Showing posts from 2017

Scientists Discover Stromboli-Like Eruption on Volcanic Moon Source:    By JoAnna Wendel, Eos/AGU By JoAnna Wendel, Eos/AGU. For GSS Energy Flow chapter 2. Excerpt: Jupiter’s moon Io is known for its lava fountains and roiling lava lakes, but scientists had never seen such an intense eruption in their data until now. ...But wait, you ask, didn’t Galileo plunge into Jupiter’s atmosphere at the end of its mission, way back in 2003? Well, yes. But the orbiter, at that point, had collected so much data about the Jovian system and its Galilean moons (Ganymede, Io, Callisto, and Europa) that scientists still haven’t waded through it all, even 14 years later. ...Io’s surface is constantly gushing lava—every million years or so, the entire moon’s surface completely regenerates. From towering lava fountains that can reach 400 kilometers high to violently bubbling lava lakes that burst through freshly cooled crust, these oozing lava fields can stretch many thousands of s

Artificial Intelligence, NASA Data Used to Discover Eighth Planet Circling Distant Star  [includes video] Source:   NASA RELEASE 17-098 Excerpt: Our solar system now is tied for most number of planets around a single star, with the recent discovery of an eighth planet circling Kepler-90, a Sun-like star 2,545 light-years from Earth. The planet was discovered in data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. The newly-discovered Kepler-90i – a sizzling hot, rocky planet that orbits its star once every 14.4 days – was found using machine learning from Google. Machine learning is an approach to artificial intelligence in which computers “learn.” In this case, computers learned to identify planets by finding in Kepler data instances where the telescope recorded signals from planets beyond our solar system, known as exoplanets. “Just as we expected, there are exciting discoveries lurking in our archived Kepler data, waiting for the right tool or technology to

Four Planetary Landscapes That Scientists Can’t Explain Source:   By JoAnna Wendel, AGU/Eos Excerpt: These are just a handful of the hundreds of mysterious features across our solar neighborhood that beg to be studied closer. [see photos & info about:] "Brainy Mars", "Willy Wonka and the Taffy Factory" [on Mars], "Carolina Bays" [Earth], "Bright Streaks" [on Saturn's moon Dione]... 

Recurring Martian Streaks: Flowing Sand, Not Water? Source:   By Jet Propulsion Laboratory News 2017-11-20.  . For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: Fast Facts: › Seasonal dark streaks on Mars have been described as possible signs of flowing water; a new study shows they are a better fit to dry flow processes. › The steepness of more than 150 of these features was assessed with a telescopic camera on a NASA Mars orbiter. › The findings add to evidence that these environments may be too dry for microbes to thrive, despite the presence of water in hydrated salts. › How seasonal warming triggers these streaks is still a puzzle, and water may be involved.... 

Nearby Earth-sized world may be the best candidate yet in the search for alien life Source:   By Loren Grush, The Verge Excerpt: ...Meet Ross 128 b, a newly discovered planet found orbiting around a small, faint star known as a red dwarf. The world, which is about one-and-a-half times the mass of Earth, may be in the star’s habitable zone, too. (That’s the spot where temperatures are just right, possibly allowing liquid water to pool on a planet’s surface.) Most exciting of all is that this planet is situated just 11 light-years away. That makes Ross 128 b the second closest potentially habitable exoplanet to Earth we know about after Proxima b, a rocky world that orbits around the nearest star to our Solar System, Proxima Centauri. However, Proxima Centauri isn’t a very “life-friendly” star. Also a red dwarf, frequently burps out intense, high-energy solar flares. ...But Ross 128 b’s star doesn’t seem to flare much at all. ...Ross 128 b is very close to its sun, in an orb

Astronomers Spot First-Ever Space Rock from Another Star Source:   By Lee Billings, Scientific American Excerpt: For the first time ever, an asteroid or comet from another star has been caught hurtling through our solar system, astronomers announced late Thursday. Provisionally designated A/2017 U1, the object appears to be less than a half-kilometer in diameter and is traveling at just over 40 kilometers per second—faster than humanity’s speediest outbound space probes. Because this is the first object of its type to be found, there are as yet no official rules for naming it, and its discoverers have balked at suggesting anything besides “Interstellar.” Whatever one might call it, though, it is presently racing away from the sun and has sparked a stampede of astronomers rushing to observe it before it fades entirely from view in the darkness of interstellar space. “All we can say right now is this was something that was tossed out of ano

