Astro News Briefs: February 24–March 2

Pioneer 10 Fades to Black

February 26, 2003 | NASA engineers believe they have received their final transmission from Pioneer 10. When last heard from, on January 22nd, the venerable spacecraft was 12.2 billion kilometers from Earth and its transmission was very weak. Project officials fear that the plutonium fuel on board has decayed too much to provide adequate electricity. Attempts to contact the craft again on February 7th were unsuccessful, and the space agency has no plans for additional tries. Launched on March 2, 1972, Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to reach Jupiter. During its dramatic flyby on December 3, 1973, the craft relayed images of the giant planet and data on the charged particles trapped in its magnetosphere. Since then Pioneer 10 has been heading out of the solar system, having passed the orbit of Pluto in 1983. Although its design lifetime was only 21 months, the spacecraft continued to collect scientific data for more than 30 years. Its twin, Pioneer 11, was last heard from in 1995.


Green Light for ALMA Radio Telescope

February 25, 2003 | An international agreement signed today marks a major step toward the construction of the world's most powerful radio telescope. Signing the document were Rita Colwell, director of the U.S. National Science Foundation, and Catherine Cesarsky, director general of the European Southern Observatory. Known as the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, or ALMA, the $650-million project will consist of sixty-four 12-meter-wide radio dishes clustered together at an altitude of 5,000 meters in the Chilean Andes. Interconnected to work together as a single dish, ALMA should provide unprecedented imaging capability at millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths. Tests of a prototype system will begin next year, and project officials expect to complete the array's construction by 2011.

For more information on ALMA and the NSF-ESO agreement, see: http://www.eso.org/outreach/press-rel/pr-2003/pr-04-03.html.


Mars Rover "Lands" in Florida

February 25, 2003 | The first of two Mars Exploration Rovers has arrived at the Kennedy Space Center, along with its protective aeroshell and rocket stage. The second rover is due to arrive around March 10th. Built at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, NASA's latest Mars-bound spacecraft are scheduled for launch on May 25th and June 30th. Once they reach the red planet early next year, the rovers will study the Martian surface to help geologists understand the evolution of the planet and, in particular, the role that water has played.

Details about the MER program are available at: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mer/.


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