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Jedi official religion is

So many people claimed jedi knight as their religion on the 2001 census in Great Britain that the collation team has had to create a new code to record the numbers. Jedi Knight joins mainstream religions Church of England, Roman Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu as well as druidism, and Wicca and others on the nearest thing to a listing of official British religions. The Office of National Statistics said 'We are not defining what a religion or a faith might be, only recognising what some may have entered on their census form and ensuring that our coding framework will cater for it.'

Good evening starshine.

It really is shining above! Satellie Starshine 3 is a 200-lb satellite, a metre-wide sphere studded with 1500 student-built mirrors. It is designed to be clearly visible overhead, spinning and glittering like an oversized disco ball.
"Starshine 3 is on a mission to explore the outer reaches of Earth`s atmosphere and to discover what happens to satellites there," said Prof. Gil Moore, project director. About 40,000 students from all parts of the world helped polish Starshine 3`s distinctive mirrors. And now that the "disco ball" is in space, students are going to help again by monitoring Starshine 3 as it falls .... at first slowly, then later with greater haste ... back to Earth.
Starshine 3 is falling because the atmosphere is dragging it down. The satellite is orbiting 470 km above Earth in a region scientists call the thermosphere. The air at that altitude is very thin -- about 1012 times less dense than the air at sea level. Indeed, it seems more like space than a part of Earth. The thermosphere is where the International Space Station (ISS), the space shuttle, and many other satellites orbit.
Even though the thermosphere is practically vacuum-thin, it`s still dense enough to sap orbital energy from satellites by means of aerodynamic drag. Soon after the Kodiak Star disgorged it, Starshine 3 began to lose altitude -- dropping a few meters during each 90 minute orbit around our planet. The same thing happens to the ISS, which requires periodic re-boosts.
Starshine 3 will slowly descend during the next 4 years," says Moore. As it sinks into ever denser layers of the atmosphere, its rate of orbital decay will accelerate. Eventually, when it sinks below the stratosphere, Starshine 3 will burn up
Moore added: "Starshine 3 usually looks as bright as a 1st magnitude star when it passes overhead." During a typical transit the rotating satellite will seem to flash every few seconds as sunlight glints off one mirror after another. The trail of bright dots and dark dashes across the sky is unmistakable. Website:www. Heavens-Above.com

Gas found between cluster stars

Astronomers from the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory and other members of an international team have found gas between the densely packed stars that make up the globular cluster, 47 Tucanae.
47 Tucanae is one of about 140 globular clusters associated with our galaxy, the Milky Way. As they contain up to a million stars packed into a relatively small space, the combined starlight near its centre would make night as bright as day! 47 Tucanae is one of the most spectacular globular clusters and can be easily seen with the unaided eye in the Southern Hemisphere. At a distance of 16,000 light years it is roughly the same size in the sky as the full moon. The stars in such clusters are very old, and many will have shed much of their mass into space during cataclysmic explosions at the end of their lives. For over 40 years, astronomers have looked for gas in these clusters without success but now, at last, it has been detected.
Using the 64-m Parkes radio telescope in Australia, the research team have discovered more that 20 of these exotic objects in 47 Tucanae. They have made very precise observations of the minute changes in the observed rotation rates due to the doppler shift caused by the gravitational pull of the cluster. This has enabled them to determine their positions within the cluster. As one would expect, some are on the far side and some on the near side of the cluster's centre. A further measurement made for each pulsar measures the amount of material and gas in the line of sight to us. To their delight, the team found that those on the far side of the cluster had more gas in front of them than those on the near side, thus proving the presence of gas within the cluster.
Dr. Paulo Freire explains, "Astronomers have searched for indications of the expected gas at all frequencies across the electromagnetic spectrum. Finally we have now a solid detection using a radio telescope to observe pulsars which act as highly sensitive probes of the cluster environment."
Although it needs high precision measurements to detect the gas in the cluster, Dr. Fernando Camilo stresses, "the measured gas density is about 100 times larger than we would have expected from the interstellar medium surrounding 47 Tucanae."
Dr. Michael Kramer points out that the previously unsuccessful observations at other wavelengths are also important to understand their new result. From the previous measurements it can be inferred that the gas detected by the team must represent almost all the material existing in the cluster medium.
Astronomers had looked for gas because it is expected to be accumulated from the mass loss of the massive stars in the cluster and it has been a mystery where the cluster gas had gone. Several explanations had been put forward to explain the missing gas and amongst these were the winds from pulsars. It is somewhat ironic that the very same objects that may be responsible for the removal of most of the gas, have finally lead to its detection.

The Vomit comet (or should that be the airbag airbus?)

On 16 October the Airbus A-300 "Zero-g" will take off from Bordeaux-Mérignac airport in France for the first of three parabolic flights designed to carry out experiments in weightlessness before they are conducted in real spaceflight.
Parabolic flights are practically the only terrestrial means of reproducing weightlessness with human operators on board. During a parabolic flight, the Airbus A-300 "Zero-G" pilot - flying at an altitude of approximately 6000 metres, usually in a specially reserved air corridor above the Bay of Biscay - first performs a nose-up manoeuvre to put the aircraft into a steep climb (to 7600m). This generates an acceleration of 1.8g (1.8 times the acceleration of gravity on the ground) for about 20 seconds. Then the pilot reduces engine thrust to almost zero, injecting the aircraft into a parabola. The plane continues to climb until it reaches the apex of the parabola (8500m), when it starts descending. This descent lasts about 20 seconds, during which the passengers in the cabin float in the weightlessness resulting from the free fall of the aircraft. When the angle below the horizontal reaches 45°, the pilot accelerates again and pulls the aircraft back up to steady horizontal flight. The manoeuvres are repeated 30 times per flight.
In the physical sciences field, one of the experiments is related to fluid physics, a combustion experiment will study diffusion flames, another experiment will investigate plasma and the last two will study interactions of cosmic and atmospheric particle systems in the framework of an international research programme.
In life sciences, three experiments will measure physiological parameters in human subjects and two biology experiments will investigate movements of plants and fish.
The next (32nd) ESA parabolic flight campaign is scheduled for spring 2002 and will have a mixed complement of experiments in life and physical sciences, including experiments proposed by students.

DS1/Borrelly encounter huge success

Deep Space 1 has survived, flown past the core of comet Borrelly and sent back remarkable pictures and data. Closest approach was a bare 2,200 kilometers from the comet's rocky, icy core, at which time DS1 captured the best-resolution pictures to date of any comet's nucleus. Onboard instruments also measured the composition of gases swirling around the nucleus and revealed new information about how those gases interact with the solar wind. This first picture shows the 8km nucleus and the second is a high resolution image showing jets of gas, plus a what might be a crater rim or a deep gouge in the surface.
The mission, and its success were a high risk venture for DS1, which was designed for a technology-testing mission -- long ago completed with great success -- and not for a comet flyby. The probe travelled through the comet's turbulent coma (a hazy cloud of gas and dust surrounding the core) with no shielding from gaseous jets or potentially damaging bits of flying comet dust, returning images arguably better than those sent back by Giotto in 1986 of comet Halley.

Deep Space One, did you say?

On October 24, 1998, Deep Space 1 was launched, with a name very similar to, but not quite the same as that of a TV series. DS1 was a flying testbed for much untried technology: a long-lasting ion propulsion engine, a solar array that focused sunlight for extra power, and software that endowed the craft with artificial intelligence to conduct its own affairs. They all worked -- many beyond expectations. DS1's ion engine, for instance, is now the longest-operating propulsion system in the history of the space program.
Now the probe is to be tested with a fly-by of a comet, 19P/Borrelly - an intriguing comet that had veered toward the Sun during the 19th century when it passed too close to Jupiter. It's been swinging through the inner solar system every 6.9 years
Just after the decision was made, in late 1999, its guidance system, called the "Star Tracker," suddenly failed. The Star Tracker was a computerised camera (ironically not one of the probe's experimental devices) that measured DS1's orientation with respect to the stars. Without it, the spacecraft was lost. The solution was to reconfigure "MICAS" (an experimental camera that DS1 had just finished testing) to serve as a makeshift Star Tracker. However, Deep Space 1 was 300 million km away and out of touch. They transmitted radio commands across interplanetary space, telling the onboard computer how it could transform MICAS into a star tracking navigator.
It worked. On June 28, 2000, with MICAS at the helm, Deep Space 1 aimed for the comet and revved its ion engine -- the beginning of a 15-month journey. Twice since then solar storms have scrambled the makeshift navigation system, and once MICAS tried to fix on a star that was too dim. In each case, the DS1 team managed to coax the spacecraft back to normal The comet is visible at present, through a 10 inch or larger telescope.
Glowing at 9th magnitude in the constellation Gemini, it looks like a fuzzy blob with a short, faint tail.

How to get a comet named after you

…Find it. Simple?
Not really, but still possible. Comets are named after their discoverers,. Hale-Bopp, Hayakutake and Shoemaker-Levy are just a few of the names we know ... because of comets. But, with the advance of new technology, just about every new comet is called "LINEAR" or "NEAT(This year between January and mid-August such telescopes recorded 18 new comets, while humans had found none)
Vance Petriew of Regina, Saskatchewan -- a computer consultant by day and an amateur astronomer by night -- was at the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party on August 18 when he turned his 20" telescope toward the Crab Nebula. Hopping from one star to another across the constellation Taurus, Petriew guided his telescope toward the famous supernova remnant -- but he never made it. He stopped instead at a curious smudge that appeared unexpectedly in his eyepiece.
"I almost passed it by because I was looking for the Crab Nebula," says Petriew, "and this wasn't it." But there was something intriguing about the smudge, something that made Petriew investigate further. "Thinking it might be a galaxy, I looked at my star charts to see if any were nearby. Just then Richard Huziak (Saskatoon Centre, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada) happened to walk over for the first time that night." Huziak was familiar with the region of sky and knew that no eye-catching galaxy was in the vicinity. The pair quickly realized that Petriew had stumbled onto an unknown comet. "It's like winning the lottery!" says Petriew. "Only [two people] in the whole world discovered a comet last year the same way I did. It's pretty cool to have one named after me and I'm very excited!"

Its official - space week

World Space Week is just around the corner - 4th to 10th October 2001! See our website, www.secuk.org/spaceweek for forthcoming events.

Teaching space

The European Space Agency's TEACH SPACE 2001 Education Conference for teachers will be held between Friday 26 and Sunday 28 October at the European Space Agency's ESTEC centre in Noordwijk in the Netherlands.
Teachers in every discipline are invited to come and exchange practical ideas on how the International Space Station -- the largest international project of all time - can inspire their students. Once completed, the 450-tonne ISS will have more than 1200 cubic metres of pressurised space - enough room for seven crew and a vast array of scientific experiments orbiting around 400 km above the Earth.
TEACH SPACE 2001 is designed to help European teachers use the ISS as a classroom resource, linking their students to the excitement and inspiration of the high frontier - where European technology is already making a vital contribution. The children of today are future scientists, engineers and space explorers. With the number of students studying sciences decreasing at a steady rate it is crucial that young people are inspired and motivated to become more involved in these fields and TEACH SPACE 2001 can help teachers do just that.
To make the conference even more accessible to Europe's teachers, ESA is now offering subsidies as a minimum of € 200 towards teachers' accommodation and travel costs.

Home safe

Discovery landed safely after a one-orbit delay due to bad weather. On board were three astronauts who had spent nearly six months aboard the ISS. Discovery's flight lasted 12 days.

Back on stage

Patrick Stewart,(star trek) is returning to his Yorkshire roots and appearing in Johnson over Jordan at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, in the North East of England from August 28 for a month

There is a place like home

American astronomers from the University of California at Berkeley believe that they have found a solar system which is very similar to our own. The system, in the Plough - is around 47 Ursae Majoris which is chemically like the Sun. Five years ago a planet about two and a half times the sixe of Jupiter was spotted circling the star, which is just visible to the naked eye just beneath the blade of the Plough constellation, and now a second gas giant has been identified, about three quarters the size of Jupiter. The discovery throws up the speculation that the space between these gas giant planets and the star might, as with our solar system, be taken up by the orbits of more earth-like planets.

