NASA's Mars Curiosity rover reaches 'far frontier'

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover reaches 'far frontier' - NASA's $2.5 billion Curiosity rover has reached the base of the Martian mountain it aims to explore and should start drilling rocks there soon, US space agency scientists said Thursday.

They also defended the robotic vehicle's work so far, after a review panel in July criticized the mission and said it was lacking focus.

The biggest Mars rover ever made landed on the Red Planet in August 2012 after a dramatic touchdown, with the goal of exploring the terrain for traces that life may once have existed.

"We have finally arrived at the far frontier that we have sought for so long," said John Grotzinger, Curiosity project scientist at the California Institute of Technology.

A color image released by NASA on August 28, 2012 and taken on August 23 shows Mount Sharp in the background, taken by the 34-millimeter mast camera on NASA's Curiosity Rover (AFP Photo/)

The vehicle is now at the base of Mount Sharp and will start climbing in the coming days, with the aim of drilling into a gray-green colored rock in the next couple of weeks, he said.

"The scientific sequel is upon us," said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division.

The rover will take a slightly more direct route from the base than initially planned, after its wheels were damaged last year by sharp rocks on the Martian surface that poked holes in four of the vehicle's six wheels.

"This damage accelerated the rate of wear and tear beyond that for which the rover team had planned. In response, the team altered the rover's route to a milder terrain," NASA said in a statement.

In July, an independent review panel said that the mission's aim of collecting eight samples from Mars' surface for a total of 13 analyses was "a poor science return for such a large investment in a flagship mission."

The reviewers also questioned whether the rover's science goals were being met, and precisely what they were, expressing concern that NASA's lead project scientist did not attend the presentation in person and was unavailable for questions.

"This left the panel with the impression that the team felt they were too big to fail," said the report by the NASA Planetary Senior Review panel.

Green said there had been a misunderstanding about scheduling and that NASA did not intend to have their lead scientist miss the panel's questions.

Green said the space agency was taking into account the findings of the panel.

"We don't filter their comments, we don't edit them out, we don't block their opinions," said Green.

"We solicit it, we got them, and we are acting on them." ( AFP )

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Asteroid Hunters Announce First Private Deep Space Mission

Asteroid Hunters Announce First Private Deep Space Mission - Asteroids could be heading for Earth right now, and the world should not have to live in fear. At least that's the message of a group of scientists and former astronauts working on the issue. They announced plans today to launch the first privately funded deep space mission in history, a space telescope that would make sure the coast is clear for us.

The SENTINEL mission, announced by the B612 Foundation, would send a telescope into orbit around the sun in order to track small to mid-sized asteroids that could threaten Earth. NASA already works with a network of astronomers to track the most dangerous near-Earth asteroids, those more than two thirds of a mile across. They say they believe they have already identified nearly 90 percent of those deadly space rocks.

However, there is very little data on an estimated 500 million smaller objects that could do us harm - like whatever exploded over the Tunguska region of Siberia in 1908, leveling over 800 miles of forest. The chairman and CEO of the B612 Foundation, former astronaut Ed Lu, says this is a problem. He flew on the space shuttle, the International Space Station and Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

ABC News - Asteroid Hunters Announce First Private Deep Space Mission (ABC News)

"We've identified and mapped only about one percent of these asteroids to date." Lu said at a press conference. "During its 5.5-year mission survey time, Sentinel will discover and track half a million Near Earth Asteroids, creating a dynamic map that will provide the blueprint for future exploration of our solar system, while protecting the future of humanity on Earth."

Don't expect that dynamic map anytime soon. Launch of the Sentinel telescope is targeted for 2017 or 2018 - if the project, which would cost several hundred million of dollars, is able to find funding.

The B612 group is optimistic. A press release issued by the foundation said, "Advances in space technology, including advances in infrared sensing and on-board computing, as well as low-cost launch system, have opened up a new era in exploration where private organizations can now carry out grand and audacious space missions previously only possible by governments."

The B612 Foundation, based in Mountain View, Calif., is named after the home asteroid of the Earth-visiting prince in Antoine de Saint-Exupery's "The Little Prince." It was originally founded with a focus on deflecting a potential incoming asteroid. Ideas studied include sending an intercepting spacecraft, but none have been tested.

The group has since shifted its focus to this project, which will seek to identify asteroids rather than destroy them. However, the original mission is not far from their minds.

