the first detection of these "ripples" in the fabric of space-time. Ultra-sensitive equipment set up in the US and Europe is expected to achieve the breakthrough observation very soon.

Read more. Source: BBC

gamma-ray burster
Deadly cosmic event unlikely in our galaxy
(Apr 19, 2006)

Are you losing sleep at night because you're afraid that all life on Earth will suddenly be annihilated by a massive dose of gamma radiation from the cosmos? Well, now you can rest easy. Some scientists have wondered whether a deadly astronomical event called a gamma ray burst could happen in a galaxy like ours, but a group of astronomers at Ohio State University and their colleagues have determined that such an event would be nearly impossible.

Read more. Source: Spaceflight Now / Oregon State U.

asteroid collision with Earth
Apollo lunar rocks suggest meteorite shower
(Apr 18, 2006)

New age measurements of lunar rocks returned by the Apollo space missions have revealed that a surprising number of the rocks show signs of melting about 3.9 billion years ago, suggesting that the Moon – and its nearby neighbor Earth – were bombarded by a series of large meteorites at that time. The idea that meteorites have hammered the moon's surface isn't news to scientists. But the narrow range of the impact dates suggests to researchers that a large spike in meteorite activity took place during a 100-million year interval – possibly the result of collisions in the asteroid belt with comets coming from just beyond our solar system.

Read more. Source: Spaceflight Now / Oregon State U.

TransHab. Credit: NASA
Inflatable space hotel to blast off
(Apr 16, 2006)

The first reservations have been made for a hotel in space – but you won't be checking in just yet. Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas, Nevada – a nascent space tourism company owned by hotelier Robert Bigelow – has reserved slots on two Russian Dnepr rockets, which are converted SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missiles. Each rocket will launch a scaled-down prototype of the company's inflatable space habitat into low-Earth orbit later this year.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Venus south polar region
First images from Venus Express
(Apr 14, 2006)

ESA's Venus Express has returned the first-ever images of the Venusian south pole, from a distance of 206,452 kilometres, showing surprisingly clear structures and unexpected detail. The images were taken 12 April during the spacecraft's initial capture orbit after successful arrival on 11 April 2006.

Read more. Source: ESA

'Standard' star not so standard after all
(Apr 13, 2006)

Vega, the second brightest star in the northern sky, is much more complex than once thought, new observations confirm. It rotates far faster and in a different orientation, for example. The findings are important because the star is widely used by astronomers as a calibration target when assessing other stars. The work suggests many previous measurements of celestial objects may need to be tweaked, although it is unlikely to turn any fundamental concepts upside-down.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

NGC 1156
Search for dark galaxies
(Apr 12, 2006)

First results from the Arecibo Galaxy Environment Survey (AGES) suggest the discovery of a new dark galaxy. The AGES survey, which started in January 2006, is the most sensitive, large-scale survey of neutral hydrogen to date. Neutral hydrogen is found in most galaxies and it is a key tool in the search for dark galaxies as it can be detected even when there are no stars or other radiation sources to "shine a light" on matter. The new candidate dark galaxy is located near NGC1156 [shown in the image here], an apparently isolated, irregularly-shaped galaxy found at the edge of the Aries constellation.

Read more. Source: Spaceflight Now / Royal Astronomial Society

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