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Earth bacteria can survive in such hostile environments.
A new report from the National Academies' National Research Council says that NASA will need to be more careful to prevent Earth microbes hitching a ride on spacecraft from contaminating Mars. Recent findings show that there could be liquid water underneath the ground on Mars, and some Earth bacteria can survive in such hostile environments. According to the report, NASA is planning to implement new techniques that would reduce the risk for spacecraft flying after 2016.
Cassini has obtained fascinating new images of the surface of Saturn's Moon Enceladus. The spacecraft made its closest flyby so far on July 14, when it passed only 175 km (109 miles) within the moon's southern pole. This region is strangely free of impact craters, but it is littered with house-sized ice boulders. Enceladus has the most reflective surface in the solar system; it's as pure and white as freshly fallen snow. These gigantic blocks of ice were a complete surprise to scientists and they'll take some time to figure out what could have caused them.
The European Space Agency's SMART-1 spacecraft took this image of the Hadley Rille on the south-east edge of Mare Imbrium on the Moon. The bright bumps on the lower part of the image are the Appenine mountains, which formed a backdrop during the Apollo 15 mission in 1971. The Hadley Rille is a 120 km (76 mile) long gully - probably a collapsed lava tube - that formed about 3.3 billion years ago.
Astronomers have discovered that a relatively nearby Galaxy is undergoing a tremendous amount of new star formation. This is very unusual, since Galaxies normally only went through this phase billions of years ago, when the universe was much younger. Seen in visible light, NGC 4625 only showed a diffuse halo, with a hint of spiral arms. But in the ultraviolet gaze of NASA's galaxy evolution Explorer, it clearly has vast spiral arms which extend four times the size of the galaxy's core.
Cassini has captured some strange-sounding radio emissions coming from Saturn's north and south poles. These emissions, called Saturn kilometric radiation, are generated by the planet's auroras. The changing frequencies probably come from tiny radio sources moving up and down the planet's magnetic field lines, but scientists are entirely sure what causes them. Cassini will fly close, or possibly even through, this region in 2008, so scientists will have a great opportunity to study them up close.
NASA and Volanz Aerospace have announced the next Centennial Challenge prize: to build a better set of gloves for astronauts. Teams will compete for a $250,000 prize to build a pair of gloves which are strong, easy on Astronaut hands, and provide better dexterity than the gloves NASA currently uses. The competition is scheduled for November 2006, where various teams will submit their glove designs to a series of tests.
Don't forget to mark your calendars for one of the best sky events of the year, the Perseid meteor shower. This year the shower peaks before dawn on August 12. Viewers in both hemispheres will be able to see meteors; however, it's folks in the north who'll get to see more. And as a special bonus, Mars will be visible in the eastern sky, near where the Perseid meteors seem to originate.
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