LIGO Detects Fierce Collision of Neutron Stars for the First Time Source:   By Dennis Overbye, The New York Times 2017-10-16. . . For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 9. Excerpt: Astronomers announced on Monday that they had seen and heard a pair of dead stars collide, giving them their first glimpse of the violent process by which most of the gold and silver in the universe was created. The collision, known as a kilonova, rattled the galaxy in which it happened 130 million light-years from here in the southern constellation of Hydra, and sent fireworks across the universe. On Aug. 17, the event set off sensors in space and on Earth, .... Such explosions, astronomers have long suspected, produced many of the heavier elements in the universe, including precious metals like gold, silver and uranium. ...a pair of neutron stars, the shrunken dense cores of stars that have exploded and died, collided at nearly the speed of light. These stars are masses as great as the sun packed

Oldest Lunar Calendars Source:   By NASA Solar System Exploration Research. Excerpt: The Oldest Lunar Calendars and Earliest Constellations have been identified in cave art found in France and Germany. The astronomer-priests of these late Upper Paleolithic Cultures understood mathematical sets, and the interplay between the moon annual cycle, ecliptic, solstice and seasonal changes on earth. The First (Lunar) Calendar ...The archaeological record’s earliest data that speaks to human awareness of the stars and ‘heavens’ dates to the Aurignacian Culture of Europe, c.32,000 B.C. Between 1964 and the early 1990s, Alexander Marshack published breakthrough research that documented the mathematical and astronomical knowledge in the Late Upper Paleolithic Cultures of Europe. Marshack deciphered sets of marks carved into animal bones, and occasionally on the walls of caves, as records of the lunar cycle. These marks are sets of crescents or lines. Artisans

Cassini’s “Grand Finale” Will Be a Blaze of Glory Source:   By Lee Billings, Scientific American For Investigation:  6.1, 8.2 Excerpt: The Cassini orbiter will burn out, but its legacy won’t fade away. ...For NASA’s Cassini orbiter—its fuel dwindling after 13 years exploring Saturn, along with the planet’s sprawling rings and dozens of icy moons—the end will come Friday at 7:55 A.M. Eastern time. That’s when mission planners project radio communications will be lost with the two-ton, bus-size spacecraft as it plunges into the giant planet’s turbulent atmosphere at more than 122,000 kilometers per hour. ...“We are concluding the longest, deepest, most comprehensive scientific exploration of a remote planetary system ever undertaken, a system so alien it might as well have been orbiting another star in another galaxy,” says Carolyn Porco, the planetary scientist who leads Cassini’s imaging team. “And we have been profoundly succe

Big Space Rock to Pass near Earth on Friday Source:   By Katherine Kornei, Eos/AGU For Investigation:   5.2, 6.1 Excerpt: An asteroid named for Florence Nightingale will make its closest approach to our planet since 1890 but will remain a safe distance away. In the roughly 2 decades that scientists have systematically tracked asteroids speeding past Earth, never before has one so large come so close. On Friday, an asteroid called Florence will zip by our planet just 7 million kilometers away, or about 18 times the Earth–Moon distance, according to NASA. Many other asteroids have come closer, but none was as big as Florence, which measures about 4 kilometers in diameter. ...Researchers will also be using NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar facility in California’s Mojave Desert to determine whether Florence has a natural satellite of its own, a moon. Fifteen percent of asteroids have moons, Mainzer noted, and finding a moon orbiting Florence would make it p

Chasing Shadows for a Glimpse of a Tiny World Beyond Pluto Source:   By Kenneth Chang, The New York Times For Investigation:    6.1, 6.1 6.2, 8.2 Excerpt: This summer, scientists crisscrossed two oceans, braved wind and cold and deployed two dozen telescopes — all for five blinks of starlight that lasted a second or less. For the team working with NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which made a spectacular flyby of Pluto two years ago, those smidgens of data provide intriguing hints about the spacecraft’s next destination, a distant frozen world that is believed to be a pristine, undisturbed fragment from the earliest days of the solar system. New Horizons will fly past it on Jan. 1, 2019....

