8 new planets found in ‘Goldilocks zone’, NASA may find Earth’s ‘twin’ very soon


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NASA is closer than ever to finding a twin for the Earth, astronomers said today, announcing the discovery of eight new planets that circle in the habitable zones of their stars.

Two of the eight are the most Earth-like of any known planets found so far outside our solar system, astronomers told the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington.

The pair are likely to have hard, rocky surfaces in addition to being an orbiting distance from their stars that is neither too hot nor too cold for water and possibly life to exist, astronomers said. The discovery doubles the number of known planets that are close in size to the Earth and believed to be in the so-called “Goldilocks zone” of the stars they orbit.

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Representational image. AFP

“We are now closer than we have ever been to finding a twin for the Earth around another star,” said Fergal Mullally of the Kepler Science Office. “These candidates represent the closest analogs to the Earth’s own system found to date.”

The worlds were found with the help of NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler mission, a space telescope which has scoured more than 150,000 stars for planets beyond our solar system since its launch in 2009. The latest trove of candidate planets found by Kepler and announced today was 554, bringing the total potential planets to 4,175.

Scientists have recently verified the existence of the 1,000th planet found by Kepler.

“Three of the newly validated planets are located in their distant suns’ habitable zone, the range of distances from the host star where liquid water might exist on the surface of an orbiting planet,” NASA said in a statement. “Of the three, two are likely made of rock, like Earth.”

While it is intriguing to consider the possibility of life existing on another planet like ours, the two best candidates are so far away that learning more about them presents a big challenge.

Source : firstpost

Large Asteroids to Flyby Earth in January Through March. Should Humans Worry?


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A view of the asteroid Lutetia from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft (Click Image to download)

Asteroids are headed in Earth’s direction and with most of them about as wide as a double-decker bus, a collision would most likely result in significant damage. However, while experts warn against the potential dangers of these asteroids, they also say that it is unlikely that these will veer off course and hit the planet.

According to NASA’s Near Earth Object Program, there will be 43 asteroids flying close to Earth in January and 25 in February. In March, the number further drops to 15. The biggest threat for January is the asteroid 2007 EJ slated to closely approach the planet on Jan. 12. With a maximum diameter of nearly 1 mile, the asteroid is traveling at around 34,500 miles per hour.

The next-biggest asteroid threat for the first month of the year is the 1991 VE. It features a diameter of 0.87 miles and is expected to skim past the planet on Jan. 17. On Jan. 15 and 23, 0.68-mile wide asteroids will be flying by, the 2014 UF206 and the 2062 Aten, respectively.

At 0.75 miles wide, the 2003 YK118 will follow in Feb. 27. On the same day, the biggest asteroid threat for the quarter, the 1.4-mile wide 2000 EE14 can be expected. For March, the biggest an asteroid will get will be the 2002 GM2, which measures 0.68 miles in diameter. It’s scheduled to come close to Earth on March 3.

The 2000 EE14 will also not only be the biggest for the quarter but it will also be flying by the closest, coming in up to nearly 17 million miles within the proximity of the Earth’s center.

Alarmed that about a million undetected asteroids are flying around in space right now, scientists launched Asteroid Day to raise awareness and prevent the disaster that happened 65 million years ago from happening as much as possible.

According to NASA, the agency is aware of more than 1,500 PHAs or potentially hazardous asteroids. These are defined using parameters that measure how big of a potential an asteroid has for dangerously coming close to the planet. But just because an asteroid has a high potential doesn’t mean that it will impact Earth. The measure of potential is there to simply gauge just how big the possibility of a threat is. PHAs are constantly monitored to improve predictions for close-approach statistics, which in turn improves predictions for threat and impact.

Source : techtimes , Photo by ESA

Top 10 great space moments in 2014 (pictures)


Source :c|net

It was a big year for space exploration, from rodeo-riding a comet to getting more familiar with Mars, distant planets and the beginning of it all.

1. Rosetta and Philae meet a comet

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Photo by: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/ROLIS/DLR  (Click Image to Image)

The first successful soft landing on a comet wasn’t just the biggest space story of the year. It was probably also the biggest science story of 2014.

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft traveled 10 years to drop the Philae lander onto a comet. The landing was bumpy, but scientists were able to conduct a few days worth of experiments on the comet’s surface that first week.