Genesis Postponed

Launch of the sun seeking spacecraft Genesis has been postponed again, to Wednesday (August 1). Genesis was due for launch from Cape Canaveral on Sunday, to travel a million miles towards the Sun. It will spend two years in orbit collecting samples of the solar wind materials and then return. Travelling in the corona, at about 50,000deg c the samples will hopefully show some of the materials of the original solar nebula

Truth in Wales, not out there?

Samples collected by balloon from 41 kilometers above the Earth's surface are bacteria from space, according to Prof Chandra Wickramasinghe, of Cardiff University, at a presentation in California. The Professor is a supporter of the panspermia theory - that life evolved in space and reached Earth on comets. He said that the chances that the material found comes from Earth was remote, and that he had detected between one and ten clumps of the bacteria per litre of air. The balloons were launched from India and were constructed to avoid contamination . A team, led by Prof David Lloyd of the University's Centre for Astrobiology is attempting to analyse the bugs and grow them

Attention teachers

The European Space Agency is organising TEACH SPACE 2001, the first International Space Station Education Conference for teachers, between Friday 26 and Sunday 28 October at its ESTEC centre at Noordwijk in the Netherlands The is open to anyone who teaches children aged between 6-18, whatever their subject. Teachers, companies and space enthusiasts to share ideas with colleagues from other European countries., and have an opportunity to show their own space projects on space topics can be incorporated into daily teaching. The best projects will be selected for presentation at the conference and will compete for the title "Most Inspiring Project 2001 Website:http://www.estec.esa.nl/TEACHSPACE_2001

Artemis orbit corrected

Artemis satellite has been successfully positioned in its circular parking orbit at about 31000 km.
The satellite, launched from Kourou by an Ariane 5 on 12 July, had been put into the wrong orbit due to a malfunction on the launcher'supper stage. The injection orbit had a perigee of 590 km, an apogee of 17487 km and an inclination of 2.94°, compared to expected values of 858 km, 35853 km and 2° respectively.
Since injection into orbit, the spacecraft's behaviour has been nominal, allowing ESA to rapidly adopt a recovery strategy that aims to take the satellite to a nominal geostationary position of approximately 36000 km,

Musical Odyssey

The Royal Festival Hall in London will be the venue on Saturday for the premier of a new choral work which is a collaboration between composer David Bedford and SF doyen Sir Arthur C Clarke. The new work is based on The City and the Stars, the 1955 novel by Clarke, which he will read as a narration via film.

Binary eclipse captured

A new optical detector has been used on the William Herschel Telescope to directly measure intensity and colour changes in a faint, rapidly variable binary star system, UZ Fornacis, for the first time. A team from the Space Science Department of the European Space Agency's Research and Technology Centre in the Netherlands (ESA/ESTEC), who have developed the S-Cam camera, were joined by astronomers from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) in the UK to exploit this advanced instrument. With conventional optical CCD detectors, very rapid changes in light intensity cannot be measured. Furthermore, the energy or wavelength of the arriving photons can only be measured by introducing a filter or spectrograph into the optical light path, degrading the efficiency. With the new instrument, advanced detector elements based on superconducting technology register the arrival of each photon individually, and measure its energy and wavelength directly.
"We have a very powerful instrument for looking at faint astronomical sources which vary rapidly, for example pulsars or binary star systems. It is of particular interest when the light changes its energy distribution, or colour, at the same time", said Dr. Michael Perryman, who has led this astronomical investigation.
In the particular binary star system studied, one of the two stars is a white dwarf
Many clues are contained in the very short interval of time in which the intense light emitted by the infalling material is eclipsed by its larger but fainter companion. The results show that the diameter of the accretion spot, where material hits the white dwarf surface, is less than about 100 km.

Double Star

An ESA-China scientific collaboration has got the go-ahead. The project, Double Star, will enable European experiments to be flown on Chinese satellites for the first time.
Double Star will follow in the footsteps of ESA's groundbreaking Cluster mission by studying the effects of the Sun on the Earth's environment. Conducting joint studies with Cluster and Double Star should increase the overall scientific return from both missions.
A key aspect of ESA's participation in the Double Star project is the inclusion of 10 instruments that are identical to those currently flying on the four Cluster spacecraft. A further eight experiments will be provided by Chinese institutes.

Is the answer out there?

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory, in cooperation with the European Association for Astronomy Education, have organised a competition to find out what young people in Europe think. The European Molecular Biology Laboratory and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility are also involved.
The "Life in the Universe" project is being mounted in collaboration with the research directorate of the European Commission for the European Week of Science and Technology in November this year. Competitions are already under way in 23 European countries to find the best projects from school students aged between 14 and 19. Entries can be in one of two categories: scientific or artistic. The projects can therefore be essays, newspapers, websites, artworks, poetry or even a theatrical or musical performance.
The home base of the "Life in the Universe" project is a vibrant website http://www.lifeinuniverse.org where details of the programme can be found. It is still under development but already has a wealth of information and links to the national websites, where all entries are posted.

First total eclipse of the Millenium

The first total solar eclipse of the millenium is due to transit parts of Africa tomorrow (Thursday). The path of totality --a 127-km wide corridor stretching from Angola to Mozambique in the mid-afternoon.


MBE is Go

Thunderbirds and many other SF TV series creator and producer Gerry Anderson has been made an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in today's Queen's Birthday Honours list.
Thunderbirds first aired 36 years ago, but Anderson is still working on SF TV treatments. Among other series in his portfolio are: The Adventures of Twizzle; Torchy the Battery Boy; Four Feather Falls; Stingray; Fireball XL5; Joe 90; Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons; before turning to making shows with real people not puppets - UFO, Journey to the Far Side f The Sun, the Protectors, and Space 1999. In 1983 he returned to puppetry and heroes fighting space baddies with Terrahawks, but Thunderbirds was probably his heyday.
Thunderbirds is still so popular that the toy model Tracy Island was one of last Christmas's must have toys for the second time around.

ESA considering developing own Astronaut capability

New director of science at ESA Prof David Southwood has said it is 'foolish' that the agency does not at least consider developing its own manned capability. At present ESA's astronaut corps travels with either NASA or the Russian agency.
Southwood has a personal interest. Asked if ESA might even move into space tourism he is quoted as saying ' If anyone offered me the opportunity to go into space, I would be very interested.'

ISS given co-operation award

The International Space Station has been given the 2001 Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation. The award will be bestowed on four space agencies involved in the Space Station: NASA (US), Russia's Rosaviakosmos, Japan's National Space Development Agency (NASDA), and ESA representing the 10 European countries participating in the Space Station. The Spanish Centre for Space Law nominated the Space Station for the honour.
The Prince of Asturias Awards recognise and reward "scientific, technical, cultural, social and humanistic work performed by individuals, groups or institutions world-wide". The Award for International Co-operation is "bestowed upon the individual, work group or institution whose work has contributed in an exemplary and significant way to mutual understanding, progress and brotherhood among nations."

NASA gets first Hard X-Ray images

Since 1931, when Karl Jansky accidentally invented the radio telescope, astronomers have found again and again that there's more to the Universe than the human eye can see. Radio telescopes, infrared and ultraviolet detectors, x-ray and gamma-ray satellites -- they've revealed details of a cosmos teeming with exotic objects like black holes and pulsars that don't show up through the eyepiece of an optical telescope. Indeed, every part of the electromagnetic spectrum has offered one surprise or another to astronomers.
Now scientists at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Centre have opened a new wavelength band for high-sensitivity astronomy: "hard" x-rays. Hard x-rays are photons with about the same energy as medical x-rays (> 10 keV), or ~20,000 times more energy than visible light. Such x-rays reveal some of the most violent phenomena in the Universe, including colliding galaxies, fiery stellar explosions, and hot disks that swirl around black holes. Astronomers have flown hard x-ray detectors before, but until now none could focus the radiation to produce crisp images with high sensitivity.
Hard x-rays are typically ten times more energetic than soft ones. For comparison, the spectrum of visible light from red to violet, spans an energy range that varies by less than a factor of three.

James White award judges

Judges for the 2001 James White Award are Michael Carroll; Ian McDonald, Kim Newman; David Pringle, and Mike Resnick,
The award was established in honour of James White, and is open worldwide to amateur Sf short story authors. Closing date is August 23rd 2001

Prequal Trek

The new Star Trek series, in pre-production in America, is set before the original series, and will detail mankinds first stumbling explorations of space. Enterprise, the fifth Trek series, will be set in the 22nd century, just after the invention of the warp drive and a century before the time of Captain Kirk

Fact and Fiction-con

RTE - Ireland's national broadcaster will be recording the first two episodes of a new SF radio series live at Octocon, the Irish National Science Fiction Convention, to be held this year on October 13 and 14 in Dun Laoghaire. Con guest of honour is Anne McCaffrey. Websie: www.octocon.com

Douglas Adams dead

Douglas AdamsAuthor Douglas Adams, creator of The Hitch Hiker's Guide To the Galaxy and of Dick Gently and his detective agency, collapsed and died while working out at his home gym in California yesterday (Saturday) Douglas was 49 and had finished a new version of a big-screen HHG for Disney only a few days before his death, from, it is thought, a heart attack. The story started as a radio programme on the BBC in 1978, from there progressed to a BBC TV series and a progression of books.
He was also a very successful script editor of Dr Who, when it starred Tom Baker, who was able to invest the scripts overseen by Adams with totally credible eccentricity.
An early convert to computers he would typeset his own books and launched dotcoms H2G2, although this was not commercially successful.
He can be credited with doing more than most other SF authors with bringing the genre into the mainstream, although it has been some years since he published successfully.
He leaves a wife, Jane, and young daughter Polly.

If it's Sunday it must be Earth…

The world's first space tourist landed safely back on home planet on Sunday, still euphoric with the excitement of his $20million long weekend on the ISS.
The trip was not without some controversy in America where NASA still insists that his presence on the station was a very expensive distraction and concern for the two US astronauts who remain in space. Dennis Tito and the russian space authorities insist that he was no-where near the american presence, staying 100 metres away from the US section except on arriving and departing and spending most of his time earthwatching and taking photos .

Meteor Shower Radiant Lyrid

The Lyrid meteor shower is due back this Sunday, April 22. The display is expected to be good as the Moon will be almost new when the shower peaks.
The best time to watch, no matter where you are, will be during the hours before dawn on Sunday between about 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. local time. Simply go outside and look up, toward the north. Sky watchers in rural areas should spot a shooting star every few minutes.
Now you can listen to the Lyrids, too. Scientists at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Engineering Directorate monitors cosmic debris in the near-Earth environment. The radar's loudspeaker plays directly to the internet, so you can listen to Lyrid radar echoes during the shower. The radar is so sensitive it can register meteors too dim to see with the human eye even under the best observing conditions.
Website: http://www.spaceweather.com/glossary/nasameteorradar.html


New data from BT, the british phone company reveals that UK household phone use runs on a 29-day cycle with the peak always in the days just before the full moon

Sf Artist to sue

SF artist Anthony Roberts is to sue Turner-prize nominee artist Glenn Brown over the work Brown called The Loves of Shepherds 2000, and which bears a strong resemblance to the cover artwork by Roberts for the 1974 Heinlein book Double Star.
Roberts has said he intends to claim substantial damages for breach of copyright and an injunction to stop the work being exhibited or reproduced - already many thousand postcards have been sold by the Tate Gallery in London where it is on display with other prize shortlisted works.


