Astro News Briefs: June 27–July 3

Comet Award Winners

July 1, 2005 | Two Americans will share the seventh annual Edgar Wilson Award for amateur comet discovery. According to IAU Circular 8554 issued by the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT) last June 30th, the winners are Roy A. Tucker (Tucson, Arizona) for discovering C/2004 Q1 and Donald E. Machholz (Colfax, California) for C/2004 Q2. In addition to the honor and prestige associated with the award, each winner receives a plaque and a cash prize typically worth several thousand dollars.

Established in 1998 in memory of American businessman Edgar Wilson, the award is given to amateur astronomers (or professional astronomers acting in an amateur capacity) who, during the 12 months preceding June 10th each year, find one or more new comets using amateur, privately owned equipment. Comets discovered using professional equipment or data do not qualify. For more information, go to CBAT's Web site.


Long-Awaited Mars Radar Ready

June 27, 2005 | Astronomers might soon have the answer to one of the largest lingering questions about the history of Mars — what happened to all of its water? Many experts believe that most of the red planet's water supply is buried below its dusty desert landscape. Now a European instrument built to find deep subsurface ice is ready to begin its observations.

On June 22nd, engineers working with the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter completed the three-part deployment of the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument (MARSIS). The radar consists of two 20-meter-long (66 foot) booms and one 7-meter-long boom. The instrument will undergo diagnostic testing until July 4th. After that it will use radar to look for the signature of frozen ice as deep as 5 kilometers below the surface.

Mars Express arrived on December 25, 2003, and has beamed spectacular images of Mars back to Earth since then. Engineers feared releasing the MARSIS's booms might damage the spacecraft, and thus delayed the instrument until now so they could conduct a risk-assessment analysis. In May engineers gave MARSIS deployment the green light.