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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: February 2006
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Telesto, false-color image
Saturn's inner moons – more rubble than ice
(Feb 14, 2006)

Saturn's small, inner moons may not be huge chunks of ice as once thought, but rather "rubble piles" of material built up around small central cores, a team of Cassini scientists suggests. Before the Cassini mission to Saturn’s moons, scientists knew small moons such as Pan, Atlas, Janus and Epimetheus orbited the ringed planet. "But we didn't have good pictures of them. We didn't have measurements of their shape," says Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Science Team leader from the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Image: Telesto, false-color.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

planet-forming disk with opposite rotations
Still-forming solar system may have planets orbiting in opposite directions
(Feb 14, 2006)

Astronomers studying a disk of material circling a still-forming star inside our Galaxy have found a tantalizing result – the inner part of the disk is orbiting the protostar in the opposite direction from the outer part of the disk. "This is the first time anyone has seen anything like this, and it means that the process of forming planets from such disks is more complex than we previously expected," said Anthony Remijan, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, who with his colleague Jan M. Hollis, of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, used the National Science Foundation's Very Large Array radio telescope to make the discovery.

Read more. Source: NRAO

US oxygen generator for the ISS
US-built oxygen generator ready for space station
(Feb 14, 2006)

A new US-built oxygen generation system is set to be launched to the International Space Station on the next shuttle, currently scheduled for May 2006. When the system begins operating in 2007, it will bolster a Russian oxygen generator that has suffered frequent breakdowns. Today, the main source of oxygen on the station is the Russian-built Elektron unit, which uses an electric current to convert liquid water into gaseous hydrogen and oxygen in a process called electrolysis. But the Elektron has failed repeatedly in the past, forcing ISS crew members to rely on oxygen reserves stored on docked cargo vehicles or on solid "candles" that release oxygen.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

volcanic spring. Image: David Deamer
Darwin's warm pond theory tested
(Feb 13, 2006)

Life on Earth was unlikely to have emerged from volcanic springs or hydrothermal vents, according to a leading US researcher. Experiments carried out in volcanic pools suggest they do not provide the right conditions to spawn life. The findings will be discussed on Tuesday at an international two-day meeting to explore the latest thinking on the origin of life on Earth.

Read more. Source: BBC

Spinosaurus compared with other large carnivorous dinosaurs
The dino-daddy of all meat eaters
(Feb 13, 2006)

The biggest, and possibly the baddest predatory dinosaur of them all was not the fabled Tyrannosaurus rex, or even its slightly larger rival Gigantosaurus, but a long-jawed, sail-backed creature called Spinosaurus. An examination of some newly obtained fossils shows that Spinosaurus stretched an impressive 17 meters from nose to tail, dwarfing its meat-eating relatives. As well as being longer than its rivals, Spinosaurus also had stronger arms with which to catch its prey, unlike the puny-armed T. rex and its ilk.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Mars Home Plate formation
Spirit Mars Rover reaches 'Home Plate': Formation has researchers puzzled
(Feb 13, 2006)

NASA’s Spirit Mars rover has arrived at a site dubbed "Home Plate" within Gusev crater. But what the robot found has left scientists puzzled. As the Mars machinery relays images of the area, the sightseeing has sparked healthy debate within the team running the mission. "Well, so far it has been great," said Steve Squyres, lead Mars Rover Exploration scientist at Cornell University. "It's the most spectacular layered rock we’ve ever seen at Gusev," he told

Read more. Source:

Fossett breaks record; makes emergency landing
(Feb 12, 2006)

After surviving a major fuel loss, some turbulence that nearly ripped his plane apart, and blowing out two tires on the landing, American adventurer Steve Fossett Saturday broke the world's flight distance record after traveling more than 26,000 miles (about 42,000 km) in 76 hours. And he did it all on less than two hours' sleep.

Read more. Source: CNN

New Horizons
New Horizons update
(Feb 11, 2006)
New Horizons continues to do well in flight – three weeks down and 492 to go. With more than 99% of the journey to the Pluto system still ahead of us, you might say we are just beginning – and we are. But we have retired much of the risk we worried about to reaching Pluto by getting a good launch and having our spacecraft perform well with most of its basic functionality now checked out. Recent tests have included checkout of our high-gain and medium-gain antenna communications, checkouts of the spacecraft's ability to autonomously find and point to the Sun and the Earth, and the calibration of our onboard gyros.

Read more. Source: New Horizons website, JHAPL

Moon near side
'Man in the moon' origin may have been found
(Feb 10, 2006)

Ohio State University planetary scientists have found the remains of ancient lunar impacts that may have helped create the surface feature commonly called the "man in the moon." Their study suggests that a large object hit the far side of the moon and sent a shock wave through the moon's core and all the way to the Earth-facing side. The crust recoiled – and the moon bears the scars from that encounter even today. The finding holds implications for lunar prospecting, and may solve a mystery about how past impacts on Earth affect it's geology today.

Read more. Source: Ohio State Univ.

dust ring around hypergiant star
Dusty discs found around hypergiant stars
(Feb 9, 2006)

Dusty discs appear to surround two extremely massive stars that blast their surroundings with searing radiation, new observations with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope reveal. The finding bolsters other evidence suggesting planets may be able to form in violent environments. Planets are thought to build up gradually from the collision of clumps of dust in discs of gas and dust around stars. Most of the dusty discs discovered so far surround stars of similar size to the Sun. But now, researchers led by Joel Kastner of the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, have found dusty discs that appear to surround two hypergiant stars, dozens of times more massive than the Sun.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

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