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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: January 2006
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DS4G experimental ion engine
Super-powerful new ion engine revealed
(Jan 18, 2006)


A new design for an ion engine promises up to 10 times the fuel-efficiency of existing electric propulsion engines, according to tests by the European Space Agency. The new thruster could be used to propel craft into interstellar space, or to power a crewed mission to Mars, ESA says. Ion engines work by using an electric field to accelerate a beam of positively charged particles – ions – away from the spacecraft, thereby providing propulsion. Existing models, such as the engine used in ESA’s Moon mission, SMART-1, extract the ions from a reservoir and expel them in a single process.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Atlas V rocket carrying New Horizons
High winds scrub Pluto mission launch
(Jan 18, 2006)


NASA’s attempt to launch the first probe to Pluto was delayed on Tuesday by gusts of high winds at the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, US. The launch of the New Horizons spacecraft has been rescheduled for Wednesday at 1316 EST (1816 GMT). Wind gusts reached up to 35 knots (65 km/h) at Cape Canaveral during the countdown – the maximum allowed speed limit is 33 knots (61 km/h).

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Sedna and its moon, artist's impression
Kuiper Belt moons are starting to seem typical
(Jan 18, 2006)


In the not-too-distant past, the planet Pluto was thought to be an odd bird in the outer reaches of the solar system because it has a moon, Charon, that was formed much like Earth's own moon was formed. But Pluto is getting a lot of company these days. Of the four largest objects in the Kuiper Belt, three have one or more moons. "We're now beginning to realize that Pluto is one of a small family of similar objects, nearly all of which have moons in orbit around them," says Antonin Bouchez, a California Institute of Technology astronomer.

Read more. Source: Caltech

New Horizons
Pluto mission ready for lift-off
(Jan 17, 2006)


The US space agency is getting ready to launch a piano-sized spacecraft to Pluto, the last unexplored planet in the Solar System. New Horizons is set to lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 1824 GMT on Tuesday aboard an Atlas 5 rocket. Despite being the fastest probe ever built, it will still take more than nine years to reach its distant target.

Read more. Source: BBC

Stardust capsule, artist's impression
Stardust capsule returns to Earth
(Jan 15, 2006)


A capsule containing comet particles and interstellar dust has landed on Earth after a seven-year space mission. The US Stardust probe released the capsule as it flew back to Earth after a 3 billion-mile (4.7 billion km) trip. The capsule plunged through the atmosphere and touched down in the Utah desert at 0312 (1012 GMT). Scientists believe the first cometary dust samples ever returned to Earth will shed light on the origins of the Solar System.

Read more. Source: BBC

Cartwheel Galaxy
Space telescopes capture a cosmic jellyfish
(Jan 15, 2006)


A cosmic jellyfish appears to pulse with light in this multi-wavelength image of the Cartwheel Galaxy, compiled from images taken by four space telescopes. The galaxy probably came by its distinctive shape when a small galaxy – possibly one of the objects at bottom-left of the image – collided with it head-on 100 million years ago. The crash set off ripples in the large galaxy's gas that led to concentric rings of star birth.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

pulsar diagram (Image: MSFC, NASA)
Fast-spinning neutron star smashes speed limit
(Jan 13, 2006)


The fastest-spinning neutron star ever found is discovered in a crowded star cluster near the centre of the Milky Way, a new study reveals. The star rotates 716 times per second – faster than some theories predict is possible – and therefore may force researchers to revise their models. Neutron stars form when a massive star explodes at the end of its life and leaves behind a super-dense, spinning ball of neutrons. These stellar corpses emit intense beams of radio waves from their poles and are called pulsars.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Two-thirds of the small satellite galaxies around Andromeda line up in a plane perpendicular to Andromeda's disc (Image: U Basel/NOAO/AURA/NSF/Keck Obs)
Mini-galaxies may reveal dark matter stream
(Jan 13, 2006)


Most of the small satellite galaxies around the Milky Way's near-twin, Andromeda, are lined up in a single plane that slices through Andromeda's spiral disc, a new study reveals. The alignment suggests the satellites are either floating on a river of dark matter or are the remains of a larger galaxy Andromeda has already cannibalised. Astronomers have known for about 25 years that the Milky Way's dozen or so satellites line up along two planes that lie perpendicular to its disc. But how the structures formed is still not clear.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Titan
New model accurately simulates Titan's clouds
(Jan 13, 2006)


New computer models have replicated methane cloud patterns on Titan with accuracy. The model mimics the two types of clouds seen so far on Saturn's giant hazy moon – long-lasting large clouds at the south pole and transient elongated clouds at mid-southern latitudes. French and US scientists combined a general circulation model with a cloud microphysical model – which takes into account how methane condenses on a small scale - to predict the locations, altitudes and lifetimes of clouds.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

site of gamma ray burst
Gamma-ray burst study may rule out cosmological constant
(Jan 12, 2006)


Dark energy – the mysterious force that drives the acceleration of the universe – changes over time, controversial new calculations suggest. If true, the work rules out Einstein's notion of a "cosmological constant" and suggests dark energy, which now repels space, once drew it together. Astronomers invoked the concept of dark energy to explain supernovae observations in the late 1990s that the universe is not only expanding but accelerating. The supernovae appeared dimmer – and therefore more distant – than expected, given their red shift, which measures how much their light has been stretched by the expansion of space.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

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