The structure of our Universe has been mapped out to a distance of 14 billion light-years - almost as far as we can see - by astronomers who have observed 11,000 quasars with the Anglo-Australian Telescope in eastern Australia, in the largest quasar redshift survey to date. The structure is much lumpier at large scales than anyone predicted. This work has been done by Dr.
Robert Smith of Liverpool John Moores University at the UK National Astronomy Meeting in Cambridge, UK, and by Professor Tom Shanks of the University of Durham at 'The Dark Universe' symposium at the Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, USA.
"The lumpiness we see at very large-scales must be almost entirely determined by the conditions in the fireball of the Big Bang during the first second of the Universe's life," said Professor Shanks, co-leader of the two-degree field (2dF) quasar survey.
"For this reason, we can say that the survey quasars are truly tracing the map of creation." Website http://www.aao.gov.au/press/cosmicbeaconimages.html


A stellar mass black hole-the first ever found in our galactic halo,the region of space above and below the main spiral arms of our galaxy, thousands of light years above the Milky Way galactic plane.
'It soon became clear from our observations that this object, which was first detected a year ago by the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, had to be a black hole at least six times as massive as our sun,' said Professor Charles, head of astronomy at Southampton's Department of Physics & Astronomy.on the south coast of England.
Together with collaborators Dr Mark Wagner of the University of Arizona, Craig B. Foltz, director of the MMT Observatory (MMTO), Sumner Starrfield of Arizona State University, and Jorge Casares and Tariq Shahbaz of the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias in Tenerife, Professor Charles has assembled the finest 'quiescent' observations (those taken during a period of inactivity) yet made of this phenomenon. These quiescent observations have also made accurate mass measurements possible.
The black hole, which is approximately 6,000 light years away, betrays its presence by the effect it has on the motion of an orbiting star, smaller than our sun, which is slowly transferring matter to the black hole. The period of orbit is short-only 4.1 hours-which means that, astronomically speaking, this binary star is nearing the end of its 'active' life.
'We are intrigued to find such an object in the galactic halo,' said Professor Charles. 'Because this is so far above the galactic plane, there is almost no interstellar medium between us and the object, so we can study it in detail like no other object in its class.'
It was Professor Charles' colleague at Southampton, Dr Robert Hynes who, intrigued by the object's unusual location within our galaxy, initiated the first extreme ultra-violet observations of such an object, made possible because of the unobscured line of sight.

NovaNew Nova

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has spotted a burst of light from an exploding star located much farther from Earth than any previously seen - a supernova blast in the early Universe that is casting light on a mystery of truly cosmic scale. This stellar explosion is extraordinary not only because of its tremendous distance -- 10 billion light-years from our planet -- but also because it greatly bolsters the case for the existence of a mysterious form of "dark energy" pervading the cosmos. The concept of dark energy, which shoves galaxies away from each other at an ever-increasing speed, was first proposed, then discarded, by Albert Einstein early in the last century.

Near and Far

It was announced in the House of Lords (The upper house of the UK Parliament) recently that the British government intends to investigate the danger - and possible solutions - to the dangers posed by Near Earth Objects.

New Crew for ISS

'Expedition Two', the second crew of the International Space Station, has now taken over from the original three personnel. 'Expedition One' is returning home on the Shuttle Discovery after four and a half months in orbit. Website:http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/station

Mir due to re-enter on Friday

Mir will also be coming back down to Earth, on Thursday (March 20). The 143 tonnes of burning space debris will come back down to Earth somewhere in the Pacific, between Chile and Australia. It is estimated that about 1,500 separate pieces of Mir will survive the re-entry to land at sea. The spectacular re-entry is due to be shown on television around the world.

The First watched pot

The watched pot which started it all, the coffee pot downstairs in the computer department at Cambridge University which started up the web and then became the first webcam is to be retired. The £40 coffee percolator was down several flights of stairs and irked scientists set up a camcorder and wrote a program to relay the image onto their screens upstairs so that their journey down to get a cup was not met with an empty pot. When the web was invented soon after (only ten years ago!) they put it online and it has attracted 2.4 million hits since then. The Trojan room webcam and pot are being retired because the computer department is moving. Quentin Stafford-Fraser, the man behind the website said This system only took us a day or so to construct but was rather more useful than anything else I wrote while working on networks" Till later this year the pot is still to be found at http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/coffee/coffee.html

Universe weighed: Found Wanting.

Only 35% of the Universe's contents is in the form of matter, according to findings published in the journal Nature today by astronomers using the Anglo-Australian Telescope near Coonabarabran in eastern Australia. The rest is believed to be in the form of 'dark energy'. This measurement, the most accurate to date, is based on data from 141,000 galaxies. It confirms other studies indicating that the Universe will expand forever because there is too little mass to provide gravity to rein it in.
The team has also gathered the best existing evidence that large-scale structures in the Universe - giant superclusters of galaxies - evolve over time by collapsing under the influence of gravity. "This has allowed us to weigh the universe," said the paper's lead author, Professor John Peacock of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh.
The findings are the first major piece of science to arise from the 2dF (two-degree field) galaxy survey, which leads the world in mapping galaxies. It has now mapped more than 150,000 and will reach its target of 250,000 by the end of the year, making it ten times larger than the largest previous survey.
"The matter density of the Universe is extremely low," said Dr Matthew Colless of the Australian National University, one of the survey team leaders. "On average there might be one atom per cubic metre of space."
"The major constituent of the Universe is believed to be some kind 'dark energy', which is pushing the Universe apart."
The 2dF survey shows clearly that ninety percent of galaxies are distributed on the surfaces of big 'bubbles' in space, with the rest falling into dense clusters.
"We use the galaxies as a tracer of mass in the Universe," explained survey team member Professor Richard Ellis of Caltech.
"Of the total matter in the universe, most is in the form of 'dark matter', which gives off no radiation," he said. "But it does seem that the visible matter is distributed much like the dark matter. They know about each other."
As the universe expands, the galaxies recede from us. The recession velocity (speed) of a galaxy is proportional its distance from us, so the velocities can be used to determine the positions of the galaxies in space.
The 2dF team used their map of the galaxy distribution to measure the total mass density of the universe - what proportion of the Universe's content is mass - in two ways.
In the first method, the astronomers compared the measured clumping of galaxies into superclusters with the size of small temperature fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background, which measure density fluctuations at early times. The amount of growth in structure required to match the clumping today requires the universe to have a 'flat' geometry (without spatial curvature), with about 35% of its energy in the form of matter and about 65% in the form of 'vacuum energy', also known as 'dark energy'.
The astronomers also measured the mass density by looking at how galaxies move under the influence of gravity.
As well as its recession velocity, any galaxy has a velocity that it has acquired by falling towards other concentrations of mass - visible galaxies and/or dark matter.
These extra velocities distort the structure of the galaxy survey map in the direction looking out from Earth - that is, along our line of sight to the galaxies.
A statistical analysis of these galaxy motions shows that on small scales the galaxies are typically orbiting each other very rapidly in dense groups and clusters, but that at larger scales the galaxies are all falling in towards mass concentrations. The size of this infall is related directly to the amount of matter in the Universe. This method too gives a figure for the mass density that agrees well with the standard cosmological model. It also provides the first detailed confirmation of the gravitational instability paradigm for the formation of large-scale structure.
The findings are published in Peacock et al., "A measurement of the cosmological mass density from clustering in the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey," Nature Volume 410 Number 6825 Page 169 - 173 (2001).

NEAR and far

From its perch on the surface of the Eros asteroid, NEAR's gamma-ray spectrometer is detecting key chemical signatures of the planetesimal -- data that scientists are anxious to retrieve.
"The gamma-ray instrument is more sensitive on the ground than it was in orbit," says Goddard's Jack Trombka, team leader for the GRS. "And the longer we can accumulate data the better To do its work the GRS relies partly on cosmic rays, high-energy particles accelerated by distant supernova explosions. When cosmic rays hit Eros, they make the asteroid glow, although it's not a glow you can see with your eyes; the asteroid shines with gamma-rays.
"Cosmic rays shatter atomic nuclei in the asteroid's soil," said Trombka. Neutrons that fly away from the cosmic ray impact sites hit other atoms in turn. "These secondary neutrons can excite atomic nuclei (by inelastic scattering) without breaking them apart." Such excited atoms emit gamma-rays that the GRS can decipher to reveal which elements are present. "We can detect cosmic-ray excited oxygen, iron and silicon, along with the naturally radioactive elements potassium, thorium and uranium," says Trombka. Measuring the amounts of these substances is an important test of the planetesimal hypothesis.
. Eros seems to harbour a mixture of elements that you would only find in a solar system body unaltered by melting (an unavoidable step in the process of forming rocky planets). But, says Cheng, there is a possible discrepancy.
"The abundance of the element sulphur on Eros is less than we would expect from an ordinary chondrite. However, the x-ray spectra tell us only about the uppermost hundred microns of the surface, and we do not know if the sulphur depletion occurs only in a thin surface layer or throughout the bulk of the asteroid."


How accurate can I be? Well in the case of a new system launched today I can be the best in the world
Currently the calibration system world-wide relies upon "Standards" that are held by various authorities and companies, and against which you compare your own equipment and measurements. There is a generally accepted world standard (for example the standard meter is held in France, and the standard for electromagnetics is held in England), each country checks their standard against this. From there companies will have their own standards that they check against their country's standard, and so on. This chain will continue down until eventually at the bottom of it all you have your piece of equipment, which is several steps removed from the international (primary) standard, and so has the errors introduced at each of these steps. The obvious solution to this is to check your equipment directly against the primary (international) standard, and hence have the ultimate in accuracy. Problem is though that you won't be allowed near the primary standard.
It is this very problem that has been solved by the National Physical Laboratories (NPL) at Teddington (London, UK) in association with BAE SystemsThe new systems allows for a direct calibration of your equipment against the primary standard held by NPL using an internet link.
This first system launched today at the headquarters of BAE SYSTEMS in London allows for the calibration of Vector Network Analysers as used in the measurement of microwave signals against the primary standard. This has implications for many areas of industry including the defence, and mobile communications sectors, as well as in medical fields. The system is based upon the idea that once the equipment in use has been characterised by NPL, this can be compared to their standard. Once this routine has been undertaken the user can connect to NPL at any time, and using the characterised device allow NPL to take control of their Network Analyser, and automatically calibrate it using the knowledge that they already have of it, and the primary standard.
Work is already underway to develop similar systems for the infrared community, and progress is leading rapidly towards a solution for those measuring Voltage and Current.
For further information you can visit the websites at :-
or contact Dr Nick Ridler at NPL

Fiction Awards shortlists announced.

Two of SF's most prestigious awards shortlistings were recently announced:

BSFA award

Ash ~Mary Gentle

Revelation Space ~Alastair Reynolds

Perdido Street Station ~China Mieville

Redrobe ~Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Paradox ~John Meaney

Arthur C. Clarke shortlist

Parable of the Talents ~Octavia E. Butler

Ash ~Mary Gentle Usually dispatched

Cosmonaut Keep: Book One ~Ken Macleod

Perdido Street Station ~China Mieville

Revelation Space ~Alastair Reynolds

Salt ~Adam Roberts

Pluto - planet or pretender?

Ever since its discovery in 1930 there has been argument about whether Pluto is a true planet or a mere member of the bodies which make up the Kuiper Belt. The argument is that Pluto is too small, too different in structure, has a moon which is too big for it and has an eccentric orbit.
The body has never been visited by a probe from Earth, which has prompted Nasa to revive plans recently. The status downgrade has come from the American Museum of Natural History although it has been rebutted by other major astronomical bodies.
Websites www.amnh.org

Plasma Tail for Earth

While it was long suspected that Earth would have a tail like a solar wind trail, until the data from IMAGE (Imager for Magnetopause to Aurora Global Exploration) was examined it was never conclusively demonstrated.
Now the new instruments have shown that electrified gas plasma from the Sun (solar wind) is distorted as it reaches and passes the Earth, causing the tail by the solar wind buffeting the magnetosphere, which triggers a return flow in the plasma.


'Sir' Speilberg

Two SF names featured in this year's UK New Year's Honours list, of special awards.
One of the highest honours goes to director Steven Spielberg, who has been created an honourary knight by Queen Elizabeth in recognition of his contributions to Great Britain's film industry. The director of Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark will receive the award and insignia on January 29 at the British Embassy in Washington from British ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer. The award is honorary as Speilberg is a US citizen.
In the same honours list British actor Patrick Stewart--best known as Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the USS Enterprise in Next Generation Star Trek and recently also in the X-Men as Professor Charles Xavier has been made an Officer of the British Empire. Stewart, 60, was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company for 27 years.

Our Favourite Martian

FTL notes the recent death of Ray Walston, who played a martian come to earth in the in the 1960s series My Favourite Martian, aged 86. More recently he played Starfleet Academy gardener, Boothby, in both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager. His last screen appearance was as recent as last September in the season premiere of Touched by an Angel.

A new planetary domain suffix?

