Week in science: Donner Party cannibalism in question | JPL satellites eye Iceland volcano chain | Striking images from Saturn


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>>THINK 
  • A bone to pick: Was the Donner Party’s legendary cannibalism just a myth? A new study of the bones found at the Donner’s campsite in California’s Sierra Nevadas suggests the snowbound pioneers may not have eaten each other after all. [DISCOVERY NEWS]
Image: James F. Reed and his wife, Margret W. Keyes Reed, seen in this file photo taken in the 1850s, were survivors of the tragic Donner Party. (AP Photo)


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    The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been keeping a watchful eye on those ash-spewing volcanic eruptions in Iceland that have disrupted air traffic in Northern Europe and have affected flights around the world. JPL’s satellites are collecting data about the ash plume that extends thousands of miles over the North Atlantic. [STAR-NEWS]

Image: The ash plume — from the volcano beneath Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier — drifts over the North Atlantic in this April 15 photo. (NASA)

  • Scientists have identified a new super-sized candidate for biggest comet. The data comes from the completed 17-year Ulysses mission by the European Space Agency and NASA to study the sun’s atmosphere. During that mission, Ulysses had three unplanned encounters with comet tails. [NASA/JPL]

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    A rooftop webcam at a Wisconsin university captured a fireball’s blazing descent into the atmosphere Wednesday. Fireballs are meteors that emit a brilliant light upon entering Earth’s atmosphere. [NASA/JPL]

Image: A fireball over Wisconsin. (University of Wisconsin – AOS/SSEC)
  • Experts at the United States Geological Survey say the man who sparked an Internet-fueled rumor of a major earthquake — predicted to occur this week in L.A. — has some problems with accuracy. [STAR-NEWS]
  • The USGS also blasted out this reminder: [TWITTER]
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    From now on, there will be fewer people aboard the International Space Station. NASA has pared down the size of its shuttle crews from seven to six to save weight and make room for more gear. The 13-member combined crew of the space shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station posed for the group photo, at right, the last that will contain a baker’s dozen. [DISCOVERY NEWS]

Image: Space shuttle and ISS crew members in a group portrait. (NASA)

  • An academic team formed from a partnership between the Southern California Institute of Architecture and Caltech will compete in the elite international 2011 Solar Decathlon sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. Combining forces and their respective genius on architecture and engineering, the team will design and build a prototype solar house. [SOCAL MINDS]
  • Using a small, ground-based telescope, astronomers from JPL managed to capture a picture of three planets orbiting a star beyond our own. The adaptive technology is important, because small telescopes are critical for space missions. “This is the kind of technology that could let us image other Earths,” said Wesley Traub, the chief scientist for NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program at JPL. “We are on our way toward getting a picture of another pale blue dot in space.” [NASA/JPL]
  • Video: NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured some striking — literally — images of lightning on Saturn, enabling scientists to create the first movie of lightning flashing on another planet. For the film’s score: The crackle of radio waves emitted when bolts of lighting struck. [NASA/JPL]

Embedded video from

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology

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