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: From Balloons to Space Stations: Studying Cosmic Rays
Cosmic rays have mysterious qualities about them that scientists continue to research in order to better understand their origins and composition. Dr. Eun-Suk Seo, a professor of physics at the University of Maryland, and her colleagues, fly enormous balloons as large as a football stadium and a volume of 40-million-cubic feet for extended periods over Antarctica to study particles coming from cosmic rays before they break up in the atmosphere.
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