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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: December 2008
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Large Hadron Collider magnets. Image: CERN
Collider 'needs warning system'
(Dec 8, 2008)

An official investigation into the accident at the Large Hadron Collider has recommended that an early warning system be installed. This system would detect the early stages of a helium leak, following an incident that has shut down the LHC until June 2009. The collider is built to smash protons together at huge speeds, recreating conditions moments after the Big Bang.

Read more. Source: BBC

Artist's impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope. Image: ESO
Hunting new Earths and the edge of the universe
(Dec 7, 2008)

A dream of astronomers is to be able to see planets as small and as close to their host star as Earth is to the sun. In less than a decade, a trio of gigantic telescopes will be able to carry off the task with ease. The 24.5-metre Giant Magellan Telescope, the accurately named Thirty Meter Telescope and the 42-metre European Extremely Large Telescope will each collect enough light from these extrasolar planets to allow astronomers to study the composition of their atmospheres using spectroscopy.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Artist concept of a Dyson sphere. Image: Vedexent/Wikimedia Commons
Search for alien engineering comes up dry – so far
(Dec 6, 2008)

A search for colossal feats of alien engineering called Dyson spheres has so far found no convincing candidates within 1000 light years of Earth. But some say the prospects for finding the hypothetical structures, which could cocoon stars in order to collect solar energy for power-hungry aliens, may be getting brighter.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

sedimentary-rock layering in the Arabia Terra region of Mars in which a series of layers are all approximately the same thickness. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
NASA orbiter finds Martian rock record with 10 beats to the bar
(Dec 6, 2008)

Climate cycles persisting for millions of years on ancient Mars left a record of rhythmic patterns in thick stacks of sedimentary rock layers, revealed in three-dimensional detail by a telescopic camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Researchers using the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera report the first measurement of a periodic signal in the rocks of Mars. This pushes climate-cycle fingerprints much earlier in Mars' history than more recent rhythms seen in Martian ice layers.

Read more. Source: NASA/JPL

Large Hadron Collider tunnel
Large Hadron Collider gears up for July restart
(Dec 5, 2008)

The Large Hadron Collider will be back up and running by the third quarter of 2009 – probably. According to an internal report sent to the physicists working on the giant particle-smasher at the CERN laboratory near Geneva in Switzerland, the LHC should be ready to collide proton beams at the end of July next year.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Simulated dark matter distribution in the universe
Universe's dark matter mix is 'just right' for life
(Dec 5, 2008)

It's not just the nature of dark matter that's a mystery – even its abundance is puzzling. But if our universe is just one of many possible universes, at least this conundrum can be explained.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Mars Science Laboratory. Image: NASA
Next NASA Mars mission rescheduled for 2011
(Dec 4, 2008)

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will launch two years later than previously planned, in the fall of 2011. The mission will send a next-generation rover with unprecedented research tools to study the early environmental history of Mars. A launch date of October 2009 no longer is feasible because of testing and hardware challenges that must be addressed to ensure mission success.

Read more. Source: NASA/JPL

Venus. Image: NASA
Venus ultraviolet puzzle 'solved'
(Dec 4, 2008)

One of the many mysteries of Earth's nearest planetary neighbour Venus has been cracked, Nature journal reports. Scientists have long puzzled over conspicuous patches in the Venusian clouds that appear dark at ultraviolet (UV) light wavelengths. They now think these are solid particles or liquid droplets that get transported from deep in the atmosphere up to the planet's cloud tops.

Read more. Source: BBC

Supernova remnant from Tycho's star, which appears green and yellow in this composite X-ray and infrared image using data from the Spitzer and Chandra space observatories and the Calar Alto observatory in Spain. Image: Max Planck Institute for Astronomy/O. Krause/NASA
Light 'echoes' solve mystery of famous supernova
(Dec 4, 2008)

The mystery of what kind of star self-destructed to create the supernova observed by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe in 1572 has been solved at last. A stellar ember called a white dwarf exploded after gorging on material stolen from its neighbour. Previous observations had hinted at such a scenario, called a type Ia supernova.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Comet 96P/Machholz (lower left) taken by the SOHO spacecraft. Image: SOHO/LASCO/ESA/NASA
Has an alien comet infiltrated the solar system?
(Dec 3, 2008)

A comet orbiting our Sun may be an interloper from another star system. Comet Machholz 1 isn't like other comets. David Schleicher of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, measured the chemical makeup of 150 comets, and found that they all had similar levels of the chemical cyanogen (CN) except for Machholz 1, which has less than 1.5% of the normal level.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Artist concept of approaching asteroid
World 'must tackle space threat'
(Dec 3, 2008)

The international community must work together to tackle the threat of asteroids colliding with Earth, a leading UN scientist says. Professor Richard Crowther's comments come as a group of space experts called for a co-ordinated science-led response to the asteroid threat. The Association of Space Explorers (ASE) says missions to intercept asteroids will need global approval.

Read more. Source: BBC

Ellen Milley, a graduate student at the University of Calgary, found the first meteorite fragment on an ice-covered pond in Canada's Buzzard Coulee valley. Image: Grady Semmens/University of Calgary
Meteorite hunters hit pay dirt in Canadian prairie
(Dec 3, 2008)

Meteorite hunters are having a field day – literally – following the discovery of dozens of fragments from a 10-tonne space rock that exploded over the Canadian prairie on 20 November. A large search team will scour the area on Wednesday in hopes of finding more pieces and mapping out the extent of the debris field before the terrain is covered in snow.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Artist concept of the Oort Cloud. Image credit: University of Michigan
Big bang's afterglow may reveal birthplace of comets
(Dec 2, 2008)

A vast reservoir of comets that is too far away to see might be detectable in maps of radiation left over from the big bang, a new study suggests. Comets that take longer than 200 years to orbit the Sun come from all directions in the sky. That has long led scientists to believe that they were nudged out of a bubble-like halo of icy objects that surrounds the solar system – the Oort Cloud.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

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