April 17, 2012
By Natalie Wolchover
“Have you noticed the slow drip of information about weird things on Mars lately? There is a new rover landing there in August. Could NASA be setting us up for the big announcement that they found life in … December of 2012?” –KTRN
Amateur stargazers have discovered an intriguing object jutting out from the surface of Mars. The seemingly perfectly rectangular, upright structure, found in NASA images of the Red Planet, bears a striking resemblance to the monoliths planted on Earth and the moon by aliens in the classic sci-fi film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
The object in question was first spotted several years ago after being photographed by the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a NASA space probe; every so often, it garners renewed interest on the Internet. But is it unnatural — a beacon erected by aliens for mysterious reasons, and even more mysteriously paralleled in the imaginations of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, creators of “2001″? Or is this rock the work of nature? [Photo ]
According to Jonathon Hill, a research technician and mission planner at the Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University, who processes many of the images taken during NASA’s Mars missions, the object in question is no more than a roughly rectangular boulder.
The HiRISE camera that photographed it has a resolution of approximately 1 foot (30 centimeters) per pixel — impressive considering the 180-mile (300-kilometer) altitude from which it photographs the Martian surface, but not quite sharp enough to capture the cragginess of a mid-size boulder. “When your resolution is too low to fully resolve an object, it tends to look rectangular because the pixels in the image are squares. Any curve will look like a series of straight lines if you reduce your resolution enough,” Hill told Life’s Little Mysteries.
April 16, 2012
By Irene Klotz
“NASA has known about life on Mars since the 1970s, yet they continue to keep the information to themselves. This report does not come from some ‘conspiracy theory weirdo,’ it’s from Discovery News.” –KTRN
New analysis of 36-year-old data, resuscitated from printouts, shows NASA found life on Mars, an international team of mathematicians and scientists conclude in a paper published this week.
Further, NASA doesn’t need a human expedition to Mars to nail down the claim, neuropharmacologist and biologist Joseph Miller, with the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, told Discovery News.
“The ultimate proof is to take a video of a Martian bacteria. They should send a microscope — watch the bacteria move,” Miller said.
“On the basis of what we’ve done so far, I’d say I’m 99 percent sure there’s life there,” he added.
Miller’s confidence stems in part from a new study that re-analyzed results from a life-detection experiment conducted by NASA’s Viking Mars robots in 1976.
Researchers crunched raw data collected during runs of the Labeled Release experiment, which looked for signs of microbial metabolism in soil samples scooped up and processed by the two Viking landers. General consensus of scientists has been that the experiment found geological, not biological, activity.
The new study took a different approach. Researchers distilled the Viking Labeled Release data, provided as hard copies by the original researchers, into sets of numbers and analyzed the results for complexity. Since living systems are more complicated than non-biological processes, the idea was to look at the experiment results from a purely numerical perspective.
April 12, 2012
By Ted Thornhill
“This isn’t the only NASA footage from space that are obvious UFOs. Yes – NASA is hiding the truth.” –KTRN
To the ground control commentator on Nasa’s live public feed, they’re merely ‘reflections on the camera lens’ – but the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis don’t sound so convinced.
A spooky YouTube video appears to show three ‘orbs’ moving slowly around the Atlantis, as it floats in orbit during a 2006 mission.
The footage, which is a segment of the feed, begins with one of the astronauts describing to ground control what they’re seeing.
The unnamed crew member says: ‘It’s a structure that’s definitely not rigid. Doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen on the outside of the Shuttle, that’s for sure.’
He describes how the object ‘quickly moved to the nose of the orbiter, moving away at least 100 feet’.
For a few minutes nothing of note happens, but then at 4.45 the camera looks beyond the shuttle and focusses on three orbs that appear to be hovering in a triangular formation nearby.
The ground control commentator immediately passes them off as ‘reflections in the camera lens’ – but the shuttle crew members seem far less dismissive, with one confirming that they’re seeing ‘three or four objects’ and asking: ‘Can you confirm it’s just the one that’s moving?’