But neither Rosetta nor Philae may be finished yet.

Look for more great science from both in 2015.

2. Orion lifts off

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Orion lift Off (Click Image to download)

A new era in space exploration began in December with the successful test flight of the Orion spacecraft, thanks to a big assist from some massive, heavy rockets.

Orion is scheduled to make an unmanned trip to the moon, but it is later expected to carry manned missions to an asteroid and Mars.

3. New Horizons awakens

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Artist ‘s Impression of New Horizons near Pluto and its moon Charon (Click Image to Download)

Rosetta wasn’t the only spacecraft to wake up after a long journey in 2014. In December, NASA’s New Horizons probe switched itself back “on” after a 1,873 day-long hibernation.

Originally launched in 2006, the craft is on track for its mission to survey Pluto and its moons in 2015.

4. India’s Mars Orbiter Mission

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Mars Picture taken by ISRO’s MOM (Click Image to Download)

The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also called Mangalyaan is a spacecraft orbiting Mars since 24 September 2014. It was launched on 5 November 2013 by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). It is India’s first interplanetary mission and ISRO has become the fourth space agency to reach Mars, after the Soviet space program, NASA, and the European Space Agency. It is also the first nation to reach Mars orbit on its first attempt, and the first Asian nation to do so.

5. Comet buzzes Mars

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In October, we got a rare close look at a comet on a once-in-a-million-years journey. The comet came so close to Mars that humanity’s orbiters circling the Red Planet actually had to hide on the other side to avoid the comet’s debris cloud.

The orbiters and rovers on the surface were still able to capture images of the comet as it whizzed by.

6. Exoplanets everywhere

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In 2014, not only did our knowledge of distant exoplanets grow by leaps and bounds, but so did the evidence that many of them might host the elements to support life as we know it.

As of December 15, 2014, we know of 22 planets beyond our solar system where there is reason to believe they could be habitable.

7. Space is still hard

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2014 was not a year without tragedy in space and near-space exploration. In October, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed, killing one pilot.

This came within days of an explosion that happened after the liftoff of an unmanned Antares rocket carrying a payload to the International Space Station. Also, in August a SpaceX rocket exploded over Texas during a test flight.

In a year when science began to make amazing feats look easy, these were three reminders of the old adage that “space is hard.”

8. ALMA’s Image of Another Solar System

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The best image ever of planet formation around an infant star.

It’s a real image of a planet-forming disk around the infant star, in this case a sunlike star approximately 450 light-years from Earth, known to astronomers as HL Tau.

It is impressive. It reveals in great detail what astronomers just a few decades ago were only theorizing about, and that is that all stars are believed to form within slow-spinning clouds of gas and dust. As the clouds spin, they flatten out into these disks. Over time, the dust particles in the cloud begin to stick together by a process known as acretion, and that process is what ultimately forms the planets like our Earth, and moons like our moon, plus the asteroids, all of which mostly still move (as they did in the original cloud) in this flat space – this disk-like space – encircling the parent star.

9.Aiming for Manned Missions to Mars

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In a year when Mars rovers continued to expand our understanding of the Red Planet, momentum continued to build for a manned mission to our distant neighbor.

NASA is looking seriously at “deep sleep” methods to easily get humans to Mars, likely in the 2030s. Elon Musk started talking about getting mankind to Mars in half that time, and Mars One is already looking for astronauts to blast off in less than a decade’s time, despite potential problems.

10. Racing back to the moon

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Mars is cool, but isn’t there more to do on the moon?

Lunar Mission One is just one of the teams that thinks so — it raised about a million dollars for its plan to drill the moon’s south pole.

Meanwhile, teams competing in the Google Lunar XPrize continued working toward returning to our lone natural satellite.

The moon, Mars, comets, asteroids and beyond — stay tuned to @crave to see where we go in 2015.

VIDEO : NASA Asteroid Bennu’s Journey


ALL CREDIT GOES TO NASA

Bennu’s Journey is a 6-minute animated movie about NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, Asteroid Bennu, and the formation of our solar system. Born from the rubble of a violent collision, hurled through space for millions of years, Asteroid Bennu has had a tough life in a rough neighborhood – the early solar system. Bennu’s Journey shows what is known and what remains mysterious about the evolution of Bennu and the planets. By retrieving a sample of Bennu, OSIRIS-REx will teach us more about the raw ingredients of the solar system and our own origins.

