Tag Archives: Extraterrestrial life

NASA Is Seeking Help In Potentially Finding Life On Jupiter’s Moon Europa (Video)

NASA is confident that underneath Jupiter’s moon Europa there could be more water than in our oceans here on Earth. So naturally, Europa has attracted a lot of attention, encouraging the curious to ask, “Could there be life on Europa?”.

Currently, NASA is aiming to send a new mission to Europa by 2025. The White House’s 2015 federal budget allocates $15 million towards making this Europa mission a reality.

Europa has recently become one of NASA’s main focuses because,  out of all the other planetary bodies in our solar system, it has arguably the greatest chance of harboring life.

From Space.com…


“Every 10 years, the U.S. National Research Council, a nonprofit organization that advises the government, issues a report that recommends a planetary exploration strategy for NASA and the National Science Foundation. The current report (which covers 2013 to 2022) ranks an exploration of Europa among the highest priority missions. According to the report, the future mission should focus on taking a closer look at the ocean that scientists suspect lies below the surface; characterizing its icy crust and looking for any subsurface liquid water; determining the surface composition and chemistry; examining surface features and identifying landing areas for future missions; and understanding the purpose of its magnetosphere — the magnetic field surrounding the celestial body. NASA officials said the instrument proposals should focus on at least one of these exploration goals. The announcement calls for instruments designed for a spacecraft that will orbit Europa or complete several flybys, since astronomers do not yet have enough data to pinpoint safe landing sites on the icy moon.”


The video below describes Europa in more detail.

NASA hopes that by providing monetary incentives to private parties, they will encourage competition and innovation, leading to affordable development processes for the instruments necessary for new missions like the upcoming one to Europa.

Two of the main challenges for teams developing instruments are overcoming Jupiter’s high levels of radiation and making sure that no organic material from Earth (like microorganisms, for example) is introduced to Europa’s potentially habitable surface.

The competition ends in April 2015. NASA will select the top 20 proposals, rewarding $25 million to each of the selected teams to further advance their designs for their instruments. NASA will also select eight winners whose instruments will be developed and actually used in NASA’s mission to Europa.

This competition is included in NASA’s budget to get to Europa, according to Space.com…

“NASA is in the process of designing a mission that will cost less than $1 billion and will still meet as many of the exploration goals as possible.”

Check out NASA’s full guidelines for Europa mission science instrument ideas here.

You can also learn more about how Europa works in this infographic from Space.com (click to enlarge):

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NASA: “In the Next 20 Years We Will Find Out We Are Not Alone in the Universe”

The search for extra-terrestrial life has been one NASA’s most important missions in recent years. NASA has estimated that in our galaxy alone, there are 100 million planets that cold possibly host alien life.

Speaking at their Washington headquarters on Monday, NASA outlined new plans to use current telescope technology to help in the search. They also announced that they would be launching the Transiting Exoplanet Surveying Satellite in 2017 to aid in the search.

“Just imagine the moment, when we find potential signatures of life. Imagine the moment when the world wakes up and the human race realizes that its long loneliness in time and space may be over — the possibility we’re no longer alone in the universe,”

said Matt Mountain, who serves as director at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. The Institute will be launching the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018 to help in the search as well.

Mountain also added,

“What we didn’t know five years ago is that perhaps 10 to 20 per cent of stars around us have Earth-size planets in the habitable zone… It’s within our grasp to pull off a discovery that will change the world forever.”

Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI)

NASA Administrator and former astronaut Charles Bolden also weighed in on the announcement:

“Do we believe there is life beyond Earth? I would venture to say that most of my colleagues here today say it is improbable that in the limitless vastness of the universe we humans stand alone.”

Read the original story from CBS News here.

Blowing the Top Off a Mountain to Build a Telescope So Big It Can See Signs of Life On Other Planets

In a few short weeks, engineers in the Chilean Coastal Ranges of the Andes Mountains in South America will be blowing off the top of Cerro Armazones.  Standing at 10,000 feet, it’s one of the tallest peaks in the region. Here’s Gird Hudepohl, the head engineer for the project:

“We will take about 80ft off the top of the mountain to create a plateau – and when we have done that, we will build the world’s biggest telescope there.”