According to Rusty Schweickart, an Apollo astronaut and Chairman Emeritus of B612, "The nice thing about asteroids is that once you've found them and once you have a good solid orbit on them you can predict a hundred years ahead of time whether there is a likelihood of an impact with the Earth." ( ABC News )

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Pirates spoil Utley's return

Pirates spoil Utley's return - Chase Utley did everything to help the Philadelphia Phillies win except pitch middle relief.

Utley homered in his first at-bat of the season, but the Pittsburgh Pirates spoiled his return by connecting three times and beating the Phillies 11-7 Wednesday night.

Michael McKenry hit a three-run homer and Andrew McCutchen and Casey McGehee also went deep for Pittsburgh. The Pirates set season highs for runs and hits (14), all against the Phillies' maligned bullpen.

''It was a good first step, but obviously winning would've been ideal,'' Utley said.

Utley missed the first 76 games this year because of a chronic problem in both knees. He had three hits, but it wasn't enough on a night the Phillies got more encouraging news about their injured stars.

Former NL MVP Ryan Howard will start a rehab stint on Thursday night and two-time Cy Young winner Roy Halladay is making progress and could throw off a bullpen mound next week.

Until they're all healthy, it won't be easy for the five-time defending NL East champions.
Pittsburgh Pirates' James McDonald throws a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies in the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen takes off his gloves after striking out against Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Raul Valdez in the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

James McDonald (7-3) allowed four runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings. It was the first time in 15 starts this season he allowed more than three runs, and his ERA climbed from 2.19 to 2.44.

McKenry drove in a career-best four runs and the Pirates feasted on Philadelphia's pitching.

''I'm not trying to do too much and hit what they give me,'' McKenry said.

Reliever Raul Valdes (2-1) started for the Phillies, who were out of starters because of a doubleheader Sunday. He allowed three runs and two hits in two innings in his second career start. Joe Savery came in and gave up five runs in 2 2-3 innings. He was optioned to Triple-A after the game.

''There were doubts about our bullpen,'' Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. ''We felt like with what we had in the minors, this could give us more flexibility. But it backfired. We got lit up.''

The Phillies entered with a 4.41 bullpen ERA that was 25th in the majors.

''We have to get our bullpen straightened out,'' Manuel said.

Utley can't help in that department.

The Phillies took a 2-0 lead in the first when Utley and Carlos Ruiz hit back-to-back homers.

Utley drove a 2-2 pitch way out to right-center. He got his third standing ovation in a 15-minute span and came out for a curtain call after circling the bases and getting mobbed by teammates in dugout.

''It was pretty exciting,'' Utley said. ''The fans were awesome and it was nice to hit the ball hard my first at-bat.''

Ruiz then hit a drive to left for his 11th homer. That had another sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park buzzing.

It didn't last.

McKenry connected off Valdes in the second to put the Pirates ahead 3-2. McGehee homered off Savery in the fourth and McDonald helped himself with a two-out RBI single to extend the lead to 5-2.

Neil Walker, Jose Tabata and McKenry had RBI singles in the fifth to put the Pirates up 8-2.

But the Phillies rallied against McDonald in the sixth. Hunter Pence had an RBI double and Shane Victorino singled him in to cut it to 8-4.

Jimmy Rollins lined an RBI triple off Jared Hughes with no outs in the seventh. Tony Watson came in and Juan Pierre singled for his 500th career RBI. Utley followed with a single and Ruiz lined an RBI single to right field that Tabata appeared to lose in the lights, cutting the deficit to 8-7.

Brad Lincoln entered and preserved the lead. He struck out Pence, retired Victorino on a fly ball and fanned pinch-hitter Jim Thome.

McCutchen hit a two-run drive off Chad Qualls in the eighth, sending many fans home.

Utley sat out the first 46 games last year before returning to have the least productive season in his career. He batted .259 with 11 homers and 44 RBIs. The 33-year-old second baseman has a condition called bilateral chondromalacia that can't be fixed surgically.

Howard tore his left Achilles' tendon making the final out in the last game of 2011 against St. Louis in Game 5 of the NL division series.

Halladay has been out since May 29 because of a strained latissimus dorsi muscle on the right side of his back.

