Coming Soon: An Asteroid Lasering Spaceship

Asteroid A laser-equipped spacecraft has been designed to go and intercept Apophis, but not as a season-finale cliffhanger mission for the folks at Stargate Command - this Apophis is an Earth-approaching asteroid expected to fly by in 2036.  Expected to fly by, but there's a small chance it might decide to drop in for a bit of extinction-generation while it's in the area.

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Lonely Planets? A Great Debate about the Frequency of

Banner4 NASA's Astrobiology Portal has published a series of six Great Debates as prominent scientists sift through the available evidence to reach what are sometimes directly opposing conclusions. The first debate will explore the factors required to make a planet habitable and the question of whether complex life like that on Earth is common or rare in our galaxy.

When the book Rare Earth was published two years ago, it raised a great deal of controversy among astrobiologists. Written by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee, the book's hypothesis suggests complex life is rare in the universe, and may even be unique to Earth. If life does occur elsewhere, the authors contend, it will only be in the form of single-celled life such as bacteria.

The "Rare Earth" hypothesis is directly opposed to the cultural assumption that there are many alien civilizations, derived from the famous estimate by Frank Drake - known as the "Drake Equation" - that was later amended by Drake and Carl Sagan. They arrived at an estimate that there are perhaps a million intelligent civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy alone.

The participants in the Great Debate include Donald Brownlee and Peter Ward, co-authors of Rare Earth and professors at the University of Washington, Frank Drake, and David Grinspoon, the 2006 Carl Sagan Award winner and astrobiologist.

Great Debate Link

The 'Pillars of Creation'

M16_4A new look at the famous "Pillars of Creation" with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has allowed astronomers to peer inside the dark columns of gas and dust. This penetrating view of the central region of the Eagle Nebula reveals how much star formation is happening inside these iconic structures.

These eerie, dramatic pictures from the Hubble telescope show newborn stars emerging from dense, compact pockets of interstellar gas called evaporating gaseous globules (EGGs). Hubble found the "EGGs," appropriately enough, in the Eagle nebula, a nearby star-forming region 7,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Serpens.

The finger-like columns — dubbed "elephant trunks" — protrude from the wall of a vast cloud of molecular hydrogen, like stalagmites rising above the floor of a cavern. Inside the gaseous towers, which are light-years long, the interstellar gas is dense enough to collapse under its own weight, forming young stars that continue to grow as they accumulate more and more mass from their surroundings.

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Google/NASA to Offer 3-D Virtual Tours of & Moon

Marsshadedreliefmap_1Google teamed with NASA's Ames Research Center in December to produce high-resolution 3D maps of and the Moon in the same detail as Google Earth. Users will experience a virtual flight over the surface of the Moon or through the canyons of Mars.The collaboration will also seek to make Nasa data available on the internet, including live weather maps and forecasts, plus real-time tracking of the International Space Station and shuttle. Google will also assist Nasa in managing the vast amounts of information held across the agency’s network of computers. Posted by Jason McManus.

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NASA/Google Press Release

Hints of Huge Aquifers

GlobalaltimtharhemThe Guardian reported on Tuesday that according to a team of British scientists, a vast, dust-covered ocean of ice is the most likely place to discover life on Mars.

The frozen ocean was captured by cameras aboard the European Space Agency's Express probe, which revealed an expanse of pack ice just north of the Martian equator, in Elysium, a region strewn with dormant volcanoes.

Dust kicked up by violent storms appears to have settled on the icy surface, outlining fragmented ice rafts covering an area as large as the North Sea. The water is believed to have seeped up from fissures several kilometres beneath the surface, perhaps carrying ancient microbes with it, before freezing some 5 million years ago.

Elsewhere, The New Scientist has reported that is losing little water to space, according to new research, and that much of its ancient abundance may still be hidden beneath the surface.

Dried up riverbeds and other evidence imply that once had enough water to fill a global ocean more than 600 metres deep, together with a thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide that kept the planet warm enough for the water to be liquid. But the planet is now very dry and has a thin atmosphere.The European Space Agency's Express spacecraft has revealed that the rate of water loss from solar winds is much lower that previously estimated. Its measurements suggest the whole planet loses only about 20 grams per second of oxygen and CO2 to space. Either some other process removed the water and CO2 or they are still present and hidden somewhere on Mars, probably underground in huge reserviors.

Guardian Link

New Scientist Link

NASA Creates Microscopic Telescope "Doorways" to View Beginning of Time

Naoj_nurseries NASA engineers and scientists building the James Webb Space Telescope, the "next-generation" Hubble, have created a new telescope technology called microshutters. Microshutters are tiny doorways that will allow the telescope to view the most distant stars and galaxies humans have ever seen. Each of the 62,000 shutters measures 100 by 200 microns, or roughly the width of three to six human hairs.

The Webb Telescope will have a wide field of view, and its deep, long observation of the sky will contain millions of light sources. Microshutters allow scientists to remotely and systematically block out light that they do not want. Previously, masks of space telescopes only covered large regions of a field of view at any one time.The shutters allow NASA scienists to perform spectroscopy on up to 100 targets simultaneously. They will be able to see deeper, faint, ancient light in less time.

Hubble's Ultra-Deep Field provides the deepest view of the universe, an image containing tens of thousands of light sources. Some of these light sources are relatively close and some are from an era just after galaxies and stars formed. To go deeper, scientists need to mask the brighter, closer sources and focus only on the most distant.

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