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Most powerful eruption in the universe discovered
NASA NEWS RELEASE


Astronomers have found the most powerful eruption in the universe using NASA's Chandra X-ray
 Observatory. A super massive black hole generated this eruption by growing at a remarkable rate.
This discovery shows the enormous appetite of large black holes, and the profound impact they have
 on their surroundings.


This Chandra image shows two vast cavities - each 600,000
light years in diameter - in the hot, X-ray emitting gas that
 pervades the galaxy cluster MS 0735.6+7421 (MS 0735 for short).
Although the cavities contain very little hot gas, they are filled with a two-sided,
 elongated, magnetized bubble of extremely high-
energy electrons that emit radio waves. Credit: NASA/CXC/Ohio
U./B.McNamara


The huge eruption was seen in a Chandra image of the hot, X- ray emitting gas of a
galaxy cluster called MS 0735.6+7421. Two vast cavities extend away from the super massive
black hole in the cluster's central galaxy. The eruption, which has lasted for more than 100
million years, has generated energy equivalent to hundreds of millions of gamma-ray bursts.

This event was caused by gravitational energy release, as enormous amounts of matter fell
 toward a black hole. Most of the matter was swallowed, but some of it was violently ejected
 before being captured by the black hole. "I was stunned to find that a mass of about 300
million suns was swallowed," said Brian McNamara of Ohio University in Athens. "This is as large
 as another super massive black hole." He is lead author of the study about the discovery,
which is in the January 6, 2005, issue of Nature.

Astronomers are not sure where such large amounts of matter came from. One theory is gas
from the host galaxy catastrophically cooled and was swallowed by the black hole.
The energy released shows the black hole in MS 0735 has grown dramatically during this eruption.
 Previous studies suggest other large black holes have grown very little in the recent past,
and that only smaller black holes are still growing quickly.


An artist's depiction shows the eruption from a supermassive
black hole. Credit: NASA/CXC/A.Hobart


SOURCE:SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

ps: That explosion is dwarfed by my bum after chilli beans !!:D


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Ancient DNA helps solve the legend of giant eagles


Hamilton, ON - Gigantic eagles swooping from the skies to rescue Frodo and Sam in the
Lord of the Rings may not be just the stuff of legends and fairytales, according
to research published in the journal PloS Biology.

McMaster University anthropologist Michael Bunce has shed new light on the evolution of
the extinct Haast’s eagle, the giant bird that once ruled the skies over New Zealand.


 Haast's Eagle hunting moa, Image courtesy of John Megahan.'

Weighing between 20 and 30 pounds, the enormous Haast's Eagle dominated its environment.
 It was 30 to 40 per cent heavier than the largest living bird of prey around today,
the Harpy Eagle of Central and South America.

Working in New Zealand, Bunce extracted DNA from fossil eagle bones dating back about 2000 years.


SOURCE: EUREKALERT.ORG


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Twinkle Toes: How geckos' sticky feet stay clean

Peter Weiss

So strong is the stickiness of some geckos' feet that the lizards can hang from a ceiling
 by a single toe. Despite that clinginess, the forest of adhesive fibers on the underside
 of each toe stays nearly dirtfree without grooming or washing.

 
TOE PRINT. When the underside of a gecko toe (left) was
 dusted with microspheres and pressed onto glass, millions of sticky
 fibers in the thin, platelike structures shed microspheres onto the
glass, leaving a print visible under laser light (right).


Now, researchers say they've figured out the secret. Moreover, because dirt typically
weakens adhesive bonds, the findings could inspire improved surface-attachment schemes for
 mountain climbers and robots.

In the new study, Wendy R. Hansen and Kellar Autumn coated the feet of live Tokay geckos with
ceramic microspheres. This mock dirt counteracted the weak van der Waals forces that usually
sum into a lizard's tenacious grip on surfaces.

Using glass as a model surface, the researchers determined the foot-glass attraction as the
 lizards took a series of steps. With each step, the grip became stronger, indicating
that microspheres were being shed
SOURCE: SCIENCE NEWS.ORG


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Tiny, Atom-based Detector Senses Weak Magnetic Fields

A low-power, magnetic sensor about the size of a grain of rice that can detect magnetic field
 changes as small as 50 picoteslas—a million times weaker than the Earth's magnetic field—has
 been demonstrated by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology
(NIST). Described in the Dec. 27 issue of Applied Physics Letters,* the device can be powered
with batteries and is about 100 times smaller than current atom-based sensors with similar
 sensitivities, which typically weigh several kilograms (about 6 pounds).




