Tag Archives | planets

First ‘Alien Earth’ Likely To Be Spotted In 2013, Scientists Say

Finally, we’ll have a spot for humanity to open a second franchise? Live Science writes:

The first truly Earth-like alien planet is likely to be spotted next year, an epic discovery that would cause humanity to reassess its place in the universe. “I’m very positive that the first Earth twin will be discovered next year,” said Abel Mendez, who runs the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo.

Astronomers discovered the first exoplanet orbiting a sunlike star in 1995. Since they, they’ve spotted more than 800 worlds beyond our own solar system, and many more candidates await confirmation by follow-up observations. A number of exoplanets found over the last few years share one or two key traits with our own world — such as size or inferred surface temperature — but they have yet to bag a bona fide “alien Earth.”

NASA’s prolific Kepler Space Telescope, for example, has flagged more than 2,300 potential planets since its March 2009 launch.

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New Photos Suggest That Planet Mercury Is Hollow

The hollows appear to have formed relatively recently. The next question is, what lies inside? Phys.org writes:

A recent image acquired by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft shows the interior of Eminescu, a youngish 80-mile wide crater just north of Mercury’s equator. Eminescu made science headlines last year with MESSENGER’s discovery of curious eroded blotches called “hollows” scattered across its interior and surrounding its central peak, and now it looks like the spacecraft may have spotted some of these strange features in their earliest stages of formation along the inner edge of the crater’s rim.

First announced in September 2011, hollows have now been identified in many areas across Mercury. The lack of craters within hollows indicates that they are relatively young. It was suggested that they may be the result of an ongoing process on Mercury.

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Scientists To Put Genome-Sequencers On Mars To Find Alien DNA

The hunt for extraterrestrial DNA is on, Technology Review writes:

Two high-profile entrepreneurs say they want to put a DNA sequencing machine on the surface of Mars in a bid to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life.

In what could become a race for the first extraterrestrial genome, researcher J. Craig Venter said Tuesday that his Maryland academic institute and his company, Synthetic Genomics, would develop a machine capable of sequencing and beaming back DNA data from the planet. Separately, Jonathan Rothberg, founder of Ion Torrent, a DNA sequencing company, is collaborating on an effort to equip his company’s “Personal Genome Machine” for a similar task.

Venter said researchers working with him have already begun tests at a Mars-like site in the Mojave Desert. Their goal, he said, is to demonstrate a machine capable of autonomously isolating microbes from soil, sequencing their DNA, and then transmitting the information to a remote computer.

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The Catalog Of Habitable Outer Space Planets

Curious about where to go next? The Habitable Exoplanets Catalog is a project to grade and rank the planets outside of our solar system which offer the most livable conditions, were humanity to ponder a move.

At right is a rendering of sunrise on one of the planets in the Gliese 581 planetary system, a top contender. As of now, there are 6 confirmed potentially habitable planets, 27 unconfirmed potentially habitable planets, and 30 predicted potentially habitable moons:

The exoplanets Gliese 581 d, HD 85512 b, Kepler-22 b, Gliese 667C c, Gliese 581 g, and now Gliese 163 c are the only current six planets that are considered potentially habitable or object of interest for the search of extraterrestrial life (image above). The image shows these objects approximately to scale and compared with Earth and Mars. They also are ranked with the Earth Similarity Index, or ESI (number below the names).

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NASA Spacecraft Discovers Mickey Mouse Icon On Mercury

Ah, humanity — we travel to the far reaches of our solar system, only to find our own corporate logos. Space.com reports:

A NASA spacecraft has captured a spectacular photo of Mercury craters arranged in a shape that looks just like Disney’s iconic cartoon mouse. The photo comes from the Messenger spacecraft in orbit around Mercury and shows a giant crater topped with two smaller impact basins to create the recognizable shape.

The Mickey Mouse on Mercury is formed by a huge crater about 65 miles (105 kilometers) wide that was later peppered by other impacts to create the “ears.

