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The Russian base above Lake Vostok
New life found in Lake Vostok
(Mar 7, 2013)

Russian scientists are saying they've found a type of bacterium previously unknown to science in Lake Vostok, a body of water lying under 4km of ice that may have been cutoff from the surface for millions of years. "After putting aside all possible elements of contamination, DNA was found that did not coincide with any of the well-known types in the global database," said Sergei Bulat, of the genetics laboratory at the St Petersburg Institute of Nuclear Physics.

Read more (BBC)

Europa hypothetical cross-section
Surface window into Europa's ocean
(Mar 6, 2013)

A paper by Mike Brown, at Caltech, and Kevin Hand at JPL, offers the strongest evidence yet that there's an exchange of material between the underground ocean on Jupiter's moon Europa and the surface. This would make it possible to sample some of the content of the ocean with a lander that scraped a surface sample, rather than having to bore through the icy shell into the ocean itself, and boosts the hopes of those who think there could be life in the sub-surface sea by providing a source of chemical energy and simple, ready-made organics.

Read more (NASA/JPL)

Herschel near the end of its life
(Mar 5, 2013)

One of the great space telescopes, Herschel, is approaching the end of its active life. The 3.5-meter-diameter telescope, which operates in the far-infrared and submillimeter parts of the spectrum, has just about exhausted its liquid helium supply which is essential to cooling its detectors. After four years of successful observations from a point about 1.5 million km from Earth, Herschel will effectively go blind in a few weeks time.

Read more (BBC)

comet ISON
Comet ISON – coming soon to a sky near you
(Mar 5, 2013)

Comet ISON, still 700 million km from the Sun, has developed a tail that is clearly visible in this image captured by astrophotographer Damian Peach on March 2. Will ISON develop into one of the brightest comets of the past 100 years when it swings close by the Sun towards the end of the year? We'll see!

Read more (IceinSpace)

galaxy cluster
Did a dark lens make this supernova super-bright?
(Mar 4, 2013)

In 2010, a star was seen to explode in a galaxy 9 billion light-years away. All the details of its spectrum pointed to it being a type Ia supernova – the type that comes from the violent explosion of a white dwarf. Except it was 20 times too bright. The most likely explanation seemed to be that its light was being magnified by a gravitational lens, such as a galaxy cluster (like the one shown here) along the line of sight. Yet despite careful searching no such cluster was apparent. Now researchers have come up with another explanation: there may indeed be a gravitational lens at work but one made of dark matter.

Read more (New Scientist)

Andromeda Galaxy and satellites
Alternative theory of gravity gets boost from Andromeda
(Mar 4, 2013)

Since 1983, there's been an alternative theory of gravity kicking around called MOND (Modified Newtonian Dynamics) which offers a way of explaining the anomalous motion of stars in galaxies without evoking dark matter. In MOND, Newton's inverse square law applies only where gravity is strong; where it's weak, there's a more gradual drop off with distance. To date, it hasn't proved as popular as the dark matter hypothesis – but that may be about to change. New research has shown that the motion of stars in Andromeda's satellite galaxies is an almost exact fit with MOND's predictions.

Read more (New Scientist)

Wernher von Braun
Rocket Man: The Legacy of Wernher von Braun
(Mar 3, 2013)

Beginning in September 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, a team of about a hundred rocket scientists and engineers, led by Wernher von Braun, was spirited out of Germany and brought to the United States as part of “Operation Paperclip.” Along with them came a slew of captured V-2 rockets and components. This team, their launch vehicles, and von Braun in particular, would come to play a crucial role in the emerging United States space program. From my article on von Braun.

Read more (

Falcon 9 launch
Dragon docking with ISS delayed
(Mar 2, 2013)

NASA has postponed a planned docking of the Dragon spacecraft to the ISS today because of technical problems aboard the SpaceX resupply mission soon after its launch. The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon successfully reached low Earth orbit nine minutes after lift-off. But SpaceX reported an issue with Dragon's thrusters within minutes of second stage separation and engineers struggled for several hours to bring them back online, prompting NASA to delay rendezvous with the ISS.

Read more (Guardian)

Location of the mysterious extra radiation belt
Mystery ring of radiation briefly encircled Earth
(Mar 1, 2013)

The Earth is usually surrounded by two radiation belts, called the Van Allen belts. "Usually," because last September there was, briefly, a third belt which formed between the other two. It lasted for about a month before being broken up by an interplanetary shock wave. Now scientists are trying to figure out where it came from and what the implications might be for protecting future spacecraft.

Read more (New Scientist)

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