Maria Mitchell's Birthday Source:   By Writer's Almanac For Investigation:   Excerpt: Today is the birthday of Maria Mitchell ..., the first acknowledged female astronomer, born in 1818 on the island of Nantucket in Massachusetts. ...Maria Mitchell's Quaker parents believed that girls should have the same access to education and the same chance to aspire to high goals as boys, and they raised all 10 of their children as equals. Maria's early interest in science and the stars came from her father, a dedicated amateur astronomer who shared with all his children what he saw as physical evidence of God in the natural world, although Maria was the only child interested enough to learn the mathematics of astronomy.  ...By age 12, Maria was assisting her father with his astronomical observations and data, and just five years later opened and ran her own school for girls, training them in the sciences and math. In 1838,

The Eclipse That Revealed the Universe Source:   By Dennis Overbye, The New York Times For Investigation:  4.1, 6.1 Excerpt: In 1919, British astronomers photographed a solar eclipse and proved that light bends around our sun — affirming Einstein’s theory of general relativity. ...Few eclipses have had more impact on modern history than the one that occurred on May 29, 1919, more than six minutes of darkness sweeping across South America and across the Atlantic to Africa. It was during that eclipse that the British astronomer Arthur Eddington ascertained that the light rays from distant stars had been wrenched off their paths by the gravitational field of the sun. That affirmed the prediction of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, ascribing gravity to a warp in the geometry of space-time, that gravity could bend light beams....

Could a Newfound Molecule on Titan Be a Building Block for Life? Source:   By JoAnna Wendel, Earth & Space Science News Eos/AGU For Investigation:  7.3, 8.2 Excerpt: The discovery of vinyl cyanide in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan has huge implications for life—but not as we know it. In the game of habitability, only a small fraction of celestial bodies in our solar system competes for the title “most compelling.” There’s Saturn’s moon Enceladus with its watery jets and internal ocean, Jupiter’s moon Europa with another internal ocean, and even our rocky neighbor Mars with its icy poles and occasional water flows. But Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, hiding under a haze of smog, just upped the ante. Researchers found a molecule called vinyl cyanide (C2H3CN) in Titan’s atmosphere. A collection of these molecules, should they rain down into Titan’s methane lakes, could link up to form membranous structures like the squishy walls of our cells, they sa

Saturn Unveiled: Ten Notable Findings from Cassini-Huygens

Source:   By JoAnna Wendel, Eos/AGU Excerpt: The Cassini-Huygens mission launched on 15 October 1997, carrying 12 scientific instruments and a 2-meter-wide saucer-shaped probe called Huygens to land on Saturn’s hazy moon Titan. ...Since its arrival at Saturn in 2004, Cassini has traveled more than 3 billion kilometers in more than 200 orbits around Saturn. It has flown by Titan more than 100 times and the icy ocean moon Enceladus 23 times. And on 14 January 2005, when the Huygens probe touched down on Titan, the mission became the first to successfully drop a lander on an outer solar system moon. .... 1. Cassini Revealed Enceladus’s Potentially Habitable Internal Ocean.... 2. Huygens Showed Us Titan, a Possibly Primordial Earthlike World.... 3. Cassini Changed How We Think of “Habitability”.... 4. Cassini Found Enceladus Ocean Material in the E Ring.... 5. Cassini Unlocked Mysteries of Saturn’s Hexagon.... 6. Cassini Showed Us One of Saturn’s Huge, Infrequent Storms.... 7. …And That

Unlocking Mysteries in the Sun’s 11-Year Cycle

Source:   By Nicholas St. Fleur, The New York Times Excerpt: According to a study published Thursday in the journal Science, our beloved star can be classified as an ordinary “solar-type” star, meaning that the internal processes that control its activity are similar to those seen in many other nearby stars. The sun goes through an 11-year cycle where its magnetic poles flip — imagine the north and south poles on Earth changing place — and during this time the sun’s activity changes between subdued and tumultuous. When activity is low, it is known as solar minimum, and when activity is high, it is known as solar maximum. As the sun nears solar maximum and its activity cycle ramps up, its surface gets covered in sunspots, which are ephemeral dark marks created by strong magnetic activity. “Above sunspots you have complex structures that trigger dynamic phenomenons, eruptions that are like volcanoes,” said Antoine Strugarek, a solar physicist at the French Alternative Energies and At

