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VIII-2006: 21 23 | X-2006: 02 | X1-2006: 17 | X1-2006: 06

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latest from nasa

  • water on mars - images suggest recent surface flows

    Comparing water phenomena on Earth with recent traces on Mars.
    Image credit:

  • “Water is the chief agent of weathering and erosion on Earth. Mars is a much drier, colder planet on which liquid water cannot exist very long at the surface because it will immediately begin to boil, evaporate, and freeze--all at the same time. However, new pictures from the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) onboard the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) have provided an astonishing observation which suggests that liquid water may have played a role in shaping some recent gully-like features found on the slopes of various craters, troughs, and other depressions on the red planet.

    These pictures introduce the basic features of a martian gully. The figure on the left is an example from Mars, the figure on the right is a gully on Earth. In the Earth picture, rain water flowing under and seeping along the base of a recently-deposited volcanic ash layer has created the gully. For Mars, water is not actually seen but is inferred from the landforms and their similarity to examples on Earth.” [Quoted from]

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Martian gully in 1999 and again in 2005 with new deposit. Image credit: NASA
Martian gully in 1999 and again in 2005 with new deposit.
Image credit:

“Malin and his colleagues used images from NASA’s now-silent Mars Global Surveyor to revisit regions earlier this year where gullies, depressionlike landforms on the Red Planet’s surface, were found in 2000.

“What they found were new, light-colored deposits that do not appear to have formed from Martian landslides, but could be the work of frost, salt deposits or long-sought evidence that water flowed recently on Mars.

“ “Our level of certainty [with] which we can address the question of whether the gully features that we’re reporting on were formed by water is high, but not extremely high,” said Malin [...]” [Quoted from]


  • nasa’s lunar base plans

    “The Shackleton Crater rim near the moon's south pole will likely be the future home of a lunar human outpost, NASA officials said yesterday. A team of senior space agency managers laid out the blueprint for returning astronauts to the lunar surface by 2020. But this time, instead of a series of short, Apollo-like missions, NASA envisions setting up a base--initially with four astronauts--that would be fully functioning by 2024.

    “[...] the entire plan hinges on NASA's ability to build and fly a new launch vehicle early in the next decade.

    “[NASA exploration chief ] Horowitz says that NASA isn't expecting any major budget boosts to cover the as-yet-undetermined cost of the venture, whereas [NASA's deputy administrator] Dale says that "we go as we can afford to pay." ” [Quoted from]

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“NASA planners used the international group's deliberations as well as input from academia, private sector and private citizens as the basis for sketching a U.S. blueprint for a return to the moon. NASA's Lunar Architecture Team, chartered in May 2006, concluded that the most advantageous approach is to develop a solar-powered lunar base and to locate it near one of the poles of the moon. With such an outpost, NASA can learn to use the moon's natural resources to live off the land, make preparations for a journey to Mars, conduct a wide range of scientific investigations and encourage international participation.

“As currently envisioned, an incremental buildup would begin with four-person crews making several seven-day visits to the moon until their power supplies, rovers and living quarters are operational. The first mission would begin by 2020. These would be followed by 180-day missions to prepare for journeys to Mars.” [Quoted from]

I wish they’d get a move on with this. It’s about time they properly prioritised the moon base project.

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leonid meteorites: probably last chance in our lifetimes - xavier

what are the Leonids?

“The Leonids are composed of the dusty debris that has been shed by the comet Temple-Tuttle, a small celestial body that orbits the Sun at 33-year intervals. In those years during [its passing the Sun] and then for several years after the comet has swept through the inner solar system, it has had a propensity for producing spectacular meteor displays; meteors falling by the hundreds, if not thousands per hour.” [quoted from]

why “last chance”?

“In 2002 the gravitational field of the planet Jupiter shifted much of the cometary material away from the Earth, so no more outbursts are expected for nearly 100 years.” [Quoted from]

when is this last chance?

“On November 19, the Earth is due to pass through a trail of debris left by the Leonids' parent comet on one of its previous returns. A sharp peak of perhaps 100 Leonids/hour is expected, although there is a bit of uncertainty. If it occurs very near the predicted time of 4:45 UT, Europe and Western Africa will see the display during the favored morning hours. The East Coast of North America will see a bit of the display (maybe up to 25 per hour) as earthgrazing Leonids starting when the radiant rises at around 11pm. Depending on just how short and sharp this peak is, most of North America may be out of luck.” [Quoted from]