Photo of the NIST chip-scale magnetometer. The sensor is
about as tall as a grain of rice. The widest block near the top of
the device is an enclosed, transparent cell that holds a vapor of
rubidium atoms. (Photo by Peter Schwindt/NIST)


The new magnetic sensor is based on the principles of a NIST chip-scale atomic clock,
announced in August 2004. Expected applications for a commercialized version of the new sensor
 could include hand-held devices for sensing unexploded ordnance, precision navigation,
 geophysical mapping to locate minerals or oil, and medical instruments.

Magnetic fields are produced by the motion of electrons either in the form of an electrical
current or in certain metals such as iron, cobalt and nickel. The NIST miniature magnetometer
is sensitive enough to detect a concealed rifle about 12 meters (40 feet) away or a
six-inch-diameter steel pipeline up to 35 meters (120 feet) underground.
The sensor works by detecting minute changes in the energy levels of electrons in the presence
of a magnetic field.


SOURCE: SCIENCEDAILY.COM


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Encountering Iapetus
CASSINI PHOTO RELEASE

On New Year's Eve 2004, Cassini flew past Saturn's intriguing moon Iapetus, capturing the
four visible light images that were put together to form this global view.


The scene is dominated by a dark, heavily-cratered region, called Cassini Regio, that covers
nearly an entire hemisphere of Iapetus. Iapetus is 1,436 kilometers (892 miles) across.
The view is centered on the moon's equator and on roughly 90 degrees west longitude -- a location
that always faces the direction of Iapetus's orbital motion around Saturn.



BIG PIC http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/jpeg/PIA06166.jpg
The most unique, and perhaps most remarkable feature discovered on Iapetus in Cassini images
is a topographic ridge that coincides almost exactly with the geographic equator.
The ridge is conspicuous in the picture as an approximately 20-kilometer wide (12 miles)
 band that extends from the western (left) side of the disc almost to the day/night boundary
 on the right. On the left horizon, the peak of the ridge reaches at least 13 kilometers
(8 miles) above the surrounding terrain. Along the roughly 1,300 kilometer (800 mile)
length over which it can be traced in this picture, it remains almost exactly parallel
 to the equator within a couple of degrees. The physical origin of the ridge has yet to be
explained. It is not yet clear whether the ridge is a mountain belt that has folded upward,
or an extensional crack in the surface through which material
from inside Iapetus erupted onto the surface and accumulated locally, forming the ridge.


The origin of Cassini Regio is a long-standing debate among scientists. One theory
 proposes that its dark material may have erupted onto Iapetus's icy surface from the interior.
 Another theory holds that the dark material represented accumulated debris ejected by impact
 events on dark, outer satellites of Saturn. Details of this Cassini image mosaic do not
definitively rule out either of the theories. However, they do provide important new
insights and constraints.


SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM



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Giant landslide on Iapetus
CASSINI PHOTO RELEASE


A spectacular landslide within the low-brightness region of Iapetus's surface known
as Cassini Regio is visible in this image from Cassini. Iapetus is one of the moons of Saturn.
 



The landslide material appears to have collapsed from a scarp 15 kilometers high (9 miles)
 that forms the rim of an ancient 600 kilometer (375 mile) impact basin. Unconsolidated
rubble from the landslide extends halfway across a conspicuous, 120-kilometer diameter (75-mile) flat-floored impact crater that lies just inside
 the basin scarp.

The BIGGY http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/jpeg/PIA06171.jpg

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM


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Satellite sees matter speed-racing around a black hole

EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY NEWS RELEASE

Using a 'radar-gun' technique, typical of police speed-traps, scientists have clocked three
 separate clumps of hot iron gas whipping around a black hole at 30,000 kilometres per second,
 about a tenth of the speed of light.


This animation depicts three hot chunks of matter orbiting a
black hole. If placed in our Solar System, this black hole would

appear like a dark abyss spread out nearly as wide as Mercury's
orbit. And the three chunks (each as large as the Sun) would be as
 
far out as Jupiter. They orbit the black hole in a lightning-quick
30 000 kilometres per second, over a tenth of the speed of light.
Credits: NASA/Dana Berry, SkyWorks Digital


The observation, made with ESA's XMM-Newton observatory, marks the first time scientists
could trace individual blobs of shredded matter on a complete journey around a black hole.
 This provides a crucial measurement that has long been missing from black hole studies:
 an orbital period. Knowing this, scientists can measure black hole mass and other characteristics
 that have long eluded them.

