Ancient Mars May Have Been More Habitable Than We Thought


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An artist’s impression of what ancient Mars may have looked like, based on geological data (Click Image to Download)

Data collected by the Curiosity Rover suggests Mars once featured a moderate climate capable of fostering lakes of liquid water and even a vast sea, and that this climate could have extended to many parts of the Red Planet.

NASA’s Curiosity Rover is currently investigating the lowest sedimentary layers of Mount Sharp, a section of rock 500 feet (150 meters) high known as the Murray formation. Observations taken by the robotic probe suggests the mountain was produced by sediments deposited in a large lake bed over tens of millions of years. The observation strongly suggests that ancient Mars maintained a long-lasting water-friendly climate.

According to NASA scientists, it’s an hypothesis that’s challenging the notion that warm and wet conditions were transient, local, or only underground. It now appears that Mars’ ancient, thicker atmosphere raised temperatures above freezing globally, but NASA scientists aren’t entirely sure how the atmosphere produced the required effects.

A Mountain in a Crater

Scientists have struggled to explain why the mountain sits inside a crater. Last year, a study suggested that the 3.5-mile-tall Mount Sharp formed as strong winds carried dust and sand into the crater in which it rests. It was actually bad news at the time because it suggested that the Gale Crater probably never contained a lake, which was one of the primary reasons why NASA sent Curiosity there in the first place.

But this new analysis has revived an older theory which suggests that Mount Sharp is the eroded remnant of sedimentary layers that once filled the crater — layers of silt that were originally deposited on a massive lakebed.

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Cross-bedding seen in the layers of this Martian rock is evidence of movement of water recorded by waves or ripples of loose sediment the water passed over. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Thanks to on-the-ground observations made by Curiosity, NASA scientists have now caught a glimpse of Mount Sharp’s lower flanks, which feature hundreds of rock layers. These layers, which alternate between lake, river, and wind deposits, bear witness to the repeated filling and evaporation of a Martian lake. Rivers carried sand and silt to the lake, depositing the sediments at the mouth of the river to form deltas. It was a cycle that repeated over and over again.

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Cross-bedding seen in the layers of this Martian rock is evidence of movement of water recorded by waves or ripples of loose sediment the water passed over. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

“The great thing about a lake that occurs repeatedly, over and over, is that each time it comes back it is another experiment to tell you how the environment works,” noted Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger in a NASA report. “As Curiosity climbs higher on Mount Sharp, we will have a series of experiments to show patterns in how the atmosphere and the water and the sediments interact. We may see how the chemistry changed in the lakes over time. This is a hypothesis supported by what we have observed so far, providing a framework for testing in the coming year.”fcc2setcjpg8el3rhq77

After the sediments hardened to rock, the resulting layers of sediment were sculpted over time into a mountainous shape by wind erosion that carved away the material between the crater perimeter and what’s now the edge of the mountain.

Greater Potential for Life?

The new discovery has major implications for our understanding of the Red Planet. It suggests Mars was far warmer and wetter in its first two billion years than previous assumed. It also suggests that Mars experienced a vigorous and dynamic global hydrological cycle that involved rains or snows to maintain such moderate conditions.

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A pic depicting a lake of water partially filling Mars’ Gale Crater, receiving runoff from snow melting on the crater’s northern rim. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Source : io9.com

Ground-Based Telescope Observes Exoplanet Transiting Bright Star


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 Graphical representation of an Exoplanet (Click Image to Download)

For the first time, an international team of astronomers has used a ground-based telescope to detect and observe the transit of a planet in front of a Sun-like star outside of our own solar system.

Until now, only space-based telescopes were capable of detecting the transits of exoplanets as they passed by bright stars.

Distortions caused by the atmosphere , the same phenomenon that makes stars look like they’re twinkling, makes it difficult for astronomers to observe transiting planets around bright stars from telescopes based on Earth.

In September, 2013, Japanese astronomers, using the ground-based Subaru telescope were able to observe the transit of super-Earth, GJ 1214b , but this exoplanet orbits a much dimmer star, known as a red dwarf.

According to team leader, Dr. Ernst de Mooij  of Queen’s University Belfast  in Northern Ireland, 55 Cancri e, was measured to have a diameter of about 26,000 km, which is twice that of Earth, but with eight times its mass.

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This artist’s conception shows the super-Earth 55 Cancri e (right) compared to the Earth (left). (NASA/JPL) (Click Image to Download)

The most recent achievement involves a super-sized Earth-like planet in a binary star system more than 40-light years away. Called 55 Cancri e , the planet orbits its primary star 55 Cancri A , in the constellation Cancer. The solar system’s secondary star, 55 Cancri B, is a red dwarf star which is located about 159,321,732,615 km from the primary star.

Scientists say that while the primary star can be seen with the naked eye, it takes ideal conditions such as a clear and moonless night.