Comet dust found in Antarctica


Researchers have discovered comet dust preserved in the ice and snow of Antarctica, the first time such particles have been found on Earth’s surface. The discovery unlocks a promising new source of this material. The oldest astronomical particles available for study, comet dust can offer clues about how our solar system formed.

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A single particle of comet dust collected from Antarctic ice, as seen through an electron microscope

“It’s very exciting for those of us who study these kinds of extraterrestrial materials, because it opens up a whole new way to get access to them,” says Larry Nittler, a planetary scientist in the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., who was not involved with the research. “They’ve found a new source for something that’s very interesting and very rare.”

Until recently, the only way scientists could collect “chondritic porous interplanetary dust particles,” or comet dust, without going to space has been by flying research planes high in the stratosphere. It’s painstaking work: Several hours of flying time typically yield one particle of dust. Working with such small samples significantly limits the kinds of tests and analysis scientists can perform on the material, says study co-author John Bradley, an astromaterials scientist at the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology of the University of Hawaii, Manoa.

The researchers found a bigger haul of the particles in Antarctica, he notes. “Two to four more orders of magnitude mass of material is potentially collectible this way,” he says. “I think it could precipitate a paradigm shift in the way these kinds of materials are collected.”

The dust gathered in Antarctica is also cleaner. Right now, scientists gathering comet dust by plane use plates coated with silicon oil to trap the particles like flies in flypaper. That leaves them contaminated with both the oil and the organic compounds later used to clean them, making it especially difficult for scientists who want to study what organic material they might contain.

Comparing the particles found in Antarctica with the ones collected in the stratosphere will help scientists figure out which components of the dust are part of their natural chemical makeup and which come from contaminants, Nittler says.

In 2010, a team of French scientists reported that they had found dense, unusually carbon-rich comet particles in the Antarctic snow, but this is the first time more typical comet dust has been found and its identity confirmed. Scientists had thought the highly porous, extremely fragile particles couldn’t survive on Earth.

To find them, the researchers collected snow and ice from two different sites in Antarctica over several years, starting in 2000. By melting the ice and filtering the water, they collected more than 3000 micrometeorites, tiny particles from space that were 10 microns in diameter or larger. Analyzing the micrometeorites one by one under a stereomicroscope over a period of 5 years yielded more than 40 particles with the characteristics of comet dust. A closer analysis found they were indistinguishable from comet dust collected in the stratosphere, and they also matched samples collected from the coma of a comet by NASA’s Stardust mission in 2006, the researchers report online ahead of print in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

“Our result shows that such fragile particles can be preserved not only in … snow, but also in ice,” says the study’s lead author, Takaaki Noguchi, a meteorite researcher at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan.

A good next step would be to make a more detailed analysis of the organic material in the particles, says meteorite researcher Cécile Engrand of the Centre de Spectrométrie Nucléaire et de Spectrométrie de Masse of Paris-Sud University in Orsay, a co-author of the earlier French research. “The study of these cometary particles will help shed more light on the material that served for planetary formation,” she says. “They are the best witnesses that we have of that period of time.”

Most amazing video showing our future of space exploration


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Stunning video

Riding a space elevator up from Mars. Trekking across the ice fields of Europa. Soaring in wing suits above the clouds of Titan. Base jumping on Miranda. Wanderers is a science-inspired short film imagining human exploration of our solar system that leaves me giddy and excited for a future we could one day experience.

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Humans awaiting a scenic dirigible ride at Victoria Crater on Mars, a vista first seen by the Opportunity rover. Image credit: Erik Wernquist (Click Image to Download)

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Base jumping off Verona Rupes, the highest cliff in the solar system. Credit: Erik Wernquist

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Colonizing the equatorial ridge on Iapetus, one of Saturn’s moons, with artistically oversized domed settlements. Image credit: Erik Wernquist (Click Image to Download)

Each of the places depicted in Wanderers is an actual place in our solar system. When real photos or map data was available, Wernquist used them to guide his digital recreations. You can read about each of the places and their scientific basis in an accompanying gallery of stills (also on imgur): leaving our home planet, surfing the rings of Saturn, basking above Jupiter’s epic storms, mining asteroids, and so much more.

