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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: January 2006
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distant tadpole galaxies
Hubble sees 'tadpoles' swimming in the distance
(Jan 11, 2006)

Hubble Space Telescope images of distant, tadpole-shaped galaxies suggest the objects are in the early stages of galactic mergers, two new studies report. The research also suggests most colossal black holes grew through mergers when the universe was between one-third and one-half its present age. The research is based on an analysis of a Hubble image released in 2004 that represents the deepest view the telescope has ever taken of the early universe. Called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, it includes about 10,000 galaxies, many of which date to just 700 million years after the big bang.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Milky Way
Milky Way's warp explained
(Jan 10, 2006)

A slow-motion collision between mysterious dark matter and two of the Milky Way’s galactic neighbors may be causing our galaxy to warp like a vinyl record left out in the hot Sun, scientists announced today. Astronomers have puzzled over the Milky Way’s warped shape for nearly half a century but have been unable to provide a convincing explanation for what might be causing it. The warp is most clearly visible in a thin disk of hydrogen gas that extends across the entire 200,000-light-year diameter of the Milky Way.

Read more. Source:

Moon's formation, artist's impression
'Mild' collision spawned Earth's moon
(Jan 9, 2006)

The collision that spawned the Earth's moon was relatively mild, reveals the longest and most detailed computer simulation ever done of the impact. The research puts limits on the size and velocity of space rocks that can lead to the formation of satellites in cosmic smash-ups. Computer models suggest the Moon formed after an object the size of Mars (just over half the diameter of Earth) crashed into Earth about 4.5 billion years ago. Debris from the impact formed a disc around Earth that eventually coalesced to become the Moon.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

early universe
How the universe's first magnetic field formed
(Jan 9, 2006)

The first-ever magnetic fields in the universe arose within 370,000 years of the big bang, a new analysis suggests. The work relies on standard physics, unlike some previous theories, and may shed light on how the very first stars grew. Relatively confined magnetic fields like those in the Earth and Sun are generated by the turbulent mixing of conducting fluids in their cores. But large-scale fields tangled within galaxies and clusters of galaxies are harder to explain by fluid mixing alone. That is because most galaxies have rotated only a few dozen times since they formed.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

future orbiting space station, artist's conception
US draws up space tourism rules
(Jan 8, 2006)

Space tourists must be screened to ensure they are not terrorists, according to proposed regulations from the US Federal Aviation Administration. The draft report's suggestions aim to prevent a terrorist from destroying a spacecraft or using it as a weapon. However, the report has no strict proposals on the health of any would-be space tourists. The suggestions will affect Sir Richard Branson's enterprise which aims to launch people into space this decade.

Read more. Source: BBC

Pluto and Charon, artist's conception
Pluto moon 'has no atmosphere'
(Jan 7, 2006)

A rare astronomical event has proved Pluto's moon – Charon – has no atmosphere. This could dismiss claims Charon is a planet twinned with Pluto and provide further insight into their formation. Two groups of scientists watched the moon eclipse a distant star in July 2005. The size of Charon's atmosphere was figured out by observing how gradually the star disappeared and reappeared during the eclipse.

Read more. Source: BBC

supernova 1994D
Supernovas detonate in Milky Way every 50 years
(Jan 6, 2006)

Gamma rays from a rare aluminium isotope produced by exploding stars appear to permeate our galaxy, the Milky Way. The new measurement has allowed astronomers to predict a supernova rate of two explosions per century in our galaxy, confirming the supernova rate seen in other galaxies. The researchers also calculated that about 7.5 stars are born in our galaxy every year. Massive stars and supernova explosions create a radioactive isotope of aluminium – aluminium-26. The decay of the isotope to magnesium creates gamma rays that astronomers are able to observe.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

N44 superbubble
Giant gas 'superbubble' opens wide
(Jan 6, 2006)