It's noted that if this black hole were placed in our Solar System, it would appear like a
dark abyss spread out nearly as wide as Mercury's orbit. And the three clumps of matter
 detected would be as far out as Jupiter. They orbit the black hole in a lightning-quick 27 hours
 (compared to the 12 years it takes Jupiter to orbit the Sun).

Black holes are regions in space in which gravity prevents all matter and light from escaping.
 What scientists see is not the black hole itself but rather the light emitted close to
it as matter falls towards the black hole and heats to extremely high temperatures



SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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Beyond Einstein: Spacetime wave orbits black hole

HARVARD-SMITHSONIAN CENTER FOR ASTROPHYSICS RELEASE


Astronomers Jon Miller (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and Jeroen Homan (MIT) have
 seen evidence of hot iron gas riding a ripple in spacetime around a black hole. This spacetime
wave, if confirmed, would represent a new phenomenon that goes beyond Einstein's general
 relativity.


Astronomers have discovered evidence for physics beyond
Einstein's general relativity. This artist's conception shows a

galactic black hole being orbited by a ripple in spacetime--a
distortion in the fabric of space itself. Credit: Dana Berry
(CfA/NASA)
 


These observations confirm one important theory about how a black hole's extreme gravity
can stretch light. The data also paint an intriguing image of how a spinning black hole can
 drag the very fabric of space around with it, creating a choppy spacetime sea that distorts
 everything falling into the black hole.

Miller and Homan observed the phenomenon with NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer.
They present this result today at a press conference at the 205th meeting of the American
 Astronomical Society in San Diego, Calif.

"Black holes are such extreme objects that they can actually warp and drag the fabric of
spacetime around with them as they spin," said Miller, who is the lead author on an article
to be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. "Gas whipping around the black hole
 has no choice but to ride that wave. Albert Einstein predicted this over 80 years ago,
and now we are starting to see evidence for it."


This artist's conception shows the binary system
GRS1915+105, which shows evidence for a wave of spacetime in its

accretion disk. A 10 solar mass black hole at the center of the disk
pulls gas from a nearby companion star. The gas spiraling into the

black hole heats so much that it emits X-ray radiation. Credit: Dana
Berry (CfA/NASA)


Using the Rossi Explorer, Miller and Homan studied a black hole named GRS 1915+105,
 about 40,000 light years away in the constellation Aquila, the Eagle. They noticed
that a low-frequency QPO of 1 to 2 hertz was tied to changes in the broad iron K line,
as if the two features knew of each other. The fact that the two signals were in synch
and were unaffected by other phenomena-such as black hole jet activity-strongly
suggests that both are occurring very close to the black hole. And this, the scientists
say, rules out a theory stating that broad iron lines are created in black hole winds far
 from the black hole itself.

This discovery raised the question of what could be causing the connection. "High-frequency
 QPOs are likely from matter racing around the black hole, glowing like lightbulbs on a merry-go-round,"
said Homan. "Of course, matter is moving much faster around a black hole than on any amusement
park attraction. We see frequencies of hundreds of hertz, or hundreds of revolutions
 of the disk per second. That's quite a ride."

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW>COM

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See-through galaxy

HARVARD-SMITHSONIAN CENTER FOR ASTROPHYSICS RELEASE

The center of our galaxy is hidden behind a "brick wall" of obscuring dust so thick
 that not even the Hubble Space Telescope can penetrate it. Astronomers Silas Laycock
 and Josh Grindlay (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and colleagues have lifted that
 veil to reveal a beautiful vista swarming with stars. Moreover, their hunt for specific stars
associated with X-ray-emitting sources has ruled out one of two options for the nature of
these X-ray sources: most apparently are not associated with massive stars, which would have
shown up as bright counterparts in their deep infrared images. This points to the X-ray sources
 being white dwarfs, not black holes or neutron stars, accreting matter from low-mass binary
 companion stars.



This deepest-ever infrared view of a region near the
galactic center shows thousands of stars crowded into an area only 6

light-years across. Locations of bright stars don't match locations
of X-ray sources, indicating that the galactic center may contain

many faint Sun-like stars with X-ray-emitting white dwarf
companions. Credit: Silas Laycock (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for

Astrophysics)


To peer into the galactic center, Laycock and Grindlay used the unique capabilities
of the 6.5-meter-diameter Magellan Telescope in Chile. By gathering infrared light that
more easily penetrates dust, the astronomers were able to detect thousands of stars that
otherwise would have remained hidden. Their goal was to identify stars that orbit,
and feed, X-ray-emitting white dwarfs, neutron stars or black holes - any of which could
yield the faint X-ray sources discovered originally with NASA's Chandra X-ray
 Observatory.