While we’re still a long way off from human deep space exploration, we are getting a tiny step closer with the first space test flight of the Orion spacecraft next week. Currently just a crew and service module, the spacecraft is intended as the planetary crew transport module for an eventual deep space exploration vehicle for asteroid interception or even to carry humans to Mars. All the alien worlds in this short film are within our solar system, places conceivably within reach of Orion or its descendants.

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Human-powered flight in the skies of Titan. Image credit: Erik Wernquist (Click Image to Download)

In the film, Wernquist takes a bit of artistic license, but he works with the beautiful parts of what is plausible, not sacrificing science on a whim. It’d be more scientifically plausible to mount a space elevator on Pavonis Mons, an equatorial volcano stretching 14 kilometers above average surface elevation, but the cratered Terra Cimmeria highlands are more aesthetically pleasing. This is such a beautiful merger of science and fiction that I don’t even care about such tiny variations; it’s a minor thing to suggest humans may pick their space elevator location based not just on science but on having a great ascent view!

Source : space.io9.com , Erik Wernquist

India’s Manned Space mission: ISRO to test-drop crew module in December


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Aiming to start a manned space mission, the ISRO will launch the GSLV Mk-III in the second week of December to study its performance and carry out a crew module recovery experiment through it.

The 630-tonne launch vehicle, designated as LVM3-X, will carry CARE (Crew Module Atmospheric Reentry Experiment) weighing about 3.65 tonnes. The Isro intends to study the impact of heat on the crew module when it enters the earth atmosphere.

Briefing the media on the salient features of the experimental mission, Satish Dhawan Space Centre director, Dr M.Y.S. Prasad said that the objectives of the mission are flight validation of the complex atmospheric flight regime of LVM3 vehicle, validation of new design features and overall integrity of the mission design.

The experimental flight will provide all the inputs required for the first developmental flight of the GSLV Mark-III, which is being planned within next two years. It will carry a communication satellite of four tonne nominal payload capability.

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Isro’s (Indian Space Research Organisation) crew module or CARE, which would be launched in an experimental mission from Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota between December 15 and 20. (Photo: PTI)

Dr Prasad said that Care is expected to enhance their understanding on re-entry and parachute phase of crew module. The crew module, after getting separated from the launch vehicle at an altitude of 125 km, will re-enters Earth’s atmospheric at about 80 km and descend in ballistic mode.

Source :deccan chronicle

Complex life may be possible in only 10% of all galaxies


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The universe may be a lonelier place than previously thought. Of the estimated 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe, only one in 10 can support complex life like that on Earth, a pair of astrophysicists argues. Everywhere else, stellar explosions known as gamma ray bursts would regularly wipe out any life forms more elaborate than microbes. The detonations also kept the universe lifeless for billions of years after the big bang, the researchers say.

“It’s kind of surprising that we can have life only in 10% of galaxies and only after 5 billion years,” says Brian Thomas, a physicist at Washburn University in Topeka who was not involved in the work. But “my overall impression is that they are probably right” within the uncertainties in a key parameter in the analysis.

WHAT IS GAMMA RAY BURST 

Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are flashes of gamma rays associated with extremely energetic explosions that have been observed in distant galaxies. They are the brightest electromagnetic events known to occur in the universe.Bursts can last from ten milliseconds to several minutes. A typical burst releases as much energy in a few seconds as the Sun will in its entire 10-billion-year lifetime. But all observed GRBs have originated from outside the Milky Way galaxy.

Scientists have long mused over whether a gamma ray burst could harm Earth. The bursts were discovered in 1967 by satellites designed to spot nuclear weapons tests and now turn up at a rate of about one a day. They come in two types. Short gamma ray bursts last less than a second or two; they most likely occur when two neutron stars or black holes spiral into each other. Long gamma ray bursts last for tens of seconds and occur when massive stars burn out, collapse, and explode. They are rarer than the short ones but release roughly 100 times as much energy. A long burst can outshine the rest of the universe in gamma rays, which are highly energetic photons.

