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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: April 2006
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OSETI telescope mirror
Looking for alien lasers, not radios
(Apr 12, 2006)


The first optical telescope dedicated to the hunt for alien signals has opened. For almost 50 years, since SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) projects began in earnest, people have concentrated on detecting radio signals, says Paul Horowitz, an astronomer at Harvard University in Massachusetts, US. But recently, researchers have come to think alien civilisations could also plausibly use laser light to communicate. Horowitz led the construction of the Planetary Society's Optical SETI (OSETI) telescope at Harvard's Oak Ridge Observatory.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Xena, artist's impression
Tenth planet as bright as fresh snow
(Apr 12, 2006)


The "tenth planet" is only slightly larger than Pluto, new Hubble Space Telescope images prove. It had been thought the planet, dubbed Xena, might be 25% to 30% larger. Intriguingly, the downsizing means the distant world must be brighter than almost any other object in the solar system, suggesting it is constantly being resurfaced. Xena, officially called 2003 UB313, was first announced in July 2005 and lies about three times as far from the Sun as Pluto.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Echeclus
Hybrid comet-asteroid in mysterious break-up
(Apr 11, 2006)


Something substantial has broken off an icy 50-kilometre object beyond the orbit of Saturn, leaving puzzled astronomers trying to figure out why. Comets have been seen breaking up before, but only after heating when passing close to the Sun or a gravitational disturbance following a close encounter with a planet. However, at 1.9 billion kilometres, this object is very far from the Sun. Another mysterious feature is that much more gas and dust is escaping from the breakaway fragment than from the parent body.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Venus Express (ESA)
Probe makes encounter with Venus
(Apr 11, 2006)


Europe's Venus Express probe has gone into orbit around the planet after a five-month journey. Early on Tuesday, mission controllers fired its main engine to reduce its speed and allow it to be caught in the planet's gravitational pull. Venus Express will orbit our nearest planetary neighbour for about 500 Earth days to study its atmosphere, which has undergone runaway greenhouse warming.

Read more. Source: BBC

Spirit's wheels churned up large amounts of bright, sandy material, forcing a change of direction (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell)
Last minute diversion takes Mars rover to safety
(Apr 11, 2006)


NASA's Spirit rover has reached safety after weeks of scrambling with low power supplies to reach a place from which to weather the approaching Martian winter. The northern-tilting slope of the spot, dubbed Low Ridge Haven, will help maximise the sunlight reaching the rover's solar panels, ensuring its power stays above the minimum needed. Image: Spirit's wheels churned up large amounts of bright, sandy material, forcing a change of direction.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Enceladus
Saturn's moon 'best bet for life'
(Apr 10, 2006)


Saturn's tiny moon Enceladus may be the best place to look for life elsewhere in the Solar System. That is the view of a senior scientist working on the Cassini spacecraft, which has been studying Saturn and its moons for nearly two years. Dr Bob Brown told a major conference in Vienna, Austria, Enceladus contains simple organic molecules, water and heat, the ingredients for life.

Read more. Source: BBC

First color HiRISE Image of Mars
HiRISE team releases first processed images from powerful new camera orbiting Mars
(Apr 10, 2006)


Scientists are delighted with new test images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. The HiRISE camera – the newest and most powerful camera orbiting Mars – took four images of Mars on March 23 and four more on March 25. The HiRISE team, directed by Alfred S. McEwen at The University of Arizona, released a preliminary black-and-white version of the first image on Mars 24.

Read more. Source: University of Arizona

Marcos Pontes after his return from the ISS
Brazilian back on Earth from ISS
(Apr 9, 2006)


Lt Col Marcos Pontes, the first Brazilian to go into space, has returned to Earth after nine days on the International Space Station. A space capsule carrying Col Pontes, American Bill McArthur and Russian Valery Tokarev landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan early on Sunday. "Soyuz has made a soft landing," said a mission control official in Moscow. All three crew were reported well after their three-and-a-half-hour journey back to Earth.

Read more. Source: BBC

An artist's impression depicts a nova outburst similar to the RS Ophiuchi system, where a white dwarf (L), which has been steadily accreting material from a red giant companion (R), undergoes a thermonuclear explosion on its surface. Image: David A Hardy/www.astroart.org & PParc
'Dead star' erupts for big show
(Apr 7, 2006)


Scientists are studying the violent outburst of a dead star as it tries to fire back into life. The white dwarf star in the Ophiuchus constellation has exhausted its own nuclear fuel but is now stealing it from a neighbouring giant. Every 20 years or so, it gathers sufficient material to explode with enough intensity to be seen from Earth with the naked eye. The so-called recurrent nova event has now flared up six times in 108 years.

Read more. Source: BBC

A comparison of the outer rings of Saturn (at top) and Uranus, where each system has been scaled to a common planetary radius. The recently discovered outer ring of Uranus, like that of Saturn, is blue because the material in these rings is smaller than the material in the inner, red rings.
Credit: Imke de Pater, Heidi Hammel, Seran Gibbard, Mark Showalter, courtesy Science
Blue ring discovered around Uranus
(Apr 7, 2006)


The outermost ring of Uranus, discovered just last year, is bright blue, making it only the second known blue ring in the solar system, according to a report this week in the journal Science. Perhaps not coincidentally, both blue rings are associated with small moons. "The outer ring of Saturn is blue and has Enceladus right smack at its brightest spot, and Uranus is strikingly similar, with its blue ring right on top of Mab's orbit," said Imke de Pater, professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley.

Read more. Source: UC Berkeley

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