A giant gas bubble spanning 325 light years appears ready to gulp down some of its neighbours in a newly released image taken by the Gemini South Telescope in Chile. The entire region is known as the N44 superbubble complex and is part of the Large Magellanic Cloud. The bubble may have formed when one or more massive stars in the central cluster exploded as supernovae, sweeping away the nearby gas.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Longest laser link bridges the gulf of space
(Jan 6, 2006)

A laser communication link has been made across a record 24 million kilometres (15 million miles), between the Messenger spacecraft and instruments on Earth. The craft and the ground station transmitted pulses back and forth to each other, and although no actual information was transmitted, the experiment shows the potential for interplanetary laser links, says David Smith of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, US. Interplanetary space probes currently communicate via microwaves, but those transmitters are not as tightly focused as laser beams.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Opportunity rover photo of a rock on Mars
Mineral analysis may reveal life on Mars
(Jan 6, 2006)

Minerals – as opposed to organic compounds – could reveal the presence of ancient life on Mars, a new study reports. The research suggests relatively simple experiments aboard future landers or sample-return missions to the Red Planet could be used to test for life. Some evidence suggests Mars was warm and wet in its first hundred million years, raising the possibility that it could have fostered life. But neither of the two Viking landers found organic molecules when they studied the planet's soil in the 1970s.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

CERN's Atlas detector will search for the elusive 'God particle'(Image: Cern/Maximilien Brice)
Energizing the quest for 'big theory'
(Jan 5, 2006)

"We are at a point where experiments must guide us, we cannot make progress without them," explains Jim Virdee, a particle physicist at Imperial College London. "We must wait for the data to speak." Over a coffee in the lobby of building 40 at Cern, the sprawling experimental facility situated on the Swiss-French border, Professor Virdee says physics has reached a critical juncture.

Read more. Source: BBC

Day of reckoning for comet catcher
(Jan 4, 2006)

Seven years and five billion kilometres. That's how long and how far NASA's Stardust spacecraft has travelled to gather a smidgen of comet dust - and now it is coming home. During the early hours of 15 January, Stardust will drop a capsule containing the precious cargo over the US state of Utah. Barring any unforeseen mishaps, the dust will give us our first close look at the material that built the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Pluto and Charon, artist's impression
Pluto is colder than its moon Charon
(Jan 4, 2006)

Pluto is significantly colder than its largest moon, Charon, reveals the first measurement of its temperature. The disparity is probably down to the objects' different surface compositions, which may give clues as to how the pair formed. Pluto and Charon are often called a "double planet" because they are quite close in size – Charon is half as wide as Pluto – and orbit each other at a distance of only 18,000 kilometres. But until now, astronomers did not know their individual temperatures because most telescopes do not have the resolution at thermal wavelengths to distinguish the two.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

view from Opportunity
Rovers enter second year on Mars
(Jan 3, 2006)

The US space agency is celebrating as its robot rovers Spirit and Opportunity approach their second year of science operations on the surface of Mars. First to land was Spirit, which touched down in the rocky basin of Gusev Crater at 0435 GMT on 4 January 2004. Opportunity landed on 25 January, rolling into a small crater punched in the dark plains of Meridiani Planum, on the other side of the Red Planet. The golf cart-sized vehicles were only supposed to survive for three months.

Read more. Source: BBC

Alpha Centauri and the Southern Cross
Star near Southern Cross is ringing like a bell
(Jan 2, 2006)

Astronomers have used the Anglo-Australian Telescope in Australia and European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile as a 'stellar stethoscope' to hear a star that is ringing like a bell. "These are the most precise and detailed measurements to date of such vibrations in a Sun-like star," said team co-leader Tim Bedding of the University of Sydney. The researchers, led by Bedding and Hans Kjeldsen (Aarhus University, Denmark), studied the star alpha Centauri B, one of the stars of the Pointers near the constellation of the Southern Cross.

Read more. Source: Spaceflight Now / AAO

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