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Science briefs: July 24
Posted: Thu, Jul 25, 2002, 7:32 AM ET (1132 GMT)
  • The supply of plutonium available for future NASA space science missions may be limited, Space News reported Wednesday. An official with the Department of Energy said this week that about 7 kg of Pu-238 — nearly half of the nation's total inventory — was being transferred from NASA to an undisclosed national security agency. While the transfer could put a crimp into NASA's near-term plans, the DoE official said the US plans to both produce more Pu-238 later this decade as well as purchase it from Russia.
  • A comet passing through the inner solar system has broken up into multiple fragments, astronomers report. Up to 20 pieces of comet 57P/du Toit-Neujmin-Delporte have been discovered by astronomers in the past week. Astronomers at the University of Hawaii think that the comet, like comet LINEAR in 1999, broke apart because of solar heating.
  • Cassini project officials believe they have all but fixed a problem with the spacecraft's main camera. The camera was heated from -90 to +4 degrees Celsius for four weeks ending in early July; the heating appears to have eliminated a haze layer that had collected on the lens. The haze, which may have come from engine exhaust, diffused 70 percent of the light entering the camera at one point; the diffusion is now down to five percent.
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