Star Wars fans have directed hundreds of enquires to the small Stirlingshire village of Balfron, in Scotland, after someone spotted it on the map and made the connection with the planet of the same name (inhabitants live underground, planet too close to sun) Website: www.bigger.net.co.uk/balfronheritage.

Millenial Meteors

Meteor MapOne of the most intense annual meteor showers, the Quadrantids, will peak over North America on January 3, 2001. Observers in western parts of Canada, the USA and Mexico could see an impressive outburst of shooting stars, numbering as many as 100 per hour.
Forecasters expect the shower to climax during a two hour interval around 1200 Universal Time on January 3.
To view the Quadrantids, simply go outside an hour or so before the expected maximum and face north. The shower's radiant (a point in the sky from which meteors appear to stream) will lie about 35 degrees above the northeastern horizon in the constellation Bootes. Quadrantid meteors can appear anywhere in the heavens, but their trails will point back toward the radiant Quadrantid outbursts happen when Earth passes through a stream of dusty debris from a comet or, more rarely, an asteroid. Every major meteor shower has a well-known parent -- except the Quadrantids. Astronomers have looked for a comet that shares the orbit of the Quadrantid debris stream but, so far, they've found nothing.

MIR: Missing 24 hours

Mission control lost contact with Mir for 24 hours over Christmas, causing concern that if the ageing space station lost touch completely, the controlled re-entry and burn-up scheduled for February/March could turn into an uncontrolled crash anywhere on the planet.

Martian magnetic crystals hit at life

Microscopic magnetic crystals found in a meteorite from Mars are identical to grains produced by bacteria on Earth, hinting that life once existed on our solar companion planet.
The crystals, indistinguishable to those on Earth, were found in meteorite ALH84001, founded in the Antarctic in 1984.

Satellites lost in launch failure

Six Russian satellites, three military and three civilian, were lost when their Cyclone-3 launcher crashed over the Arctic Ocean. Some of the satellites were replacements for obsolete and failed early warning and navigation systems units - the navigation system once rivalled America's GPS but now only 11 of the 24 satellites are fully working.

Sedimentary rocks found on Mars

-- In what ultimately may be their most significant discovery yet, Mars scientists say high-resolution pictures showing layers of sedimentary rock paint a portrait of ancient Mars that long ago may have featured numerous lakes and shallow seas.
"We see distinct, thick layers of rock within craters and other depressions for which a number of lines of evidence indicate that they may have formed in lakes or shallow seas. We have never before had this type of irrefutable evidence that sedimentary rocks are widespread on Mars," said Dr. Michael Malin, principal investigator for the Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft at Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS), San Diego, CA. "These images tell us that early Mars was very dynamic and may have been a lot more like Earth than many of us had been thinking." On Earth, sedimentary rocks preserve the surface history of our planet, and within that history, the fossil record of life. It is reasonable to look for evidence of past life on Mars in these remarkably similar sedimentary layers," said Malin. "What is new in our work is that Mars has shown us that there are many more places in which to look, and that these materials may date back to the earliest times of Martian history."
Malin added, "I have not previously been a vocal advocate of the theory that Mars was wet and warm in its early history. But my earlier view of Mars was really shaken when I saw our first high-resolution pictures of Candor Chasma. The nearly identically thick layers would be almost impossible to create without water."
Website with more photos:

Mars Mars Mars

Extreme Events

Scientists have come to realise that certain complex phenomena in nature share the common feature that 'extreme events' - that is, events on a scale much larger than the average - are much more likely to happen than we would expect from our 'everyday experience' or from traditional theories. Examples of such phenomena include solar activity, earthquakes, forest fires, space weather and turbulence. With the aim of understanding how such phenomena behave, and being able to calculate how likely extreme events are, world experts in the subject are holding a one-day workshop as part of the Royal Astronomical Society's monthly meeting in London on 8 December. The workshop, entitled 'Self Organised Criticality and Turbulence in the Solar System' will provide a platform for researchers to air the latest results from theoretical simulations and observations of these kinds of complex phenomena.
The meeting is being held at the Geological Society Lecture Theatre, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1, from 10.30 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. on Friday 8 December. The organisers are Professor Sandra C. Chapman (Space and Astrophysics, University of Warwick), Dr Sean Oughton (University College London) and Dr Mervyn P. Freeman (British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge).
Details: http://www.astro.warwick.ac.uk/rasg.html

Research prizes

Probing into the heart of the Sun has earned a £1000 prize for a young astrophysicist at Cambridge University. Dr Marcus Bruggen has been awarded the Royal Astronomical Society's Blackwell Prize offered annually for the best PhD thesis in the UK on a topic in geophysics, planetary science or solar physics.
Dr Bruggen is a graduate of Cambridge University, where he studied physics at Trinity College. He worked for his PhD in the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge under the supervision of Professor Douglas Gough. After spending 18 months as a postdoctoral scientist at the Max-Planck-Institut fur Astrophysik in Munich, Dr Bruggen has returned to Cambridge to take up a Junior Research Fellowship at Churchill College. Before going to Cambridge, he went to school near Cologne in Germany. Part of the winning research was about certain physical phenomena deep within the hot interior of the Sun and the effects they have on the nuclear fusion processes that power the Sun. Another part of Dr Bruggen's thesis dealt with waves that travel through the Sun. In particular, he was interested in waves that travel from the side of the Sun facing Earth to the far side, where they are reflected back. When the waves are reflected from a sunspot, they suffer a time delay. Dr Bruggen developed a technique making use of this effect to detect sunspot regions on the hidden side of the Sun. This could have important applications for forecasting the likely effects on Earth of material streaming away from the Sun.
The Blackwell Prize is sponsored by Blackwell Scientific Publications and is administered by the Royal Astronomical Society's Education Committee. Also the winner of a £1000 prize for his research on the cosmic microwave background - the afterglow of the 'big bang' that fills the universe is Dr Anthony Challinor of the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge who is this year's recipient of the Michael Penston prize, offered annually by the Royal Astronomical Society for the best PhD thesis in the UK on a topic in astronomy.
Dr Challinor is a graduate of Cambridge University, where he read Natural Sciences at Queens' College. He studied for his PhD in the Astrophysics Group at the Cavendish Laboratory under the supervision of Professor Anthony Lasenby and has held a research fellowship at Queens' since 1998. This year he was awarded a Post-doctoral Research Fellowship by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC). Before going to Cambridge, he attended Codsall High School in south Staffordshire, where his family live.
The winning research was about the physics behind the minuscule irregularities in the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which is otherwise the same everywhere in the universe. Dr Challinor explained, 'Information gleaned from the CMB is helping to provide answers to many intriguing questions such as, "What is the age and ultimate fate of the universe?" and "What kind of matter dominates the universe?" Making reliable computations so different theories can be tested against actual observations is an essential part of the process.' Continuing his research, Dr Challinor is now involved in data simulation and analysis in preparation for the European Space Agency's 'Planck' satellite mission, which is due for launch in 2007 and will measure the properties of the CMB with unprecedented accuracy.
The Michael Penston Prize is sponsored jointly by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) and by the Royal Astronomical Society, through the Michael Penston Fund, which was established by Fellows of the Society as a memorial to the late Dr Michael Penston, a distinguished astrophysicist who had a special interest in astronomy education. It is administered by the Royal Astronomical Society's Education Committee.

This year's Dr Who revival rumour

UK Sunday papers carried stories that the BBC is planning to revive Dr Who, by producing a big-bucks feature film costing £250m and to be announced next month.
The new Director-General of the huge public service broadcaster wants to produce films in the same was as fellow UK TV channel, Channel 4, and emulate the golden era of Sir Lew Grade (best known for Thunderbirds these days) (and who's relative Michael Grade killed off the long running series) It seems likely that the Daleks will lead the story in the first film, picking up on the story of the Gallifrean Time Lord, which started, in black and white, in 1963.
A recent revival starring Paul McGann as the Doctor was met with a mixed reception. No announcement yet on who will now play the Doctor.

Old Yelloweyes/new script

Scrip involvement is the best way for an actor to ensure not only that he gets a good slice of the wordcount, but that the words are right for the character he plays. The latest actor to involve himself in a film in this way will be Brent Spiner - Data in Trek's Next Generation. Series and film producer Rick Berman said that Spiner has worked with screenwriter John Logan to develop the story for the proposed tenth movie.
Logan has written the story, with Berman and Spiner. The premise has been accepted and approved by all involved, and when all the cast contractual arrangements are completed, John will start writing the full script." Jonathan Frakes may not direct - he is involved with the production of another film

Lukewarm Leonids for this year

This year's Leonid meteor show is not expected to be particularly spectacular, but it should be easy for even the most amateur to spot since the fleeting specs of light which are the debris of comet Tempel-Tuttle seem to fly from the Moon tomorrow and Saturday nights.
"We're very, very confident of the storms coming in 2001 and 2002," says David Asher of the Armagh Observatory. "Peak rates during those years should reach at least 10,000 meteors per hour as Earth passes through debris trails from the comet."
Asher expects Leonids activity to reach 100 per hour on November 18, similar to the recent Perseids display. Other forecasters anticipate higher rates -- around 700 per hour.
"The last quarter Moon will be in the constellation Leo on Nov. 18th, practically on top of the Leonids radiant," says Mitzi Adams, an astronomer at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Centre. "Moonlight will make fainter meteors hard to spot, but if there's a strong outburst stargazers could see plenty of Leonids in spite of the bright Moon."
For observers in the UK and Europe, the best chance of seeing meteors will be at 03:44 on the morning of 18 November, as the Earth passes close to a stream of debris released by Temple-Tuttle 260 years ago. At this time it may be possible to see as many as 100 meteors an hour. This is ten times the general meteor background rate that can be seen on any other night of the year.
More: http://www.spaceweather.com

Vomit Comet flights for ESA people

Experiments in weightlessness will be flown on November 21-23 on the special "Zero-g" Airbus A300 during the 29th ESA parabolic flight campaign, conducted from Bordeaux-Mérignac airport. Three flights of 30 parabolas each are planned for the mornings of 21, 22 and 23 November. Organised by ESA, this campaign includes 11 experiments: four in physical sciences, four in life sciences, two experiments proposed by students and one serving educational purposes for the general public.
During a parabolic flight, the "Zero-g" Airbus pilot - flying at an altitude of approximately 6000 metres, usually in a specially reserved air-corridor above the Gulf of Gascogne - first performs a nose-up manoeuvre to put the aircraft into a steep climb (7600m). This generates an acceleration of 1.8 g (1.8 times the acceleration of gravity on the ground) for about 20 seconds. Then the pilot reduces engine thrust to almost zero, injecting the aircraft into a parabola. The plane continues to climb until it reaches the apex of the parabola (8500m), then starts descending. This condition lasts for about 20 seconds, during which time the passengers in the cabin float in the weightlessness resulting from the free fall of the aircraft. When the angle below the horizontal reaches 45°, the pilot accelerates again and pulls up the aircraft to return to steady horizontal flight. These manoeuvres are repeated 30 times per flight. More: http://www.estec.esa.nl/spaceflight/parabolic

Chips with Everything

In March, 2002, little CHIPSat, built for UC Berkeley by SpaceDev, will be launched as a hitchhiker on a Boeing Delta 2 rocket into low earth orbit to begin gathering unique space science data.
The tiny, earth-orbiting space science satellite, the smallest and least expensive ever funded by NASA, will carry the Cosmic Hot Interstellar Plasma Spectrometer (CHIPS) instrument, built under the direction of Dr. Mark Hurwitz of the UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory. This is the first in NASA's new University Explorer (UNEX) mission series, and will create large amounts of new human knowledge about the structure and evolution of the universe.
UNEX missions are the smallest, least inexpensive, innovative missions that make up the UNEX part of NASA's Explorer Program.

Remembering Salvage one?

