Sunday, 10 May 2009

Genes, hobbits, plutonium, telescopes, a moon, and an obituary

A view of the planet Neptune, and its giant moon Triton, from a distance of 3.75 billion kilometres, taken by the New Horizons spacecraft, en route to the dwarf planet Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. Image details can be found on this page at the NH website.

This image is featured in honour of Venetia Burney Phair, a retired economics and maths teacher, who died recently at the age of 90; and who, as a girl of 11, gave Pluto its name. One of the instruments on New Horizons --- designed, built, and operated by students --- was earlier named in Mrs Phair's honour.

In other space science news, the shuttle Atlantis is due to launch on Monday for the final mission to repair and service the Hubble Telescope. Because of the extra danger in missions to the Hubble, the shuttle Endeavour will be on standby as a rescue vessel, in case anything goes wrong. Some years ago, when NASA tried to rule out such missions because of the danger to the crew, it wasn't just the scientific community that objected: some of the astronauts did too ...

Other articles:

On the genetic analysis of common diseases

On “hobbits”: the black swans of palaeontology ... and their flat feet

On why the Americans are going to make more plutonium 238 (hint: not for bombs), how they will use it more efficiently when they have it, and why Stirling engines are the bees' knees

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