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot Gets Its Close-Up

Source:   By Kenneth Chang, The New York Times 2017-07-12. . . For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: NASA’s Juno spacecraft has been making repeated swoops just above the cloud tops of Jupiter. During the latest flyby, on Monday, the spacecraft passed about 5,600 miles over the Great Red Spot, a 10,000-mile-wide storm that has swirled for at least 350 years. NASA posted images from the flyby on the web on Wednesday. ...“The more we zoom into the Great Red Spot, the more turbulent it seems to be,” said James O’Donoghue, another scientist at NASA Goddard. “In some of the processed images we can clearly see anticlockwise rotating cells within the giant storm itself — storms within storms.”....

Greetings, E.T. (Please Don’t Murder Us)

Source:   By Steven Johnson, The New York Times. Excerpt: On Nov. 16, 1974, a few hundred astronomers, government officials and other dignitaries gathered in the tropical forests of Puerto Rico’s northwest interior, a four-hour drive from San Juan. The occasion was a rechristening of the Arecibo Observatory, at the time the largest radio telescope in the world. The mammoth structure — an immense concrete-and-aluminum saucer as wide as the Eiffel Tower is tall, planted implausibly inside a limestone sinkhole in the middle of a mountainous jungle — had been upgraded to ensure its ability to survive the volatile hurricane season and to increase its precision tenfold. To celebrate the reopening, the astronomers who maintained the observatory decided to take the most sensitive device yet constructed for listening to the cosmos and transform it, briefly, into a machine for talking back. ...the public-address system blasted nearly three minutes of two-tone noise through the muggy afternoon

Could Asteroids Bombard the Earth to Cause a Mass Extinction in 10 Million Years?

Source:   By Sanna Alwmark, Matthias Meier, Scientific American Excerpt: Given the evidence that an asteroid triggered the dinosaur extinction, it makes sense to ask whether showers of asteroids could be to blame for regular extinction events....

Solving the Scorching Mystery of the Sun’s Erupting Plasma Jets

Source:   By Nicholas St. Fleur, The New York Times Excerpt: Spiky bursts of plasma called spicules swirl around the surface of the sun. Millions erupt every moment, spurting solar material some 6,000 miles high at speeds of about 60 miles per second. “These things are very violent,” said Bart De Pontieu, a research scientist with Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Lab in Palo Alto, Calif. “The gas in spicules is about 10,000 degrees and they travel the length of California in just a minute or so.” Scientists have studied spicules for decades, but were not sure how the plasma jets formed. Now, Dr. De Pontieu and his colleagues think they have solved the searing mystery. They published their findings Thursday in the journal Science. ...they created a computer simulation that reconstructed the conditions between the sun’s surface and its atmosphere, where spicules form. Powerful magnetic fields are created in the interior of the sun. There, the high density keeps them tangled an

Ten Earth-Sized Planets Found by Exoplanet-Hunting Telescope

Source:   By JoAnna Wendel, Earth & Space Science News, EoS, AGU Excerpt: NASA introduced 219 exoplanet candidates to the world on Monday. Ten of these are roughly Earth sized and orbit their stars in the so-called habitable zone, a distance at which temperatures could be ripe for liquid water. The candidate exoplanets appear in the eighth and newest catalog from the agency’s exoplanet-hunting Kepler space telescope and the final catalog from Kepler’s observations of the Cygnus constellation. The new catalog includes 4034 exoplanet candidates overall. Past “Kepler catalogs have shown us that small exoplanets are common,” Susan Thompson, lead author on the catalog study and a research scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., told Eos. “With this [latest] catalog, we can show whether this is also true for exoplanets that are in orbital periods similar to those of the Earth.” Accompanying research also reveals that the majority of known exoplanets fall into two d

Earth-Size Planets Among Final Tally of NASA’s Kepler Telescope

Source:   By Dennis Overbye, The New York Times 2017-06-19. . . For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 8. Excerpt: ...astronomers released a list on Monday of 4,034 objects they are 90 percent sure are planets orbiting other stars. The new list is the final and most reliable result of a four-year cosmic census of a tiny region of the Milky Way by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. ... The catalog — the eighth in the endeavor — was released at a meeting of exoplanet astronomers here at the Ames Research Center that represents a last hurrah for the survey mission, which will end on Sept. 30. The space telescope itself is doing fine, and it has embarked on a new program of short-term searches called K2. Among other things, Dr. Batalha said, for the first time there is at least one planet, known as KOI 7711 (for Kepler Object of Interest), that almost matches the Earth, at only 30 percent wider and with an orbit of almost exactly one year. In all, there are 219 new planet candidates in the catalog.

