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Did you know?

The Platypus is stranger than you think.

Platypuses have no nipples.  After the young hatch, the mother oozes milk from the pores all over her body.

The male platypus has a poison barb on the inside of its hind legs.  The purpose of this weapon is uncertain.

While often compared to the beaver, the platypus is only about 20 inches in length -- more comparable to the size of the muskrat.

The Platypus bill is actually just an elongated muzzle covered with much the same kind of tough skin found on a dog's nose.  This bill contains an electrically-sensitive organ that can detect the electrical signatures of the small aquatic animals it eats.

Everything Earth Science
Ball-lightning in the laboratory PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Everything Science   
Jun 06, 2006 at 12:00 AM
Scientists in the joint study group of Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik (IPP) and Berlin’s Humboldt University (HUB) have generated ball-lightning in the laboratory - or, to be more precise, ball-lightning-like plasma clouds. The physicists produce luminous plasma balls above a water surface which have lifetimes of almost half a second and diameters of 10 to 20 centimetres.

ball lightning
A ball-lightning-like plasma cloud is produced in an underwater discharge. (Photo: D. Lange, IPP)

Ball-lightning is described as a luminous phenomenon occurring during thunderstorms. It is a mystery, however, that they should be visible not as a brief flash, i.e. just for microseconds, but exist for several seconds, i.e. a hundred thousand times as long as a flash of lightning. Besides such famous figures as the Roman philosopher Seneca, Pliny the Elder, Charlemagne and Henry II of England, in modern times the Nobel Prize winners in physics, Niels Bohr and Pjotr Kapitza, claim to have observed this phenomenon. Less renowned observers also report unexpected encounters with ball-lightning; the internet features more than a million entries on the subject. On the other hand, the phenomenon is so rare that there are still no reliable data available. Accordingly, doubtful attempts at interpretation are rampant, ranging from black holes to mini nuclear explosions and esoteric explanations.

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SMART-1 close-up on Zucchius crater’s central peaks PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Everything Science   
Jun 03, 2006 at 12:00 AM
This image, taken by the advanced Moon Imaging Experiment (AMIE) on board ESA’s SMART-1 spacecraft, shows the central peaks of crater Zucchius. 

amie_zucchius
This image, taken by the advanced Moon Imaging Experiment (AMIE) on board ESA’s SMART-1 spacecraft, shows the central peaks of crater Zucchius. AMIE obtained this image on 14 January 2006 from a distance of about 753 kilometres from the surface, with a ground resolution of 68 metres per pixel. The imaged area is centred at a latitude of 61.3º South and longitude 50.8º West. Zucchius is a prominent lunar impact crater located near the southwest limb. It has 66 kilometres diameter, but only its inside is visible in this image, as the AMIE field of view is 35 kilometres from this close-up distance. Credits: ESA/SMART-1/Space-X (Space Exploration Institute)
AMIE obtained this image on 14 January 2006 from a distance of about 753 kilometres from the surface, with a ground resolution of 68 metres per pixel.
The imaged area is centred at a latitude of 61.3º South and longitude 50.8º West. Zucchius is a prominent lunar impact crater located near the southwest limb. It has 66 kilometres diameter, but only its inside is visible in this image, as the AMIE field of view is 35 kilometres from this close-up distance.

Because of its location, the crater appears oblong-shaped due to foreshortening. It lies just to the south-southwest of Segner crater, and northeast of the much larger Bailly walled-plain. To the southeast is the Bettinus crater, a formation only slightly larger than Zucchius.

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ExoMars rover concept is a star attraction at ILA2006 Space Pavilion PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Everything Science   
May 22, 2006 at 12:00 AM
One of the attractions at the ILA2006 Space Pavilion is the full-scale ExoMars rover mock-up based on an artist's impression of Europe’s next mission to Mars and the first robotic mission with the European Space Exploration Programme Aurora. 

ESA_rover
At the International Aerospace Exhibition and Conference (ILA) in Berlin, May 2006, a new ‘International Space Village’ within groups together space agencies and industry from around the world. In the space pavilion Europe's highly ambitious Aurora programme for the future exploration of Mars and the solar system is featured, including the ExoMars rover.

The large rover and its deployment on the surface of Mars are probably the most challenging elements of the ExoMars mission, currently slated for launch in 2011, which will search for traces of life on and underneath the surface of Mars. The rover will carry a payload, dubbed Pasteur, and will be equipped with a drilling system that will reach up to two metres below the Martian surface. 

Through the mock-up and accompanying background animation the many visitors to ILA2006 could gain an appreciation of the different mission phases, the rover surface operations, as well as the rover's expected size.

While an artist's view was used to produce both the rover and its animated graphics, European industry is gearing up to design and manufacture the real thing after having conducted conceptual studies (Phase A) both for the mission and for the rover as one of the mission elements.

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Trio of Neptunes and their Belt PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Everything Science   
May 18, 2006 at 12:00 AM
Using the ultra-precise HARPS spectrograph on ESO’s 3.6-m telescope at La Silla (Chile), a team of European astronomers have discovered that a nearby star is host to three Neptune-mass planets. The innermost planet is most probably rocky, while the outermost is the first known Neptune-mass planet to reside in the habitable zone. This unique system is likely further enriched by an asteroid belt. 

3Neptunes
Artist's rendering of Orbital's Hybrid Launch Vehicle (HLV) in flight (Photo: Business Wire).

“For the first time, we have discovered a planetary system composed of several Neptune-mass planets”, said Christophe Lovis, from the Geneva Observatory and lead-author of the paper presenting the results.

During more than two years, the astronomers carefully studied HD 69830, a rather inconspicuous nearby star slightly less massive than the Sun. Located 41 light-years away towards the constellation of Puppis (the Stern), it is, with a visual magnitude of 5.95, just visible with the unaided eye. The astronomers’ precise radial-velocity measurements allowed them to discover the presence of three tiny companions orbiting their parent star in 8.67, 31.6 and 197 days.

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Beef up Dad's Tomatoes for Father's Day PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Everything Science   
May 14, 2006 at 12:00 AM
--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Every dad usually likes to try his hand at home-grown tomatoes. It seems to go with the territory of being a dad, like throwing a baseball, fixing something on a car, or mowing the lawn and complaining about it. If the home-grown tomatoes turn out big and delicious, certain bragging rights are attached. So in honor of Father's Day, help the man in your life grow the biggest, best tomatoes on the block.

tomatoes

Help dad grow beautiful, delicious tomatoes like these. (Photo: Business Wire)

Start off Right

First, choose a good location with full sun, good drainage, and soil amended with natural composts. Good soils with adequate drainage head off root diseases or the stress of too much or too little water. Next choose healthy tomato plants -- dark green with thick stems, a strong root system, and absolutely no brown spots or wilted leaves. Look for varieties resistant to the main diseases and known to grow well in your area (a nursery or extension service can advise). Space tomato plants at least 18-24 inches apart in the row, with at least half of the transplant height buried. New roots will form on the part of the stem that is buried.

Grow It Bigger

Plan for size. These are dad's tomatoes, so do things to help grow really big ones. Keep the soil around the plant moist and rich with compost and mulch. Use stakes to keep leaves and fruit off the ground. Be sure to remove the suckers (small unproductive vegetative branches on main stems and at the base of the plant). Fertilize weekly with a liquid plant food. Remove any damaged or misshaped fruit. Apply Messenger(R) to direct more of the plant's energy into producing more and bigger fruit. Messenger contains a natural protein that also enhances a plant's own disease resistance systems. Apply Messenger every three weeks starting at bloom. This sets the stage for really huge tomatoes.

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