Astro News Briefs: April 12–18

Mars Rover Missions Extended

April 12, 2004 | On April 5th the rover Spirit celebrated its 90th day on Martian terrain. On April 26th Opportunity will do the same. These birthdays are particularly poignant as they represent the end of the rovers' primary missions. Due to the missions' tremendous success, last week NASA approved 15 million dollars to fund extended rover ground support. The extra funds should provide up to five months of additional research lasting through September.

The extension will allow Spirit to head toward the 2-kilometer-distant Columbia Hills, where scientists hope they will be able to discover clues about the hydrological history of Gusev Crater. Opportunity will investigate Endurance Crater, a few hundred meters to the east, in the hopes of uncovering more information about Meridiani Planum's wet past. Both rovers will continue atmospheric studies as well.

Large Binocular Telescope Gets First Eye

April 12, 2004 | The first of the twin 8.4-meter primary mirrors of the Large Binocular Telescope telescope atop Mount Graham in Arizona is now successfully installed. The 18-ton piece of glass arrived in October 2003. The telescope is scheduled to be completely finished in 2005. When it's done, the facility will have the light-gathering capability of an 11.8-meter telescope.

Combining Millimeter Telescopes

April 12, 2004 | On March 27th officials broke ground on a new millimeter-wave telescope array known as CARMA (Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy). The facility will consist of a 15-telescope array utilizing the half dozen 10-meter telescopes from Caltech's Owens Valley Radio Observatory and the nine 6-meter telescopes of the Berkeley-Illinois-Maryland Association array. Later this year the 15 telescopes will be moved from their current locations in Owens Valley and Hat Creek, California to the 2,200 meter (7,300 foot) high Cedar Flat site near Bishop, California. CARMA should be operational sometime in 2005.

Genesis Heads For Home

April 12, 2004 | "After more than two years of collecting solar wind ions, we're thrilled that the Genesis spacecraft is about to close up and come home." So said Donald Sweetnam (NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory) as the spacecraft he serves as project manager for prepared to finish its retrieval mission and head for home. On April 1st the spacecraft sealed itself shut to prepare for its journey back to Earth. The craft and the particles inside it, set to arrive in the Utah desert on September 8, 2004, represent NASA's first sample return mission since the Apollo landings.