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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: February 2012
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Herschel Space Observatory
Herschel telescope 'in last year'
(Feb 20, 2012)

Herschel, Europe's billion-euro space observatory, has entered what is likely to be its last year of operation. The telescope studies the formation of stars, and has taken some remarkable pictures since its launch in May 2009. But its detectors require a constant supply of superfluid helium to keep working, and the store of this coolant has now dropped to less than 100kg.

Read more. BBC

Fermilab set to reveal "interesting" Higgs boson results
(Feb 18, 2012)

Results soon to be announced based on analysis of data from the now-defunct Tevatron at FermiLab may shed light on the existence of the Higgs boson. A separate set of results from a different experiement will give a more precise mass for the W boson, which in turn will help physicists pin down the mass of the Higgs if it exists.

Read more. Scientific American

Light echoes from an explosion in the Eta Carinae star system bounced off dust clouds in the area of the box, reaching Earth almost 200 years later than the rest of the light
Light echoes cause rethink of supernova imposter
(Feb 16, 2012)

If ever a star was misunderstood, it is Eta Carinae. One hundred and seventy years ago, astronomers mistook a series of eruptions on its surface for a supernova. Such an explosion would usually mark the star's death – yet Eta Carinae survived. Since then, researchers had thought that they had got to grips with the star's volatile behavior, but observations of 'light echoes' from the ancient explosion have now left them even more perplexed.

Read more. Nature

Hot springs in the Kamchatka peninsula. Image: Anna S. Karyagina
Russian hot springs point to rocky origins for life
(Feb 15, 2012)

It's a question that strikes at the very heart of one of the deepest mysteries in the universe: how did life begin on Earth? New evidence challenges the widespread view that it all kicked off in the oceans, around deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Instead, hot springs on land, similar to the "warm little pond" favoured by Charles Darwin, may be a better fit for the cradle of life.

Read more. New Scientist

This all-sky image shows the distribution of carbon monoxide (CO), a molecule used by astronomers to trace molecular clouds across the sky, as seen by Planck
Planck all-sky images show cold gas and strange haze
(Feb 14, 2012)

New images from the Planck mission show previously undiscovered islands of star formation and a mysterious haze of microwave emissions in our Milky Way galaxy. The views give scientists new treasures to mine and take them closer to understanding the secrets of our galaxy.

Read more. BBC

LHC boosts energy to snag Higgs – and superpartners
(Feb 13, 2012)

Last year, the LHC smashed two beams of protons together in collisions with a total energy of 7 TeV. The machine's managers have decided to increase the energy of collisions to 4 TeV per beam, for a total energy of 8 TeV. The probability of a collision producing heavy particles rises very fast as its energy increases, so even a small rise in energy will provide a big boost to the number of Higgs bosons made – and therefore the probability of glimpsing them or other exotica.

Read more. New Scientist

Vega rocket
Vega rocket set for maiden voyage
(Feb 12, 2012)

Europe's Vega rocket is finally set to make its maiden flight on Monday. The 30m-tall vehicle, first conceived in the 1990s, will launch on what is termed a qualification flight from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana. It will carry nine satellites into orbit but the object of the mission is really to prove the rocket's systems all work as designed.

Read more. BBC

NGC 4449 and its companion
Discovery of an unusual nearby dwarf galaxy
(Feb 10, 2012)

A team led by UCLA astronomer Michael Rich has used a unique telescope to discover a previously unknown companion to the nearby galaxy NGC 4449, which is some 12.5 million light years from Earth. The newly discovered dwarf galaxy had escaped even the Hubble Space Telescope. The larger, host galaxy, NGC 4449, may be "something of a living fossil," representing what most galaxies probably looked like shortly after the Big Bang, Rich said.

Read more. UCLA

smallest laser
New views show old NASA Mars landers
(Feb 9, 2012)

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recorded a scene on Jan. 29, 2012, that includes the first color image from orbit showing the three-petal lander of the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit mission. Spirit drove off that lander platform in January 2004 and spent most of its six-year working life in a range of hills about two miles to the east.

Read more. NASA/JPL

Space radiation killed Russian Mars mission
(Feb 8, 2012)

Russia's Phobos-Grunt mission was felled by space radiation, a new report concludes. The ambitious mission was supposed to bring a soil sample of the Martian moon Phobos back to Earth. But it got stuck in Earth orbit and eventually plunged into the ocean on 15 January.

Read more. New Scientist

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