Does anyone else remember a TV series from wayback called Salvage one. Perhaps it was based on a more sound premise than originally realised for a recently spotted near-Earth object may be a bit of space debris which has gone into a close orbit to Earth.
Although SG344 is nearby now, scientists say there is no appreciable chance of a collision for at least 70 years. 2000 SG344 was discovered by asteroid-hunters on September 29 as it was gliding by Earth approximately 20 times farther away than the Moon. Astronomers quickly realised that the faint object was unusual. Its 354 day orbit is very much like Earth's, so much so that 2000 SG344 might not be an asteroid at all, but rather a piece of manmade rocket debris.
The NEO, which is moving a bit faster than Earth, is slowly drifting away and won't return for 30 years. When first spotted it seemed that there was a likelihood of an impact with the Earth in 30 years, but astronomer Carl Hergenrother has found "pre-discovery" images of 2000 SG344 from May 1999 in archives from the Catalina Sky Survey.
"The pre-discovery images let us calculate a better orbit that absolutely rules out a collision in 2030," says Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near Earth Object program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "It won't come any closer to Earth than 11 lunar distances. However," he added, "the new orbit increases the chances of encounters in years after that. For example, there is a 1-in-1000 chance of a collision on September 16, 2071."
In 1971, the last time 2000 SG344 was in the vicinity of Earth, NASA's Apollo program was in full swing. 2000 SG344 may well be debris from an Apollo-era rocket masquerading as a space rock.
"Initially we thought it was too bright (and thus too large) to be a rocket fragment, but it's possible that this is the S-IVB stage from a big Saturn V," continued Yeomans. "S-IVBs" were booster rockets that propelled Apollo Command and Service Modules toward the Moon from their parking orbits around Earth. "Many of those boosters were targeted to hit the Moon, but the S-IVBs from Apollo 8 through 12 went into orbit."

Sunshines on Europe's Youth

On November 8/9, at Noordwijk in the Netherlands, the European Space Agency (ESA) will inaugurate the "European Project on the Sun" (EPOS), a travelling exhibition conceived and built by European youngsters who have spent the past eight months acting as solar scientists and communication experts working on various themes relating to the Sun
The teams each focused on a theme related to solar research: "How does the Sun work?" (Italy), "The Sun as a star" (France), "Solar activity" (Netherlands), "Observing the Sun" (Germany), "Humans and the Sun" (Belgium), and built exhibition "modules" that they will present at the inauguration, in the context of European Science and Technology Week 2000 (6-10 November), promoted by the European Commission. The exhibition will go on to tour the five countries featured.

First-time SF award made

The first ever James White Award has been won by Mark Dunn for his short story Think Tank. It was one of over 100 received by the organisers. The judges were author Morgan Llewellyn, author Michael Scott, representing Hughes & Hughes, David Pringle, editor of Interzone magazine, critic and author Mr David Langford and author Michael Carroll. The award to be made in memory of James White, and is open only to previously unpublished writers. This year's award was sponsored by Hughes & Hughes and science fiction magazine Interzone

Toutatis or Treat!

asteroidAt 0430 Universal Time on October 31, the 5-km long space rock Toutatis passed less than 29 lunar distances from Earth. It is one of the largest known "Potentially Hazardous Asteroids" (PHAs) and its orbit is inclined less than half-a-degree from Earth's..
A group of astronomers is monitoring Toutatis this week using NASA's Goldstone planetary radar in the Mojave desert. They will bounce radio signals off the fast-moving asteroid to learn more about the path it follows through space and the peculiar way it spins.
Unlike planets and the vast majority of asteroids, which rotate around a single pole, Toutatis has two spin axes. It twirls around one with a period of 5.4 Earth-days and the other once every 7.3 days. The result is an asteroid that travels through space tumbling like a badly thrown football. Fortunately for asteroid-watchers, Toutatis will brighten rapidly so that by the end of November it will become a 14.5th magnitude object in the constellation Leo, well within reach of 8-inch or larger telescopes in the northern hemisphere.

Near Encounter

asteroid-- Early this morning, NASA's NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft, which has been in orbit around asteroid 433 Eros since February, swooped just 3 miles (about 5 km) over the tumbling space rock. The elevation of the flyby was similar to the cruising altitude of a commuter jet on Earth. No space probe has ever been so close to a minor planet.
"Although NEAR was very close to Eros -- the closest we've been before was about 35 km in July -- the spacecraft was never in any danger," says Andrew Cheng, the project scientist at Johns Hopkins University. "We chose to fly over an area of the southern hemisphere where, if we were off-target, the uneven gravity of the irregular asteroid would actually kick us back into a higher orbit."
NASA is considering risking NEAR on a landing, something never before tried, to get a closer view of Eros. "We're considering landing on the asteroid at the end of NEAR's one-year mission," says Cheng. "The spacecraft would touch down near the south pole of Eros where the rotational surface velocity is low."
NEAR was designed to orbit Eros, not to land on it," says Cheng. "Most of the science instruments won't even work so close to the asteroid's surface. We want to do this as a proof of concept, to show that a spacecraft can land on an asteroid." Future missions to explore and possibly return samples from the minor planets will depend on maneuvers that NEAR might soon try for the first time.
"Things could go wrong," Cheng stressed, like crashing into one of Eros's many boulders. But if NEAR touches down without mishap and can still communicate with Earth, scientists will enjoy a brief close-up of Eros that will make today's flyby seem remote by comparison.

Physics for people

400 physics teachers from 22 European countries will gather at CERN in Geneva from 6 to 10 November to see how fascinating and entertaining physics can be. The week long event will hopefully spark new innovations in science teaching across Europe, since it is in decline as a subject - a major surprise at the start of a millenium which will almost certainly see mankind into space as a regular activity within a few years.

Cern shuts down particle accelerator

CERN, the European Particle Physic laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, will shut down the large electron positron collider which has given hints as to the reality of the Higgs boson particle on November 2. It will be replaced by a 17 mile circumference ring of the large hadron collider, which will be about ten times more powerful, but which will not come on line for five years.
The Higgs boson has proved elusive but has given coy hints as to its existence beyond the theoretical.
The lab was also the birthplace of the internet, created by Tim Berners-Lee, a computer scientist at Cern as a way for the physicists around the world working on allied projects to share data.

Sun too shiny

A new model of the reasons for global warming is blaming the sun for being too warm. ESA scientists using various data have demonstrated that up to now the climate change models have seriously underestimated the sun's role in planetary warmth.
Various satellite (especially SOHO) and other sources have collected data which shows a huge surge in UV radiation from our star over the last few years, coupled with a doubling in strength of the sun's magnetic field.
If so this would blow wide open the political reasoning behind various greenhouse gas taxings, such as on car fuels.

New amateur heights

A rocket designed in a shed in Pinner, northwest London, has reached a new record height for an European amateur rocket. The Phoebus EAV flew to nearly seven miles on Sunday, from Black Rock, in the USA's Nevada Desert.
The rocket, which cost only £4,000 to build, more than doubled the previous British rocket record.
Project leader is Ben Jarvis, who is a 24-year-old graphic designer. The rocket is a two stage 12ft long and 4inch wide projectile. It reached a confirmed altitude of 35,000ft, cruising altitude for a Boeing 747.
While the world record is still safe at 280,000 (50 miles), the rocket did accelerate to twice the speed of sound and the team was worried it would fail structurally.

Kitchen sink black hole

Theoretical physicians at St Andrews University are planning to make an optical black hole in their laboratory in the Scottish seaside town, in the next few years.

World Space Week

World space week starts tomorrow (October 4) after a UN declaration picked the date because it isanniversary of the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 ( October 4, 1957), and to finish on the date that the Treaty of Peaceful Uses of Outer Space entered into force in 1967. These dates also correspond with the annual Congress of the International Astronautical Federation. Events will be organised by governments, space agencies, industry and educational institutions, but other groups and individuals are encouraged to run events as well.
Website: http://www.spaceweek.org

Just right for Christmas?

If you want to shop early for Christmas and you are, or you know someone who is a fan of Robert Rankin, all problems are solved. Not only is Waterstone's the Piccadilly, London, bookshop, mounting an exhibition of his sculptures , but limited editions of some are available for sale.(the Bondage teapot from Snuff Fiction, the fetish teacup from Waiting for Godalming and the voodoo handbag - Dance of the Voodoo Handbag) Rankin is also touring to promote his latest book, Waiting for Godalming. Details: www.lostcarpark.com.

Good home going beep

All spruced up and ready to go on November 1: one space station, jointly owned and operated complete with jogging machine, vacuum cleaners, medicine cabinet, a do-it-yourself doctor kit and enough toilet paper to see out the most panic buying member of the UK public for about a week of a fuel situation.
Atlantis left the ISS fully stocked and more like a suburban home from home than any previous space habitat, ready for the first manning by a joint Russian/American four month stay.
Also supplied were foods, radio and TV systems and even black bin liners (though quite when the garbage is collected was not specified)

UK plans asteroid shield

A new government report in the UK is recommending that about £25m be spent on a Spaceguard initiative to detect and monitor near Earth objects. The project, if approved would join similar initiatives in America and Japan, and supplement them. NASA is aiming to track all 1km plus objects by 2006. The UK Spaceguard would seek to detect and track smaller objects, from about 50 yards in diameter.

Shuttle success

The space shuttle Atlantis has successfully docked with the International Space Station, in spite of a failure in a navigational system. One of the two trackers had failed but the two craft were still docked by astronaut Terrence Wilcutt, about 230 miles above Kazakhstan with both craft moving at 17,500MPH.

Don't forget to duck…

Astronomers have discovered a bright Near Earth Asteroid that will pass by our planet on September 17. Amateur astronomers can monitor the fast-moving space rock in 8-inch or larger telescopes.

Another little bit of lunacy

Legal and space experts have once again denied the real estate claims of Francis Williams and Denis Hope, who between them are selling acres of land on the moon for a few dollars or pounds at a time. In return punters get a large piece of paper, but no real title - extra-terrestrial real estate is treated as is Antarctica under United Nations law, held for all humanity and not for sale.

Image by ClaireMore evidence of life on Jupiter Moon

If confirmation came next year it would almost be too perfect to contemplate, but the possibility of life of Europa, the second moon of Jupiter has been increased after analysis of the latest data from Galileo spacecraft.
On January 3 Galileo passed by the moon and collected more evidence that Europa has a liquid and salty ocean beneath its ice covered surface. This makes it a prime candidate for life, even though the temperature is -145degreesC, since bacteria survive such conditions in the abyssal depths here on Earth. The analysis was don e by a team from UCLA led by Margaret Kivelson

SALT telescope gets go-ahead

Construction of the biggest telescope in the southern hemisphere will start next month. The 85 ton telescope takes advantage of recent technological innovations to achieve high performance at relatively low cost.
The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) is a truly multinational project that will shed light upon some of the oldest questions astronomers have asked about the age and scale of the universe, and will be able to see objects a billion times too faint to be seen by the naked eye.
The British consortium, led by the University of Central Lancashire, includes the Universities of Keele, Nottingham and Southampton and Armagh Observatory and will be joining the other partners in the SALT project, from South Africa, Poland, Germany, USA and New Zealand.
Due for completion by the end of 2004, the optical/infrared telescope dubbed "Africa's Giant Eye" will have an eleven metre hexagonal mirror, very similar in design to the Hobby-Ebberly Telescope (HET) in Texas, but with a redesigned optical system using more of the mirror array. SALT is a fixed-altitude telescope which can access 70% of the sky observable at its base in Sutherland, South Africa.
The total building cost will be around £15 million Website: www.salt.ac.za

The stars at night are not shining bright (enough)

Light pollution from such sources as streetlights is washing out man's view of the stars. Astronomers at the IAU voiced concern.
'Light pollution' affects everyone, not just professional observatories. An average person in the countryside away from city lights can see several thousand stars in the sky. Bit by bit, Europe is losing this view of the heavens as we add more and lamps, and waste energy by sending the light uselessly into the sky. Thousands of millions of pounds worth of energy are tossed upwards into the European sky each year - instead of down onto the ground which we want to illuminate.
Dr Malcolm Smith, Director of the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory in Chile, issued this challenge. "Look around your city or town. See how many street lamps allow plenty of light to shine upwards. Count how many stars you can see. If you are old enough to remember how the sky looked 30 years ago, could you see the Milky Way then? Can you now?"
Radio interference is also causing increasing difficulty. Radio astronomers have noticed increasing problems with use of large radio telescopes. Mobile telephones, television, satellites and airport radars are all essential to modern life but they create a noisy radio environment that makes it very difficult to make sensitive astronomical measurements of quasars, pulsars, black holes and the cosmic microwave background. As an example, the tiny amount of energy transmitted by a mobile phone could easily be picked up by the giant 250-foot radio dish at Jodrell Bank - even if the phone were on Mars!