Cerro Armazones, future site of the world’s largest telescope (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The Coastal Ranges region is extremely arid, which increases visibility since water vapor in the air obscures a telescope’s vision (this is also why telescopes at high elevations have much better vision than those closer to sea level).

This isn’t Hudepohl’s first rodeo. He works for the European Southern Observatory and was in charge of the demolition of another nearby peak (Cerro Paranal) which is now home to one of the world’s most advanced observatories.

The observatory at Cerro Paranal is equipped with four VLTs (Very Large Telescopes), each the size of “a block of flats” and each equipped with an 8m wide primary mirror (thats more than 24 feet).

Here’s some pictures of the European Southern Observatory (click an image to enlarge):

The new telescope, however, will be bigger than all four of those VLTs combined. The E-ELT (European Extremely Large Telescope- they’re not very creative with the names obviously) will be equipped with a massive 39m (128ft) primary mirror made up 800 segments, each 1.4 meters in diameter but only a few centimeters thick. Each segment must be calibrated with microscopic precision for the telescope to function correctly.

When it’s finished (projected completion is 2025), the telescope will be housed in a 74m (~243ft) dome and weigh in at almost 3,000 tons. The project has a price tag of $1.34 billion.

Artist rendering of the completed E-ELT

The telescope is obviously extremely expensive, but the potential benefits it will provide are well worth it. Here’s Cambridge University astronomer Professor Gerry Gilmore explaining why the E-ELT will be such a major breakthrough:

“[Right now] we can see exoplanets but we cannot study them in detail because – from our distant perspective – they appear so close to their parent stars. However, the magnification which the E-ELT will provide will mean we will be able to look at them directly and clearly. In 15 years, we should have a picture of a planet around another star and that picture could show its surface changing colour just as Earth does as the seasons change – indicating that vegetation exists on that world. We will then have found alien life.”

Read the full story from The Guardian here.

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Takes Photo of a Strange Light on Mars

A photo recently captured by NASA’s Curiosity Rover has according to Space.com

“…set the Internet abuzz yet again about the possibility of life on Mars.”

Check out the photo that has created such a buzz below.

A bright flash of light appears to be visible in this image taken by the right-side navigation camera on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on April 3, 2014.
A bright flash of light appears to be visible in this image taken by the right-side navigation camera on NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on April 3, 2014.

Although many UFO advocates are loving this photo and referring to it as evidence of extraterrestrial life, the rover’s handlers have made no such claims.

According to Space.com, they believe the light most likely came from a shiny rock or from,

“super-energetic cosmic rays slamming into the CCD device on Curiosity’s right-side navigation camera”.

Regardless of exactly what caused the light, the professionals don’t think it is anything too unusual so I’ll take their word for it. 

 

Rosetta Spacecraft Awakes From Hibernation and Prepares for Mankind’s FIRST EVER COMET LANDING (Video)

Rosetta is a spacecraft that was launched in 2004 by the European Space Agency with aid from NASA. Rosetta’s mission is to rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, orbit the comet, and launch and land a robot lander called Philae onto the comet. If the launch and landing for robot lander Philae are successful, Philae will be the first ever controlled landing on a comet.

Rosetta has been in hibernation since November and has recently been awoken successfully (turned back on) and is now expected to rendezvous with its nearby target — Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko — in May, and then enter orbit around the icy body (Comet) in August. Check Out the video below to see the journey that Rosetta has experienced through our Solar System so far.

 

If all goes well, Rosetta will release a piggyback probe — Philae — in November. Philae will study comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko up close with its 10 science instruments, one of which is a drill that will snag samples up to 8 inches beneath the comet’s surface.

Below is a video animation of the expected upcoming Philae landing.