April 10, 2012
By Jason McClellan
“If you think Mars is a dead planet, think again.” –KTRN
Photos taken by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express spacecraft reveal rows of “pit-chains” lining the sides of volcanoes in the red planet’s Tharsis region. These pit-chains were likely caused by ancient volcanic activity. The ESA explains, “Lava streaming from a volcano solidifies on the surface, leaving a molten tube of lava running below. Once volcanic activity ceases, the tube empties, leaving behind a subterranean cavity.” Similar lava tubes were discovered last year on Earth’s moon by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
April 6, 2012
By Jason McClellan
Various discoveries by NASA and other organizations during the past few years have generated considerable interest within the mainstream media and the general public in the search for extraterrestrial life.
NASA’s Kepler space telescope has been on a planet-hunting mission since 2009, searching for Earth-like planets. The mission has already confirmed the discovery of 61 planets and found more than 2,000 planetary candidates. And recent data from the European Southern Observatory’s HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) planet-hunting telescope suggests that there are tens of billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy alone, many thought to have the correct conditions to support life.
These recent discoveries have excited scientists, and are fueling additional efforts to search for life elsewhere in the universe. The Canadian Astrobiology Network (CAN), centered at the University of Western Ontario, announced today a partnership with NASA. The press release from CAN stated, “A number of extraterrestrial targets, including Mars and the moons Europa and Titan, have been identified by NASA as having the potential to host life or to provide valuable insight for researchers and scientists into the conditions that may have been present on Earth when life started.” As an affiliate within the NASA Astrobiology Network, CAN hopes to “strengthen existing ties, facilitate the establishment of new collaborations, and enhance training opportunities for both Canadian and American researchers and students,” according to CAN chair Neil Banerjee.
April 4, 2012
“Go Russia! If the US is too lazy and ‘broke’ to get man to outer-space, we have to root for someone.” –KTRN
A ground-breaking Russian nuclear space-travel propulsion system will be ready by 2017 and will power a ship capable of long-haul interplanetary missions by 2025, giving Russia a head start in the outer-space race.
The megawatt-class nuclear drive will function for up to three years and produce 100-150 kilowatts of energy at normal capacity.
The new project proposes the use of an electric ion propulsion system. The engines exhaust thrust will be generated by an ion flow, which is further accelerated by an electric field. The nuclear reactor will therefore “supply” the necessary amount of electric power without unwanted radioactive contamination of the environment.
Xenon will serve as the working body for the engines.
It is under development at Skolkovo, Russia’s technology innovation hub, whose nuclear cluster head Denis Kovalevich confirmed the breakthrough to Interfax. “At present we are testing several types of fuel and later we will start drafting the design,” he said.
While the engine is expected to be fully assembled by 2017 the accompanying craft will not be ready before 2025 former head of Roscosmos, Anatoly Perminov, told Interfax.
Scientists expect to start putting the new engine through its paces in operational tests as early as 2014.
The Russian government began the ambitious project in 2010 with an investment of approximately $17 million dollars and is expected to shell out $247 million over the next five years to complete the engine.
March 29, 2012
“This is amazingly awesome news. Just think about it – TENS OF BILLIONS of planets may have life – and this just in our galaxy alone. The chances of there being intelligent life in the universe (other than humans, if we can even call ourselves intelligent theses days) are astronomical. There probably isn’t just one or two intelligent species out there, there are probably thousands! These are the types of things the human race should be concerned about – not fighting with each other over religion, or who is going to win this season’s Dancing With the Stars.” –KTRN
Scientists have long assumed that the best chance of finding alien life in the universe is on planets similar to ours. The latest scientific discoveries show that there might be tens of billions of such planets in our galaxy alone.
Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory in Chile came to these findings after studying more than a hundred red dwarves, the most common stars in the universe.
The French-led team found out that 40 per cent of red dwarves are orbited by super-Earths – planets up to ten times bigger than our own – which are the correct distance away from their star for liquid water to be found on them. Liquid water is considered a major precondition of life.
From then on, figuring out the amount of potentially habitable planets was only a matter of math.
“Because red dwarfs are so common – there are about 160 billion of them in the Milky Way – this leads us to the astonishing result that there are tens of billions of these planets in our galaxy alone,” lead researcher Xavier Bonfils from the Observatoire des Sciences de l’Univers in Grenoble, France, said in a statement.