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Possible New Evidence That Earth Is A Giant Living Organism

5052744538_bede3ddbdb_nIf planet Earth, on a macro level, really is a being called Gaia that is functionally alive, then I hope I’m not standing on an uncomfortable spot. Via Junk Science:

Is Earth really a sort of giant living organism as the Gaia hypothesis predicts? A new discovery may provide a key to answering this question. This key of sulfur could allow scientists to unlock heretofore hidden interactions between ocean organisms, atmosphere, and land — interactions that might provide evidence supporting this famous theory.

The Gaia hypothesis — first articulated by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis in the 1970s — holds that Earth’s physical and biological processes are inextricably connected to form a self-regulating, essentially sentient, system.

Newly published work done at the University of Maryland provides a tool for tracing and measuring the movement of sulfur through ocean organisms, the atmosphere and the land in ways that may help prove or disprove the controversial Gaia theory.

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Astronauts On Mars Would Risk DNA Damage

DeMonchaux30Sad news for hopes of future visits to the red planet — anyone who journeys to Mars could come back with their DNA adversely altered, Russian scientists warn. Mars Daily explains:

Future astronauts working on the Red Planet’s surface risk general changes in health at the DNA level because of increased radiation exposure, a prominent Russian academic said on Monday.

“According to our estimates, researchers on the surface of Mars can expect a number of adverse factors, such as cardiac arrhythmia, sensory impairments, changes at the DNA level, and demineralization of bone tissue,” Anatoly Grigoryev, the deputy head of Russia’s Academy of Sciences, told at a presentation at the International Symposium on the results of ground-based experiment Mars-500.

The unique Moscow-based Mars-500 experiment was completed on November 4. It attempted to recreate at least some of the conditions of a flight to the Red Planet by locking six men away in a mock spacecraft.

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Distant ‘Water-World’ Planet Confirmed

_58626151_lores-1Will the hazy exoplanet GJ 1214b be the spa-resort getaway of the year 2100? BBC reports:

Astronomers have claimed the existence of a new class of planet: a “water-world” with a thick, steamy atmosphere. The exoplanet GJ 1214b, just 40 light-years away, is a so-called “Super Earth” – bigger than our planet, but smaller than gas giants such as Jupiter.

Observations using the Hubble telescope now seem to confirm that a large fraction of its mass is water. The planet’s high temperatures suggest exotic materials might exist there.

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Sunsets On Alien Planets

alien sunsetA simulated sunset from a foreign solar system — what a dreamy dusk. PhysOrg writes:

Professor Frederic Pont, of the University of Exeter, imagined what it might really look like if a person were able to visit another planet and to then sit quietly watching as the sun set. He used data from a camera onboard Hubble, knowledge of how the color of light changes based on chemicals it encounters, and computer modeling, to create an actual image of what a sunset on an actual planet far out in space would look like. The planet in question, exoplanet HD209458b, nicknamed Osiris, just happens to be quite large and circles its star rather closely.

Though we couldn’t technically sit on the surface of Osiris, since it doesn’t have one, the picture that Pont produced approximates what it would look like, and the results are truly beautiful. The light from Osiris’s star is white, like our own sun, but when it passes through the sodium in Osirisi’s atmosphere, red light in it is absorbed, leaving the starlight to appear blue.

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Presenting Earth 2.0

kepler22b-0Is this where humankind will be living in a couple millenia? In a solar system 600 light years away spins the newly-spotted Kebler 22-b, a rocky planet with oceans covering two-thirds of its surface, and balmy temperatures approximating 70 degrees. The Herald Sun reports on the greatest hope for a replacement Earth:

A newly discovered planet about 600 light years from our little rock has scientists around the world in a spin, with many heralding it as the best chance yet of containing alien life.

The find, announced early last week by NASA, was uncovered by the US space agency’s Kepler spacecraft, launched on a planet-hunting mission in 2009.

The planet, Kepler-22b, is 2.4 times bigger than Earth, orbits a star slightly smaller than our sun and has an average temperature of 22C. It is also closer to its sun-like star, giving it a “year” of 290 days.

What makes this discovery so exciting is that it is the smallest planet right in the middle of what has been dubbed the Goldilocks zone, where it’s not too hot and not too cold to either boil or freeze water, vital for life as we know it.

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