Scientists consider Jupiter’s moon Europa one of the best candidates for harboring alien life in the solar system. Its atmosphere is mostly made up of oxygen and it has a smooth surface of ice (not to mention a rocky mantle and likely an iron core — sound familiar?). Based on data gathered by the Galileo spacecraft, which arrived at the Jovian moon in 1995, scientists theorize that under Europa’s icy surface exists an ocean of water, kept liquid by heat generated from tidal forces. Recent evidence published in the Science Express journal lends support to this theory, as data from the Hubble indicates plumes of water vapor at Europa’s south pole, suggesting that there is indeed liquid water under the surface.
Science fiction great Arthur C. Clarke would have been 96 yesterday. Clarke lives on through his work and the revolutionary ideas he developed and championed with respect to science, particularly space. I wanted to take a minute to show Clarke some love. There’s never been anyone like him, and there never will be again — unless, that is, his spacebound DNA produces some interesting results.
Clarke was born in Britain in 1917, but no amount of pub food or soccer could keep him there. The man had wanderlust that makes mine seem like more of an itch. Space called to Clarke, much as it did to Ray Bradbury, and he joined the British Interplanetary Society when he was only 17. Later he became chair of the group — twice. At a young age he distinguished himself from other scientists with his writing, and he distinguished himself from other writers with his knowledge of science. The two blended together in his work. Many of the concepts Clarke wrote about, such as the space elevator he described in his 1979 novel The Fountains of Paradise, and his thoughts about replicators, have provided food for thought, if not specific goals, for space engineers. In 1945, Clarke wrote a paper advocating putting satellites in geostationary orbit. That’s right — you have Clarke to thank for your GPS systems and satellite TV. Eighteen years later, after America’s launch of the Syncom 2 satellite, Clarke won the Stuart Ballantine Medal, a science and engineering award, for the idea. Now most satellites hang out in an area called, appropriately, the Clarke Belt. In a nutshell, dude knew what was up, literally.
Iran made the news today, but thankfully not for their nuclear program or economic sanctions. Today Middle Eastern nation announced that it successfully launched a monkey into space for the second time, and that the monkey has returned home safe and sound. Phew. I’d hate to think of that monkey trying to fly a Soyuz capsule.
According to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Iran launched Fargam, a monkey named for the Farsi word for “auspicious,” into space to celebrate the country’s Research Week. Fargam took a 75-mile ride into space and came back within 15 minutes. And he didn’t have to pay $250,000 for a seat.
We’ve done lots of posts here on GFR about NASA, many of which bemoan the state and the budget of the beleaguered agency. Now NASA has something that just may solve all of its problems — a superhero robot.
Valkyrie, who shares a name with female characters from Norse mythology who decide which soldiers die and which live, but who looks more like Iron Man, has the stature of a superhero at 6 feet tall and 275 pounds — it even sports a glowing NASA logo on its front. Engineers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston built Valkyrie in just nine months as part of this month’s DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials. This means Valkyrie will have to prove its disaster-thwarting meddle by driving vehicles, clearing debris, cutting through obstructions, climbing ladders, turning valves and knobs, and other physical tasks that any life-saving superhero needs to be able to perform.
If you’ve seen Gravity, you undoubtedly spent some of that time marveling at the views of Earth. Who cares if they were CGI? Even George Clooney’s astronaut Matt Kowalski, fully aware that he was approaching the end of his life, caught a glimpse of the Ganges and remarked over its beauty. People who have been to space report all kinds of effects that the experience has on their lives, and in the video called Overview, assembled by Planetary Collective, astronauts articulate how space changed their perspectives on the world.
In 1968, just before America put a man on the Moon, Apollo 8 astronauts circled the Moon and took photos of Earth, prompting the famous “Earthrise over the Moon” image. It was the first time people got to see Earth as a whole — not as countries delineated by boundaries and borders, not as people clashing over religion or other beliefs, but as one unified system. The astronauts in Planetary Collective’s short documentary Overview, which serves as a teaser for their feature-length documentary Continuum, talk about this pivotal moment and how their experiences in space changed their understanding of the world, themselves, and what it means to be human.
Given how many candidate planets Kepler has identified, and the recently announced estimate that billions of habitable planets may exist in the Milky Way alone, scientists are understandably excited about the prospect of finding alien life. They’re so excited, in fact, that they made a plea to Congress this week to embark on the next phase of searching for life.
Sara Seager, MIT’s exoplanet expert who came up with her own equation to express the probability of finding extra-terrestrial life, spoke at the “Astrobiology: The Search for Biosignatures in our Solar System and Beyond” hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and argued that while we have some technology capable of detecting candidate planets and other life forms, we need more. “This is the first time in human history we have the technological reach to find life on other planets,” she said. “People will look back at us as the ones who found Earth-like worlds.” NASA’s head of astrobiology seconded that, saying that humans finally have the means to gather data about other life forms in the universe, which means it’s incumbent upon us to do so.