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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: May 2009
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Wheel slippage during attempts to extricate NASA's Mars Rover Spirit from a patch of soft ground during the preceding two weeks had partially buried the wheels by the 1,899th Martian day of Spirit's mission (May 6, 2009). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Soft ground puts Spirit in danger despite gain in daily energy
(May 13, 2009)


The five wheels that still rotate on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit have been slipping severely in soft soil during recent attempts to drive, sinking the wheels about halfway into the ground. The rover team of engineers and scientists has suspended driving Spirit temporarily while studying the ground around the rover and planning simulation tests of driving options with a test rover at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Read more. Source: NASA/JPL

Ares 1
Obama reviews post-shuttle plans
(May 12, 2009)


The US Obama administration is taking a fresh look at what humans do in space and how they get there. The White House has asked Norman Augustine, a former aerospace industry executive, to lead a review of NASA's manned activities and report by August. The US space agency is due to retire its shuttles next year and is working on a new crew transportation system, to be introduced in about 2014-15.

Read more. Source: BBC

Hubble Space Telescope
Shuttle blasts off to fix Hubble
(May 11, 2009)


The space shuttle Atlantis has blasted off on an ambitious and risky mission to fix the Hubble Space Telescope. Atlantis ducked through clouds as it roared up at 1901 BST (1401 EDT) from Florida's Kennedy Space Center. Mission managers have packaged a complex series of repairs and upgrades into five seven-hour spacewalks.

Read more. Source: BBC

Star Trek: The Early Years cast
Star Trek beams to top of chart
(May 11, 2009)


The new Star Trek film has rocketed to the top of the North American box office chart, early figures show. Director JJ Abrams' prequel to the sci-fi franchise took an estimated $76.5m (50.3m) in its opening weekend, easily beating its nearest rival. The figure far surpasses the opening totals of the previous 10 Trek films.

Read more. Source: BBC

direct image of an exoplanet
Peering into Hubble's future
(May 9, 2009)


Expect "shock and awe in science" from a repaired and upgraded Hubble Space Telescope. This is the prediction from a NASA astronomer who has worked on the mission since its inception. If all goes completely to plan on Hubble Servicing Mission 4, the orbiting observatory will be reborn as the most productive telescope in history, with even greater powers to probe the Universe's deep history.

Read more. Source: BBC

Sun
Solar cycle will be weakest since 1928, forecasters say
(May 9, 2009)


The Sun's new solar cycle, which is thought to have begun in December 2008, will be the weakest since 1928. That is the nearly unanimous prediction of a panel of international experts, some of whom maintain that the Sun will be more active than normal.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Cassini
Nuclear fuel for spacecraft set to run out in 2018
(May 8, 2009)


We owe the wonderful images of the outer solar system taken by the Galileo and Cassini spacecraft to the power generated by Cold War surplus nuclear isotopes. But those leftovers are expected to run out in 2018, and no good alternatives are ready, warns a new report by the US National Research Council.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

orange star and planet
Orange stars are just right for life
(May 7, 2009)


The universe's best real estate for life may be around stars a little less massive than the sun, called orange dwarfs, according to a new analysis. These stars live much longer than sun-like stars, and have safer habitable zones – where liquid water can exist – than those of lighter red dwarf stars.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Spitzer Space Telescope
NASA's Spitzer Telescope warms up to new career
(May 7, 2009)


The primary mission of NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope is about to end after more than five-and-a-half years of probing the cosmos with its keen infrared eye. Within about a week of May 12, the telescope is expected to run out of the liquid helium needed to chill some of its instruments to operating temperatures.

Read more. Source: NASA/JPL

Europa
Could flowers bloom on icy moon Europa?
(May 6, 2009)


Physicist and futurist Freeman Dyson says we should search for extraterrestrial life where it is easiest to find, even if the conditions there are not ideal for life as we know it. Specifically, he says spacecraft should look for flowers – similar to those found in Earth's Arctic regions – on icy moons and comets in the outer solar system.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

aerobraking prototype. Image: EADS Astrium
How satellites could 'sail' home
(May 5, 2009)


Satellites and spent rocket stages could soon deploy "sails" to guide them back to Earth much faster than they would otherwise fall out of the sky. With space becoming ever more crowded, there is a need to remove redundant objects that could pose a collision threat to operational missions. Extending a sail on an old spacecraft would increase drag and pull it into the Earth's atmosphere to burn up.

Read more. Source: BBC

Artist's concept of a rogue black hole. Image: David A. Aguilar (CfA)
Rogue black holes may roam the Milky Way
(May 4, 2009)


It sounds like the plot of a sci-fi movie: rogue black holes roaming our galaxy, threatening to swallow anything that gets too close. In fact, new calculations by Ryan O'Leary and Avi Loeb (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) suggest that hundreds of massive black holes, left over from the galaxy-building days of the early universe, may wander the Milky Way.

Read more. Source: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

The remnants of four different galaxy clusters comprise the large cluster MACSJ0717. The galaxy cluster labeled C is thought to be the original cluster, while the motions (arrows) of clusters B, D, and A are all thought to have been funneled into the cluster from an attached filament. Image: X-ray (NASA/CXC/IfA/C Ma et al.); Optical (NASA/STScI/IfA/C Ma et al.)
Dark matter 'highway' funnels gas into galactic pileup
(May 4, 2009)


The first tantalising signs of gas within a filament of dark matter have been glimpsed at the site of a cataclysmic collision between galaxy clusters. If future observations confirm the preliminary detection, it would provide an important test of computer simulations that show how large-scale cosmic structures form.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Orbit of 2009 HC82. Illustration: NASA/JPL
Nearby asteroid found orbiting sun backwards
(May 3, 2009)


The discovery of a 2- to 3-kilometer-wide asteroid in an orbit that goes backwards has set astronomers scratching their heads. It comes closer to Earth than any other object in a 'retrograde' orbit, and astronomers think they should have spotted it before. The object, called 2009 HC82, was discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona on the morning of 29 April.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Rembrandt impact basin. Image: NASA/JHUAPL/Smithsonian/Carnegie Institution of Washington
Mysterious spokes found in crater on Mercury
(May 1, 2009)


A bizarre spoke-like pattern of troughs and ridges has been found on the surface of Mercury by NASA's Messenger spacecraft. The feature is unlike any to be found in basins on Mercury or elsewhere in the solar system. The feature sits in the Rembrandt impact basin, the second-largest impact scar on the planet.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

NGC 2841. Image: NASA/Spitzer
Missing link in the evolution of galaxy disks
(May 1, 2009)


Using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, an international team of astronomers has discovered streams of young stars flowing from their natal cocoons in distant galaxies. These distant rivers of stars provide an answer to one of astronomy's most fundamental puzzles: how do young stars that form clustered together in dense clouds of dust and gas disperse to form the large, smooth distribution seen in the disks of spiral galaxies like the Milky Way?

Read more. Source: NASA/Caltech/Spitzer

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