It was only in the last few years that we could fully grasp how many other planets there might be beyond our solar system. Some 64 million miles (104 kilometers) from Earth, the Kepler Space Telescope stared at a small window of the sky for four years. As planets passed in front of a star in Kepler's line of view, the spacecraft measured the change in brightness. Kepler was designed to determine the likelihood that other planets orbit stars. Because of the mission, we now know it's possible every star has at least one planet. Solar systems surround us in our galaxy and are strewn throughout the myriad galaxies we see. Though we have not yet found a planet exactly like Earth, the implications of the Kepler findings are staggering—there may very well be many worlds much like our own for future generations to explore.
Continue reading ""Our Interstellar Destiny" --NASA's New Missions Expand Human Presence Deeper Into Solar System & Beyond" »
“They call this comet encounter a once-in-a-lifetime event, but it’s more like once-in-a-million years,” said Nick Schneider, a LASP research associate and lead IUVS scientist for the MAVEN mission. “MAVEN got there just in time, and we were ready. The numbers suggest a Martian would have seen many thousands of shooting stars per hour -- possibly enough to be called a meteor storm -- so it must have been a spectacular event that night on Mars.” The comet Siding Spring traveled from the most distant region of our solar system called the Oort Cloud and made a close approach at 2:27 p.m. EDT within about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) of the Red Planet. That is less than half the distance between Earth and our moon and less than one-tenth the distance of any known comet flyby of Earth.
Continue reading "Mars' Once-in-a-Million-Years Comet Flyby -- "Thousands of Shooting Stars Per Hour"" »
"We have no idea how long a technological civilization like our own can last," says University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank. "Is it 200 years, 500 years or 50,000 years? Answering this question is at the root of all our concerns about the sustainability of human society. Are we the first and only technologically-intensive civilization in the entire history of the universe? If not, shouldn't we stand to learn something from the past successes and failures of other species?"
Continue reading ""Are We the Only Technologically-Intensive Civilization in the Universe?" (Weekend Feature)" »
“There might be people living out there, out in the middle of cold dark space, that don't have a Milky Way,” says Harvey Moseley, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Astronomers have spotted a faint cosmic glow, unseen until now, that may come from stars that float adrift between galaxies. The discovery suggests that as many as half of all stars in the Universe lurk outside galactic boundaries.
Continue reading ""There Might be Civilizations in the Middle of Cold Dark Space Without a Milky Way" -NASA" »
The Earth’s ancient oceans held much lower concentrations of sulfate—a key biological nutrient—than previously recognized, according to research published this week in Science. The findings paint a new portrait of our planet’s early biosphere and primitive marine life. Organisms require sulfur as a nutrient, and it plays a central role in regulating atmospheric chemistry and global climate.
Continue reading "Early Earth's Oceans Lacked a Key Nutrient for Life" »
One of the biggest challenges to manned space missions is the expense. The NASA rule-of-thumb is that every unit mass of payload launched requires the support of an additional 99 units of mass, with “support” encompassing everything from fuel to oxygen to food and medicine for the astronauts, etc. Most of the current technologies now deployed or under development for providing this support are abiotic, meaning non-biological. Synthetic biology may hold the key to manned space exploration. Berkeley Lab researchers have used synthetic biology to produce an inexpensive and reliable microbial-based alternative to the world’s most effective anti-malaria drug, and to develop clean, green and sustainable alternatives to gasoline, diesel and jet fuels. In the future, synthetic biology could also be used to make manned space missions more practical.
Continue reading "Synthetic Biology --The Key to Manned Extraterrestrial Space Travel?" »
A recently launched European satellite could reveal tens of thousands of new planets within the next few years, and provide scientists with a far better understanding of the number, variety and distribution of planets in our galaxy. Researchers from Princeton University and Lund University in Sweden calculated that the observational satellite Gaia could detect as many as 21,000 exoplanets, or planets outside of Earth's solar system, during its five-year mission. If extended to 10 years, Gaia could detect as many as 70,000 exoplanets, the researchers report.
Continue reading "Astronomers Predict 20,000 Alien Planets Observed Next Five Years" »
The image above shows IC 1101, a supergiant elliptical galaxy of approximately 6 million light-years across, which makes it the largest known galaxy discovered to date. It lies about 1.07 billion light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Virgo (the Virgin), and is made up of more than 100 trillion stars (for comparison, our Milky Way has about 300 billion stars), this galaxy is the extremely bright object at the center of Abell 2029, a massive cluster of thousands of galaxies. Being one of the most luminous galaxies ever seen, IC 1101 emits more than one quarter of the total light from this galaxy cluster.
Continue reading "Image of the Day --A Mega Galaxy 50 Xs Size of the Milky Way" »
The physics community has spent three decades searching for and finding no evidence that dark matter is made of tiny exotic particles. Theoretical physicists suggest researchers consider looking for candidates more in the ordinary realm and, well, more massive. Dark matter is unseen matter, that, combined with normal matter, could create the gravity that, among other things, prevents spinning galaxies from flying apart.
Continue reading "Is the Dark Matter 27% of the Universe Massive? "May be Dense as a Neutron Star, or the Nucleus of an Atom"" »
“Follow the water” has long been the mantra of our NASA's search for alien life in the Solar System and beyond. We continue seeking conditions where water can remain liquid either on a world’s surface or elsewhere within a planetary body. This approach makes a lot of sense. Life as we know it requires water for the complex chemistry that enables growth and reproduction. Where there is water, we believe life has a chance.
Continue reading "NASA: "Could Alien Life Forms Survive Without Water?"" »