"If we found that most of the hard X-ray sources were high-mass X-ray binaries, it would
tell us that there had been a lot of recent star formation because massive stars don't live
 long," says Laycock. "Instead, we found that most of the X-ray sources are likely to
 be older systems associated with low-mass stars."

That conclusion comes from a null result: that is, most of the counterparts to the
X-ray sources must be fainter than the brightness expected if the X-ray sources had massive
 companions. Since massive stars are both rare and bright, an association with the
X-ray sources would have been easy to spot. Smaller stars are more common and fainter,
 making it difficult to match them to a specific X-ray source. Analysis of the infrared
images found only a chance number of matches between stars and the locations of X-ray sources.
 Many of those matches likely were due to the crowded field of view.

"The fact that we found no significant excess of bright infrared counterparts means that
the galactic center Chandra sources are probably low-mass binaries. Since by far the most
 common low-mass binaries with X-ray luminosities, spectra, and variability similar to
 the galactic center Chandra sources are accreting magnetic white dwarfs, we conclude
these are the most likely identification," says Grindlay.

If the X-ray sources near the galactic center are accreting white dwarfs, the large numbers
of compact low-mass binaries required could suggest that they formed in the very dense star
cluster around the galactic center or that they have been "deposited" there
by the destruction of globular clusters. Deeper infrared observations and spectra
 of the sources are needed
to make actual identifications and constrain the masses of the accreting compact objects.

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM


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Lottery Ball Machine and Chicken Display Their Offspring !!





SOURCE: Lottery Ball and Chicken Monthly !

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Saharan dust affects Florida thunderstorms
NASA NEWS RELEASE


Scientists using NASA satellite data have discovered tiny particles of dust blowing across
the Atlantic Ocean from the Sahara Desert can affect Florida thunderstorms.


Saharan dust is seen blowing off Northwest Africa by NASA's
 SeaWiFS orbiting satellite instrument. Credit: NASA


Dust affects the size of the top or "anvil" of a thunderstorm, the strength
and number of updrafts of warm winds. It also affects the strength of convective
(heat generated) thunderstorms by influencing the amount of rain that builds up and falls.

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM


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First Huygens images show strange new world

BY WILLIAM HARWOOD

The European Space Agency unveiled the first raw images from the Huygens Titan probe today,
 black-and-white pictures showing ice blocks strewn across the surface and hard-to-interpret
features resembling drainage channels and, possibly, a frigid shoreline of sorts.


This is one of the first raw images returned by the ESA
Huygens probe during its successful descent. It was taken from an
altitude of 16.2 kilometres with a resolution of approximately 40
metres per pixel. It apparently shows short, stubby drainage
channels leading to a shoreline. Credit: ESA/NASA TV


As of 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT), more than 350 images from the Huygens main camera were on
the ground, shot at altitudes above and below the haze layer that marks Titan's thick
nitrogen atmosphere. The first picture shown to reporters was shot at an altitude of
 about 10 miles with a surface resolution of about 50 feet.

"I think it's pretty clear you see things that look pretty much like drainage channels,
 maye not like drainage
channels like on rivers on the Earth, but perhaps stubby box canyons with seepage out of
 the walls, flowing down towards what looks very much like a shoreline,"
said Martin Tomasko, principal investigator for Huygens' descent imager.

"We suspected there would be liquid on the surface of Titan, we suspected we would see
things that looked like drainage channels and shorelines, but we've never been able to
 see them with this clarity."

A second photo showed the surface of Titan surrounding the Huygens probe after it touched
down on the frigid moon. The scene resembled recent photos from NASA's Mars rovers,
 showing a rock-strewn plain stretching away toward a hazy horizon.


This raw image was returned by the Descent Imager/Spectral
Radiometer camera onboard the European Space Agency's Huygens probe
after the probe descended through the atmosphere of Titan. It shows
the surface of Titan with ice blocks strewn around. The size and
distance of the blocks will be determined when the image is properly processed. Credit: ESA/NASA/University of Arizona


Said European Space agency science chief David Southwood: "I am just delighted. I just
wanted to know that there was complexity down there, that this really was a world
that was going to yield totally new science. I'm now convinced we're going to do it.
it's the end of a wonderful day, I'm going to remember it for the rest of my life."

Despite Tomasko's off-the-cuff interpretation of the initial picture, it was not
 immediately clear whether the images did, in fact, show liquid ethane or related
compounds theorized to exist on the surface.