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An artist’s concept of exoplanet 55 Cancri e as it closely orbits its star 55 Cancri A (NASA/JPL-Caltech) (Click Image to Download)

Previous studies have found that the planet makes one complete orbit around its sun in about 18 hours and that since its daytime temperature can reach nearly 1,700° Celsius, 55 Cancri e is not at all hospitable to life.

A number of small, extra-solar planets are expected to be discovered in the next ten years as new observational space missions — including NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) , and the European Space Agency’s Planetary Transits and Oscillations of Stars (PLATO)  –are launched.

Both PLATO – set to go in 2014 and TESS, scheduled for a 2017 launch – will look for transiting Earth-like planets circling nearby bright stars.

Source : blogs.voanews.com

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

(Click Image to Download)

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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

Philae reveals presence of large amount of water ice on the comet


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A comet seen from close up – the surface looks like rock, but is a mixture of water ice, carbonaceous particles and interesting compounds. Image credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/ROLIS/DLR  (Click Image to Download ) 

The European Space Agency has revealed that the comet – 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko “is not nearly as soft and fluffy as it was believed to be”.

The first results to emerge from the team of the SESAME experiment (Surface Electrical, Seismic and Acoustic Monitoring Experiment) confirm that “the strength of the ice found under a layer of dust on the first landing site is surprisingly high”.

“The mechanical properties of 67P will be derived. SESAME’s two other instruments suggest that cometary activity at this landing site is low, as well as revealing the presence of a large amount of water ice under the lander,” Klaus Seidensticker from the DLR Institute of Planetary Research said.

Source : Times of india , SEN Blog

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

Life on Mars was ‘destroyed by nuclear attack’, says physicist – and we could be next


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Source : Huffington Post UK

Physicist Dr John Brandenburg has a new, stunning theory for why we can’t see life on Mars.

It was wiped out by a nuclear war.

Brandenburg believes that the evidence lies in the composition of Martial soil, which he suggests has the colouration and composition consistent with fallout from a series of “mixed fusion-fission explosions.”

Scientists have argued that while he’s, technically, not wrong about the soil thing, the discovery of high concentrations of Xenon-129 in the atmosphere should not be surprising as it’s a commonly found substance.

Brandenburg will not be convinced, though. He says his theory is based on hard evidence — using the photographs of the Curiosity rover as proof that we’ve already seen ancient archaeological sites, and the remnants of an ancient civilisation.

He’ll be publishing his full set of findings in next month’s Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics.

NASA’s “Remastered” View of Europa is the Best Yet


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(Click image to download) This newly-reprocessed color view of Europa was made from images taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

Europa, Jupiter’s sixth-closest moon, has long been a source of fascination and wonder for astronomers. Not only is it unique amongst its Jovian peers for having a smooth, ice-covered surface, but it is believed that warm, ocean waters exist beneath that crust – which also makes it a strong candidate for extra-terrestrial life.

And now, combining a mosaic of color images with modern image processing techniques, NASA has produced a new version of what is perhaps the best view of Europa yet. And it is quite simply the closest approximation to what the human eye would see, and the next best thing to seeing it up close.

The high-resolution color image, which shows the largest portion of the moon’s surface, was made from images taken by NASA’s Galileo probe. Using the Solid-State Imaging (SSI) experiment, the craft captured these images during it’s first and fourteenth orbit through the Jupiter system, in 1995 and 1998 respectively.

The view was previously released as a mosaic with lower resolution and strongly enhanced color (as seen on the JPL’s website). To create this new version, the images were assembled into a realistic color view of the surface that approximates how Europa would appear to the human eye.

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The cracked, icy surface of Europa. The smoothness of the surface has led many scientists to conclude that oceans exist beneath it. Credit: NASA/JPLredit: NASA

Continue reading NASA’s “Remastered” View of Europa is the Best Yet

Did NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover Find Fish Fossil On Mars ?


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Curiosity Mars rover has provided numerous intriguing insights into the mysteries of the Red Planet since it landed on the Martian surface two years ago. It has also supplied armchair astronomers with plenty of fringe theories about the planet that unfortunately seem to catch more attention on the internet than the actual research being done on Mars.

 Last month, amateur observers were quick to conclude photo-error unusualities on images taken by the rover as evidence for alien existence. A report gave details on how “experts” on social media, like YouTuber “Martian Archelogist” [sic], interpreted tricky lighting on rocks as actual elongated skulls left behind by otherworldly civilizations. These and other similar claims have either been disregarded or debunked by real researchers.

A more recent Mars “alien evidence” story has been circulating on social media for the past few days, detailing how Curiosity Mars rover allegedly discovered fish bones on the surface of the planet — particularly near the Windjana drilling target, where the rover has just recently completed drilling a hole. Allegedly dubbed as NASA’s “greatest discovery”, the fossils were reportedly found intact and resembling what humans might identify as the endoskeleton of a fish.