NASA’s Jupiter Mission Reveals the ‘Brand-New and Unexpected’

Source:   By Kenneth Chang, The New York Times Excerpt: The top and bottom of Jupiter are pockmarked with a chaotic mélange of swirls that are immense storms hundreds of miles across. The planet’s interior core appears bigger than expected, and swirling electric currents are generating surprisingly strong magnetic fields. Auroral lights shining in Jupiter’s polar regions seem to operate in a reverse way to those on Earth. And a belt of ammonia may be rising around the planet’s equator. Those are some early findings of scientists working on NASA’s Juno mission, an orbiter that arrived at Jupiter last July. Juno takes 53 days to loop around Jupiter in a highly elliptical orbit, but most of the data gathering occurs in two-hour bursts when it accelerates to 129,000 miles an hour and dives to within about 2,600 miles of the cloud tops. The spacecraft’s instruments peer far beneath, giving glimpses of the inside of the planet, the solar system’s largest. ...Planetary scientists had wonde

The Harmony That Keeps Trappist-1’s 7 Earth-size Worlds From Colliding

Source:   By Kenneth Chang, The New York Times Excerpt: In February, astronomers announced the discovery of a nearby star with seven Earth-size planets, and at least some of the planets seemed to be in a zone that could provide cozy conditions for life. The finding of these planets circling the star Trappist-1 40 light-years away came with a bit of mystery. The orbits of the planets are packed tightly, and computer calculations by the discoverers suggested that the gravitational jostling would send the planets colliding with each other or flying apart, some to deep space, others spiraling into the star and destruction. Now new research provides an explanation for the dynamics of how this planetary system could have formed and remained in stable harmony over billions of years. ...The scientist in the office next door to Dr. Tamayo ...Matt Russo, an astrophysicist who is also a musician, turned to Dr. Tamayo’s computer simulations for help turning the orbits into notes, and they have

Waves of lava seen in Io’s largest volcanic crater

Source:   By Robert Sanders, Media relations, UC Berkeley News Excerpt: Taking advantage of a rare orbital alignment between two of Jupiter’s moons, Io and Europa, researchers have obtained an exceptionally detailed map of the largest lava lake on Io, the most volcanically active body in the solar system. ...Overturning lava is a popular explanation for the periodic brightening and dimming of the hot spot, called Loki Patera after the Norse god. (A patera is a bowl-shaped volcanic crater.) The most active volcanic site on Io, which itself is the most volcanically active body in the solar system, Loki Patera is about 200 kilometers (127 miles) across. The hot region of the patera has a surface area of 21,500 square kilometers, larger than Lake Ontario. Earthbound astronomers first noticed Io’s changing brightness in the 1970s, but only when the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft flew by in 1979 did it become clear that this was because of volcanic eruptions on the surface. Despite highly de

A New Exoplanet May Be Most Promising Yet in Search for Life

Source:   By Dennis Overbye, The New York Times Excerpt: A prime planet listing has just appeared on the cosmic real estate market, possibly the most promising place yet to search for signs of life beyond the solar system, the astronomers who discovered it say. It is a rocky orb about one and a half times the size of Earth, about 40 light years from here. It circles a dwarf star known as LHS 1140 every 25 days, an orbit that puts it in the “Goldilocks” zone where temperatures are conducive to liquid water and perhaps life as we know it. It is close enough that astronomers are hopeful that with the next generation of big telescopes, they will be able to probe its atmosphere for signs of water or other evidence of suitability for life. “This planet is really close to us: If we shrank the Milky Way to the size of the United States, LHS 1140 and the sun would fit inside Central Park,” David Charbonneau, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in an email. His colleague

