Astro News Briefs: April 4–10

Mars Rovers' Mission Extended — Again

April 6, 2005 | This week NASA extended the funding for the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, to September 2006. The rovers, now 11 months past their expected lifetimes, continue to amaze. As previously reported, Spirit is continuing to climb and is nearing the top of Husband Hill. Meanwhile, Opportunity is sprinting across the Meridiani Planum flats and is close to a region of etched terrain that appears to be stripped by wind erosion.

On a more somber note, the rovers are showing their age. Spirit's rock-abrasion tool's grinding teeth appear to have worn away, and scientists still aren't sure if the faulty thermal-emission spectrometer aboard Opportunity can be saved.


Naming Jovian Moons

April 6, 2005 | As published in the March 30th International Astronomical Union Circular 8502, the International Astronomical Union's Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature approved the names of one Jovian satellite discovered in 2002 and nine found in 2003. An up-to-date listing of all planetary satellites is available in our Guide to Planetary Satellites.


Swift Nabs Its First Gamma-Ray-Burst Redshift

April 6, 2005 | On March 18th and 19th scientists using the Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) aboard NASA's Swift satellite spotted a pair of gamma-ray bursts. The detections marked the mission's first distance measurements to GRBs. The team measured redshifts of 1.44 (9.2 billion light-years) and 3.24 (11.6 billion light-years), respectively. The blast on the 18th was the first time the UVOT instrument observed a GRB afterglow. To date Swift has seen 24 bursts, and the craft's X-ray telescope has seen several afterglows already.