NOTES: The Phillies plan to call someone up Thursday to replace Savery. They used their entire bullpen except closer Jonathan Papelbon in this loss. ... Manuel said he won't start Utley on Thursday afternoon and plans to give him a day off every three games. ... INF Michael Martinez was optioned to Triple-A to make room for Utley. ... Phillies RHP Mike Stutes had shoulder surgery Tuesday and likely will miss the rest of the season. ... The Pirates won for just the third time in the last 19 games in Philadelphia. ... McCutchen leads the majors with a .456 average (31 for 68) against lefties. ... Phillies had their 260th straight sellout, counting postseason play. ... McKenry is 9 for 14 with two homers and six RBIs in this series. ... A.J. Burnett (8-2, 3.24) tries to win his eighth straight start for the Pirates on Thursday afternoon. Kyle Kendrick (2-7, 5.24) goes for the Phillies. ( The Associated Press )

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How an Atlanta Woman's Water Bill Ballooned from $500 to $9,000 in Less Than a Year

How an Atlanta Woman's Water Bill Ballooned from $500 to $9,000 in Less Than a Year -Atlanta, Ga.-based realtor Blayne Beacham knew something was wrong when her she opened up her water bill last July.

The bill was many times the usual amount, totaling $497. Figuring a leak was the a problem, she called a handyman over to her three-bedroom home to check things out.

While he fiddled with her bathroom toilets and replaced all the valves and handles (there was no leak to be found), she appealed the bill to the city's Department of Watershed Management and set up a $100/month payment plan to keep them off her back in the meantime.

But "they turned down my appeal," Beacham said in a blog post detailing her experience. "Basically they sent someone out to check my meter and said there was nothing wrong with the meter. On October 13, I got a notice in the mail saying that my entire balance––$384.26––was due that day or they would turn off my water."

She bit the bullet and paid, but by the time December rolled around, her bill had ballooned to $758.93.

Photo: Blayne Beacham"We called the water department and worked out an agreement where I would pay them $120 a month until I could get a court date," said Beacham, who lives alone. "That number was based on my neighbor down the street’s average monthly water bill." Her neighbor also has four children.

She even went so far as to tally up her water usage per month, keeping track of every flush, load of laundry, dishwasher cycle and shower she took over a 30-day period.

" I can’t think of any other time I use water unless I am drinking it or rinsing my dishes," she said. "(My dog) Sister gets one tiny bowl of water a day, and I am thinking of asking her to cut back."

The water department sent another representative to check her meter but nothing turned up out of the ordinary. A return visit from the handyman yielded no other clues and Beacham shelled out another $600 to the water company while awaiting her court date.

By spring, her bill totaled $1,430.00 worth of back charges plus another $1,155.82 that was left unpaid in April. When all was said and done, even with a certified plumber declaring her meter glitch-free, Beacham lost her appeal to the water department.

"I called back the public relations manager to see what I should do moving forward," she said. "This time she told me that after looking at my consumption history, they decided that I had a leak in the past and got it fixed. This is absolutely absurd. I have no way of proving I did not get a leak fixed, because I did not have a leak... I am at the end of my rope."

In mid-June, Beacham opened the mail to find she was in deeper than she thought: She owed $9,224.40: "$2,638.68 worth of past charges, and $6,705.72 worth of new charges," she said.

According to Watershed Management spokesperson Janet Ward, they're trying to get to the bottom of the issue.

"We did install a data logger, which measures hour-by-hour usage that can help us determine if there are any times of the day when usage seems out of kilter," Ward told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "So that means we can’t know anything until the middle of July," since the meter has to run for 30 days.

As of Wednesday, Beacham had wrapped up another round of meetings with the company but told Business Insider by phone that things are still up in the air.

"I've had meetings with them and the problem is just unresolved," she said. "They've given me a little more time to do some research."

DON'T MISS: This California couple retired on an Argentine vineyard for only $150,000 > ( Business Insider )

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Debunking Fuel-Economy Myths - Get a reality check on 7 common fuel-saving misconceptions

Debunking Fuel-Economy Myths - Get a reality check on 7 common fuel-saving misconceptions. Like all drivers, you want to save gas and do what’s right for your car. But along with the tried-and-true advice, there are some well-intentioned—if off-the-mark—tips that can lead you astray. Below are several common myths about fuel use and gas mileage, and the real stories behind them.

