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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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Mars Flashes Earth Again
12 June 2001 7:00 pm
Mysterious flashes of light from Mars have been dismissed as illusions having more in common with Loch Ness monster sightings than hard science. But a team of accomplished amateur astronomers has now done something Nessie fans can only dream of: They predicted when one legendary flash would recur and then captured it on video tape during an expedition to the Florida Keys last week.
When bright light flashed from a hook-shaped martian feature called the Edom Promontorium in 1958, some overeager scientists suggested that martians with mirrors were signaling Earth. But the consensus was that a favorable planetary alignment caused sunlight to reflect from water crystals in the martian atmosphere.
Thomas Dobbins, an amateur astronomer and author of the book Video Astronomy, first read about the flashes as a child. Last year he decided to calculate when the 1958 alignment of Earth and Mars would recur. To his surprise, the computer spit out early June 2001. "I felt like stripping off my clothes and running down the street yelling 'Eureka!,' " Dobbins says. He later decided on a more modest course of action: gather top-notch astro-imagers in Florida to photograph the flashes.
His efforts paid off 7 June at 2:40 a.m. when the team observed flares glinting from the edge of the Edom Promontorium for nearly 90 minutes. The flare, and additional flares on 8 June, were captured by a video camera mounted on a 12-inch telescope, reports the team in the 8 June International Astronomical Union Circular 7642.
Scientists have no doubts about the reality of the flares, but they aren't sure about the cause. The favorite explanation--clouds of ice crystals--requires some good fortune. "If it is from fog or clouds, then either they got very lucky or the clouds recur regularly," says Tim Parker, a planetary scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Parker suggests testing the theory by searching for similar glints with the Mars Observer.
IAU Circular Announcement
Software used to predict planet alignment is available at this reference resource
Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers
Information about the sun glint prediction