Look, up in the sky… CLUNK!

Ice meteors are falling from the sky in growing numbers. And while some skeptics still think the phenomenon a hoax or the result of ice from planes passing overhead, a Spanish scientist says they are neither. Though he doesn’t know precisely how the meteors form, Jesus Martinez-Frias, director of planetary geography at Spain’s Astrobiology Center in Madrid, notes that their results can be dramatic. The falling ice blocks tend to weigh upwards of 20 pounds and have smashed in cars, destroyed roofs and caused general mayhem where they land. But Martinez-Frias says he isn’t concerned so much about the terrestrial damage they can cause, but the atmospheric damage he believes they portend. “I’m not worried that a block of ice might fall on your head … but that great blocks of ice are forming where they shouldn’t exist,” he said. “Components of the atmosphere, like ozone and water, are changing in different levels of the atmosphere. … We think these signs could be evidence of climate change,” he told Reuters.

Alien bugs here on Earth?

A tough microbe called Deinococcus radiodurans can withstand blasts of radiation, enduring several thousand times the lethal dose for humans. How did these little bugs develop this resistance? A team of Russian scientists has concluded that these extraordinary organisms are actually Martian microbes, here on Earth by way of meteorites. In tests on common bacteria E. coli, the scientists determined that evolution of radiation-resistance would take longer than 3.8 billion years, the time that life has been on Earth. In contrast, the bugs could develop this characteristic on the Red Planet in only a few hundred thousand years. On Mars there are much higher levels of radiation and the planet experiences regular climate swings that would induce dormancy in microbes, allowing them to accumulate sufficient doses of radiation to evolve into radiation-resistant critters.

See also: Acidic clouds of Venus could harbour life

Device gives smart bombs a headache

Plans for GPS-guided bombs to do much of the heavy lifting in a U.S. war on Iraq could be seriously hampered by a $40 device available over the Internet. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, so-called global positioning system “jammers” can interrupt the system’s satellite signal. “At the Paris Air Show in 1999, a Russian company called Aviaconversia demonstrated a 4-watt GPS jammer, weighing about 19 pounds, capable of denying GPS reception for more than 100 miles,” the paper says. “While we do not know the extent of our vulnerability, there is evidence to suggest that GPS jamming can significantly inhibit precision targeting,” says Rep. Joseph Pitts (R., Penn.), co-chairman of Congress’ Electronic Warfare Working Group. So far the only known fix is to boost the GPS signal strength. But without new satellites in place, there’s only so far that approach can go.

Gonna fly now

It’s a technique Orville and Wilbur (God, I still love those names) Wright used a century ago to keep their early airplane afloat. Now the U.S. Air Force thinks it might have legs — or wings — again. It’s called wing warping. Instead of movable flaps and ailerons to steer and control a plane, warping bends the entire wing to achieve the desired effect. The Air Force has fancied it up a bit and redubbed it “active aeroelastic wing” technology. But the goal of its $41 million investment is, like the Brothers Wright, to produce lighter, more maneuverable planes. >> Related sites

Cancer detector works both ways

Dual use technology usually starts out with a military use that civilians find a way to commercialize. The U.S. Navy is hoping to turn that equation around with a $5 million program to improve breast cancer detection. As it happens, looking for a cancerous cell in a human breast relies on a lot of the same science as identifying targets in spy satellite photos. And since the Navy believes its current pick-’em-out technology has hit a ceiling, it hopes to develop advances in breast cancer screening that can be applied to spotting Osama bin Laden from space. Wired has a terrific story on this, and notes that real-world applications are already emerging.

Baby bye bye bye

Oh well. It looks like ‘N Syncer Lance Bass won’t be making a trip into space after all. After failing to pony up the $20 million needed to participate in a trip to the International Space Station (ISS) after several deadline extensions, the pop star was asked to leave Russia’s cosmonaut training program, according to the Russian Space Agency. The Russians have a cargo container ready to go in Bass’s place. Bass had been training for the trip since July and was scheduled to go up to the space station by rocket on October 28. For a look at what Bass will be missing, visit NASA’s SkyWatch site to find out when the station can be viewed flying over your town.