Moon Mapping

dozens of new names have been assigned to moons and features on moons and planets in the solar system at the IAU this week. The IAU is the only body with authority to name astronomical bodies and features on them. Names are confirmed every three years, at each General Assembly.
The working group for planetary system nomenclature (WGPSN, which includes the UK astronomer and broadcaster, Dr. Patrick Moore) examines every proposal. The committee selected the names after submissions from the discoverers, cartographers and spaceflight engineers investigating new satellites, asteroids and craters throughout the solar system. Along with Earth-based observatories, space probes such as Galileo and Clementine have discovered a plethora of new moons, craters and other features, all of which need names for the benefit of present-day astronomers and any future explorers.
Name sources vary from Shakespeare's play "The Tempest" had already been the inspiration for the names of some of the moons of Uranus discovered earlier, such as Ariel and Miranda. They will now be joined by Prospero, the magician master of the island in the play, Setebos who enslaves Ariel, and Stephano, the ship's butler. These names replace the less interesting temporary designations, S/1999 U3, U1 and U2 respectively. The names Caliban and Sycorax, provisionally given to two moons of Uranus discovered in 1997, were also formally confirmed.
In the asteroid belt, Eugenia's recently discovered satellite is named Petit-Prince after the son of Eugenie, the empress of Napoleon III. Craters on the dark asteroid Mathilde are named after coal basins around the world.
Nathaniel Bliss, the 4th Astronomer Royal who died after just 18 months in his post at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich will give his name to a lunar ring between the lunar crater Plato and Mt. Piton. Bliss, who served from 1762-1764, was until now the only Astronomer Royal without the honour of a named body or feature.
The late Carl Sagan, who is remembered for his contributions to planetary research and as one of the most successful popularisers of astronomy will be honoured with a 95-km-wide crater near the equator on the planet Mars.
Features on the near-Earth asteroid Eros, currently being observed by the orbiting NEAR-Shoemaker spacecraft, are to be named after great lovers in history and literature. They include Cupid, Lolita and Don Quixote. Galileo, the first astronomer to use a telescope, probably would not have approved. In the 17th century he refused to accept the proposed names of Jupiter's largest satellites as they commemorated the illicit lovers of Jupiter in classical mythology.

Image by ClaireIt's all a lot older than you thought

Astronomers at Durham University (UK) have found new evidence that large numbers of galaxies were in existence at even earlier times than previously thought. They have identified many galaxies with redshifts between 4 and 6. This means they were already in existence about 10 billion years ago, when the universe was six times smaller than it is now. With this discovery, researchers may have to rethink their ideas about how galaxies formed. The work was presented by Dr Tom Shanks at a symposium at the IAU this week.
New red and infra-red pictures have been taken of small areas of the sky already targeted by the deepest ultraviolet and blue surveys. The new images extend the search for galaxies to higher redshifts than every before. Surprisingly, the new results show such large numbers of galaxies that there seems to be almost as many bright galaxies with redshifts of 5 as there are at low redshifts nearby. This makes the epoch of galaxy formation earlier in the history of the universe than astronomers previously thought. redshifts of 5 to 6. There are as many galaxies at these high redshifts as are found locally.
Dr Shanks said "Four years ago, we described the galaxies we found withThe ion propulsion engine on Deep Space 1 has now accumulated more operating time in space than any other propulsion system in the history of the space program," said John Brophy, manager of the NASA Solar Electric Propulsion Technology Applications Readiness project, at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. redshifts of 2 as being at 'The Final Frontier' because we thought that just beyond them we might be looking back to a time before galaxies formed. Now that large numbers of galaxies at even higher redshifts have been found, we feel entitled to describe them as being Beyond the Final Frontier!".
Website: http://star-www.dur.ac.uk/cosmology/pressrelease.html

Star Trek Engines fly in space

The ion propulsion engine on Deep Space 1 has now accumulated more operating time in space than any other propulsion system in the history of the space program," said John Brophy, manager of the NASA Solar Electric Propulsion Technology Applications Readiness project, at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, USA. NASA's DS1 probe, currently heading for an encounter with Comet Borrelly, has run its unique propulsion system for more than 200 days (4,800 hours) -- longer and more efficiently than anything ever launched.
The almost imperceptible thrust from the system is equivalent to the pressure exerted by a sheet of paper held in the palm of your hand. The ion engine is very slow to pick up speed, but over the long haul it can deliver 10 times as much thrust per pound of fuel as more traditional rockets.

Quantum musings

If you are a writer, an author, a small press publisher or run a literary zine, the writers' site Quantum Muse wants you to join their new literary web ring, Drinkers with a Writing Problem. To sign up for this new ring, go to

Two Rovers make a Martian Jam

The traffic on Mars is expected to double in the near future. NASA today announced plans to launch two large scientific rovers to the red planet in 2003, rather than the original plan for just one.


The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory recorded a full-halo coronal mass ejection today from sunspot group 9114, near the center of the Sun's visible disk. Material from the eruption could trigger geomagnetic activity when it arrives in the vicinity of Earth in about three days.

Image by Claire

Doing the Rumba and the Tango

The second pair of Cluster satellites are now safely in separation orbit around the Earth after Wednesday's successful launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, via a Soyuz-Fregat launch vehicle provided by the French-Russian Starsem consortium..
"This second perfect launch within less than four weeks means that Cluster is on track for a highly successful mission," said Professor Roger-Maurice Bonnet, ESA science director. "We are now looking forward to receiving the unique three-dimensional data that will give new understanding of the interaction between the Sun and Earth."
Over the next week, Rumba and Tango will participate in a complex series of orbital manoeuvres in order to rendezvous with the other spacecraft in the Cluster flotilla (Salsa and Samba).
The quartet will then undergo three months of instrument and system commissioning before beginning their two-year scientific mission.

Perseid Peak

The Perseid meteor shower peaks tomorrow (August 12,) This year the bright, nearly-full Moon will outshine the Perseids most of the night, but for an hour between moonset and sunrise on Saturday morning, star gazers could witness a brief but beautiful meteor shower. The setting Moon may put on a show of its own Saturday. Wildfires and dust storms have filled parts of our atmosphere with aerosols. A low-hanging Moon seen through such dusty air can take on a beautiful pink or orange hue.

Huge new telescope planned

Leading astronomers from Europe, North America, Asia and Australia have signed an agreement jointly to plan a huge new radiotelescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which will come into operation in the middle of the next decade. It will be a uniquely sensitive instrument with a collecting area will be almost 100 times larger than today's biggest radio imaging telescope and 200 times larger than the pioneering Lovell Telescope, which is in day-to-day operation at the Manchester University's Jodrell Bank Observatory.
The idea of the SKA sprang from astronomers' desire to detect the faint emission from hydrogen gas in structures forming soon after the Big Bang, and in the galaxies which developed from these structures. Hydrogen is the commonest constituent of the Universe and, as University of Manchester Professor Peter Wilkinson says: "One square kilometre is not just a convenient round number - it arises naturally from a desire to image the hydrogen gas in very distant galaxies".

Week I of the IAU

. 2000 astronomers are still meeting in Manchester UK for the International Astronomical Union meeting, to discuss the latest theories and observations, plan the business, politics and organisation of Astronomy and set the scientific agenda for this most ancient of sciences as the 21st century opens. This is a big event in world science. Attendance cost £240 to non-members. The 'Final Programme' runs to 100+ pages, the WWW version is over 325 kb when downloaded and is not full of images. Find it at http://www.iau.org/ga24.html

Heavy Star material?

The Institute of Physics and Nature (MacMillans) are publishing The Encyclopedia of Astronomy and Astrophysics 2500 pages and 4 volumes in print (£450) but also on-line (£300). See www.macmillan-reference.co.uk/astro/gateway.htm. for ample chapters and content.

Distance learning for aliens?

Distance learning courses via Jodrell Bank observatory. Introduction to Radio Astronomy... learn about the science of radio astronomy. The course covers an introduction to radio telescopes and receivers and to the astronomical sources of radio waves including stars, pulsars and distant galaxies. The course also includes an opportunity to visit Jodrell Bank, use a radio telescope, and make your own observations of astronomical radio sources. See www.jb.man.ac.uk/distance All for £100 but for £150 you can distance learn Life in the

Image by ClaireAnyone really can do it

Jeffrey Larsen, principal research specialist with the Spacewatch group at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, and his undergraduate students recently used the 80-year-old, 36-inch Spacewatch telescope on Kitt Peak to discover dim Centaur asteroids and Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs).
Centaurs orbit between Jupiter and Neptune, typically 5 to 30 astronomical units away. "Their orbits are very elliptical and cross the orbits of these planets, so if anybody lived on Jupiter these objects would be as close as Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) are to Earth," Larsen explains. "Centaurs also seem to be related to comets. From the point of view of their orbits, you cannot tell the difference between the two. Comets get comas and tails as they get closer to the sun, Centaurs never do."
Trans-Neptunian Objects are even more remote. They circle the sun at a distance of at least 38 AU in circular orbits comparable with Pluto's orbit.. Larsen and his students looked 20 degrees above and below the plane of the ecliptic During Spacewatch observations May through August 1999, Nichole Danzl, Arianna Gleason, and graduate student Anne Descour discovered five TNOs, three Centaurs and two 'scattered disc objects'. These asteroids wander between 40 and 150 AU, or farther away than Pluto.
To complicate the matter even more, the team also discovered two asteroids that met both criteria - they crossed planetary orbits like Centaurs and wandered far away from the solar system like scattered disc objects. Based on these two discoveries, the Centaurs and scattered disc objects are now considered a single class of asteroids.

Remote edge of the solar system

Over the past decade, planetary astronomers have begun to explore the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt of comets and "ice dwarf" worlds near the edge of the solar system. "This region is planetary science's equivalent of an archeological dig into the history of the ancient outer solar system," he reports. Stern, a planetary astronomer, is director of the SwRI Space Studies Department in Boulder. The Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt, first discussed in the 1940s and early 1950s by British astronomer Kenneth Edgeworth and Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper, was discovered by telescope in 1992. Since then, more than 300objects have been detected in this disk-like ensemble of comets and larger objects beginning just beyond the orbit of Neptune. Current estimates, based on the number of objects discovered to date and the fraction of sky surveyed in those searches, indicate that at least 100,000 miniature icy worlds and more than one billion icy comets dot this region.

Sir Alec Guinness

FTL notes with sadness the death of Sir Alec Guinness at the weekend. Sir Alec was 86 and his CV as an actor stretched across many media and decades as well as different forms of drama, from comedy - such as the seminal Ealing classic film Kind Hearts and Coronets in which he played eight different roles to TV drama such as Smiley's People. He had a long and successful career on the stage also. Perhaps his most lucrative role, and one for which he was known the world over came in his 60s as Obi Wan Kanobi, Jedi Master, in the first set of three Star Wars films. He was bemused totally by his international fame from the roles - but they made him rich, since he was on a percentage. Sir Alec had won two oscars during his career as well as many other roles.

Alec Guiness

Traces of Linear

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a small armada of "mini-comets" left behind by what seemed to be a total disintegration of comet Linear.
On July 27, ground-based observers lost sight of the bright core of the comet and suggested that the nucleus disintegrated into a pile of dust. Astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) reprogrammed Hubble to search for the missing nucleus. Johns Hopkins University astronomer Hal Weaver said he was stunned when the Hubble image popped up on his computer screen. " On Weaver's screen were at least a half dozen "mini-comets" with tails, resembling the shower of glowing fireballs from fireworks. They were clustered in the lance-head tip of an elongated stream of dust. An isolated brighter piece in front of the cluster may be the parent nucleus for the smaller fragments. Hubble's exceptional resolution and sensitivity allowed it to reveal the nuclei as separated bodies at a level of detail never before seen in a disintegrating comet.

