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News briefs: March 18
Posted: Tue, Mar 19, 2002, 10:25 AM ET (1525 GMT)
  • The Czech Republic has become the first nation to enact a law designed to fight light pollution, reported Monday. The "Protection of the Atmosphere Act" was signed into law on February 27 and takes effect on June 1. Light pollution caused by indiscriminate city lighting has become a major concern for astronomers worldwide; some municipalities in the US and Europe have already enacted laws designed to reduce it, but the Czech law is the first to address it on a national scale. News of the legislation was announced Monday at the annual conference of the International Dark-Sky Association in Tucson, Arizona.
  • Some planetary scientists believe that a fifth terrestrial planet formed early in the history of the solar system, and its demise wreaked havoc on the solar system, reported Monday. At a planetary science conference last week in Houston scientists described how a fifth terrestrial planet could have been pushed by gravitational resonances into the asteroid belt, scattering asteroids into the inner solar system. Such an event could account for a previously unexplained spike in the cratering record about 3.9 billion years ago. The fifth planet likely then fell into the Sun. Scientists are calling the proposal "intriguing" but note that the study is in its early stages.
  • Tuesday will be a busy day on the International Space Station as a Progress cargo spacecraft undocks from the station at 12:43 pm EST (1743 GMT). The Progress, loaded with garbage, will burn up in the atmosphere; it will make room for a new Progress scheduled to launch Thursday and dock with the station Sunday, March 24. Before the undocking the two Americans on the crew will have a short communications session with E.T. — as in E.T. the Extraterrestrial, the character from the 1982 hit movie that is being re-released this month for its 20th anniversary. The event is part of an education event arranged by NASA and Universal Studios, Florida. The live call between the ISS astronauts and ET is scheduled for 10:15 am EST (1515 GMT) and will be on NASA TV, along with the full event, broadcast at 3 pm EST (2000 GMT).
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