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David Shukman

David Shukman Science editor

Welcome to my perspective on science stories in the headlines and behind them

Five critical steps involved in putting a lander on a comet

How do you land on a comet? This isn't some fantasy from science fiction but the reality facing the people running Esa's Rosetta mission after the successful rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Tuesday 11 November has already been pencilled in as the day that the Philae lander will touch down on the mysterious icy body.

If it slips too far beyond that, the comet's orbit will take it closer to the Sun, which means the surface will heat up and maybe become too active for the fragile craft.

So the pressure is now on to come up with a plan.

On Wednesday, the head of landing site selection, Stephan Ulamec, gave a briefing on his latest thinking and I also discussed the challenges with Esa science adviser Mark McCaughrean.

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Journey of understanding 'just beginning'

The comet on August 4th, from around 234km away
The comet on August 4th, from around 234km away

Europe's mission control here at Darmstadt in Germany cannot match the sheer exuberance of Nasa when it comes to celebrating triumphs.

Confirmation that Esa's Rosetta spacecraft had achieved its historic rendezvous with a comet was greeted with applause, wide grins and shouts of "yes, yes!", but none of the wild cheering we saw when Curiosity touched down on Mars two years ago.

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Rosetta 'on its final approach'

Rosetta approaching 67P
An artists impression of Rosetta approaching the comet

After a journey that has lasted a decade, Europe's Rosetta spacecraft is now on its final approach to a comet.

One of the scientists leading this European Space Agency (Esa) venture described it as "the sexiest, most fantastic mission ever".

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Deep sea mining licences issued

Drill core
For decades, the idea of mining these deposits was dismissed as unfeasible

Vast new areas of the ocean floor have been opened up in an accelerating search for valuable minerals including manganese, copper and gold.

In a move that brings closer a new era of deep sea mining, the UN's International Seabed Authority (ISA) has issued seven new exploration licences.

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Shuttle diplomacy in climate countdown

Smoke
The aim is for a deal limiting greenhouse gases

A senior British minister is once again launched on a long-haul high-carbon mission of shuttle diplomacy in the cause of tackling climate change.

The target is to try to land an international deal on limiting greenhouse gases at what is billed as a major summit in Paris in late 2015.

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Oklahoma drought kindles spectre of 1930s 'Dust Bowl'

A menacing cloud of dust swirling above a parched field in Oklahoma is a disturbing reminder of the power of drought.

All too often here, when the land is baked dry, the winds can strip away an inch of precious topsoil in as little as 24 hours, soil that has taken centuries to form.

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How much money can we make from fracking Britain?

A fracking site in Texas America
Fracking is already used as a method of extracting gas and oil from the ground in several areas in America, as is the case with this site in Texas

How much money can be made from trying to extract oil and gas from the layers of shale that lie beneath Britain?

Answering that is proving to be a surprisingly difficult scientific question because knowing the basic facts about shale is not enough.

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David added analysis to:

Pfizer takeover could delay drug development, says Astra chief

For anyone in the pharmaceutical industry, the Holy Grail is the discovery of what they call a new "molecule", a cleverly-designed compound that proves effective as a treatment.

But achieving this is fiendishly complicated - getting approval has become hugely expensive and success is far from guaranteed.

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David added analysis to:

'Nothing can stop retreat' of West Antarctic glaciers

West Antarctica is one of the least accessible parts of the planet and it takes a huge effort to research the changes under way there. Nearly a decade ago, I joined a flight on an old US Navy patrol plane that made a gruelling 11-hour round trip from the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas to Pine Island Glacier, which lies among the glaciers featured in these latest studies.

There was no possibility of landing and, if the worst were to happen, there was no-one close enough to offer any kind of rescue. This is research at its most daring. On board was a team from Nasa whose instruments were measuring the elevation and thickness of the ice below us. Even at this stage, it was clear that the glacier, far larger than anything you might see in Europe or North America, was speeding up.

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How does Europe wean itself off Russian gas?

Each escalation of the crisis in Ukraine sends a jolt of nervousness far beyond its borders as Europe worries about its energy supplies.

With about one-third of Europe's gas coming from Russia and about half of that gas flowing through Ukraine, these are tense times.

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More Correspondents

  • Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent Jonathan Amos Science correspondent

    UK and European space and the latest major science stories


  • Matt McGrath Matt McGrath Environment correspondent

    Updates on emerging environmental news


  • Fergus Walsh, Medical correspondent Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

    A focus on the medical and health issues of the day


  • Tom Feilden, Science correspondent, Today programme Tom Feilden Science correspondent, Today

    Analysis of the scientific issues making headlines


About David

Twenty years ago David visited the secret lab at Los Alamos that created the nuclear bomb and he's been fascinated by science and scientists ever since. His reports on research have taken him as far afield as the Antarctic ice-sheet, the Amazon rainforest and the depths of the Gulf of Mexico.

Since joining the BBC back in 1983, David has covered Northern Ireland, defence, Europe and world affairs. He is the author of three books.

His favourite memories include reporting from East Berlin during the fall of the Wall and exploring the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider on a bike.

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