Plenty of Planets - probably

Astronomers from The University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory and other members of an international planetary research team have discovered a new planet in a solar system only 10.5 light-years away from Earth. The planet, which is composed of gas, is orbiting a star called Epsilon Eridani. Epsilon Eridani is the fifth brightest star in the constellation Eridanus.
Dr. William D. Cochran, a research scientist with McDonald and UT Austin's Department of Astronomy, will present the planetary search team's findings at a symposium on "Planetary Systems in the Universe," as part of the 24th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union in Manchester, England, this week.
"Detecting a planet orbiting Epsilon Eridani -- a star very similar to our own Sun and only 3.22 parsecs from Earth -- is like finding a planet in our own backyard, relatively speaking," said Cochran. "Not only is this planet nearby, it lies 478 million kilometers (or 297 million miles) from its central star -- roughly the distance from the Sun to the asteroid belt in our own solar system."
The new-found planet's mass is estimated somewhere between 0.8 times the mass of Jupiter and 1.6 times the mass of Jupiter, Cochran said. Its orbit lasts just under seven years -- about 60 percent the orbital period of Jupiter but longer than that of most other recently discovered planets. Astronomers are excited about the new planet's rough similarity to Jupiter, because astrobiologists believe Jupiter played an important role in the development of life on Earth. The largest planet in the solar system and the fifth planet from the Sun, Jupiter is a massive ball of gas. It exerts such a strong gravitational pull that it is believed to serve as a protective barrier, generally preventing asteroids and meteorites from crashing down on Earth.
"The exciting thing about this discovery is that having a large planet orbiting fairly far out from Epsilon Eridani means there could be room for Earth-like planets in a reasonably stable orbit closer into the star," Cochran said. "All the planets found so far that are the size of Jupiter are much closer to the parent star. It means there could be room for an Earth-like planet closer to Epsilon Eridani and -- perhaps -- in a habitable zone."
In contrast to Jupiter, however, Cochran said this particular planet's orbit is highly eccentric and elliptical. The orbits of Earth and its eight immediate neighbors are more circular. Stable orbits also are considered of crucial importance in the development of life. Still, Cochran said, the discovery of the new planet circling Epsilon Eridani raises the tantalizing possibility of detecting planets with longer orbital periods and of detecting multiplanet systems like the solar system. Epsilon Eridani is located in one of the 10 nearest star systems and is bright enough to be seen with the naked eye. "You can go outside at night, even in Austin, and point at it and say that star there has a planet around it," Cochran said. The planet has not been named because at present there is no accepted agreement on naming planets.

Baby cluster

A University of Colorado at Boulder professor and several colleagues have identified what is believed to be the youngest massive star cluster yet detected in the Milky Way Galaxy.
Known as W49, the cluster appears to contain about 100 type O stars - the hottest and most massive stars in our galaxy -- that are estimated be less than 1 million years old. The cluster also is thought to be peppered with thousands of lower mass, lower luminosity stars.
"These massive type O stars are in the birthing process," said Professor Peter Conti of CU-Boulder's astrophysical and planetary sciences department. "Ten to 100 of the type O stars would be a very luminous ensemble easily visible across the galaxy were it not for the absorption of optical light by dust in the Milky Way."

Buffing up Britney?

Britney Spears may appear in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer next season as she and Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar are good friends, and she loves the show and wants to do an episode.
Also in the next season, Buffy will discover she has a younger sister (as you do)and Buffy will travel to England to persuade the Watcher's Council to allow Giles to resume duties as her watcher.


The United Kingdom will welcome the world's top astronomers next week, when it hosts the International Astronomical Union's General Assembly. This isthe first time in 30 years that the conference has been held in the UK, and will bring about 2000 astronomers, from 87 countries, to the University of Manchester (home of the Jodrell Bank radio telescope) for two weeks. The assembly will feature almost 500 talks, on subjects as diverse as searching for planets outside our solar system, the effects of the Sun's activity on Earth's environment, space exploration and the structure and creation of the Universe.

X-Files signings

Gillian Anderson has extended her contract to play FBI Agent Dana Scully for at least another season, taking her commitment to the X-Files as far as the ninth season. David Duchovny has cut by half the number of episodes in which he will appear next season, to be replaced by Robert Patrick who will play a new character, Agent John Doggett.

Solar Max

The Sun's brightness has been increasing steadily for the past three years, will peak this year and then diminish..
In an invited talk on Monday August 7 at the International Astronomical Union's General Assembly in Manchester (UK), Dr Judith Lean of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC will explain how high precision instruments on board spacecraft have been monitoring the Sun since 1984 for the slightest changes. Building up a detailed picture of how the Sun's output varies over time will help determine how much (if any) of the global warming presently affecting the Earth is caused by long-term changes to the Sun.
Astronomers at ground-based observatories have studied the Sun's activity for the past 400 years by counting the number of dark sunspots on its disk. Their records reveal a repeating cycle in which the numbers of sunspots hits a maximum approximately every 11 years. The two most recent cycles completed (identified as cycles nos. 21 and 22, corresponding roughly to 1974-85 and 1985-96), turned out to have two of the three highest peaks of activity ever recorded.
Since 1997 we have been in solar cycle number 23. The Sun's activity and brightness has increased steadily. Now, near the predicted time of maximum, levels of radiation are 0.06% higher than in 1996. However, in 1990 - the same stage of the last cycle - the rise had been 0.09%. Dr Lean said, "Levels of solar radiation appear not to have reached those seen in the two previous cycles. The consensus drawn from long-term observations in space, and independent calculations is that the increase will likely be about 30% less during the present activity cycle than during the peaks of two prior cycles."

Linear Disintegration

LinearAstronomers around the world are monitoring the unexpected disintegration of this year's major comet, Linear. Intense solar heating apparently triggered a massive disruption of the comet's fragile icy core when it passed close to the Sun last week. It is still bright enough to see through small telescopes although it is expected to disintegrate totally in the next few days. The break up of a bright comet is unusual but not unprecedented. Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke up before it struck Jupiter in 1994. SL-9 was discovered only after it fragmented, but with Linear astronomers have been able to watch the whole process in more detail than with any other comet.(West in 1976, Ikeya-Seki in 1965 for eg). Mark Kidger, an astronomer at the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias said 'This comet's demise seems to be a bit unusual. Cometary splittings rarely ever lead to the rapid disappearance of a comet like this - in fact, I don't know of another case'.
Kidger was the first to notice Linear disintegrating as he monitored a cloud of gas surrounding its core using the 1-meter Jacobus Kapteyn Telescope. Linear, which has been falling toward the Sun since it was discovered in September last year, made its closest approach to our star (perihelion) on July 26, 2000. Perihelion is a critical time for any comet. It's when solar heating of the icy core is most intense and when the comet swings around for its long return trip to the outer solar system. Linear
Something was already amiss the day before Comet LINEAR reached perihelion at a distance of 114 million km (0.74 AU) from the Sun.
The very first images on July 25 were enough to show me that something odd was going on' said Dr Kidger. 'The comet's inner coma was no longer teardrop-shaped (the solar wind flowing around the comet's head causes this shape). It had a shape like a short, fat cigar. My first thought was 'Shoemaker-Levy.' It looked just like it'.
Unlike Shoemaker-Levy 9, which broke into many well-defined bright fragments, Linear seems to be dissolving into an amorphous haze of gas and dust.

Jodrell Bank Discovery

The world-famous Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory, University of Manchester, has discovered a pulsar that is wobbling, giving astronomers a glimpse into the interior of a neutron star.
A pulsar is a neutron star, the extremely dense remnant of a massive normal star that has undergone a supernova explosion. A neutron star is typically 20 km in diameter, about the size of a city, weighs a million times the mass of the Earth, and spins as fast as a top, with predictable regularity. A pulsar produces beams of radio emission above its magnetic poles, and these sweep like lighthouse beams across the sky. When a beam crosses the Earth,radio telescopes receive a periodic "pulse" of radiation with a characteristic shape.
The Jodrell Bank scientists (Ingrid Stairs, Andrew Lyne and Setnam Shemar) have been studying 13 years' worth of data from the pulsar PSR B1828-11. This pulsar rotates 2.5 times per second, but, unlike any other, wobbles regularly with a period of about 1000 days. The motion is very much like the wobble of a top or gyroscope; its effects are shown in an illustration and animation at http://www.jb.man.ac.uk/news/neutronstar/. This wobble, or precession, has two manifestations: it causes the observed pulse to change its shape, and causes the time between pulses to vary, becoming sometimes shorter, sometimes longer.
In an article to appear in today's issue of Nature, the Manchester astronomers argue these variations imply that the neutron star, instead of being perfectly spherical, is slightly squashed. Stairs explains: "The bulge in the neutron star causes the angle between the pulsar's rotation axis and its radio beam to change with time, creating the wobbling effect that we measure." Lyne emphasizes that the bulge is incredibly small: "This star departs from being a perfect sphere by only 0.1 mm in 20 km. On Earth this would mean that no mountain could be higher than 3 cm!"
The surprising aspect to the discovery is not the small size of the wobble, but that fact that it is seen at all. Astronomers know from other long-term observations, mostly done at Jodrell Bank, that a pulsar is made up largely of a neutron superfluid, with a solid crust. Current theories predict that the interaction between the superfluid and the crust should cause any precession to die out extremely quickly. "But this pulsar is one hundred thousand years old, and it's still wobbling!" exclaims Lyne. "We really don't understand how this precession can be happening, and theorists are going to have to do some work to explain it," adds Stairs.
A web-based version of this press release including the illustration and an animation can be found at
An image of the 76m Lovell Telescope can be found at:
An illustrated overview of the work of the Jodrell Bank Observatory can be seen on the World-Wide-Web at:

NebulaThe 10 billion billion billion megaton bomb

Astronomers at the University of Southampton in the UK have found a star that will produce one of the biggest explosions in our Universe. The star, known as KPD1930+2752, will explode within the next 200 million years. It is the first star of its kind to be found and may hold the clues to where the stuff that makes up our bodies comes from and perhaps to the future of the Universe itself.
KPD1930+2752 is actually two stars, one hot bright star and a faint, dense star known as a white dwarf. The hot star whirls around the white dwarf, just like the Earth revolves around the Sun, but travelling at over one million kilometers per hour, it takes only 137 minutes to complete one trip around its companion.
But KPD1930+2752 is doomed. Energy is being sucked away by 'gravitational waves' - a type of energy predicted by Einstein's Theory of General Relativity- so the stars will collide within the next 200 million years. What makes KPD1930+2752 special is that the star will then be too massive and dense to survive. The star will be ripped apart in a vast thermonuclear explosion bright enough to be seen from the other side of the Universe.
These explosions, known as Type Ia Supernovae, hurl their metallic debris into space, particularly iron, nickel and cobalt. Almost all the iron on Earth comes from Type Ia Supernovae which exploded billions of years ago - including the iron in our blood.
Now that KPD1930+2752 has been found it can be studied in detail so that astronomers can work out how Type Ia Supernovae in distant galaxies might behave and so, perhaps, determine the fate of the Universe itself.
More details:The Royal Observatory Greenwich
(www.rog.nmm.ac.uk/leaflets/supernovae/supernovae.html) .

3 pics

Your home computer can become a portal to a wonderland of stars, thanks to a massive release of images from an infrared sky survey sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation.
"Any computer with a web browser can be transformed into a desktop observatory," said Dr. Michael Skrutskie, of the University of Massachusetts, principal investigator of the sky survey,2MASS (two micron all sky survey) has produced an online image collection of half a million galaxies and 162 million stars visible to infrared.
The 2MASS survey uses two highly automated, 51-inch (1.3-meter) diameter telescopes, one at Mount Hopkins, Arizona., the other at the National Science Foundation's Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, Chile. Work on the survey started in 1997. Its catalogs will contain more than 300 million objects by the time observations are concluded next year.
More details http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2000/ast20jul_1.htm?list

Jodrell Bank under threat

The world-famous Jodrell Bank telescope is under threat in a cost-cutting exercise by the UK government, after the funding body stated that it wanted to go to funding co-governmental projects such as the European Southern Observatory in future.
The threat has rocked the astronomical world, since Jodrell Bank is synonymous with radio astronomy and has been since its founding in 1945 by Sir Bernard Lovell. The complex is still acknowledged to be doing world-class research and next month will be the local observatory for the International Astronomical Union's triennial meeting in Manchester when new evidence garnered by the telescopes will be presented to confirm that the universe is expanding at an ever faster rate.