So, set your alarm for 04:30 UT (currently, this also 4.30am GMT), wrap up very warmly, position your deckchairs to point towards the south east - that’s where the Leonids appear to come from, from the constellation of Leo. Then if Leo is above the horizon wherever you might be (or technically, the radiant is above the horizon), you may see a short burst of small meteorites. Remember, this shower is from the tail-end of the comet Tempel-Tuttle, so the display will be ‘tailing off’ in comparision to previous displays.

the web address for the article above is

responsibility rather than rules improves road safety - the auroran sunset

A small Dutch town, Drachten, is testing some new traffic planning theories. Has Monderman theorises that removing traffic lights and road markings will reduce accidents. The experiment suggests that Monderman is correct:-

“ "There have been a few small collisions, but these are almost to be encouraged, Mr Monderman explained. "We want small accidents, in order to prevent serious ones in which people get hurt," he said yesterday.

“ "It works well because it is dangerous, which is exactly what we want. But it shifts the emphasis away from the Government taking the risk, to the driver being responsible for his or her own risk." ”

“ Mr Monderman, 61, compared his philosophy of motoring to an ice rink. "Skaters work out things for themselves and it works wonderfully well. I am not an anarchist, but I don't like rules which are ineffective and street furniture tells people how to behave." ”

“In the days of traffic lights, progress across the junction was slow as cars stopped and started. Now [in the Drachten experiment] tailbacks are almost unheard of —and almost nobody toots a horn.

“However, it is not the cars which seem to be involved in the greatest conflict, it is the cyclists and pedestrians who seem to jostle for space. Driving around Drachten, vehicles approach roundabouts with considerable caution—traffic approaches from the left, but cyclists come from either side.

“Cyclists, almost none of whom bother with helmets, signal clearly at junctions making sure motorists are aware of them.”

This looks like a good example of the advantages of allowing evolution in action. Note that each person tends to have a personal ‘acceptable risk level’ - when they start to feel safer they just take more risks to ‘compensate’. Monderman’s experiment seems to playing on that instinct in the opposite direction: he decreases the perception of safety, so that people must be more cautious in order to keep themselves at their desired risk level.

the web address for the article above is

keeping up: wearable computers for the military - the auroran sunset

Soldier with hi-tech equipmant. Image credit: “A high-tech collection of soldier gear, 15 years and half a billion dollars in the making, will finally make it into battle. The 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry has adopted the Land Warrior suite of wearable electronics, and will take it with them to Iraq when they deploy next year. It's the first time a large group of infantrymen will be tied to the combat network that's connecting so much of the military.”

“Radios and GPS locators come standard. A helmet-mounted monocle lets the soldier know he and his buddies are on a satellite-powered map. That same monocle is connected to the weapon sight, so the infantryman can, in effect, shoot around corners. The sight also serves as a long-range zoom, with twelve times amplification.”
[Image credit:]

The systems are not perfected, but as with any technology it will improve little step by little step and reasonably quickly. As a comment-maker points out, that the military are making this public makes it likely that they have more advanced wearable technology already in use with special ops forces.

the web address for the article above is

silent crickets avoid deadly parasite, but how to attract a mate? - xavier

Changing their behaviour not being enough, oceanic field crickets (teleogryllus oceanicus) on Kauai Island, Hawaii, have evolved to minimise attacks from a local small parasite fly, ormia ochracea.

Male crickets rub their legs against their wings to make noise to attract the attention of potential mates. Trouble is, the crick-cricking also attracts a parasite fly that deposits a larva on the cricket’s back. The larva burrows into the cricket and eats it from the inside out. A week later, the cricket is dead.

Previously, it had been found that many of crickets avoided the problem by keeping quiet during daylight, or when they heard flies. Now, a more radical solution to the crickets’s problem has been observed. About 90% of the oceanic field crickets on Kauai having evolved to have flat (not rounded) wings so they make no noise.

But, of course, that means that the crickets also cannot call for new girlfriends, and no girlfriends would mean no new crickets. Except … 10% of crickets still make a noise despite the potential parasite fly danger. Silent crickets now crowd round the noise-making ones and benefit from the girl-crickets that the noisy crickets attract.

With 90% of crickets flat-winged and so silent, being dependent on the 10% that can attract females (and the killer parasitic flies) means that there is a possibility of extinction.

However, there is another possibility - that the proportions of flat-wings and normal-wings cycle. First, the normal-wings are at an advantage because they can get more mates. This would provide more noisy incubators for the parasite flies so their population would increase. In turn, this would put the silent flat-wings at an advantage. Then the parasite flies do not find victims so easily, allowing the normal-wings to breed more, and so on.

“This kind of oscillation has been predicted for other host-parasite or predator-prey systems, but seldom demonstrated [...] ”

the web address for the article above is
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