Mars rover Spirit finds Pot of Gold

Mars rover Spirit, poking among the rocks at the foot of the Columbia Hills, has found an intriguing-looking rock that scientists dubbed Pot of Gold. This peculiar prize at the end of our rainbow is astonishing mision scientists.

It has nodules a few millimeters across attached to the ends of stalks of rock perhaps an inch long. Seen close-up by the rover's microscopic imager, the nodules are not round like the famed "blueberries" discovered by the other rover in Meridiani Planum. In fact, scientists are at a loss to explain Pot of Gold's nodules at all.

Pot of Gold appears heavily weathered and, as determined by the rover's Moessbauer spectrometer, it contains hematite. This is the iron mineral abundant in Mars' Meridiani Planum, where it was produced by the action of an ocean or lake on evaporite deposits rich in salts and sulfates. Gusev, however, has proven so far to be quite dry, with scientists finding only relatively minor effects of water on some rocks.

Read about the discovery at | Spirit hits the jackpot

Private Rocket Plane "SpaceShipOne" Soars Into Space


Today the privately funded rocket plane SpaceShipOne flew to outer space and into history books as the world's first commercial manned space flight.

The white rocket plane was released from a larger plane called the White Knight and ignited its rocket engine to enter space and reach an altitude of 328,491 feet, or 62.2 miles above the earth.

Pilot Michael Melvill, 63, landed SpaceShipOne back at a runway in the Mojave Desert in California, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles.

The plane with its striking nose -- a pointed cone covered with small portholes -- was designed by legendary aerospace designer Burt Rutan.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the project's financial backer, is expected to vie for the Ansari X prize later this summer. The X Prize awards $10m to the first private venture that can take three people to sub-orbital space and back again. The catch is that the winner must do this twice within a fortnight, using the same spaceplane.

Read the Reuters Article:
Top News Article |

Read the AP article:
Plane Soars Out of Earth's Atmosphere

Read the CNN article:
Private craft soars into space, history


Summer Solstice Today!


Happy Summer solstice! Enjoy the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere!

This Guardian article shines light on the subject of the longest day of the year:
Guardian Unlimited | Today's issues | Summer solstice


Encounter with Comet Wild 2 a Heavenly Surprise


The most revealing close-up pictures ever taken of a comet have scientists shaking their heads in astonishment.

The rugged, diverse landscape of the comet Wild 2 is unlike anything they have ever seen or imagined: towering columns and spires rising above steep-walled craters and violent jets of gas and dust shooting skyward.

Wild 2, named after a Swiss astronomer and pronounced "vilt," also made a strong impression on the 770-pound spacecraft. Blasts of particles rocked the Stardust. A dozen particles, some larger than a bullet, penetrated the outer layer of its protective shielding.

But the spacecraft survived and is sending dust samples to Earth by a separate capsule. The capsule is scheduled to reach Earth in January 2006.

Astronomers thought comets resembled dirty snowballs, conglomerations of ice and rubble such as Halley's Comet, and might release some dust and gas, but not with the force encountered by Stardust.

Read more about the findings here:

Strange Comet Unlike Anything Known


Private Spaceport to rise in California Mojave Desert


A desert airdrome in Mojave, California is on the final glide path to getting government approval for becoming an inland gateway to space.

Mojave Airport is to become a hub for high-flying craft intended to help spark public space travel. Mojave Airport is located approximately 100 miles north of Los Angeles, on the western edge of the Mojave Desert.

The site is already home port for several enterprising suborbital space projects. The most notable is Scaled Composites, builder and operator of the White Knight/SpaceShipOne piloted vehicles. One of the first "outings" for Spaceport Mojave is the SpaceShipOne attempt to snag the $10 million Ansari X Prize cash award.

Spaceport to rise in California desert

Ansari X Prize


Proba - The Little Satellite That Could


Just 60x60x80 cm and weighing only 94 kg, ESA's Project for On-Board Autonomy satellite, better known as Proba, is one of the most advanced small satellites ever flown in space.

The spacecraft was launched in October 2001 as a piggyback payload on India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), from the launch station at Shriharikota - a small island 100 km from Madras. Since its launch, ESA's Proba micro-satellite has been returning remarkable imagery of some of our planet's major landmarks with a compact instrument called the High Resolution Camera.

Proba's high-performing computer system and technologically advanced instruments have enabled it to demonstrate and evaluate onboard operational autonomy, new spacecraft technology both hardware and software, and to test Earth observation and space environment instruments in space.

Its main payload is the Compact High Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (CHRIS), a compact hyperspectral imager that returns detailed data on the Earth's environment, seeing down to a resolution of 18 metres.

Also aboard is the compact High-Resolution Camera (HRC), which acquires black and white 25-km square images to a resolution of five metres.

Proba was originally created as a technology demonstration mission, and has a high degree of onboard autonomy.

Operators on the ground send up the raw inputs of a target to be imaged - latitude, longitude, and altitude - and Proba itself does the rest.

Visit the Proba Website to check out some spectacular images:
ESA - Proba


Cassini Spacecraft arriving at Saturn, Studies Rings and Moons


Cassini Spacecraft arriving at Saturn, Studies Rings and Moons

The $3.3 billion, 5,384-pound Cassini spacecraft is at the end of a seven-year voyage to Saturn!

Cassini enters orbit around Saturn on June 30, after it makes a dash through a gap in the shimmering rings.

Today Friday June 11 it passed within 1,240 miles of the outermost moon, Phoebe, at 4:56 p.m. EDT. The tiny moon is just 137 miles across. Saturn, in contrast, is nearly 75,000 miles in diameter.

The joint U.S.-European spacecraft, which also carries a probe to explore the moon Titan, was launched in October 1997. NASA built the plutonium-powered spacecraft; the European Space Agency contributed the Huygens (pronounced Hoy'-genz) probe.

Cassini should spend at least four years orbiting the planet, 76 times in all. Cassini's two cameras could take as many as 500,000 pictures.

Scientists hope study of the Saturn system will provide insight to the solar system's evolution.

The Phoebe flyby is a warmup for what's to come: Mission planners expect Cassini to conduct more than 50 similar flights past other Saturn moons.

Scientists believe Phoebe originated in the outer reaches of the solar system and that it was later flung toward Saturn, which captured it into orbit.

NASA this week released fuzzy images of Phoebe taken by Cassini as it closed in on the moon. The images showed a great deal of contrast that scientists said likely indicated topography such as sunlit peaks and deep shadowy craters.

Cassini's best possible pictures of Phoebe could show features as small as 66 feet across.

On the Net:

Phoebe, Smaller than Colorado

Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn & Titan


Robotic Repair to Hubble Taking Shape


Robotic Repair Call to Hubble Taking Shape

Unless the Hubble Space Telescope gets new batteries to power it and new gyroscopes to keep it stable, engineers expect breakdowns to put the telescope out of commission by 2008. Astronauts have repaired it three times since its launch in 1990.

Another manned repair mission was planned for in 2006, but the last space shuttle accident, the risks looked too great to NASA.

NASA's decision that Hubble would not be repaired brought dismayed criticism from scientists, politicians and public supporters of the telescope, which has captured memorable images of the cosmos.

Now NASA is planning a robotic rescue mission.

Technology News: Science: Robotic Repair Call to Hubble Taking Shape