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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: February 2008
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artist's concept of the IC 10 X-1 system. Image: Aurore Simonnet/Sonoma State University/NASA
Black hole defends its heavyweight title
(Feb 22, 2008)


The heaviest black hole formed from the collapse of a single star weighs as much as 33 Suns – double the previous record, new measurements confirm. The star in question is IC 10 X-1.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Groundwater burst onto the surface of Mars long ago, carving a river channel (lower-right quadrant) and leaving behind a fan of sediment where it poured into a crater. Image: NASA/JPL/ASU
Martian crater records aftermath of Amazon-like flood
(Feb 21, 2008)


Billions of yeas ago on Mars, a river suddenly burst to the surface from underground and flooded a large crater, only to disappear again within a few decades, according to a new study. Although the water was short-lived on the surface, it may have been present for longer underground, potentially creating conditions favourable to life.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Orbital cargo delivery system
Contract for private space cargo
(Feb 20, 2008)


The US space agency is investing $170m in Orbital Sciences Corporation to help the firm develop a commercial resupply ship for the space station. The Cygnus spacecraft would take food, water, air, fuel and equipment to the orbiting platform. A demonstration flight is expected in late 2010. Nasa needs logistics support for the ISS while it produces a successor to the space shuttle.

Read more. Source: BBC

Saturn moon montage. Credit: NASA
Cassini finds mingling moons may share a dark past
(Feb 20, 2008)


Despite the incredible diversity of Saturn's icy moons, theirs is a story of great interaction. Some of them are pock-marked, some seemingly dirty, others pristine, one spongy, one two-faced, some still spewing with activity and some seeming to be captured from the far reaches of the solar system. Yet many of them have a common thread – black "stuff" coating their surfaces.

Read more. Source: NASA/JPL

artist's concept of first stars. Credit: NASA
First stars 'may have been dark'
(Feb 19, 2008)


The first stars to appear in the Universe may have been powered by dark matter, according to US scientists. Normal stars are powered by nuclear fusion reactions, where hydrogen atoms meld to form heavier helium. But when the Universe was still young, there would have been abundant dark matter, made of particles called Wimps: Weakly Interacting Massive Particles.

Read more. Source: BBC

Shuttle Atlantis flying over Italy
Atlantis undocks for journey home
(Feb 19, 2008)


The Atlantis shuttle has undocked from the International Space Station in preparation for its return to Earth. The orbiter detached from the platform at 0924 GMT on Monday, ending eight days of operations at the ISS. The crew have performed a final check on the ship's heat-shield system ahead of Wednesday's scheduled landing.

Read more. Source: BBC

montage of terrestrial worlds
Many, perhaps most, nearby Sun-like stars may form rocky planets
(Feb 17, 2008)


Astronomers have discovered that terrestrial planets might form around many, if not most, of the nearby Sun-like stars in our galaxy. These new results suggest that worlds with potential for life might be more common than we thought. University of Arizona astronomer Michael Meyer and his colleagues used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to determine whether planetary systems like ours are common or rare in our Milky Way galaxy.

Read more. Source: NASA/JPL

Mars
Early Mars 'too salty' for life
(Feb 16, 2008)


The Red Planet was too salty to sustain life for much of its history, according to the latest evidence gathered by one of the US rovers on Mars' surface. High concentration of minerals in water on early Mars would have made it inhospitable to even the toughest microbes, a leading NASA expert says. Clues preserved in rocks that were once awash with water suggest the environment was both acidic and briny.

Read more. Source: BBC

artist's imagination of hydrocarbon pools, and icy and rocky terrain on the surface of Titan. Image credit: Steven Hobbs (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia)
Titan's surface organics surpass oil reserves on Earth
(Feb 15, 2008)


Saturn's orange moon Titan has hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth, according to new data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The hydrocarbons rain from the sky, collecting in vast deposits that form lakes and dunes.

Read more. Source: NASA/JPL

multiple planet system found by microlensing
First multiple planet system found by microlensing
(Feb 14, 2008)


A promising but labour-intensive technique to find alien worlds has netted its first multiple-planet system, a new study reveals. The technique, called microlensing, can find smaller planets than rival methods, and one day might be able to find distant counterparts to Earth.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

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