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Water in the Red Planet's past.
Engineers are making the final preparations for the launch of NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft, due to lift off from Cape Canaveral on January 12, 2005. The spacecraft will make a six-month journey to reach the nucleus of Comet Tempel 1, and then deploy a probe that will crash into it at 37,000 km/h (23,000 mph). The 1-metre square copper probe will completely vapourize, and should carve out a hole the size of the Roman Coliseum, which Deep Impact will be able to study as it passes the Comet shortly afterwards. The impact will also be recorded by Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra, and dozens of Earth-based observatories.
NASA's Spirit Mars rover has found even more evidence that there was liquid water in the Red Planet's past. scientists have identified a mineral called geothite, which is similar to the jarosite found by Opportunity, and forms only in the presence of water (gaseous, liquid or ice). The rovers previously found hematite, but this can sometimes form without water. Spirit will now climb further up the Columbia Hills to attempt to answer if the water was present on the surface, or just pooled underground.
The Chandra X-Ray Observatory took a good long look at a pulsar and found that it's cooling rapidly, and suggests that it has matter packed much more densely than scientists were expecting. An international team of Astronomers used Chandra to measure the pulsar at the centre of nebula 3C58, which is the remnant from a supernova that exploded in 1181. In less than 800 years, it has cooled to less than 1 million degrees Celsius - for pulsars, that's cold. The cooling depends on the density of the matter in the pulsar.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft swept past Titan for the second time yesterday, this time on a more direct course, and passed by 1,200 kilometres above the surface. Once again the spacecraft's cameras took hundreds of images as Cassini drew closer to Titan, revealing the same surface features now associated with the landing site of the Huygens probe that is set to decend to Titan's surface in mid January.
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