Food for microbes abundant on Enceladus

Source:   By Paul Voosen, Science 2017-04-13. . . For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: In 2005, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft spied jets of water ice and vapor erupting into space from fissures on Enceladus, evidence of a salty ocean beneath the saturnian moon’s placid icy surface. Now, it turns out that the jets contain hydrogen gas, a sign of ongoing reactions on the floor of that alien sea. Because such chemistry provides energy for microbial life on Earth, the discovery makes Enceladus the top candidate for hosting life elsewhere in the solar system—besting even Jupiter’s Europa, another icy moon with an ocean. “We didn’t see microbes,” says Hunter Waite, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, and the lead author of a study published this week in Science. “But we saw their food.”...

Asteroid to Fly Safely Past Earth on April 19

Source:   By Jet Propulsion Laboratory News Excerpt:  A relatively large near-Earth asteroid discovered nearly three years ago will fly safely past Earth on April 19 at a distance of about 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers), or about 4.6 times the distance from Earth to the moon. Although there is no possibility for the asteroid to collide with our planet, this will be a very close approach for an asteroid of this size. The asteroid, known as 2014 JO25, was discovered in May 2014 by astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona -- a project of NASA's NEO Observations Program in collaboration with the University of Arizona. (An NEO is a near-Earth object). Contemporary measurements by NASA's NEOWISE mission indicate that the asteroid is roughly 2,000 feet (650 meters) in size, and that its surface is about twice as reflective as that of the moon. ...Small asteroids pass within this distance of Earth several times each week, but this upcoming close appro

Lunar Lava Tubes Could Offer Future Moon Explorers a Safe Haven

Source:   By JoAnna Wendel, Earth & Space Science News (AGU) Excerpt:  Scientists find evidence that a 50-meter-deep pit on the Moon's surface could be a skylight opening to an intact lava tube tens of kilometers long. Lunar colonization isn’t mere science fiction anymore. Billionaires plan to send tourists on once-in-a-lifetime trips, and politicians say that they hope to colonize the Moon in the next few decades. There may even be ways for human colonists to harvest water from ice that may be permanently shadowed in certain caves. But where could a human colony actually live? The Moon has no atmosphere or magnetic field to shield it from solar radiation and micrometeorites that constantly rain onto its surface. That’s no environment for our squishy, earthling bodies. Scientists studying the Moon’s surface may have found the answer: shelter humans in lunar lava tubes. The Moon is covered in huge swaths of ancient basaltic lava flows. Earth’s volcanoes can also erupt simila

New Images of Pan, Saturn's Walnut Moon, in Unprecedented Detail

Source:   By JoAnna Wendel, Earth & Space Science News, EoS (AGU) Excerpt: It’s a flying saucer! No, a celestial empanada! Or space ravioli? Nope—the weird raw images dropped by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory this week feature Saturn’s tiny moon Pan and its equatorial fringe in unprecedented detail. The Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, will crash into Saturn later this year. But its final descent brings the spacecraft closer than ever before to Saturn’s rings and offers scientists a wealth of new research opportunities.This is because the spacecraft has entered its “ring grazing orbits,” Carolyn Porco, leader of the imaging science team for Cassini and current visiting scholar at the University of California in Berkeley, told Eos. ...This close orbit allows the spacecraft to take close-up pictures of moons like Pan, which orbits Saturn at a distance of 134,000 kilometers. The new images of the 35-kilometer-wide moon feature a resolut

NASA telescope reveals largest batch of Earth-size, habitable-zone planets around single star

Source:   NASA RELEASE 17-015 Excerpt:  NASA announced the discovery of the most Earth-sized planets found in the habitable zone of a single star, called TRAPPIST-1. This system of seven rocky worlds–all of them with the potential for water on their surface–is an exciting discovery in the search for life on other worlds. There is the possibility that future study of this unique planetary system could reveal conditions suitable for life....   See also NASA full press conference on discovery of 7 Earth-like exoplanets  (37 min), TRAPPIST-1e Travel Poster , NY Times article - 7 Earth-Size Planets Orbit Dwarf Star, NASA and European Astronomers Say (includes video clip), JPL video - NASA & TRAPPIST-1: A Treasure Trove of Planets Found .

