SCIENCE IN THE NEWS WEEKLY
Astronomy: A Search for Martian Life -- And a New Name for Pluto
After a couple of miscues, the Phoenix Mars Lander finally filled its tiny scientific oven with Martian soil last week, and scientists were expected to begin analyzing it to determine whether, among other things, the soil contains organic compounds.
Meanwhile, NASA launched its Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) last week on a five- to 10-year mission in Earth orbit. It will pick up where the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory left off, but with better technology. Its particle detectors are much more sensitive and should provide the best look yet into the high-energy universe.
In other news, cosmologists speculate that structures larger than the visible universe may be responsible for a strange pattern seen in the Big Bang's afterglow. If confirmed, the structures could provide important information about the universe's early history.
Cosmologists are also pondering why the pattern of radiation left over from the Big Bang looks different in different regions of the sky. Several theories are being proposed for a "lopsided" universe.
And, finally, what was formerly known as the ninth planet in the solar system will henceforth be known as a "plutoid," according to the International Astronomical Union. That will be the official designation of all small, nearly spherical objects orbiting beyond Neptune.
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PODCASTS: Expanding With the Cosmos
Using the Atacama Cosmology Telescope (ATC), a 6.5-meter microwave collector in Chile, cosmologists are piecing together the early history of the known universe. In an exclusive American Scientist interview, Arthur Kosowsky—a member of the ATC team and a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pittsburgh—discusses how he is using ATC to reach back in time billions of years to search for gravitational waves that could verify inflation and reveal unprecedented details about how the cosmos was born.
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