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December 2012
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Atmosphere of Saturn's Titan --"Similar to Earth's 2.4 Billion Years Ago"




Two-and-a-half billion years ago, the Earth's atmosphere was rich in hydrocarbons, similar to Saturn's moon, Titan. Before Earth's atmosphere ditched methane and began accumulating oxygen, though, our planet appears to have cycled back and forth every few million years between  the two states years a hydrocarbon haze and clear skies. A sunlight-blocking haze most certainly affected the evolution of microbes that depend on light to photosynthesise and contributed to the delay before the final oxygenation of the atmosphere.

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Image of the Day: A Rare Rectangular-Shaped Galaxy



In March of 2012, an international team of astronomers discovered a rectangular‑shaped galaxy within a group of 250 galaxies some 70 million light years away. “In the Universe around us, most galaxies exist in one of three forms: spheroidal, disc-like, or lumpy and irregular in appearance,” said Alister Graham from Swinburne University of Technology. The rare rectangular-shaped galaxy was a very unusual object. “It's one of those things that just makes you smile because it shouldn't exist, or rather you don't expect it to exist. It’s a little like the precarious Leaning Tower of Pisa or the discovery of some exotic new species which at first glance appears to defy the laws of nature.”

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EcoAlert: Fracking North Dakota's Bakken Shale Formation from NASA's Earth Observatory





NASA Earth Observatory's Suomi Satellite captured the night time glow from hundreds of flares from rigs drilled into the Bakken shale oil formation of North Dakota, a 360-million-year-old tectonic plate, creating a light show the size of metropolitan Boston.

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TW Hydrae --"An Aging Star Found Creating New Worlds"





A star thought to have passed the age at which it can form planets may, in fact, be creating new worlds. The disk of material surrounding the surprising star called TW Hydrae may be massive enough to make even more planets than we have in our own solar system. The findings were made using the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Telescope, a mission in which NASA is a participant. At roughly 10 million years old and 176 light years away in the Hydra, or Sea Serpent, constellation, TW Hydrae is relatively close to Earth by astronomical standards.

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Ancient Mars Water Flows Hint Life was Once Possible




Ridges in impact craters on Mars appear to be fossils of cracks in the Martian surface, formed by minerals deposited by flowing water. Water flowing beneath the surface suggests life may once have been possible on Mars. Networks of narrow ridges found in impact craters on Mars appear to be the fossilized remnants of underground cracks through which water once flowed, according to a new analysis by researchers from Brown University. The study supports the idea that the subsurface environment on Mars once had an active hydrology and could be a good place to search for evidence of past life.

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WISSARD Team Finds First Signs of Microbial Life in an Antarctica Subglacial Lake




Scientists drilling in Lake Whillans, a remote body of water buried 2,600 feet below the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, have discovered evidence of living bacteria. The finding follows the recent discovery that microorganisms live within clouds in the troposphere, suggesting that life is capable of thriving in an even broader range of extreme environments than scientists previously thought possible, broadening the list of potential extraterrestrial habitats, including Europa and Enceladus which are also thought to harbor oceans of liquid water. The half mile of glacial ice atop Lake Whillans is from snow that fell onto Antarctica thousands of years ago.  A sensor lowered down the borehole this week showed that dissolved minerals were far more abundant in the lake than previously thought.

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Did a Comet Airburst 13,000 Years Ago Stunt Human Culture?





Comet explosions did not end the prehistoric human culture, known as Clovis, in North America 13,000 years ago, according to esearchers from Royal Holloway university, who, together with Sandia National Laboratories and 13 other universities across the United States and Europe, have found evidence which rebuts the belief that a large impact or airburst caused a significant and abrupt change to the Earth's climate and terminated the Clovis culture. They argue that other explanations must be found for the apparent disappearance.

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Alien Planet 'Habitable-Zones' --New Model Developed




Researchers searching the galaxy for planets that could pass the litmus test of sustaining water-based life must find whether those planets fall in what’s known as a habitable zone. Using the latest data, a Penn State Department of Geosciences team has developed an updated model for determining whether discovered planets fall within a habitable zone – where they could be capable of having liquid water and thus sustaining life. The work builds on a prior model by James Kasting, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences at Penn State, to offer a more precise calculation of where habitable zones around a star can be found. In the new model, Earth appears to be situated at the very edge of the habitable zone, but the model doesn’t take into account feedback from clouds, which reflect radiation away from the earth and stabilize the climate.

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Oldest Known Alien Planets —Born at Dawn of Universe 8-Billion Years Earlier than Earth



Which makes them approximately eight-billion years older than Earth. The two huge Jupiter-sized planets found orbiting a star 375 light-years away, that will soon transform into a red giant (image above), are the oldest alien worlds yet discovered, according to scientists at the Max-Planck Institute for Astronomy. "The Milky Way itself was not completely formed yet," said study leader Johny Setiawan. During a survey using radial velocity, in which astronomers watch for periodic wobbles in a star's light due to the gravitational tugs of orbiting worlds, Setiawan and colleagues found the signatures of the two planets orbiting the star, dubbed HIP 11952. 

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Image of the Day: New Views of the Andromeda Galaxy --Estimated to Harbor One Trillion Stars




The elegant spiral galaxy Andromeda, named after the mythical Greek princess known for her beauty, also known as Messier 31, lies 2 million light-years away, and is the closest large galaxy to our own Milky Way. It is estimated to have up to one trillion stars, whereas the Milky Way contains hundreds of billions. Recent evidence suggests Andromeda's overall mass may in fact be less than the mass of the Milky Way, when dark matter is included.

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