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW>COM




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First Huygens pictures




This image was returned January 14 by ESA's Huygens probe during its successful descent
to land on Titan. This is the coloured view, following processing to add reflection spectra
data, gives a better indication of the actual colour of the surface. Initially thought
 to be rocks or ice blocks, they are more pebble-sized. The two rock-like objects just
 below the middle of the image are about 15 centimetres (left) and 4 centimetres (centre) across
respectively, at a distance of about 85 centimetres from Huygens. The surface is darker
 than originally expected, consisting of a mixture of water and hydrocarbon ice.
There is also evidence of erosion at the base of these objects, indicating possible
 fluvial activity. Credits: ESA/NASA/University of Arizona
 

SOURCE:SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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Huygens descent probe landed in Titanian mud

EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY NEWS RELEASE

Although Huygens landed on Titan's surface last Friday, activity at ESA's European Space
 Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, continues at a furious pace. Scientists
 are still working to refine the exact location of the probe's landing site.



A view of Huygens probable landing site based on initial,
best-guess estimates. Scientists on the Huygens Descent
 Imager/Spectral Radiometer (DISR) science team are still working to
 refine the exact location of the probe's landing site, but they
estimate that it lies within the white circle shown in this image.
Credits: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona


While Huygens rests frozen at -180 degrees Celsius on Titan's landscape, a symbolic
 finale to the engineering and flight phase of this historic mission, scientists
have taken little time off to eat or sleep.

They have been processing, examining and analysing data, and sometimes even
dreaming about it when they sleep. There's enough data to keep Huygens scientists
 busy for months and even years to come.

Landing with a splat
Scientists had theorised that the probe would drop out of the haze at between 70 and
50 kilometres. In fact, Huygens began to emerge from the haze only at 30 kilometres
above the surface.

When the probe landed, it was not with a thud, or a splash, but a 'splat'. It landed in Titanian 'mud'.

"I think the biggest surprise is that we survived landing and that we lasted so long," said
DISR team member Charles See. "There wasn't even a glitch at impact. That landing was a
 lot friendlier than we anticipated."

DISR's downward-looking High Resolution Imager camera lens apparently accumulated
some material, which suggests the probe may have settled into the surface. "Either that or we steamed
hydrocarbons off the surface and they collected onto the lens," said See.

"The probe's parachute disappeared from sight on landing, so the probe probably isn't
 pointing east, or we would have seen the parachute," said DISR team member Mike Bushroe.

When the mission was designed, it was decided that the DISR's 20-Watt landing lamp
 should turn on 700 metres above the surface and illuminate the landing site for
as long as 15 minutes after touchdown.

"In fact, not only did the landing lamp turn on at exactly 700 metres, but also
it was still shining more than an hour later, when Cassini moved beyond Titan's
horizon for its ongoing exploratory tour of the giant moon and the Saturnian system," said Tomasko.


SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM



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Titan forecast calls for rain, Huygens data shows
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD

Liquid methane apparently falls like rain on Saturn's smog-shrouded moon Titan, washing down
icy channels that ultimately spill into broad lakebeds dotted with ice islands and shoals,
 according to the latest data from Europe's Huygens probe. While the spacecraft did not detect
 any standing pools of
liquefied natural gas in its immediate area, the data indicate rainfall is common on
Titan and that liquid methane is present within a few inches of its surface.




This mosaic of three frames provides unprecedented detail of
 the high ridge area including the flow down into a major river
channel from different sources. Credits: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of
Arizona

Download larger image version here

http://esamultimedia.esa.int/images/cassini_huygens/huygens_land/press_release_050120/HRICoastLineMoasic_H.jpg

This isn't Mars, where the liquid that's done the erosion is buried underneath a solid," said
 Toby Owen, an interdisciplinary scientist with the Cassini-Huygens mission. "This is a
 planet where the liquids are right there. It might have rained yesterday. This is
 really a very active situation. That's the important news about detecting methane.
It isn't that we think methane is there. It's really there in the liquid state."

Said Martin Tomasko, principal investigator with the Huygens descent imager instrument:
"What we know is the place we landed is dry at the moment. But the liquid is not 200
meters underground, the liquid was within a few centimeters of the surface, indicating
that it must have rained not very long ago. Does that mean yesterday or the day before,
 the week before? We don't really know. But the feeling is, in the place we landed,
it must rain fairly frequently. But we can't be more precise than that."





A view of Titan from the VIMS instrument on the Cassini
orbiter. The Huygens probe landed in the small red circle on the
boundary of the bright and dark regions. The size of the circle
shows the field of view of the Huygens DISR imager from an altitude
of 20 kilometres. Credits: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Download larger image version here

http://esamultimedia.esa.int/images/cassini_huygens/huygens_land/press_release_050120/VIMS_HuygensLandingSite_H.jpg

Data from Huygens shows nitrogen is the dominant gas in the upper atmosphere of Titan.
 But as the probe descended, methane concentrations shot up.