A dirty air filter drops gas mileage

Our tests show that driving with a dirty air filter no longer has an impact on fuel economy, as it did with older engines. That's because modern engines use computers to precisely control the air/fuel ratio, depending on the amount of air coming in through the filter. Reducing airflow causes the engine to automatically reduce the amount of fuel being used. Fuel economy didn't change in the family sedan we tested, but it accelerated much more slowly with a dirty filter.

Warming up before driving is necessary

That was true back in the days of carburetors and chokes, but it isn’t the case with modern fuel-injected, electronically controlled drivetrains. Engines are most efficient when they’re at regular operating temperature, and the fastest way to reach that point is to drive right after starting the car.

Filling up when the air is cool gets you more gas

A common tip is to buy gasoline in the morning, when the air is cool, rather than in the heat of the day. The theory is that the cooler gasoline will be denser, so you will get more for your money. But most stations store the gasoline underground, so its temperature changes very little, if at all, during a 24-hour stretch. Any extra gas you get will be negligible.

No-name gas stations offer lower-quality fuel

Independent stations usually buy their fuel from larger, name-brand oil companies, so it’s not much different from what you’d get for a higher price down the road. Off-brand gasoline is sometimes formulated without additives designed to clean the engine, but your car should run fine on that gas.

Premium gas is always best

When it comes to regular, midgrade, and premium gasoline, oil corporations have worked overtime to drill the “good, better, best” concept into our collective driver psyche.

Premium gas has a higher octane rating, usually 91 or above, making it more resistant to pre­ignition, a condition in which fuel burns uncontrollably in the engine. Higher-performing engines are the most susceptible to preignition because they tend to run hotter, which is why premium is often recommended or required for sports and luxury vehicles.

Premium also helps maximize power in high-performance engines. With those engines, if you don't use premium, you might not get full power when, say, accelerating or climbing hills. Most drivers will probably never notice the difference.

The vast majority of cars are designed to run fine on regular. And premium won’t improve performance or fuel economy for those cars, but it will cost you about 20 cents more per gallon.

Our advice: The best gas for your car depends on the vehicle you drive. If the owner’s manual or the sticker on the fuel-filler door says that premium gas is recommended or uses similar wording, you can probably use regular. If it says premium is required, play it safe with the right octane.

Driving with windows open hurts fuel economy

Some people advise you not to run the air conditioner because it puts more of a load on the engine, which can decrease fuel economy. But others say that opening the windows at highway speeds can affect gas mileage even more by disrupting the vehicle's aerodynamics. In our tests of a Honda Accord, using air conditioning while driving at 65 mph reduced the vehicle's gas mileage by more than 3 mpg. The effect of opening the windows at 65 mph was not measurable.

Tires with low rolling resistance are always a smart choice

A lot of attention is paid to a tire’s rolling resistance, which is how much energy it takes to roll along. The lower the rolling resistance, the better your fuel economy will be. Maintaining the proper tire pressure will optimize the rolling resistance and real-world performance. Some tires gain low rolling resistance at the expense of wet-braking performance and tread life—a poor trade-off.

It’s better to look first for a tire that provides good all-around performance in important safety areas such as braking, handling, and hydroplaning resistance. Then use rolling resistance as the tiebreaker.

In our testing, we’ve found two all-season passenger-­car tires that deliver very good performance and low rolling resistance: the Continental ProContact EcoPlus+ and the Michelin Energy Saver A/S. ( Consumer Reports )

READ MORE - Debunking Fuel-Economy Myths - Get a reality check on 7 common fuel-saving misconceptions

1969 Fireball Meteorite Reveals New Ancient Mineral

1969 Fireball Meteorite Reveals New Ancient Mineral A fireball that tears across the sky is not just a one-time skywatching event — it can reap scientific dividends long afterward. In fact, one that lit up Mexico's skies in 1969 scattered thousands of meteorite bits across the northern Mexico state of Chihuahua. And now, decades later, that meteorite, named Allende, has divulged a new mineral called panguite.
Panguite is believed to be among the oldest minerals in the solar system, which is about 4.5 billion years old. Panguite belongs to a class of refractory minerals that could have formed only under the extreme temperatures and conditions present in the infant solar system.

The name of the titanium dioxide mineral, which has been approved by the International Mineralogical Association, honors Pan Gu, said in Chinese mythology to be the first living being who created the world by separating yin from yang (forming the earth and sky).
The new mineral, panguite, occurring with the scadium-rich silicate called davisite was found embedded in a piece of the Allende meteorite.

