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Machu Picchu's chinchilla rat found alive and well

Scientists in Peru have tracked down a species of rat long thought to be extinct on the thickly-forested slopes near Machu Picchu.

The arborial chinchilla rat was found near the famous Inca settlement of Machu Picchu Credit: REUTERS/Benjamin Dell Orto

The arboreal chinchilla rat, which is the size of a cat and looks like a particularly fluffy dormouse, was previously known only through two skulls found in some 400-year-old pottery.

In 2009, a park ranger reported that he had seen an animal matching the description, but not until now have scientists been able to confirm the discovery.

They say the creature's future is threatened by habitat loss, but add that it is afforded some protection by the Machu Picchu national park.


First Russian woman to work aboard ISS arrives

Elena Serova is only the fourth Russian woman to go to space. Credit: Reuters

The first Russian female to work on board the International Space Station has safely docked with the rest of her crew.

A Russian Soyuz rocket safely docked with the ISS after launching from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan earlier, despite a technical problem with one of the craft's solar panels.

Elena Serova, a 38-year-old trained as space industry engineer, was only the fourth Russian woman in history to fly into space. She will also be the first Russian woman to work aboard the ISS, whose first component was launched in 1998.

After seven years of hard training as a cosmonaut, Serova said in an interview that she had long dreamed about proving that Russian women are able to return to space flights.

Her predecessor, Elena Kondakova, made her second - and last - flight to the Russian space station Mir in 1997 as part of a NASA space shuttle crew.

New crew blasts off for International Space Station

Credit: AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin

A US-Russian space crew has blasted off successfully for the International Space Station.

The Russian Soyuz spacecraft lifted off as scheduled from the Russian-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan. It was carrying Nasa astronaut Barry Wilmore along with Russians Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova for a six-month stint at the station.

Ms Serova is the first Russian woman to fly to space since 1997, and the fourth woman in the history of the Soviet and Russian space programmes. Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in 1963.

Water vapour found on planet 124 light years away

Water vapour has been found in the atmosphere of a planet four times larges than Earth orbiting a star 124 light years away.

The discovery on the distant "exoplanet" called HAT P-11b was made after scientists analysed the data from three space telescopes and detected traces of water vapour and hydrogen.

The planet orbits a star in the constellation Cygnus, nearly 729 trillion miles from Earth. It is though to have a rocky core wrapped in a thick gaseous envelope, with surface temperatures of more than 600C. US astronomer Professor Drake Deming, from the University of Marlyland who led the research published in Nature journal said:

The water molecule is widespread in the universe. Wherever you have hydrogen and oxygen, it naturally forms. Even some sun spots are cool enough to contain water vapour, although obviously it's far too hot for life on the sun. Our ideas about the formation of planets have been developed to match our solar system, and we don't know whether other planetary systems behave the same way.

We want to test the fundamental question of whether small planets are rich in heavy elements, like the oxygen in water vapour.

– US astronomer Professor Drake Deming

Water is a pre-requisite for life, which is why finding water on planets holds such interest.

The discovery is a leap forward in the study of distant "exoplanets" that may in future uncover evidence of alien life.

India's low-cost mission to Mars arrives in orbit

ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft seen prior to launch. Credit: ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission

The Indian space agency's low-cost mission to Mars has successfully entered the red planet's orbit on Wednesday, making India the first country to carry out such a project in its maiden attempt.

The success of the Mars Orbiter Mission, praised for its relatively low price tag of $74 million (£45 million), will boost India's 50-year-old space programme that newly-elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi aims to expand with better infrastructure and technology.


One step closer to finding whether there's life on Mars

We could be one step closer to finding out if there is in fact life on Mars after a spacecraft successfully entered the orbit around the planet.

After almost a year of travelling the universe to get there, Nasa's Maven probe is beginning its one year mission to study the Red Planet's atmosphere.

ITV News reporter Sally Biddulph has the details:

Spacecraft explores 'mystery' of Mars climate change

Nasa's Mars spacecraft is to explore the "mystery" of climate change on Red Planet.

Scientists confirmed that the Maven science vessel will now be able to beam back data after the mission successfully place it into orbit.

Spacecraft explores 'mystery Credit: Nasa

Mars has a relatively thick atmosphere compared to the moon. The more interesting comparison is that we have a fleet of earth science and weather satellites around the earth for us to understand the earth's atmosphere.

The Mars atmosphere, being something like the earth's - Maven is something more akin to our earth observing satellites.

Somehow Mars changed billions of years ago from a thick atmosphere like earth to the very thin one today. That's the big mystery the team with Maven is trying to solve.

– Astronaut John Grunsfeld

Speaking at a press conference, Astronaut John Grunsfeld from the Nasa Science Mission Directorate said the mission aimed to solve the riddle of the planet's history.

Rocket fires cargo ship at International Space Station

Scientist have confirmed an unmanned Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida deliver a cargo ship to the International Space Station for NASA.

The 208-foot tall booster, built and launched by privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, bolted off its seaside launch pad at 5.52am GMT, slicing the night-time sky with a bright plume of light as it headed into orbit.

Ten minutes later, the Dragon cargo capsule perched on top of the rocket was released to begin a two-day journey to the space station, a $100 billion research complex that flies about 260 miles above Earth.

Later tonight, a Nasa spacecraft is expected to reach Mars.

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