A single image from the Huygens DISR instrument of a dark
plain area on Titan, seen during descent to the landing site, that
indicates flow around bright 'islands'. The areas below and above
the bright islands may be at different elevations. Credits:
 ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

 


"We don't think we have open pools of liquid methane, but the methane kind of
sinks down into the surface material," he said. "It's more like Arizona or someplace
 like that where the river beds are dry most of the time but after rain, you might
 have open flowing liquids and pools. These pools gradually dry out, the liquid sinks
down into the surface. Perhaps it's very seasonal."

No one yet knows. But Jean-Pierre Lebreton, the Huygens mission scientist for the
European Space Agency, said Titan would make an ideal target for some future robot lander.

SOURCE:SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM




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Opportunity rover finds an iron meteorite on Mars

NASA/JPL NEWS RELEASE


NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has found an iron meteorite, the first
meteorite of any type ever identified on another planet.


Opportunity finds meteorite on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

The pitted, basketball-size object is mostly made of iron and nickel according to readings
from spectrometers on the rover. Only a small fraction of the meteorites fallen
on Earth are similarly metal-rich. Others are rockier. As an example, the meteorite
 that blasted the famous Meteor Crater in Arizona is similar in composition.


"This is a huge surprise, though maybe it shouldn't have been," said Dr. Steve Squyres of
 Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for the science instruments
 on Opportunity and its twin, Spirit.

The meteorite, dubbed "Heat Shield Rock," sits near debris of Opportunity's heat
shield on the surface of Meridiani Planum, a cratered flatland that has been Opportunity's
home since the robot landed on Mars nearly one year ago.

"I never thought we would get to use our instruments on a rock from someplace other
than Mars," Squyres said. "Think about where an iron meteorite comes from: a destroyed
planet or planetesimal that was big enough to differentiate into a metallic core and a rocky mantle."

SOURCE:SPACEFLIGHTNOW>COM


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Desertification alters regional ecosystem climate interactions

Stanford, CA. Using advanced remote-sensing techniques from a U-2 surveillance plane
and field studies, scientists from the Carnegie Institution Department of Global
Ecology have for the first time determined large-scale interactions between ecosystems
and the climate during the process of desertification. The study, to be published in
the January 2005 issue of Global Change Biology, is a milestone both for the new methods
 employed and for understanding what is happening as agricultural and grazing lands
change into desert--a top environmental worry of the United Nations.



This image shows how spectral data, information contained in reflected light, obtained from the
 NASA Airborne Visible and Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) is organized into "data cubes. " It also
shows what the reflecting light reveals as the sensor collects data from the canopy to the soil. The different
types of vegetation are grasslands, transition areas, and desert shrublands in the Northern Chihuahua region
 of New Mexico.  


Typically, remote-sensing for ecological research looks at the greenness of the top layer
of vegetation, which is used to determine the amount of plant growth, or net primary
production (NPP). NPP data are useful for understanding the global carbon cycle as plants
breath in and lock up the greenhouse gas CO2 . NPP data, though, are not as important as are
 the changes in the type and distribution of vegetation as an area transitions into desert.
 Using the (AVIRIS), the scientists are able to analyze the physical structure of ecosystems
including the live and dead plants. The data are viewed in 3-dimensions at very high
 resolution and can give a much broader picture of the processes at work, including carbon
cycling and other chemical and biological activities.

SOURCE:EURAKAALERT.ORG



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Rare leopard 'faces extinction'  

By Richard Black
BBC environment correspondent  

The world's rarest cat, the Amur leopard, is facing extinction in the wild, conservationists
have warned.

They have blamed a recent decision by the Russian government to approve an oil pipeline
through the leopards' only habitat, on the harsh eastern coast.
 



Amur leopards are a little lighter in colour than other leopards
 

It is estimated that only about 30 of the animals survive in the wild.

Human settlements and forest fires have already pushed the Amur leopard to the brink
of extinction - there are more in captivity than there are in the wild.


At the end of December, Russia approved a plan for a pipeline bringing oil from Siberia
to a new terminal on the coast, opening up export routes to east Asia.

The pipeline will pass through the Amur leopards' only remaining range - and conservationists
 working with the Zoological Society of London say it could be the last straw.

They are appealing to the Russian government to re-route the pipeline and give the
world's rarest cat one more life.

