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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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VIDEO: How Hair Ice Grows

In 2013, American Scientist featured an article on odd ice formations on plant stems, including these curling ribbons of ice. One of the types of ice discussed in the article was hair ice—long, thin strands of ice that grow under quite specific conditions. The only problem is that a new study shows the theory put forth at the time—that gas pressure pushes the water out—isn’t correct... (click the link above to read more).

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