Signs of Alien Life Will Be Found by 2025, NASA’s Chief Scientist Predicts


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Here’s the full quote, as delivered by NASA Chief scientist Ellen Stofan at Tuesday’s panel discussion on the Agency’s search for habitable worlds and alien life:

“I think we’re going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we’re going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years.

We know where to look. We know how to look,” Stofan added. “In most cases we have the technology, and we’re on a path to implementing it. And so I think we’re definitely on the road.”

Former astronaut John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, echoed Stofan’s assessment. “I think we’re one generation away in our solar system, whether it’s on an icy moon or on Mars, and one generation [away] on a planet around a nearby star.”

Maybe it’s time to start placing bets. Personally, my money’s on Europa – but each of the following “ocean worlds” listed in this infographic from NASA a solid candidate:

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Source :io9

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

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

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”

Spacecraft Spots Ice at Mercury’s North Pole


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NASA ‘s MESSENGER spacecraft has sent back its first visible-light images of water ice on Mercury, the tiny charbroiled planet that orbits closest to the sun.

The findings, described in the journal Geology, reveal that the ice deposits look surprisingly “fresh” — and hint that water could have been very recently delivered to rocky little Mercury.

Even though Mercury sits less than 36 million miles from the sun — which is less than two-fifths of the Earth’s comfortable 93 million miles from sun — some ice still manages to cling to the planet’s surface. That’s because the ice lies at the poles, in permanently shadowed regions inside craters that are eternally shielded from sunlight and remain very, very cold.

More than two decades ago, ground-based radar observations picked up signs of this polar ice, and the MESSENGER spacecraft later lent support to the idea with its own suite of instruments. But it’s tough to actually see these permanently shadowed regions with the spacecraft’s visible-light camera because, well, it’s dark there. But recently, the team was able to refine the images of the ice-deposit surfaces with the help of what little light was reflecting off the crater walls.

The scientists examined Prokofiev, which at roughly 69.6 miles in diameter is the largest crater at Mercury’s north pole thought to have water-ice deposits. There, the surface ice had a “cratered” texture — showing that it was placed there more recently than the smaller underlying craters.

And in other spots, such as Berlioz crater, the researchers found that the water ice was “covered by a thin layer of dark, organic-rich volatile material.” The boundaries of those icy regions were surprisingly sharp — they hadn’t been in place long enough to get smoothed out.

“The sharp boundaries indicate that the volatile deposits at Mercury’s poles are geologically young, relative to the time scale for lateral mixing by impacts,” the study authors wrote, “and either are restored at the surface through an ongoing process or were delivered to the planet recently.”

To put that idea in perspective, estimates indicate that there could be roughly enough water-ice on Mercury to fill Lake Ontario. And if at least some of that water is indeed being delivered to the planet, it sheds new light on dynamics in the inner solar system, the scientists said.

“If Mercury’s currently substantial polar volatile inventory is the product of the most recent portion of a longer process,” the study authors wrote, “then a considerable mass of volatiles may have been delivered to the inner Solar System throughout its history.”