SOURCE: BBC


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Swirls in the south

CASSINI PHOTO RELEASE

The turbulent boundaries between dark belts and bright zones are seen prominently
in this processed image of Saturn's southern atmosphere. Disturbed boundaries
between these cloud bands are due to wind shear and density differences between adjacent bands.


Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Download larger image version here

http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/jpeg/PIA06568.jpg
 

The planet appears more bland in natural color images, but this infrared view
 uncovers far more detail.

The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide angle camera at a distance of
approximately 614,000 kilometers (382,000 miles) from Saturn through a filter sensitive
to wavelengths of infrared light centered at 890 nanometers. The image scale is 37
kilometers (23 miles) per pixel.

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM


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A Carrot Rainbow
Janet Raloff

Thanksgiving menus typically include root vegetables. Although some of those vegetables can
 be slightly exotic—from kohlrabi and rutabaga to ginger—many are familiar standbys, such
 as carrots. Long, fat, and orange, they make good snacks, add moisture to cakes, and
sometimes serve as the nose on a snowman's face.


High beta-carotene carrots developed from lines initially
bred at the USDA's Madison, Wis., laboratory.
USDA




Orange was not the carrot's original tint, however. A native of western Asia, this
cool-season member of the parsley family started out in various shades of white,
yellow, and purple. It took on orange shades only under the hand of 16th century Dutch
horticulturalists, according to researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

In recent years, other USDA scientists have enhanced the now-familiar orange carrots
 by breeding lines with elevated concentrations of the pigment beta-carotene—a material
 from which the body fashions vitamin A. The result: Most U.S. carrots now offer about
 75 percent more beta-carotene than they did 25 years ago.


In some cases, such as the purple carrot shown above, the deep hue goes all the way through the root.
In other instances, the intense color tints only the outer edges of the root (below).



However, plant geneticist Philipp Simon and his carrot-breeding colleagues at USDA's
Vegetable Crops Research Unit in Madison, Wis., didn't stop there. They've been breeding
carrots in a rainbow of antique hues, including red and deep purple, to survive in U.S. soils
and appeal to American flavor preferences.

Some carrot slices doing synchronized line dancing yesterday


A sampling of USDA's nontraditional carrots.
Stephen Ausmus



Red carrots have proven a particular challenge. Many haven't proven too tasty without heavy
cooking—a problem since the vast majority of U.S. carrots is eaten raw. Most imported red
carrots, from Asia, fall prey to the root-rot fungus Sclerotium rolfsii that's present in most U.S. soils.



SOURCE:SCIENCENEWS>ORG
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Asteroid collisions may explain star's appearance

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA NEWS RELEASE


The recent collision of two huge asteroids or tiny planets may be the cause of the mysterious
lopsided appearance of the most famous of the universe's planet-forming stars, a team of
astronomers says.


This is an artist's rendering of a possible collision scenario between two huge asteroids or tiny planets. University of
Florida astronomers say such a collision may be the cause of the lopsided appearance of Beta Pictoris. Credit: Gemini Observatory
 illustration by Jon Lomberg

 
Relying on observations from the Gemini South telescope in Chile, the University of Florida-led
team has concluded that differences in brightness in the dust disc surrounding a star known as
Beta Pictoris stem from an extra bright clump on one side of the disc. This clump, the
astronomers say, is composed of dust particles that are consistently smaller than particles
 elsewhere in the disc -- likely evidence of a collision of two massive asteroids or
tiny developing planets known as planetismals that may have occurred as recently as in the
past few decades.

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM


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Dark matter haloes were first objects in the universe

UNIVERSITY OF ZURICH NEWS RELEASE


Ghostly haloes of dark matter as heavy as the earth and as large as our solar system were
 the first structures to form in the universe, according to new calculations from scientists
 at the University of Zurich, published in this week's issue of Nature.


A zoom into the first object to form in the universe. The two inset regions are each expanded by a scale of a hundred so you
 can see the single earth mass dark matter halo which is about the size of the solar system. The large blue region is 10,000 light
 years across.

 
Our own galaxy still contains quadrillions of these halos with one expected to pass by
Earth every few thousand years, leaving a bright, detectable trail of gamma rays in its
 wake, the scientists say. Day to day, countless random dark matter particles rain down upon
the Earth and through our bodies undetected.

"These dark matter haloes were the gravitational 'glue' that attracted ordinary matter,
 eventually enabling stars and galaxies to form," said Prof. Ben Moore of the Institute for
 Theoretical Physics at the University of Zurich, a co-author on the Nature report. "These structures,
 the building blocks of all we see today, started forming early, only about 20 million years
after the big bang."

