doubts remain that the leicester body is richard iii
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6 | NewScientist | 9 February 2013
WHAT science can you do with a couple of ex-spy telescopes? The two sets of optics, recently donated to NASA following an abandoned satellite-surveillance mission, have inspired the space agency to begin a hunt for intriguing ideas.
“We’re looking at issues such as, is it doable? Is it interesting, unique or compelling?” says George Fletcher at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, who is heading up the ideas search. “We want to do more than just, ‘OK, we have a space telescope, let’s go point it at a star’.”
Last year, the US National Reconnaissance Office offered NASA the optics, which are similar to those on the Hubble space
telescope but with a slightly wider field of view. The parts have been in storage while NASA decides what to do with them.
Previously NASA officials had
To NASA with love suggested using one of the telescopes as part of a planned mission to investigate dark energy, the mysterious entity that is accelerating the universe’s expansion. Now they say they are willing to consider alternatives.
Thirty-three possibilities were presented at a workshop on 5 and 6 February in Huntsville, including sending a telescope to orbit Mars, either to stare out to space from that unique vantage point or to image the planet’s surface in high resolution. Other options presented were using the telescopes to search for and photograph exoplanets, to take pictures of the cosmos in ultraviolet wavelengths, and to map space debris or asteroids zooming around near Earth.
At least one use is off limits, though. NASA ruled out any plans to use the telescopes for their original task of imaging Earth, although studying the upper atmosphere is allowed. “We don’t want it to appear like NASA is now a spy agency,” says Fletcher.
His team will choose up to six ideas for further study, and will release a full report in May.
Closest exo-EarthLET’S take a peek at the neighbours. The closest Earth-like planet is probably orbiting a star just 13 light years away. While that’s too far for a visit, future telescopes should be able to see it and probe for signs of life.
At a press event on 6 February, Courtney Dressing of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics presented data from NASA’s Kepler telescope. Her team pulled out all the red dwarfs in Kepler’s catalogue and found
three with possible Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zone, the region around a star where liquid water can exist.
Statistically, 6 per cent of all red dwarfs in the galaxy should have rocky planets in the habitable zone, Dressing calculates. Because most of the stars nearest to us are red dwarfs, a habitable world should be very close – near enough for planned observatories like the James Webb Space Telescope to check its atmosphere for gases produced by life, such as a large amount of oxygen.
–Bloody was his end–
My kingdom for a hearseHACKED, stripped, slung over a horse and stabbed in the bottom. History tells us that Richard III – the last English king to die in battle – met an especially bloody end. Now we may have a body to go with the stories.
At a press conference on Monday a team from the University of Leicester, UK, announced that a body found last year beneath a car park is that of Richard III. As well as the expected wounds, the skeleton shows signs of scoliosis, a disease that curves the spine, which fits with accounts of the “hunchback” king. Not only that, DNA evidence from two living maternal descendants of Richard’s sister Anne is said to match that of the skeleton.
Geneticist Turi King of the University of Leicester matched
traces of mitochondrial DNA extracted from the skeleton with samples taken from both relatives. She was only able to sequence the mitochondrial DNA control region before the announcement was made. But this region mutates easily, so finding a match despite the high chance of mutation is a strong indicator that individuals are related. “As a scientist I would have preferred to finish the analysis,” says King. “But I know the answer isn’t going to change.”
Mark Thomas at University College London points out that people can have matching mitochondrial DNA by chance. “I could have the same mitochondrial DNA as Richard III and not be related to him,” he says. But taken together the evidence adds up to a more convincing case, he says.
IT’S a whodunnit. Last week, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post reported that their networks had been hacked. All three were quick to blame China, although Chinese sources deny any involvement.
The New York Times cited the type of malware and techniques used as evidence of China’s involvement. It said the pattern matched an attack on Gmail in 2010 that was traced back to two educational institutions in China.
China blamed for hacking spree R
Not so fast, says Jeffrey Carr, CEO of cybersecurity consultants Taia Global. “You can’t rule China out, but you could have Chinese hackers operating outside any official activity,” he says.
Twitter also came under attack last week, when 250,000 usernames and passwords were stolen. The company named no names, but referred to an “extremely sophisticated” attack, adding that “other companies and organizations have also been recently similarly attacked”.
“NASA ruled out any plans that would use the former spy telescopes to take pictures of Earth”
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