Since I did a year-long Senior Project in college about Gaussian primes, and am also a contented user of the Python language, I may perhaps be forgiven for posting the following. It's from Dr. Dobb's Python-URL! - weekly Python news and links [leave a comment if you want subscription info]:
When you are switching from, say, Java you will probably be surprised that in Python p = 2**24036583 - 1 is all it takes to calculate the largest known prime number to date. Printing p will also work out of the box, but may take a bit long. Tim Peters sketches the algorithm Python uses to generate the decimal representation of an integer and provides code that can handle very large numbers efficiently. See two usenetthreads.
On my machine, it takes a couple seconds to do the p = 2**24036583 - 1 assignment.
A strong signal of life on Mars has been detected by scientists at the US National Aeronautics and Space Admin- istration (Nasa) and the European Space Agency.
The detection of methane has been the holy grail of scientists studying the Martian atmosphere, as its presence could provide unequivocal proof that there is life beyond Earth.
Neither Nasa nor the European Space Agency (ESA) has publicly announced the findings, but specialists who have seen the data believe the discovery is genuine - although they are unsure what it means in terms of confirming the presence of life. [Independent]
The story goes on to mention a possible "subterranean source of methane which is pumping out the gas, either due to some residual geological activity or because of the presence of living organisms producing it as a waste gas." The italic on the use of the present tense is mine, because I think that is pretty darned interesting.
"Spirit made incredible progress over the weekend," said mission manager Jennifer Trosper. "Today we are doing science on Spirit. She is back to the state she was in on Day One." [LA Times -- signup required]
Yay! That's great. Apparently they fixed it by deleting more than 1,700 files. It still seems to me that it is quite strange that with the money they spent on this system that they ended up with an OS and file system that would crash and reboot as the number of files increased. I mean, given how much was riding on the software working, how could they never have tested having a realistic number of files? But at least they're able to deal with it. And being able to do so from Earth when we're talking about a computer on Mars is still an amazing accomplishment.
If you're interested in space in general and the Spirit Mars rover in particular, go download Maestro. It's reportedly the same software they're using at NASA to work with images from the rover. When I first read about it I didn't download it because I have zero time to spend playing with new software. But this morning I decided to just give it a try to see if it really would have a learning curve.
I found out that it didn't, at least to have some real fun. It has a wizard with a Next button that takes you through a number of key images and gives explanations. It's great.
It's a Java app with installers for Windows, OS X Panther, Linux, and Solaris.
Update: actually some of the larger images are not being rendered fully on my 1ghz, 1GB PowerBook. Have posted a question about it, and will update here if I get an answer.