Feb. 19th, 2009

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The rocket that thinks it's a jet

The ESA has awarded a contract to develop the engine for the SKYLON space plane. This craft is supposed to launch from a regular airport, carrying up to 12 tonnes of supplies, "breathe" air when in the atmosphere, and convert to burning hydrogen and liquid oxygen when in space. The plane would then land on a regular airport runway when it returns. The goal of the project is to verify technologies that could make commercial spaceflight much cheaper than the $100 million/launch it currently costs.

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SPACE.com -- Plate Tectonics Could Be Essential for Alien Life

Tilman Spohn of the German Space Research Centre postulates that a necessary precondition to life would be plate tectonics. For a planet to have plate tectonics, the near-surface rock must be weakened, indicating a likelihood that significant amounts of water are present. Plate tectonics are responsible for recycling carbon (helping to control atmospheric carbon dioxide levels) and are involved in the generation of a magnetic field like that which protects life on Earth. Finally, plate techtonics replenish the nutrients needed to support primitive life.
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Do gravity holes harbour planetary assassins? - space - 18 February 2009 - New Scientist

NASA's STEREO spacecraft are due to pass through the L4 and L5 Lagrange points that lead and trail our planet. Referred to as "celestial flypaper", the are regions of space in which the gravitational forces cancel out so any object caught in them remains there. The L4 and L5 points around Jupiter contain asteroids so the STEREO craft are being used to search for similar objects. Any objects in Earth's L4 and L5 points are effectively invisible to Earth because they appear to us as lying close to the sun, making it difficult for telescopes to objects located there. Of greatest concern is whether an asteroid might lie in one of Earth's Lagrange points; if shaken loose from the Lagrange point, they would have a high probability of striking Earth.

January 2010

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