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European Space Agency's Huygens probe reaches Titan.
The European Space Agency will be supplying technology to assist adventurer Bertrand Piccard's attempt to fly a solar-powered plane around the world. Piccard was part of the team that successfully flew a balloon around the Earth. The solar powered plane will have a 70-metre wingspan (larger than a Boeing 747), and carry enough batteries to be able to fly in the night as well. The plane would fly at an altitude of 10 km; well above the clouds to capture all the available sunlight. The first round-the-world attempt will be made some time after 2009.
Instead of sending single, high-risk spacecraft to explore the solar system, researchers are thinking of ways to send fleets of co-operating spacecraft to get the job done. There are many advantages to this method: decreased risk of losing the whole mission if a spacecraft fails, lowered launch costs, the ability to replace a failed instrument by sending a replacement. Swarms of rovers could crawl the surface of Mars, or explore the oceans of Titan.
When the European Space Agency's Huygens probe reaches Titan early next year, it might encounter a hydrocarbon ocean different from anything we have here on Earth. Researchers have calculated what these oceans might look like, and found that the waves might be 7 times higher, but move more slowly and be further apart. Other scientists think Titan's surface is covered by an icy hard layer or maybe a hydrocarbon sludge. We'll find out for sure when the probe reaches Saturn's Moon on January 14, 2005.
In order the represent the universe mathematically, physicists use a handful of constants, such as the speed of light, or the gravitational constant. One called the "fine structure constant", or alpha, helps describe how the forces hold atoms together and interact with light. Researchers recently revealed that alpha might have changed over the history of the Universe, but a new study from the European Southern Observatory refutes this evidence. By studying the light from a distant quasar with a high degree of precision, they found that alpha doesn't seem to have changed over time.
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