Jodrell Bank Lovell Telescope

A Cluster of success

The first two cluster satellites were put into orbit form the Baikonur Cosmodrome yesterday (Sunday) by Soyuz rocket. The Soyuz put the first two of four satellites in a parking orbit at 240 km - 18,000 km which will finally allow them to fly in formation in a triangular pyramid long orbit a third of the way to the Moon.
They will study space weather and how solar particles penetrate the Earth's magnetic shield. The ground station is at Kiruna, Sweden, and it has successfully acquired the two spacecraft and started to receive telemetry, confirming that the satellites have successfully separated from the Soyuz-Fregat and that they are now flying independently.
The four satellites were named rumba, salsa, samba and tango in a competition which attracted more than 5,000 entries from all 15 ESA member states. The winning entry came from Raymond Cotton of Bristol, who suggested the names of four dances - "We thought of these because my wife and I both like ballroom dancing, and they seemed to fit with the movement of the satellites through space," he said. "The names are also international and will be recognised in any country."
The second pair of Cluster spacecraft is scheduled for launch on 9 August.

Methuselah Bug

In another scientific discovery which lends credence to the arguments that life is possible on other planets, British biologists have found what they believe to be the world's oldest living creature, a microbe which may be 260m years old.
The bacterium has been discovered in salt deposits deep under Cleveland, ub the north-eastern UK. The salt and the microbes were left behind when shallow primordial seas evaporated and the trapped bugs seem to have evolved to cope with the concentrated saline environment with no food by slowing their metabolism to a rate which is almost undetectable. The deposits, similar to ones also found by Bill Grant, professor of microbiology and immunology at Leicester University, in Thailand and Poland, but these, in a salt mine under Boulby, near Redcar.

British space ambitions falling

The lack of any really powerful activity is space exploration or travel in the UK is sapping the calibre of science and engineering graduates as any programme within the country is limited in ambition according to the all-party Commons trade and Industry Select Committee, which has just commented on the government's space strategy document, published last year. The committee said that spending was dropping in real terms.

Major launch of ISS components

A Russian Proton rocket successfully put a major part of the ISS into orbit yesterday. Launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome the rocket launched the living quarters, flight control systems and a German built supercomputer which are all vital to the habitability of the station. Called Zvezda (Star), the module cost $320m and is 43 ft long. It is due to be automatically docked with the main parts of the ISS in a fortnight, but if this fails a crew is standing by to enable manned docking.

Trek film and new series progressing

Reports filtering through that the story for the next Trek film (the tenth) is completed and work on selecting a writer and firming up cast etc is underway, for an autumn of next year release.
Meanwhile plans are already ongoing for a ship-based new TV series, to take over the franchise flag once Voyager gets home next year.
Voyager captain Kate Mulgrew intends to return to the stage having seen her crew back to Earth.

How now brown…dwarf

Relative size of brown dwarfThe Chandra X-ray Observatory has picked up the first-ever observed flare from a brown dwarf, or failed star.
In the July 20 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters,a paper by Dr. Robert Rutledge of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, CA includes the comment "We didn't expect to see flaring from such a lightweight object. This is really the mouse that roared."
The study of the bright X-ray flare will increase understanding of the explosive activity and origin of magnetic fields of extremely low-mass stars.
Chandra detected no X-rays at all from the object called LP 944-20 for the first nine hours of a twelve-hour observation, and then the source flared dramatically before it faded away over the next two hours. The energy emitted in the brown dwarf flare was comparable to a small solar flare, and was a billion times greater than observed X-ray flares from Jupiter. The flaring energy is believed to come from a twisted magnetic field. "This is the strongest evidence yet that brown dwarfs and possibly young giant planets have magnetic fields, and that a large amount of energy can be released in a flare," said Dr. Eduardo Martin, also of Caltech and a member of the team.

Starchaser launch success

Amateur rocket scientist Steve Bennett yesterday fired off another successful Starchaser rocket - Starchaser Discovery, the most powerful reusable research rocket built and flown over Europe over Morecambe Bay in North West Britain. Powered by six motors, providing four tonnes of thrust, the 220lb rocket accelerated to 700 mph in three seconds and went to 19,000 feet.
Bennett lectures in space technology at Salford University (Manchester area) and the university supplied the computing and telemetry hard and software. Now he is moving on to start design work on a manned craft, called Nova.

So, you want to find a comet, do you?

Simple then, hook your computer to:
Or have a look at
For all the info on finding comets a-plenty - and if you do as a result of reading this here - please let the editor know so that she can be smug about that too.

And one to look out for outside

cometLater this month a fuzzy blob will glide across the sky near the Big Dipper. Called "C/1999 LINEAR S4", or LINEAR-S4 for short, it's the brightest comet to come along in more than three years. Comet LINEAR-S4 was discovered on September 27, 1999, by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program in New Mexico. It appears to be a first-time visitor to the inner solar system traveling in that will return it beyond distant Pluto after it passes 114 million km from the Sun on July 26, 2000. Comet LINEAR-S4 could be a beautiful sight as it moves through the relatively star-poor area around the Big Dipper in late July. In fact, if the comet reaches 4th magnitude it will probably resemble another popular fuzzy blob, our nearest neighboring galaxy, the Andromeda Nebula. Experts stress that predicting what LINEAR-S4 will do is more of an art than hard science. The comet might fail to develop or it could be far more striking than expected. "Estimating how bright this comet will become is tricky," says an astronomer at the NASA Marshal l Space Flight Center. "Comet LINEAR hasn't been here before so we can't use past experience as a guide."
LINEAR-S4 is expected to become a naked-eye object around July 17, when it brightens to 6th magnitude. Even if the comet eventually reaches 4th magnitude, it will be invisible in light polluted urban areas. Dark skies are essential.

Manchester the place to be next month

Top astronomers from all over the world will converge on Manchester between the 7th and the 18th of August for the 24th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union, a two-week programme covering everything astronomical from the Sun to the edge of the observable universe. There will be about 2000 participants, almost 500 talks and 600 poster presentations. Programme details available at

Comet finder extraordinaire

Michael Oates, of Radcliffe, Manchester, in the middle of England, is probably the most prolific comet spotter ever. Michael, who uses his home PC to analyse pictures from space observatories downloaded from the Net, has spotted 39 new comets in less than six months.
Astronomers using telescopes are lucky to spot one in a lifetime of watching, but Michael identified the first within his first week of looking at the images and recently spotted seven within 24 hours.
He is a member of Manchester Astronomical Society and runs an electrical business.

Solar Sails towards the sunset

SailingNasa scientists gathered in Pasadena, California, USA to share ideas and present new information about solar sails at the 11th annual Advanced Space Propulsion Research Workshop at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
"Our goal is to perform a flight demonstration of a solar sail," said Sarah Gavit, program manager for JPL's Solar Sail Technology Program "We're hoping we could do a flight demo in 2005 to prepare for the Interstellar Probe, a sail-propelled craft that's slated for launch about five years later." The goal of the Interstellar Probe is to travel beyond the nine known planets. Nearly half a kilometre wide, the Interstellar Probe's delicate solar sail would be unfurled in space. Continuous pressure from sunlight would ultimately accelerate the craft to speeds about five times higher than possible with conventional rockets -- without requiring any fuel! Zooming toward the stars at 90 km per second, it could cover the distance from New York to Los Angeles in less than a minute. That's more than 10 times faster than the Space Shuttle's on-orbit speed of 8 km per second. An interstellar probe launched in 2010 would pass the Voyager 1 spacecraft, the most distant spacecraft bound for interstellar space, in 2018 going as far in eight years as Voyager will have journeyed in 41 years. The propulsive force for a solar sail arises from the pressure of photons (light) from the Sun or from lasers. Sunlight at 1 Astronomical Unit (1 AU is Earth's distance from the sun=150 million km or 93 million miles) exerts a force of 9 Newtons per square kilometer (0.78 pounds per square mile) on a solar sail.

Run off channels on Mars.Water on Mars

Water run-off channels have been identified in the latest Mars Global Surveyor pictures analysed by Nasa.
Recent (in geological terms) asteroid impact craters show the channels heading steeply downhill on the inside walls.
The theory is that impact went below the hidden water table and dislodged some, with consequent spillage.
The main site is the canyon called Valles Marineris, 3,700 miles long, on the Martian equator. This now becomes the prime site for any manned exploration.



Seasons change for Eros

When NASA's NEAR spacecraft entered orbit around the asteroid Eros in February 2000, the asteroid was in the middle of northern summer. Its north pole was constantly bathed in sunlight while southern regions were in total darkness. Three of NEAR's scientific instruments depend on reflected sunlight to do their jobs, so many of the mission's early results have focused on observations of the space rock's northern parts. On June 25, the subsolar point on Eros will cross the asteroid's equator heading south. As the Sun rises over Eros's south pole, sunlight will illuminate terrain that's been hidden from view since NEAR went into orbit four months ago. "We're looking forward to seeing the south polar region of Eros for the first time," says Andrew Cheng, the lead scientist for the NEAR mission at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. "Once the Sun rises over the south pole, the oblique lighting there will highlight features on the surface, which is ideal for taking pictures." Seasons on Eros are truly alien. They last different lengths of time (northern spring is only half as long as autumn) while the apparent size of the Sun nearly doubles between fall and spring.

Eros recorded by NEAR on May 18 spans about 0.8 miles and reveals features as small as 13 feet across.The jagged-looking boulder near the picture centre is over 190 feet tall.


Eros is elongated like a peanut. It rotates every 5.27 hours around an axis that goes through the narrow part of the asteroid. Thus, the "north pole" is near the middle and the "equator" traces Eros's long, irregular circumference. The images that make up this animated gif show the northern "hemisphere" of Eros during its summer.

Time and Tide and Nasa

The Moon's gravity imparts tremendous energy to the Earth, raising tides and affecting ocean temperature and weather. Richard Ray at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre, and Gary Egbert of the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, studied six years of altimeter data from the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite and concluded that about 1 trillion watts, or 25 to 30 percent of the total tidal energy dissipation, occurs in the deep ocean. The remainder occurs in shallow seas, such as the continental shelf off the southeast coast of South America.
"By measuring sea depths, our knowledge of the tides in the global ocean has been remarkably improved," said Ray. The accuracies are now so high that these data can be used to map empirically the tidal energy dissipation. The deep-water tidal dissipation occurs generally near rugged bottom topography (seamountains and mid-ocean ridges).
"The observed pattern of deep-ocean dissipation is consistent with topographic scattering of tidal energy into internal motions within the water column, resulting in localised turbulence and mixing," explained Egbert.
One important implication of this finding concerns the possible energy sources needed to maintain the ocean's large-scale "conveyor-belt" circulation and to mix upper ocean heat into the abyssal depths. It is thought that 2 terawatts (2 trillion watts) are required for this process. The winds supply about 1 terawatt, and there has been speculation that the tides, by pumping energy into vertical water motions, supply the remainder. However, all current general circulation models of the oceans ignore the tides. "It is possible that properly accounting for tidally induced ocean mixing may have important implications for long-term climate modelling," Egbert said.
In the past, most geophysical theories held that the only significant tidal energy sink was bottom friction in shallow seas. Egbert and Ray find that this sink is indeed dominant, but it is not the whole story. There had always been suggestive evidence that tidal energy is also dissipated in the open ocean to create internal waves, but published estimates of this effect varied widely and had met with no general consensus before Topex/Poseidon.

Real FTL

American scientists are claiming to have broken through the light speed barrier. Particle physicists at the NEC research institute in Princeton say that they have accelerated light pulses up to 300 times normal velocity of 186,000 miles per second.
This means that to all practical purposes the light will arrive before it has left. The work was led by Dr Lijun Wang, who transmitted a pulse of light towards a chamber filled with specially treated caesium gas.
Before the pulse had fully entered the chamber it had gone right through it and travelled a further 60ft across the laboratory, so that it was, in effect, in two places at once.
The claim is stirring up physics around the world since the work seems to breach a fundamental principle - that of cause and effect, since information could be encoded into light, and if the encoded light can travel forward in time then the effect would come before the cause. Also demolished would be Einstein's theory of relatively since it depends in part on the inviolability of the speed of light.
While some physicists are sceptical, in Italy another group of physicists has announced that they have made microwaves travel at 25% above light speed at the Italian National Research Council.

Image by Claire

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