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Nasa does a double-take... and gets wet

Meet Moon 2.0 (now with added water and other useful stuff)

Despite what I was told as a child, we are now pretty sure that the Moon is not made of cheese and, in case there was any doubt, the ‘magnificent desolation’ experienced by the Apollo lunar astronauts – and the chunks of definitely non-cheese derived rock they brought back with them – definitely put those rumours to bed.

The Apollo missions also proved one other thing – the Moon is dry and lifeless. Any hope that the ‘Sea of Tranquility’ hid any of the runny stuff that gave it its name was banished for good and the Moon officially became the driest (and most cheese free) place in the solar system. Then, in 2009, Nasa deliberately crashed one of their space probes (LCROSS) into a lunar crater whose interior had never seen the light of the Sun.

In the resulting plume of dust they detected the unmistakable signature of dihydrogen monoxide – that’s water to you and me. That report, like the first pee during a night of heavy drinking, opened the floodgates and, following the results of an Indian lunar explorer, Chandrayaan-1, those few ‘buckets’ of water became gallons in a single crater and those gallons became some 600million metric tonnes distributed across 40 craters, all in a couple of months.

New results from Nasa's LCROSS impact experiment, published today as a multi-page spectactular in the journal Science, have revealed that, in some areas at least, the Moon's dark craters hide concentrations of water-ice as high as five per cent – that's about 12 gallons for every tonne of lunar soil!

Nasa's Dawn probe trecks on

Life ain't easy for an asteroid hunter

It was cancelled in 2003, only to be un-cancelled the following year and then put on hold the following year. The year after that it came within a sneeze of becoming permanently shelved, but, with a month of that, the cancellation was put ‘under review’ before finally having its initial cancellation cancelled.

When it did make it to the launch pad in 2007, the Delta II rocket due to carry it in to space developed a fault and the launch was (yes, you guessed it) cancelled. Finally, it came within a spit of being damaged by a falling spanner after a careless worker (quite literally) dropped one into the works.

Yet more eye candy from Cassini

Enceladus fires aft thrusters!

Nasa's Saturn-explorer Cassini, has returned some of the most beatiful images of our solar system and – more often than not – the star of the show is the small Saturnian moon, Enceladus.

This tiny moon would be an unremarkable lump of ice if it wasn’t for a quirk in its orbit that sees it travelling in an ellipse. This means that in periods of its orbit it is subjected to an increasing and decreasing pull from Saturn’s gravity. This flexes the moon’s icy interior, creating This tiny moon would be an unremarkable lump of ice if it wasn’t for a quirk in its orbit that sees it travelling in an ellipse. This means that in periods of its orbit it is subjected to an increasing and decreasing pull from Saturn’s gravity. This flexes the moon’s icy interior, creating heat (like when you stretch and compress a squash ball) which melts its water ice, possibly creating an internal liquid ocean.

More suprises at the edge of the solar system

Energy ribbon had knot it... now seems to have 'untied'

Conditions at the edge of our solar system may be much more dynamic than previously thought, new observations suggest. Future exploration missions are expected to benefit in design and mission objectives from a better understanding of the changing conditions in this boundary region.

The new findings were published this week in the Journal of Geophysical Research - Space Physics, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.

Put a little 'Avatar' in your telescope

Webb: Using Sci-fi to build a better Hubble

Few could argue that Hubble is the ‘daddy’ of all space telescopes. In its twenty years of operation, it has pushed back the boundaries of astronomy and physics, sent back images that have captured the imagination of an entire planet and provided PC screen savers to a generation. But all good things come to an end and, although more powerful than ever, Hubble’s days are numbered and its successor is waiting in the wings.

Dark matter gets an even bigger question mark

Has Jupiter been leading science astray?

In 1998 astronomers had a bit of a shock when it was revealed that our universe was not behaving as it ought. They had believed that since the Big Bang hurled our universe into existence, its expansion must, inevitably, have been gradually slowing down. It came as no small surprise then when it was revealed that its expansion was actually accelerating and that we seem to be missing some 96 per cent of its matter.

To explain this curiosity, cosmologists summoned up a mysterious, invisible and undetectable force, called ‘dark energy’, and a barely detectable, invisible material called ‘dark matter’ (see next page). And everyone lived happily ever after (except for those who disagreed and thought it was all just imaginary bunkum). Until now.

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