Rising greenhouse gases in our own atmosphere seem to be causing Antarctica to
warm in step
with the rest of the world. Trends across the bulk of the continent have been hard to discern, mainly because data from land stations is scarce.
This month also sees Iceland's outgoing administration
issue whaling quotas
that are substantially enlarged from those in previous years. The incoming interim government allows hunting to
go ahead in 2009
but leaves in doubt whether the practice will continue.
There are many thousands of manmade objects in orbit
These aren't the only satellites to end up in pieces. Nasa's first dedicated mission to measure carbon dioxide from space
crashes into the ocean near Antarctica
following a rocket malfunction.
Meanwhile, Nasa and the European Space Agency decide to
forge ahead with an ambitious plan
to send probes to the Jupiter system and its icy moon Europa. But the missions will cost several billion dollars/euros to build and execute and might never fly if other endeavours become higher research priorities.
Alluvial fans on Mars appear to have been carved out by running water
The biggest ever investigation into a climate change fix known as "ocean fertilisation"
reports modest results.
The technique involves tipping iron filings into the ocean to stimulate the growth of algae, which absorb the greenhouse gas CO2 from the air.
In separate research, the University of Michigan's Dr Nilton Renno says
droplets of liquid water
can be seen in photos of a landing leg strut from Nasa's Phoenix lander, which touched down on Mars in 2008. Dr Renno makes the claim at a meeting in Houston, Texas, where scientists
present early results
from the mission.
Tuned to see the high-energy gamma-rays emitted from extreme cosmic events, Nasa's Swift telescope picks up the
most distant single object ever detected
- the cataclysmic explosion of a giant star some 13 billion light-years away.
President Obama said it was time for the US to take a lead on innovation
By comparison, the star Gliese 581 is a mere hop and a skip away. It is around this sun that astronomers find
the "lightest" planet ever detected
outside our Solar System. This "exoplanet" is about twice as massive as the Earth, but too hot to support life.
This month US President Barack Obama sets a goal of
devoting 3% of gross domestic product (GDP)
to US research and development. During a speech in Washington DC, he says the US should lead on innovation, adding that, over the years, "scientific integrity has been undermined and scientific research politicised".
This was the last re-fit for the orbiting observatory
The preservation was so good, it was possible to see an outline of fur
Just as dazzling were the beautifully preserved remains of a 47-million-year-old fossil primate,
unveiled amid great fanfare
in New York. The specimen, nicknamed Ida, is claimed to be a "missing link" between today's higher primates - monkeys, apes and humans - and more distant relatives.
A scientific paper
published in Nature journal
later concludes that Ida belonged to a group more closely linked to lemurs and lorises than to higher primates like humans.
May is also the month that the European Space Agency launches its Herschel and Planck telescopes. The former will study the birth of stars and galaxies; and how they evolve over time; the latter will map the "oldest light" in the cosmos to understand better its contents and structure.
June also sees the International Whaling Commission (IWC)
hold its annual meeting
on the Portuguese island of Madeira. Pro- and anti-whaling nations agree to
further compromise talks
at the end of the meeting. But the gathering defers a decision on a controversial bid from Greenland to add humpback whales to its annual hunt.
Meeting in the Italian city of L'Aquila, G8 nations agree to
cut their greenhouse gas emissions
by 80% by 2050. The world overall should halve them by 2050, say the leaders. But UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says big cuts are needed sooner rather than later.
Nasa released images of Apollo hardware on the Moon
Physical stresses seem to be behind the bears' shrinking size
both appear to be shrinking in size, according to separate studies. A number of factors are involved, including pollution in the case of the bears, and climate change, in the case of Soay sheep.
Further insights came to light this month from an ongoing effort to unravel the Neanderthal genome. Research shows Neanderthals shared with modern humans the
gene for tasting bitter flavours.
The full genome will be published next year and could shed light on the appearance, behaviour and intelligence of our close cousins.
Footage of clever rooks reveals one of Aesop's fables may be based on fact.
Rooks show that they are smarter than the average bird: British researchers manage to get the corvids to
recreate one of Aesop's Fables.
In the 2,000-year-old tale, a crow uses stones to raise the water level in a pitcher so it can reach the liquid to quench its thirst. Rooks, which are related to crows, do just the same when presented with a similar scenario.
Satellite data shows this summer's melt of Arctic sea ice has
not been as profound
as in the previous two years. Cooler Arctic temperatures this year and winds helping to disperse the sea ice are among the reasons, scientists suggest. But they note the long-term trend is still downwards.
A manned mission to Mars may be a long way off, but one of the robotic spacecraft in orbit around the Red Planet reveals
evidence of white material
exposed by fresh meteorite impacts fading over time - behaviour expected of ice. Data from three spacecraft reveal that
very fine films of H2O
coat the particles that make up the Moon's soil.
Over 17 years, the team reconstructed what "Ardi" looked like
November also sees the publication of a major study showing that mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet
quickened between 2006 and 2008.
Melting of the entire sheet would raise sea levels globally by about 7m (20ft), scientists say.
As the year draws to a close, researchers in the US say they
have seen tantalising glimpses
of the elusive "stuff" known as dark matter which makes up some 25% of the Universe. They will try to verify the findings next year, making this story one to watch for 2010.
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