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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: March 2006
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spokes in Saturn's rings
Mystery of Saturn's vanishing 'spokes' illuminated
(Mar 17, 2006)


The mystery of the disappearing "spokes" in Saturn's rings may not be because they are hard to see. New research suggests they may not be there at all when the Sun is at a certain angle. NASA's Voyager missions in 1980 and 1981 captured detailed images of the peculiar radial structures, some of which stretched as far as 20,000 kilometres across Saturn's B ring. The Hubble Space Telescope has also imaged the spokes. But the features disappeared in October 1998 and were still nowhere to be seen when NASA's Cassini probe arrived at Saturn in 2004.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Mars south polar cap. Viking Orbiter image
Big new reservoir of water ice suspected under Mars
(Mar 16, 2006)


A large and previously unknown reservoir of water ice may have been found below the surface of Mars, new radar observations suggest. Gaping canyons and river-like channels attest to the fact that large amounts of water once flowed on Mars. But today most of that water has disappeared, and finding out where it went is one of the main aims of research on the Red Planet. Scientists are using the radar antenna onboard Europe's Mars Express spacecraft as a divining rod to scout for any water that may have seeped underground.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

double helix nebula
Double helix nebula revealed near Milky Way's heart
(Mar 16, 2006)


A "double helix nebula" near the Milky Way's centre has been revealed by the Spitzer Space Telescope's infrared vision. "The organising feature is a magnetic field oriented along the long axis of the helix. What has happened is something has twisted that helix." says Mark Morris of the University of California Los Angeles, lead author of a new study describing the feature. Morris and his colleagues say the cause of the twist may be a huge disc of gas, known as the circumnuclear disc, which orbits just a few light years outside the black hole at our galaxy's centre.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

brown dwarf binary
Brown dwarfs weighed directly for first time
(Mar 16, 2006)


Astronomers have made the first direct mass measurements of brown dwarfs by following a pair of the "failed" stars in their cosmic dance around one another. The breakthrough could allow other suspected brown dwarfs to be positively identified. Brown dwarfs are intermediate objects too large to be planets, yet too small to be stars. They are sometimes defined as having between 13 and 75 times the mass of Jupiter.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Genesis capsule
Solar riches survive probe crash
(Mar 15, 2006)


Scientists have been able to extract precious information from the smashed remains of the Genesis space capsule. The capsule, carrying captured particles blown off the Sun, crashed into the Utah desert in 2004, after its parachute failed. Less than half the samples are useable, but researchers have been working hard to recover what they can. They have been presenting their first results at a major science meeting in Houston, Texas.

Read more. Source: BBC

computer model of a virus. Credit: University of Illinois / NCSA
Supercomputer builds a virus
(Mar 15, 2006)


One of the world's most powerful supercomputers has conjured a fleeting moment in the life of a virus. The researchers say the simulation is the first to capture a whole biological organism in such intricate molecular detail. The simulation pushes today's computing power to the limit. But it is only a first step. In future researchers hope that bigger, longer simulations will reveal details about how viruses invade cells and cause disease.

Read more. Source: Nature

external tank
NASA delays space shuttle launch
(Mar 15, 2006)


US space agency NASA has postponed its next space shuttle mission until July at the earliest because of a faulty fuel tank sensor. NASA said replacing the sensor would take three weeks, meaning it could not meet its scheduled May launch window. The US space fleet has been grounded since July last year, when insulation foam broke off the fuel tank of the shuttle Discovery as it took off.

Read more. Source: BBC

exoplanet, artist's impression
'Naked super-Earth' revealed by microlensing
(Mar 14, 2006)


A chilly "super-Earth" has been spotted in the outskirts of a planetary system 9000 light years away. It is the second known planet of its kind, and suggests these cool worlds are astonishingly common. Around 170 extrasolar planets have been discovered so far, most of them gas giants like Jupiter circling nearby stars. The majority have been found because their gravity makes their parent stars wobble. The new planet was discovered by an alternative technique called microlensing which detects planets around much more distant stars.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Meridiani Planum, Mars
NASA and Google bring Mars to PCs everywhere
(Mar 14, 2006)


With Google's help, web surfers can now navigate from the plains of Meridiani to the Proctor Crater Dunes on Mars as though they were two local destinations. Arizona State University's Mars Space Flight Facility and Google teamed up last summer to produce Google Mars (www.google.com), a mapping tool released Monday, which allows users to view and scroll across the surface of the Red Planet, visiting its many landmarks.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

comet particle captured by Stardust
Comets 'are born of fire and ice'
(Mar 14, 2006)


Comets are born of fire as well as ice, the first results from the US space agency Nasa's Stardust mission show. In January, Stardust's sample return capsule landed in Utah, carrying over a million tiny comet grains inside. Some of these grains contain material that formed at extremely high temperatures, scientists have found. This is a surprise. Comets formed in the cold, outer-reaches of the early Solar System, and were never exposed to such extreme heating.

Read more. Source: BBC

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