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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: August 2006
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sand geyers on Mars, artists' impression
Sand geysers could explain mystery spots on Mars
(Aug 17, 2006)


Powerful jets of carbon dioxide gas punch holes in the south polar ice sheet of Mars every Martian spring, a controversial new study reports. Sand and dust carried up in the jets could explain mysterious dark spots, streaks and spider-shaped features that reappear around the same time, the researchers say.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Pluto, artist's impression
Planets plan boosts tally to 12
(Aug 16, 2006)


The number of planets around the Sun could rise from nine to 12 – with more on the way – if experts approve a radical new vision of our Solar System. An endorsement by astronomers meeting in Prague would require school and university textbooks to be rewritten. The proposal recognises eight classical planets, three planets belonging to a new category called "plutons" and the largest asteroid Ceres.

Read more. Source: BBC

Orion Nebula
Thousands of planet-forming discs discovered
(Aug 16, 2006)


About 2300 planet-forming discs have been found around young stars in a vast complex of gas and dust clouds. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has been using its infrared vision to peer inside the Orion cloud complex, a set of gas and dust clouds where stars are forming. The complex includes the Orion Nebula, a well-studied stellar nursery, that is 240 light years wide and lies 1450 light years from Earth.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

IRS 8
Baby star found near galaxy's violent centre
(Aug 15, 2006)


The youngest star ever found near the Milky Way's centre is deepening a mystery over how stars could take shape in such a turbulent environment. Several groups of massive young stars have been found within 100 light years of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's centre. The innermost stars lie in a group less than 3 light years from the black hole and appear to be just 6 million years old, based on the spectra of their light.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Pluto and Charon
Experts meet to decide Pluto fate
(Aug 14, 2006)


Astronomers are gathering in the Czech capital, Prague, hoping to define exactly what counts as a planet. The International Astronomical Union hopes to settle the question of Pluto, which was first spotted in 1930. Experts are divided over whether Pluto – further away and considerably smaller than the eight other planets in our solar system – deserves the title.

Read more. Source: BBC

Burt Rutan
Burt Rutan on civilian spaceflight, breakthroughs, and inside SpaceShipTwo
(Aug 14, 2006)


As you stroll through the desert airport/spaceport here, you don’t see a “Keep Out! Spaceliner Under Construction” sign. On the other hand, there’s a palpable feeling that behind closed hangar doors, the future of public space travel is, indeed, a work in progress – and in good hands. At Scaled Composites – home of the privately financed and built SpaceShipOne that made a trio of piloted suborbital flights in 2004 under the rubric of Tier 1 – the fabrication of a fleet of passenger-carrying space planes and huge carrier launch planes is underway.

Read more. Source: space.com

Puppis A supernova remnant
Neutron star clocked at mind-boggling velocity
(Aug 12, 2006)


A neutron star [inside Puppis A supernova remnant, shown here] has been clocked travelling at more than 1500 kilometres per second. It joins the ranks of other fast moving neutron stars, deepening the puzzle over how these dense stellar corpses are accelerated to such astonishing velocities. Neutron stars are the city-sized spheres that remain after stars are destroyed in supernova explosions.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Silver Dart
Space tourism company still aiming for space station
(Aug 11, 2006)


Rejection by NASA has not deterred a US-Canadian company from aiming to send their cargo rocket to the International Space Station. PlanetSpace's proposal did not make it onto the list of six finalists for ISS commercial delivery chosen by NASA, but the company is still going ahead with plans to develop the capability. The main goal of its rocket program is shuttling tourists to and from space.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

trans-Neptunian object
Tiny icy objects revealed in outer solar system
(Aug 10, 2006)


Dozens of small icy objects have been detected in the far reaches of the solar system. Based on this sample, the objects appear far more abundant than astronomers had thought. The objects, between 20 and 100 metres in size, are the smallest known members of a class called trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs), which reside beyond the orbit of Neptune. TNOs are thought to be similar in composition to comets, which are made mostly of ice, dust, and rock.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Mars Exploration Rover
Winter solstice sees Mars rovers in good shape
(Aug 9, 2006)


NASA's solar-powered rovers reached the darkest part of the Martian year on Tuesday, with the arrival of the winter solstice in the planet's southern hemisphere. The rovers are suffering from ageing hardware, but continue to reveal new things about Mars. The lack of sunlight has sharply restricted the activities of Spirit, which is situated 15° south of the equator. Opportunity is also in the southern hemisphere, but only 1.5° from the equator, so experiences less seasonal variation in light.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

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