Thursday, 23 February 2017

Seven Sisters offer best chance to find alien life

Three of the seven planets have suitable conditions for life. Credit: NASA

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has found a system of seven Earth-size planets around a single cool dwarf star.

As many as three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water. In fact, all seven might have water - they key to potential alien life.

NASA says this is the largest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside the one we all know and love - Sol.

The ultra-cool dwarf star is called Trappist-1 and in contrast to our sun, it classified as an ultra-cool dwarf – is so cool that liquid water could survive on planets orbiting very close to it, closer than is possible on planets in our solar system. All seven of the planetary orbits are closer to their host star than Mercury is to our sun.

The planets also are very close to each other. If a person was standing on one of the planet’s surface, they could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighboring worlds, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in Earth's sky.

The planets may also be tidally locked to their star, which means the same side of the planet is always facing the star, therefore each side is either perpetual day or night. This could mean they have weather patterns totally unlike those on Earth, such as strong winds blowing from the day side to the night side, and extreme temperature changes.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Super pollution in ocean trenches: what may evolve below?

One trope of science fiction is that pollution can cause mutations in animals and fish that result in gigantic, terrifying monsters.

These monsters have a propensity to swim up to the surface and wreak havoc on unsuspecting coastal dwellers, often on the Japanese archipelago or the Pacific Rim.

Korea has also been "host" to some gruesome examples. Just have a look at the video below.

What then the news that deep ocean trenches have 50 times more industrial toxins than the infamously polluted Chinese river systems.

Analysis of tiny crustaceans has proven this in a recent Nature (Ecology and Evolution) journal. The evolution part of the title is worrying.

What evil might rise from the deeply polluted deep?

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Europa exploration more likely following NASA report

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA has is now talking openly about a trip to Europa, the icy moon of Jupiter, following the recent release of a report on a future mission.

In 20013, the Hubble telescope observed water vapour fuming from the surface, making it an exciting exploratory target. Scientific findings from other sources also pointed to the existence of an ocean located under Europa's icy crust.

In early 2016, in response to a congressional directive, NASA’s Planetary Science Division (SDT) began study to assess the science value and engineering design of a future Europa lander mission.

In June 2016, NASA convened a 21-member team of scientists for the SDT. Since then, the team has deliberated to define a workable and worthy set of science objectives and measurements for the mission concept, submitting a report to NASA on February 7.

The report lists three science goals for the mission.

The primary goal is to search for evidence of life on Europa. The other goals are to assess the habitability of Europa by directly analysing material from the surface, and to characterize the surface and subsurface to support future robotic exploration of Europa and its ocean. The report also describes some of the notional instruments that could be expected to perform measurements in support of these goals.

Scientists agree that the evidence is quite strong that Europa, which is slightly smaller than Earth’s moon, has a global saltwater ocean beneath its icy crust. This ocean has at least twice as much water as Earth’s oceans. While recent discoveries have shown that many bodies in the solar system either have subsurface oceans now, or may have in the past, Europa is one of only two places where the ocean is understood to be in contact with a rocky seafloor (the other being Saturn's moon Enceladus).

This rare circumstance makes Europa one of the highest priority targets in the search for present-day life beyond Earth.

The concept lander is separate from the solar-powered Europa multiple flyby mission, now in development for launch in the early 2020s. The spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter after a multi-year journey, orbiting the gas giant every two weeks for a series of 45 close flybys of Europa. The multiple flyby mission will investigate Europa’s habitability by mapping its composition, determining the characteristics of the ocean and ice shell, and increasing our understanding of its geology. The mission also will lay the foundation for a future landing by performing detailed reconnaissance using its powerful cameras.

See below for a video on NASA's plans to explore the under-ice ocean of Europa.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Life - but certainly not as we know it

Watch the new trailer for Life, the alien horror thriller directed by Daniel Espinosa and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada and Ariyon Bakare (pictured above). It is due to be released next month.