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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: April 2007
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NextSat prepares to rejoin ASTRO after its first separation. Image: DARPA
Satellite duo performs space pas de deux
(Apr 20, 2007)


As if engaged in a slow-motion dance, two mated satellites used a robot arm to draw apart, then come together again several hours later on Monday. It is the first step towards the mission's ultimate goal of separating completely and docking with each other autonomously from a distance of 7 km. The $300-million Orbital Express mission – run by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – uses two satellites. One, called ASTRO, is designed to dock with and test repairs on another, called NextSat.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

solar sound waves
Sound waves reverberate through solar 'pipes'
(Apr 19, 2007)


Sound waves reverberate through loops in the Sun's outer atmosphere in response to explosions from down below, a new study reveals. The sound waves should help scientists understand the Sun's still mysterious outer atmosphere, or corona. The waves are observed vibrating in structures called coronal loops – long filaments of charged gas that are attached to the Sun at both ends.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

danger zones around five massive stars in the Rossette Nebula
Danger zones mapped for developing planets
(Apr 19, 2007)


Stars incubating developing planets would do best to stay at least 1.6 light years away from very massive stellar neighbours. If they venture any closer than this, they risk having the raw materials needed for planet formation blown away from them, a new study says. Previous studies have shown that radiation from very massive stars can evaporate the planet-forming discs of gas and dust around other nearby stars. But the exact size of the 'danger zone' around massive stars was not known.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

barchan dunes on Mars
'Chocolate' sand dunes ripple across Mars
(Apr 19, 2007)


Dark sand dunes on Mars resemble the ripples on chocolate candy bars in a recently released image taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. The dunes lie on the floor of a 300-kilometre-wide crater called Herschel. The structures, called barchan dunes, are often found in sandy deserts on Earth.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

South Pole-Aitken basin
Ancient impact may have bowled the Moon over
(Apr 18, 2007)


An enormous impact basin located near the lunar south pole may have caused the Moon to roll over early in its history, new research suggests. The biggest, deepest impact crater in the solar system lies near the Moon's south pole. Called the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin, it is 2500 km wide and 12 km deep and is thought to have been created about 4 billion years ago.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

magnetic field concept
'Deflector' shields could protect future astronauts
(Apr 18, 2007)


Magnetic "deflector shields" could one day guard astronauts against dangerous space radiation, if experiments now underway pay off. Exposure to energetic charged particles could put astronauts on lengthy missions at increased risk of cancer and even cognitive problems. The particles come from the solar wind and also from supernovae and still-unidentified sources outside the solar system.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

lowest-mass white dwarf, artist's impression
Lowest mass white dwarf discovered
(Apr 18, 2007)


Astronomers have found the lowest mass white dwarf known in our galaxy: a Saturn-sized ball of helium containing only about one-fifth the mass of the Sun. In addition, they have spotted the source of the white dwarf’s radical weight-loss plan. An unseen companion, likely another white dwarf, has sucked away much of the tiny white dwarf’s material, leaving it a shadow of its former self.

Read more. Source: Harvard-Smithsonian

smart dust
'Smart dust' to explore planets
(Apr 18, 2007)


Tiny "smart" devices that can be borne on the wind like dust particles could be carried in space probes to explore other planets, UK engineers say. The devices would consist of a computer chip covered by a plastic sheath that can change shape when a voltage is applied, enabling it to be steered.

Read more. Source: BBC

Gravity Probe B
Einstein was right, probe shows
(Apr 17, 2007)


Early results from a NASA mission designed to test two key predictions of Albert Einstein show the great man was right about at least one of them. It will take another eight months to determine whether he got the other correct say scientists analysing data from NASA's Gravity Probe B satellite. The spacecraft was launched into orbit from California, on 20 April 2004.

Read more. Source: BBC

Venus Express
One year at Venus, and going strong
(Apr 16, 2007)


One year has passed since 11 April 2006, when Venus Express, Europe’s first mission to Venus and the only spacecraft now in orbit around the planet, reached its destination. Since then, this advanced probe, born to explore one of the most mysterious planetary bodies in the Solar System, has been revealing planetary details never caught before.

Read more. Source: ESA

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