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     Volume 4 Issue 37 | March 11, 2005 |

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Space Yacht Sails on Sunrays
Russian and US scientists are preparing to launch a space probe with giant, wafer-thin plastic sails that can catch sunlight-- just as a yacht's sails fill with wind. Cosmos-1, designed to tack across space without using rockets, could form the forerunner of a network of solar observatories that would hover over the sun to provide early warnings of disruptive magnetic storms, or deliver instruments to remote space stations and planetary exploration teams. The probe is made up of a fan of eight 15-metre sails, each thinner than a dustbin bag but stiffened and coated with mirror material. "Cosmos-1 will be blasted into space by conventional rocket technology but once in orbit above earth, solar sail technology will take over," said Susan Lendroth of the Planetary Society. The solar sail technology exploits the fact that photons have momentum and apply pressure to surfaces. A comet's tail, for example, is the result of solar photons battering its surface. But this pressure is still relatively meagre and only recently - with the development of micro-electronic circuits - has it become possible to consider powering a spacecraft with solar sails.

Space Flight
More than 7,000 people have said they will pay to fly into space in one of entrepreneur Richard Branson's space ships--which is yet to be built. "The space adventurers have pledged a total of £805m to travel 70 miles above the Earth," Sir Richard said. The 54-year-old has put £74m into his Virgin Galactic plan, adding to the £115,000 each passenger will have to pay for the expected take-off in 2008. They will experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth. Sir Richard said he was overwhelmed by the response. "If we can make it a success, then I hope we can lower the price so that more people can realise their dream and go into space," said Sir Richard Branson. Among those keen to travel at three times the speed of sound are Star Trek star William Shatner and Dave Navarro, the drummer from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. The journey, in either five or nine seaters, will last about 3.5 hours and passengers will be weightless for at least six minutes.

Martian Gases
An Italian scientist working on the Mars Express probe says gases detected in the planet's atmosphere may indicate life exists on the Red Planet today. Vittorio Formisano told a Dutch space conference methane and formaldehyde could signify biological activity. But the cautious professor, from the Institute of Interplanetary Space Physics in Rome, said only soil analysis on the planet could prove it. Confirmation came through hard data, not "fantasy", he said. "[My observations] should not be taken as a statement that there is life on Mars today because we need to go there, to drill the soil, take samples and analyse them before possibly concluding that life is there," Professor Formisano said. The researcher is principal investigator on the Mars Express Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS). The instrument is designed to determine the composition of the Martian atmosphere, and was able to confirm the presence in the Martian "air" last March of small quantities of methane. The observation is fascinating because the gas is short-lived; it is broken down by sunlight and should not be detectable unless it is being constantly replenished in some way.

Test for Canine Personalities
Dogs show huge differences in personality, according to a US scientist who has developed a test to assess canine character. Dr Sam Gosling, of the University of Texas, rates the dogs on four key traits with positive and negative extremes. He adds that his work suggests pets should be matched with owners who have similar personalities. "We used approaches used to assess human personality and applied them to dogs," said Dr Gosling. "You do find personality differences between breeds. Indeed, many have been bred on that basis. But you also find enormous [personality] differences within the breeds themselves." We used approaches used to assess human personality and applied them to dogs. The four dog personality factors were energy levels, affection-aggression, anxiety-calmness and intelligence-stupidity.

Tough Rules for Ringtone Sellers
Firms that flout rules on how ringtones and other mobile extras are sold could be cut off from all UK phone networks.
The rules allow offenders to be cut off if they do not let consumers know exactly what they get for their money and how to turn off the services. The rules have been brought in to ensure that the problems plaguing net users do not spread to mobile phones. In the last couple of years, ringtones, wallpapers, screensavers and lots of other extras for phones have become hugely popular. But fierce competition is making it difficult for firms to get their wares in front of consumers, said Jeremy Flynn, head of third party services at Vodafone. "If you are not on the operator's portal you are going to have quite heavy marketing costs because it's a problem of how people discover your services," he said.

Kenyan School
Turns to Handhelds

It is a pilot project run by EduVision, which is looking at ways to use low cost computer systems to get up-to-date information to students who are currently stuck with ancient textbooks. Matthew Herren from EduVision told the BBC how the non-governmental organisation uses a combination of satellite radio and handheld computers called E-slates. "The E-slates connect via a wireless connection to a base station in the school. This in turn is connected to a satellite radio receiver. The data is transmitted alongside audio signals." The base station processes the information from the satellite transmission and turns it into a form that can be read by the handheld E-slates. "It downloads from the satellite and every day processes the stream, sorts through content for the material destined for the users connected to it. It also stores this on its hard disc." The system is cheaper than installing and maintaining an internet connection and conventional computer network. But Herren says there are both pros and cons to the project. "It's very simple to set up, just a satellite antenna on the roof of the school, but it's also a one-way connection, so getting feedback or specific requests from end users is difficult."

Source: BBC.co.uk / Webindia123.com

Compiled by: Imran H. Khan

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