A site called MSNBC.website, which allegedly broke the story online, quoted statements reportedly released by NASA’s chief scientist Dr. Elle Stafon.

“This is extraordinary news for the scientific community. We’ve found minute evidence of prior life before but nothing as concrete as this.”

Although there is an actual Dr. Stafon working at NASA, the statements she allegedly issued regarding the rover fish bone discovery were fabricated. The image of the fossil discovery provided by the article has also been proven to be a doctored version of an actual NASA image of the Windjana area on Mars, the site of the Curiosity rover’s recently concluded drilling activities.

Since arriving on Mars in 2012, the Curiosity rover has actually made real discoveries about our nearest neighbor. Last year, the rover discovered the existence of an ancient, knee-deep streambed which used to flow on the Martian surface for thousands of years at a time. This inspired strong suspicions among scientists of ancient microbial life that may have existed on Mars hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Last June, the Curiosity Mars rover has officially spent a whole Martian year on its mission, having completed 687 Earth days of travel and discovery on the red planet.

Source :inquisitr

A Universe of Blue Dots? –“Water Common During the Formation of All Planetary Systems”


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The new SciFi blockbuster, Interstellar, shows astonauts from post apocalyptic earth, destroyed by what appears to be a modern dust-bowl, catapulted into the unknown of outer space in the hopes of finding a new home for the human race, only to discover an extraterrestrial tidal wave on a distant exo planet. How realistic is the premise of an alien water planet? New findings suggest it’s based on solid science.
“This is an important step forward in our quest to find out if life exists on other planets,” said Tim Harries, from the University of Exeter’s Physics and Astronomy department, who was part of the research team. “We know that water is vital for the evolution of life on Earth, but it was possible that the Earth’s water originated in the specific conditions of the early solar system, and that those circumstances might occur infrequently elsewhere. By identifying the ancient heritage of Earth’s water, we can see that the way in which our solar system was formed will not be unique, and that exoplanets will form in environments with abundant water. Consequently, it raises the possibility that some exoplanets could house the right conditions, and water resources, for life to evolve.”
The implication of these findings is that some of the solar system’s water must have been inherited from the Sun’s birth environment, and thus predate the Sun itself. If our solar system’s formation was typical, this implies that water is a common ingredient during the formation of all planetary systems.

To date, the Kepler satellite has detected nearly 1,000 confirmed extrasolar planets. The widespread availability of water during the planet-formation process puts a promising outlook on the prevalence of life throughout the galaxy.

A pioneering new study has shown that water found on Earth predates the formation of the Sun – raising hopes that life could exist on exoplanets, the planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy. The ground-breaking research set out to discover the origin of the water that was deposited on the Earth as it formed.

It found that a significant fraction of water found on Earth, and across our solar system, predates the formation of the Sun. By showing that water is ‘inherited’ from the environment when a star is born, the international team of scientists believe other exoplanetary systems also had access to an abundance of water during their own formation.

As water is a key component for the development of life on Earth, the study has important implications for the potential for life elsewhere in the galaxy.

Scientists have previously been able to understand the conditions present when stars are formed by looking at the composition of comets and asteroids, which show which gases, dust and, most importantly, ices were circling the star at its birth.

The team of international scientists were able to use ‘heavy water’ ices – those with an excess of water made with the element deuterium rather than hydrogen – to determine whether the water ices formed before, or during, the solar system’s formation.

Continue reading A Universe of Blue Dots? –“Water Common During the Formation of All Planetary Systems”

Is Earth the only technologically-intensive civilization in Universe?


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A new study has revealed that the combination of earth-based science of sustainability and the space-oriented field of astrobiology can shed light on the future of technological civilization on Earth and is the planet first and only technologically-intensive culture in Universe.
Human-caused climate change, ocean acidification and species extinctions may eventually threaten the collapse of civilization, according to some scientists, while other people argue that for political or economic reasons industrial development should be allowed without restrictions.

In the paper, two astrophysicists argue that these questions may soon be resolvable scientifically, thanks to new data about the Earth and about other planets in our galaxy, and by combining the earth-based science of sustainability with the space-oriented field of astrobiology .

Astrophysicists Adam Frank and Woodruff Sullivan call for creation of a new research program to answer questions about humanity’s future in the broadest astronomical context.

The authors explained that the point would be to see that Earth’s current situation might, in some sense, be natural or at least a natural and generic consequence of certain evolutionary pathways.

The researchers also showed that how habitability studies of exoplanets hold important lessons for sustaining the civilization we have developed on Earth.

According to the results, studying past extinction events and using theoretical tools to model the future evolutionary trajectory of humankind and of still unknown but plausible alien civilizations could inform decisions that would lead to a sustainable future.

Source : Zee news