Building blocks of life found on dwarf planet Ceres

Source:   By CBC News, Thomson Reuters Excerpt: A NASA spacecraft has detected carbon-based materials, similar to what may have been the building blocks for life on Earth, on the Texas-sized dwarf planet Ceres that orbits between Mars and Jupiter in the main asteroid belt, scientists said on Thursday. The finding puts Ceres, a rock-and-ice world about 950 kilometres in diameter, on a growing list of places in the solar system of interest to scientists looking for life beyond Earth. The list includes Mars and several ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn. The discovery, published in the journal Science, was made by a team of researchers using NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting Ceres for nearly two years. "I think these organic molecules are a long way from microbial life," Dawn lead scientist Christopher Russell of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) wrote in an email to Reuters. "However, this discovery tells us that we n

“Are We Alone in the Universe?” Winston Churchill’s Lost Extraterrestrial Essay Says No

Source:   By Brian Handwerk , Excerpt: Winston Churchill, British prime minister and one of history’s most influential statesmen, was undoubtedly a man with weighty questions on his mind. How best to save the British Empire? he must have mused. What will the postwar world look like? he surely wondered. But the legendary leader also focused his prodigious mind on less pragmatic questions. For instance: Is there life on other planets? In fact, in 1939, Churchill penned a lengthy essay on this very topic, which was never published. Besides displaying a strong grasp of contemporary astrophysics and a scientific mind, he came to a breathtaking conclusion: We are probably not alone in the universe. The long-lost piece of Churchilliana has just floated up to the surface again, thanks to an article written by astrophysicist Mario Livio in this week's edition of the journal Nature analyzing Churchill'

New mosquito trap smart enough to keep just the bad bugs

Source:   By Lauran Neergaard, Associated Press Excerpt: WASHINGTON (AP) — A smart trap for mosquitoes? ...robotic traps were pilot-tested around Houston last summer, they accurately captured particular mosquito species — those capable of spreading the Zika virus and certain other diseases — that health officials wanted to track, researchers reported Thursday. ...[Ethan] Jackson's trap consists of 64 "smart cells," compartments outfitted with an infrared light beam. When an insect crosses the beam, its shadow changes the light intensity in a way that forms almost a fingerprint for that species, Jackson [Microsoft lead researcher] said. [editor's note: this is similar to the transit method of finding exoplanets] Program the trap for the desired species — such as the Aedes aegypti mosquito that is the main Zika threat — and when one flies into a cell, its door snaps closed. In pilot testing in Harris County, Texas, last July and August, the trap was more than 90 pe

Ancient Bits of Rock Help Solve an Asteroid Mystery

Source:   By Kenneth Chang, The New York Times Excerpt: might think that meteorites that fall on Earth ought to be just like the asteroids that pass through Earth’s neighborhood. “That’s what everybody would have expected,” said Philipp R. Heck, the curator in charge for the meteorite and physical geology collections at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Planetary scientists were surprised almost a decade ago when they discovered that the most plentiful types of meteorites they had collected and studied on Earth were actually not common in space. In a paper published Monday by the journal Nature Astronomy, an international team of researchers led by Dr. Heck says it has uncovered part of the explanation. Mineralogical evidence in some meteorites had already pointed to a cataclysmic collision in the asteroid belt about 466 million years ago — long before dinosaurs, when multicellular animals were still fairly new. (Dr. Heck estimated that any skywatchers back the

A multiple-impact origin for the Moon

Source:   By Raluca Rufu, Oded Aharonson, & Hagai B. Perets, published in Nature Abstract: The hypothesis of lunar origin by a single giant impact can explain some aspects of the Earth–Moon system. However, it is difficult to reconcile giant-impact models with the compositional similarity of the Earth and Moon without violating angular momentum constraints. Furthermore, successful giant-impact scenarios require very specific conditions such that they have a low probability of occurring. Here we present numerical simulations suggesting that the Moon could instead be the product of a succession of a variety of smaller collisions. In this scenario, each collision forms a debris disk around the proto-Earth that then accretes to form a moonlet. The moonlets tidally advance outward, and may coalesce to form the Moon. We find that sub-lunar moonlets are a common result of impacts expected onto the proto-Earth in the early Solar System and find that the planetary rotation i