Dark matter comprises over 80 percent of the mass of the universe, yet its nature is unknown.
 It seems to be intrinsically different from the atoms that make up matter all around us.
 Dark matter has never been detected directly; its presence is inferred through its gravitational
 influence on ordinary matter.

The Zurich scientists based their calculation on the leading candidate for dark matter,
a theoretical particle called a neutralino, thought to have been created in the big bang.
Their results entailed several months of number crunching on the zBox, a new supercomputer
 designed and built at the University of Zurich by Moore and Drs. Joachim Stadel and Juerg
Diemand, co-authors on the report.


SOURCE:SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM



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Pluto-Charon origin may mirror Earth and Moon

SOUTHWEST RESEARCH INSTITUTE NEWS RELEASE
The evolution of Kuiper Belt objects, Pluto and its lone moon Charon may have something in common
with Earth and our single Moon: a giant impact in the distant past.


Credit: Southwest Research Institute


Dr. Robin Canup, assistant director of Southwest Research Institute's (SwRI)
 Department of Space Studies, argues for such an origin for the Pluto-Charon pair in
an article for the January 28 issue of the journal Science.


In both the Earth-Moon and Pluto-Charon cases, Canup's smooth particle hydrodynamic
simulations depict an origin in which a large, oblique collision with the growing planet
 produced its satellite and provided the current planet-moon system with its angular momentum.

While the Moon has only about 1 percent of the mass of Earth, Charon accounts for a much
larger 10 to 15 percent of Pluto's total mass. Canup's simulations suggest that a
proportionally much larger impactor -- one nearly as large as Pluto itself -- was
responsible for Charon, and that the satellite likely formed intact as a direct result of the collision.

According to Canup, a collision in the early Kuiper Belt -- a disk of comet-like objects
 orbiting in the outer solar system beyond Neptune -- could have given rise to a
planet and satellite with relative sizes and angular rotation characteristics
consistent with those of the Pluto-Charon pair. The colliding objects would
have been about 1,600 to 2,000 kilometers in diameter, or each about half the size of the Earth's Moon.

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM



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Arid Australian interior linked to landscape burning
 by ancient humans



The image of a controlled
 burn in the interior of Australia today,
 featured on the cover of the January 2005
 issue of Geology, illustrates how Australia
 might have looked 50,000 years ago.
Photo courtesy Gifford Miller, University of
Colorado at Boulder


 Landscape burning by ancient hunters and gatherers may have triggered the failure
 of the annual Australian Monsoon some 12,000 years ago, resulting in the desertification
of the country's interior that is evident today, according to a new study.

University of Colorado at Boulder Professor Gifford Miller said the study builds on his
research group's previous findings that dozens of giant animal species went extinct
in Australia roughly 50,000 years ago due to ecosystem changes caused by human burning.
 The new study indicates such burning may have altered the flora enough to decrease the
exchange of water vapor between the biosphere and atmosphere, causing the failure of
the Australian Monsoon over the interior.

"The question is whether localized burning 50,000 years ago could have had a continental-scale
effect," said Miller, a fellow at CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.
"The implications are that the burning practices of early humans may have changed the
climate of the Australian continent by weakening the penetration of monsoon moisture into the interior."

SOURCE:EUREKAALERT.ORG


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Light continues to echo three
 years after stellar outburst


SPACE TELESCOPE SCIENCE INSTITUTE NEWS RELEASE
Posted: February 3, 2005

The Hubble Space Telescope's latest image of the star V838 Monocerotis (V838 Mon) reveals
dramatic changes in the illumination of surrounding dusty cloud structures. The effect,
 called a light echo, has been unveiling never-before-seen dust patterns ever since
the star suddenly brightened for several weeks in early 2002.


Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI)
Download larger image version here

http://imgsrc.hubblesite.org/hu/db/2005/02/images/a/formats/print.jpg


The illumination of interstellar dust comes from the red supergiant star at the middle of the image, which gave off a pulse of light three years ago, somewhat similar to setting off a flashbulb in a darkened room. The dust surrounding V838 Mon may have been ejected from the star during a previous explosion, similar to the 2002 event.

The echoing of light through space is similar to the echoing of sound through air.
 As light from the stellar explosion continues to propagate outwards, different
parts of the surrounding dust are illuminated, just as a sound echo bounces off of objects
 near the source, and later, objects further from the source. Eventually, when light
from the back side of the nebula begins to arrive, the light echo will give the illusion
 of contracting, and finally it will disappear.

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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