Despite the mind-boggling possibilities of billions of other civilizations, astronomers say it’s not time to record our interplanetary greetings just yet.
March 28, 2012
By Jeffrey Kluger
“It’s pretty amazing just how much we DON’T know about even our own solar system. Just imagine what lies beyond Pluto. To think we are the only intelligent species in the universe is ridiculous.” –KTRN
It’s hard enough for kids to remember all the known oceans and seas — Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Norwegian, Barents — and now they can add one more to the list: the Enceladan Ocean. The name is lovely, and the place is nifty, but there’s not much chance of visiting it soon. It’s located on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s 66 known moons. While Enceladus has been familiar to us since it was first spotted in 1789, the discovery of its ocean, courtesy of the venerable Cassini spacecraft, is a whole new and possibly game-changing thing.
(MORE: Secrets of the Rings)
Enceladus has always been thought of as one of the more remarkable members of Saturn’s marble bag of satellites. For one thing, it’s dazzlingly bright. The percentage of sunlight that a body in the solar system reflects back is known as its albedo, and it’s determined mostly by the color of the body’s ground cover. For all the silvery brilliance of a full moon on a cloudless night, the albedo of our own drab satellite is a muddy 12%, owing mostly to the gray dust that covers it. The albedo of Enceladus, on the other hand, approaches a mirror-like 100%.
Such a high percentage likely means the surface is covered with ice crystals — and, what’s more, that those crystals get regularly replenished. Consider how grubby and gray a fresh snowfall becomes after just a couple of days of splashing road slush and tromping people. Now imagine how a moon would look after a few billion years of cosmic bombardment by incoming meteors.
When the Voyager probes barnstormed Enceladus in 1982, they found that the moon is indeed covered in ice and being constantly repaved. Vast valleys and basins were filled with fresh, white cosmic snow. Craters were cut clean in half, with one side remaining visible and the other covered over. Most remarkably, Enceladus orbits within Saturn’s E ring — the widest of the planet’s bands — and just behind the moon is a visible bulge in the ring, the result of the sparkly exhaust from ice volcanoes that trails Enceladus like smoke from a steamship. It’s that cryovolcanism that’s responsible for the regular repaving.
March 27, 2012
By Alan Boyle
“Mars is far from being a dead planet. It is alive and well.” –KTRN
Amateur astronomers are puzzling over a seemingly anomalous cloud that has shown up on images of Mars taken over the past few days. Is it really a cloud, or a trick of the eye? Does it really extend 150 miles up from the surface, as some of the observers suggest? And what churned up all that stuff, anyway? The amateurs and the pros will be trying to resolve those questions before the phenomenon fades away.
“It’s not completely unexpected,” Jonathon Hill, a member of the team at the Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University, told me today. “But it’s bigger than we would expect, and it’s definitely something that our atmosphere guys want to take a look at.”
Hill and his colleagues will be looking at the area where the cloud was spotted using the Thermal Emission Imaging System, or THEMIS, which is one of the instruments on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter.
“In the command upload we’re preparing to send today, we’ve included observations that will hopefully capture some of these recent clouds,” Hill wrote in an email. “Our THEMIS camera on Mars Odyssey is capable of acquiring simultaneous visible and thermal infrared images, so our atmospheric researchers are pretty excited about the possibility of not only getting a good look at the cloud structures, but also their temperatures.”
March 20, 2012
By Dauna Coulter, Dr. Tony Phillips
“This is pretty cool. Just imagine what’s out in the universe that we can’t see.” –KTRN
The human eye is crucial to astronomy. Without the ability to see, the luminous universe of stars, planets and galaxies would be closed to us, unknown forever. Nevertheless, astronomers cannot shake their fascination with the invisible.
Outside the realm of human vision is an entire electromagnetic spectrum of wonders. Each type of light–from radio waves to gamma-rays–reveals something unique about the universe. Some wavelengths are best for studying black holes; others reveal newborn stars and planets; while others illuminate the earliest years of cosmic history.
NASA has many telescopes “working the wavelengths” up and down the electromagnetic spectrum. One of them, the Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope orbiting Earth, has just crossed a new electromagnetic frontier.