Scientists Find New Evidence of Mars Life

A team of three British scientists reported October 31 that they had found organic material -- which they interpreted as evidence of past life on Mars -- in another meteorite from the Red Planet.
[Image of globule]     "We have identified a second meteorite which appears to contain matter which we define as organic," said Colin Pillinger of Britain's Open University, at a press conference October 31.
     The meteorite they team studied, EETA79001, is much younger than the meteorite in which NASA scientists found evidence of life earlier this year. EETA79001 may be only 175 million years old, suggesting that life may have existed on Mars far longer than once thought possible.
     Pillinger, Ian Wright, and Monica Grady found organic materials at concentrations of up to 1,000 parts per million, far greater that what one would expect from a random concentration.
     The team found similar organic concentrations in ALH84001, they reported.
     "This is fairly strong supporting evidence," Everett Gibson, one of the NASA scientists who found evidence of life in ALH84001, told UPI. "We're really quite pleased."
     Pillinger and his team have yet to publish their results.

Galileo Marks First Flyby of Callisto

Galileo made its first flyby of Callisto, the outermost of Jupiter's four large moons, on November 4, when it passed within 1,100 km (690 mi.) of its surface.
[Computer animation of flyby]     The encounter marks the closest approach ever for any spacecraft to Callisto. It is the first of three flybys of the large moon planned during the mission.
     Scientists hope that data collected from the flyby will help them understand why Callisto, unlike the inner large moons, has far more craters and appears to have the oldest surface of any body in the solar system.
     "With data from this encounter, we'll know more about why Callisto is so different from Jupiter's more lively moons," said Galileo project scientist Torrence Johnson.
     Johnson added that observations of other moons and Jupiter itself were performed during the flyby. "Some of the most interesting aspects of the Callisto flyby are actually the observations we're making of other bodies, such as Jupiter and Europa."
     Johnson said the observations of the dark sides of the two bodies would help them understand their atmospheres and the Jovian aurora.
     The Callisto flyby marked the beginning of a new data collection scheme for the mission. Large antennae in California and Australia have been arrayed to provide greater receiving power for several hours each day, while both antennae are in view of Jupiter.
     The arraying, along with other improvements in the communications link, increases the data rate by a factor of ten. Improvements in data editing and compression have added another factor of ten to the data rate.

European Astronomers Find New Large Planets

A team of European astronomers have found evidence for seven new, heavy planets in other star systems, filling in a gap in the distribution of planet sizes formed by other discoveries.
     Michel Mayor and his group announced that they had found seven planets, all ranging from 17 to 50 times the mass of Jupiter, orbiting seven different stars. All the stars are similar to the Sun and range from 15 to 45 parsecs from the Sun.
     The discoveries are all heavier than previous finds, which have been no more than several Jupiter masses. it's believed these bodies fill in a gap in the distribution between the smaller Jupiter-sized bodies and heavier brown dwarfs.
     In a related story, MIT physicist Fred Rasio released theoretical studies which pointed to a violent birth for many of the new planets discovered in the last year.
     Rasio and student Eric Ford reported in the November 8 issue of Science that the heavy planets much closer to their suns than Jupiter is from our sun may have formed as a result of instabilities caused by other Jupiter-sized planets.
     "A system like our solar system, which has one dominant massive planet (Jupiter) and is very stable over long time scales (several billions of years), may be very rare," Rasio said.

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