Continue reading Complex life may be possible in only 10% of all galaxies

NASA contracts two firms to work on asteroid mining


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NASA has contracted with two private space firms to prepare for and ultimately execute missions to land on and mine asteroids for valuable resources. The contracts, forged between NASA and both Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, are further evidence of a the kinds of new and interesting partnerships as space exploration increasingly becomes the domain of private industry.
Both companies have been forging plans to launch asteroid-landing probes for months-long stints on near Earth objects — with the aim of extracting valuable resources. Although such expeditions could theoretically return to Earth with valuable minerals, the financial viability of the concept relies on the prospects of supplying other space missions with an extracted assets. That’s where NASA comes in.

With a spate of deep space missions planned in the coming century, NASA would be able to save time and money by supplying some of those missions (including International Space Station expeditions) with vital resources mined from asteroids — water, silicate, carbonaceous minerals and more.

“Deep Space brings commercial insight to NASA’s asteroid planning, because our business is based on supplying what commercial customers in Earth orbit need to operate, as well as serving NASA’s needs for its moon and Mars exploration,” Deep Space CEO Daniel Faber said in a press release earlier this year. “The fuel, water, and metals that we will harvest and process will be sold into both markets, making available industrial quantities of material for expanding space applications and services.”

The fuel it takes to rocket out of the grasp of Earth’s gravity makes launching anything — much less a massive cargo ship — exceptionally expensive. By contrast, asteroids have minuscule centers of gravity, making coming and going from them much less fuel (and cost) intensive.

“Right now it costs $17 million per ton to get anything up to geosynchronous orbit,” David Gump, vice chairman of Deep Space, told The Boston Globe. “If we can beat whatever that price is in 2022, we’ll have a big market.”

“Asteroids hold the resources necessary to enable a sustainable, even indefinite presence in space — for science, commerce and continued prosperity here on Earth,” Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer of Planetary Resources, echoed in a statement released by NASA last week.

As part of Planetary Resources’ ongoing cooperation with NASA’s asteroid exploration efforts, the company will help sort through the near Earth object-finding algorithms being submitted by citizen scientists as part of the agency’s Asteroid Data Hunter challenge.

“By harnessing the public’s interest in space and asteroid detection, we can more quickly identify the potential threats, as well as the opportunities,” Lewicki added.

Following in the wake of European Space Agency’s history-making comet landing, NASA will attempt to land its own spacecraft, the OSIRIS-Rex, on an asteroid named Bennu in September 2016.

Source : upi.com

‘Space plane’ readies for launch


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(Click image to Download) The Intermediate experimental Vehicle. Photo: ESA 

Europe’s first-ever “space plane” will be launched on February 11 next year, rocket firm Arianespace says after a three-month delay to fine-tune the flight plan.

The unmanned, car-sized vessel will be sent into low orbit by Europe’s Vega light rocket, on a 100-minute fact-finding flight to inform plans to build a shuttle-like, reusable space vehicle.

Dubbed IXV, for Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, the plane will be boosted from Europe’s space pad in Kourou, French Guiana, and separate from its launcher at an altitude of 320 kilometres.

The European Space Agency website says it will attain an altitude of around 450k kilometres before re-entering the atmosphere at an altitude of 120 kilometres – representative of a return mission from low orbit.

The vessel is expected to collect data on its hypersonic and supersonic flight phases, before plunging into the Pacific Ocean with a parachute.

The initial launch had been scheduled for November 18, but Arianespace in October announced a postponement “to carry out additional flight trajectory analyses”.

“Based on joint work by ESA [the European Space Agency] and CNES [the French space agency], the date for the IXV mission to be launched by Vega has been set for February 11, 2015,” the company said in a statement on Friday.

Developed over five years at a cost of 150 million euros ($225 million), the IXV is the testbed for a reusable vehicle that may one day be able to land on a conventional runway on Earth after a mission to space.

This could be useful for bringing astronauts back from the International Space Station (ISS).

The only craft currently able to ferry astronauts to the ISS and back is Russia’s Soyuz.

Last month saw two major setbacks for the space industry.

On October 28, an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded shortly after launch on what was to be a supply mission to the ISS, followed three days later by the crash of Virgin Galactic tourist space plane SpaceShipTwo on a test flight, killing one of two pilots.

Source : smh