Observatories Confirm First Earth-sized Potentially Habitable Planet
The first Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting within the habitable zone of another star has been confirmed by observations with both the W. M. Keck Observatory and the Gemini Observatory. The initial discovery, made by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, is one of a handful of smaller planets found by Kepler and verified using large ground-based telescopes.
"What makes this finding particularly compelling is that this Earth-sized planet, one of five orbiting this star, which is cooler than the Sun, resides in a temperate region where water could exist in liquid form," says Elisa Quintana of the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center who led a paper published in the current issue of the journal Science. The region in which this planet orbits its star is called the habitable zone, as it is thought that life would most likely form on planets with liquid water.
Writing in the journal Icarus this week, Prof. Carl Murray from Queen Mary Univ. of London’s Astronomy Unit reports that recently discovered disturbances at the very edge of Saturn’s outer bright A ring result from a small icy object that formed within the ring and which may be in the process of migrating out of it. His team have nicknamed the object, “Peggy.”
"We hadn’t seen anything like this before," explains Murray. "We may be looking at the act of birth, where this object is just leaving the rings and heading off to be a moon in its own right."
The soil on Mars may be suitable for cultivating food crops – this is the prognosis of a study by plant ecologist Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen Univ. & Research Centre. This would prove highly practical if we ever decide to send people on a one-way trip to the red planet. After all, if we are going to live anywhere in outer space in the future Mars stands a good chance of being the place.
In a unique pilot experiment Wamelink tested the growth of 14 plant varieties on artificial Mars soil over 50 days. NASA composed the soil based on the volcanic soil of Hawaii. To his surprise, the plants grew well; some even blossomed.
We all know what to do if something harmful splashes into our eyes: wash with lots of water. As with many things in space, however, a simple operation on Earth can become quite complicated when floating around in weightlessness.
Imagine you are an astronaut on the International Space Station and a fleck of dust gets in your eye or you accidently splash chili sauce or something even worse in there. Where do you get the water from and how do you rinse your eyes? There are no flowing-water taps and even if there were cupping water in your hands is impossible in zero-gravity.
Space Station Launch to Go Ahead Despite Computer Woes
The International Space Station is about to get some fresh groceries and material for an urgent repair job. An unmanned SpaceX rocket was scheduled to blast off at 4:58 p.m. Monday with more than two tons of supplies. NASA spent much of the weekend debating whether to proceed with the launch of the Dragon cargo ship, already a month late. A critical backup computer failed outside the space station Friday; flight controllers were trying to activate it for a routine software load.
Mission managers decided Sunday to stick with the launch plan after making sure everything would be safe. The prime computer has been working fine so far. The plan is to put the solar wings in the proper position for the capsule’s arrival soon after the SpaceX launch, in case of additional failures in orbit.
Space Study to Measure Gravity’s Impact on Plant Cells
A Purdue Univ. experiment that will test how plant cells sense and respond to different levels of gravity is scheduled to launch aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Monday, April 14.
Understanding how gravity impacts plants is key for determining the conditions necessary to grow plants in space.
Western Hemisphere Gets Front-row Seat for Lunar Eclipse
North and South America, get ready for the first eclipse of the year.
Next Tuesday morning, April 15, 2014, the moon will be eclipsed by Earth’s shadow. This total lunar eclipse will be visible across the Western Hemisphere. The total phase will last 78 minutes, beginning at 3:06 a.m. EDT and ending at 4:24 a.m. EDT.
Method Precisely Deduces Age of Stars, Pinpoints Events
Reconstructing the history of our Galaxy has just become a whole lot easier, thanks to a team of international astronomers led by Luca Casagrande from the Australian National Univ.’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
By examining both the light and sound waves from stars, the team has developed a more precise way to deduce the ages of stars and to pinpoint when our Galaxy’s big events happened.
The European Space Agency says Friday it has successfully launched the first in a series of satellites that will form the nucleus of its new Copernicus monitoring system, which is aimed at providing better and quicker information about natural disasters and other catastrophes.
The Sentinel-1A satellite, which lifted off on a Russian Soyuz rocket launched from French Guiana late Thursday night, unfolded its antennae and locked them into place early Friday morning and has been accurately placed into orbit, the agency says.
An international team of planetary scientists determined that the Moon formed nearly 100 million years after the start of the solar system, according to a paper published today in Nature. This conclusion is based on measurements from the interior of the Earth combined with computer simulations of the protoplanetary disk from which the Earth and other terrestrial planets formed.
The team of researchers from France, Germany and the U.S. simulated the growth of the terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) from a disk of thousands of planetary building blocks orbiting the Sun. By analyzing the growth history of the Earth-like planets from 259 simulations, the scientists discovered a relationship between the time the Earth was impacted by a Mars-sized object to create the Moon and the amount of material added to the Earth after that impact.
Experts Issue Ethics Guidelines for NASA’s Next-Gen Missions
Nearly two years after the conclusion of its space shuttle program left Americans wondering what would become of the spacefaring dreams of decades past, NASA has sought the advice of health and ethics experts for protecting astronauts on its “next generation” of long duration and exploration-class human spaceflights.
Such missions, including extended stays on the International Space Station and flights to Mars, have higher risks and are unlikely to meet the space agency’s current health standards. Options not on the table, according to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee report commissioned by NASA, are relaxing those standards or adopting new standards specifically for long duration or exploration missions. The report calls both potential practices arbitrary and “ethically unacceptable,” and provides ethical guidelines for decision-making about if and when rare exceptions to existing standards should be made. The IOM notes that the committee did not make conclusions or recommendations about the value or advisability of future human spaceflight.
After insisting that space relations wouldn’t be altered by earthly politics, NASA announced it was severing ties with Russia except for the International Space Station.
NASA employees can’t travel to Russia or host visitors until further notice. They’re also barred from emailing or holding teleconferences with their Russian counterparts because of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, according to a memo sent to workers.
Activities related to the space station are exempt. NASA and Russia’s space agency will “continue to work together to maintain safe and continuous operation” of the space station, NASA said in a statement.
On April 8 Mars reaches opposition, in its nearly two-year orbit, when it’s directly opposite the sun in our sky. This year Mars will be closer to Earth than it has been since 2007. Mars rises in the East in the early evening and is visible all night long. The viewing will be best a little after midnight — when the red planet reaches its highest elevation. Some of the famous dark markings — and possibly the polar cap — will be visible, even in a small telescope. The next Mars oppositions happen in 2016 and 2018, when Mars will be even closer to the Earth and will appear even more impressive in the telescope.
Mars spacecraft launches always happen roughly two years apart, a few months before opposition. Because both Earth and Mars are moving in space, we don’t aim our spacecraft at where Mars is at launch. Instead, our spacecraft’s elliptical orbit takes it to where Mars will be at the end of the seven- or eight-month journey.