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Scribbles on the margins of science.

On the Record

“We have ICE!!!!! Yes, ICE, WATER ICE on Mars! w00t!!! Best day ever!!.”

Comment from 19 June on the Mars Phoenix 'twitter' feed, where team members leave updates in the persona of their plucky lander.


Runner reaction time


Canadian scientists have found that being close to the starting gun startles runners into a speedier start. The team suggests that Canada's Olympic runners wear cranked-up hearing aids in Beijing to get the best reaction time off the blocks.

Mail delivery time

A 'slow art' project at Bournemouth University in the United Kingdom uses three snails crawling around a tank to pick up e-mail signals and pass them on. The 'real snail mail' can take months to be delivered.

Number Crunch

£9,999.99 The 'N-prize' cash award for launching “an impossibly small satellite on a ludicrously small budget”.

£999.99 The maximum allowed cost of the launch.

9 orbits How far it has to fly.

9.99–19.99 grams

The required weight range of the satellite.

0.1–1 kilogram The weight range of the smallest common category of satellites, known as 'picosatellites'. One popular one, CubeSat, costs about £20,000 (US$40,000) per launch.

The prize rules state that “imaginative use of string and chewing gum is encouraged”.

Sources: Phoenix Twitter, Edmonton Journal, BBC,

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Sidelines. Nature 453, 1155 (2008).

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