 

The studies will be the first of their kind considering we have never landed on a comet before. This mission has high expectations and will hopefully bring in priceless information about comets, the origin of our solar system, and possibly more of the origin of life.

Rosetta is named for the Rosetta Stone, a block of black basalt that was inscribed with a royal decree in three languages — Egyptian hieroglyphics, Egyptian Demotic and Greek. The spacecraft’s robotic lander is called Philae, named after a similarly inscribed obelisk found on an island in the Nile River. Both the stone and the obelisk were key to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Scientists hope the mission will provide a key to many questions about the origins of the solar system and, perhaps, life on Earth.” -According to Space.com

Check Out the full story here on Space.com

Chair of the Astronomy Department at Harvard Says Other Complex Life in Universe Very Possible

Abraham (Avi) Loeb an American/Israeli theoretical physicist who works on astrophysics and cosmology and is Chair of the Astronomy Department at Harvard says that “it’s quite possible that life is everywhere and we are the late-comers”. Today Forbes released an article that summarizes a paper submitted by Avi Loeb to the journal of Astrobiology. The entire article can be viewed below.

The following passage comes directly from Forbes (Note I have bolded certain key points)

   The evolution of complex life in the universe has, heretofore, thought to have been quite a long slog.

But in a paper submitted to the journal Astrobiology, theoretical cosmologist Avi Loeb argues that some form of complex life may have arisen within the first billion years of our universe’s existence.

Loeb, Chair of the Astronomy Department at Harvard, says that some fraction of the cosmos’ first so-called Population III stars may have produced supernovae that seeded the early cosmos with large amounts of metals, like iron. Such heavy elements, Loeb notes, are crucial when forming terrestrial planets like our own.

These first stars — thought to on average have been some 100 times more massive than our sun — likely had hydrogen-burning lifetimes of only 3 million years. Yet Loeb says a follow-on population of Population II stars that formed within these very first stars’ metal-rich vicinity, could have spawned earthlike planets, some fraction of which may have harbored complex life.

“These were stellar “islands” enriched by heavy elements where you could make planets,” said Loeb. “But most of the early universe either had pristine [hydrogen] gas or low metallicity gas.”

The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), relic radiation leftover from the Big Bang, was roughly room temperature when the universe was only 15 million years old.

A rocky planet at such early times, wouldn’t have needed the warmth of its parent star, but Loeb says could simply have bathed in the CMB’s radiation, which for some 3 million years at least could have allowed for planetary liquid water and, in principle, the chemistry of life.

And if that prospect isn’t tantalizing enough, Loeb says conceivably tens of millions of years after the Big Bang, Population II stars could have also had metal-rich proto-planetary disks capable of forming earth-like planets.

These longer-lived Population II stars would have provided stable long-term conditions for these young earths and may have led to life as we know it literally near the dawn of time.

Theoretical Cosmologist Avi Loeb.  Credit:  CfA Public Affairs

Cosmologist Avi Loeb

In his paper Loeb also says that even in a cosmos that had an initial high value cosmological constant, or energy density of the spacetime vacuum, complex life would have still had time to evolve within the first one billion or so years of the universe’s ex

istence. That is, before this accelerating vacuum energy caused space to expand so rapidly that gravity could not have done its work and galaxies like our Milky Way — rife with stars and planets like our own — could not have formed.

To date, however, the standard paradigm for the evolution of intelligent life in the universe is that if it’s out there, it’s probably only been around for the last 6 billion years, or about a billion years after the peak of cosmic carbon production.

But what if life did evolve on an earth-like planet circling an early Population II star?
One born only 50 million years after the Big Bang?

If it vectored into intelligence that somehow persisted over much of the universe’s 13.8 billion-year history, by now such an ancient civilization’s technology would arguably be nothing short of “godlike.”

firststars

Simulated Image of the Universe’s first Stars

“The picture that we have of the [early] universe is that the cosmos is sort of dead,” said Loeb. “But it’s quite possible that life is everywhere and we are the late-comers.”