"Panguite is an especially exciting discovery since it is not only a new mineral, but also a material previously unknown to science," study researcher Chi Ma, a senior scientist at Caltech, said in a statement.

Until now, panguite had neither been seen in nature nor created in a lab. "It's brand-new to science," Ma told LiveScience in an interview.

The scientists used a scanning-electron microscope to view the panguite within a so-called ultra-refractory inclusion embedded within the meteorite. Inclusions are the minerals that get trapped inside meteorites as they are forming. The ultra-refractory type includes minerals that can resist high temperatures and other conditions in extreme environments, such as those thought to exist as our solar system was forming.

High-tech lab analyses revealed panguite's chemical composition and crystal structure, which Ma said is new, and as such, could be explored for novel engineering materials.

The Allende meteorite, where the mineral was hidden, is the largest of a class of carbonaceous chondrites found on Earth. Chondrites are primitive meteorites that scientists think were remnants shed from the original building blocks of planets. Most meteorites found on Earth fit into this group. (When meteors hit the ground they are called meteorites.)

Before they reach terra firma, most meteorites are fragments of asteroids (space rocks that travel through the solar system), while others are mere cosmic dust shed by comets. Rare meteorites are impact debris from the surfaces of the moon and Mars. The Allende meteorite likely came from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, scientists say.

Studying panguite and other components of the Allende meteorite are essential for understanding the origins of the solar system, Ma said. In fact, Ma's team has discovered nine new minerals, including panguite, in the Allende space rock. (  )

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40 Million Stars Mapped in New Night Sky Census

40 Million Stars Mapped in New Night Sky Census - Astronomers are mapping more than 40 million stars in the sky, recording the brightness and location of many faint stars that will be catalogued accurately for the first time, researchers say.

The stars are being charted as part of the American Association of Variable Star Observers Photometric All-Sky Survey (APASS), which is scanning the sky at a level 100 times fainter than any previous star-mapping expedition.

Color-composite image of FSR 1735. The cluster is the circular regions of stars and enhanced brightness in the center of the image. North is up and East is to the left.

Map of star coverage from the latest release of APASS data.

"Prior surveys have done a good job measuring the brightness of bright stars," Arne Henden, director of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), said in a statement. "Other organizations have announced plans to measure faint stars. But this Goldilocks zone of stars that are neither too bright or too faint has been neglected, until now."

In some cases, the luminosity and locations of millions of these stars are being precisely noted for the first time, the astronomers said.

"This catalog of stars will serve a key link between existing bright catalogs and fainter catalogs planned for the future, such as those created by Pan-STARRS and the LSST observatories," said Doug Welch, a professor of physics and astronomy at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario in Canada.

The survey will measure a range of stars whose brightness can typically be seen by amateur stargazers using backyard telescopes, AAVSO officials said. Astronomers measure the brightness of celestial objects in terms of their "magnitude," which characterizes how luminous they appear in the night sky.

In its simplest definition, the lower the magnitude of a star or object, the brighter it appears in the sky.

The APASS survey will catalog stars ranging from magnitude 10 to 16.5. For comparison, the faintest stars that can be seen with the naked eye are about 6th magnitude, and 11th magnitude stars are only 1/100th as bright, the researchers said.

"We estimate nearly all of the stars mapped in this survey will be accurately measured for their first time in their history," Henden said. "Tens of thousands of these stars will likely change in brightness over time and need follow up monitoring by amateur astronomers."

The APASS star catalog is expected to give astronomers a more accurate census of the sky, which could help narrow down future searches for intriguing celestial targets.

"Time available for imaging targets on the largest telescopes will be increased by APASS since calibrated stars will exist on the target images themselves," Welch said. "Different pointings for calibration fields won't be necessary."

The map is being put together using data from 8-inch (20-centimeter) telescopes in New Mexico and Chile. The telescopes can cover up to 1,000 square degrees each night, and are snapping pictures of the sky through five colored filters. Using different color filters will make it easier for individual astronomers to combine data from the APASS catalog with their own observations of a star, the survey team members said.

The initiative combines professional and amateur efforts, with professional astronomers primarily responsible for gathering the photometry, and amateur astronomers assisting with the equipment.

The APASS survey began in 2009 and is expected to wrap up by 2014. Early science data is available to the public online at ( )

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