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NASA Finds Liquid Water On Europa

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Europa, Jupiter’s largest moon, has often been the second most desired location to explore in the universe after Mars. Now NASA has provided more analysis of the icy moon that includes the possibility of liquid lakes amidst the frozen oceans. The salt water oceans of Europa contain more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined, but the possibility of miles thick ice precluded a reasonable chance that life could be sustained there.

These new findings show that there’s a lake below the surface equal in volume to the Great Lakes in North America. If this is true then there’s a chance that a flow of nutrients could exist between the surface and the oceans below the icy shell. Of course, the data will have to be studied thoroughly before anything solid can be shown.

Water is important in astrobiology because without water there can be no life. Whatever the finding of liquid water actually means for any signs of life, no matter how simplistic, we won’t know for a long while.

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NASA Returns To Space In 2014

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For an organization that was supposedly going the way of the dodo bird, NASA sure is in the news a lot lately.  They’re announcing new solar sails experiments, working on tractor beams, and (maybe?) getting what funding they still have slashed some more.  Well, here’s another NASA news item:  an unmanned test flight of the Orion spacecraft in 2014, three years earlier than originally planned.  Yes, it’s an unmanned flight, but one with great implications for future human deep space exploration.  The Exploration Flight Test (EFT-1) features a new Space Launch System (SLS), which the NASA press release says “will take astronauts farther into space than ever before, create U.S. jobs, and provide the cornerstone for America’s future human spaceflight efforts.”

Orion will be launched into space, orbit twice “to a high-apogee” (basically, to a good distance from the Earth), then bust back through the atmosphere at high speeds.  Orion will launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla, and make a water landing after re-entry.  The hope with EFT-1 is that it will provide essential data in figuring out how to design a spacecraft that can survive speeds upwards of 20,000 mph and return astronauts safely from greater distances outside of Earth’s orbit.  NASA says it’s developing Orion to bring humans to the moon, asteroids, Mars, “and other destinations” via SLS, but being able to travel at high speeds and still re-enter safely is also a basic requirement for any kind of craft for manned deep space exploration.

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for space exploration and NASA nerds of late, but moving a test flight up instead of postponing it might show there is hope yet.

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Obama Killing What’s Left Of NASA, Shutting Down Planetary Exploration?

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Earlier this week I opined the death of NASA, and a lot of you responded by insisting that even though they were no longer well funded enough to do manned space exploration, their new mandate of exploration of the solar system’s planets by robot was as good or better than anything they could have done with manned missions. Bad news: That may be dead too.

The Washington Times reports that the Obama administration plans to end all planetary exploration by NASA and the United States of America, by the year 2013. Worse, word is that they plan to position the space astronomy program for destruction too. American won’t just stop exploring outer space, we aren’t even going to look at it anymore.

The story published in the Washington Times doesn’t cite any sources and merely says that this “leaked out” in the Obama administration’s budget, so we’ll need more details before we can call this a done deal. But, this move isn’t entirely unexpected, and seems pretty much in keeping with the Obama administration’s overall attitude towards space exploration in recent years.

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Heads Up: You May Be Hit By A Falling Satellite This Weekend

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This weekend, if you’re out and about enjoying the fresh air of our rapidly fading summer season, there’s a chance that you may be hit by a piece of America’s failed space program.

NASA, or what’s left of it after the US government’s continued callous cuts of already fairly minimal exploration budgets, says a satellite they launched in 1991 is about to come back down to Earth. The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite or UARS has been losing altitude since 2005 and its reunion with Earth’s surface has been pretty much inevitable for awhile now. On Friday, the now irrelevant piece of 90s technology will collide with the ground.

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Newly Discovered Planet Has Embraced The Dark Side Of The Force

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I’m 34-years-old and when I was a kid sitting in science class, the existence of planets outside our solar system was only a theory. Scientists weren’t actually able to confirm the existence of extra-solar planets until 1992, but since then, they’ve been uncovering them at a rapid pace. Nearly 575 different planets have been confirmed to exist in orbit around suns other than our own. But few, if any, of those 575 destinations are likely to be as strange as the one just discovered by the Keplar spacecraft.

One thing all planets have in common, or at least had in common until now, is that they all reflect light. The Earth for instance, reflects nearly 40% of the light sent to it by our sun back out into space. But not this planet, currently labeled as TrES-2b. There the forces of light and dark seem to be at war with one another, and light is losing. Light directed at it never actually reflects back out into space.

NASA reports that this new planet reflects less than 1% of the light hitting its surface. It’s black, really black. So black in fact that seen from space, well it almost can’t be seen from space. The light it does emit, isn’t reflected. David Spiegel of Princeton University explains, “…it’s not completely pitch black. It’s so hot that it emits a faint red glow, much like a burning ember or the coils on an electric stove.”

The really fascinating thing here is that no one’s entirely sure why or how this can happen. One theory is that its atmosphere is composed of some sort of chemical we’ve never seen before, but I have a better theory: cloaking device.

Beware Romulans bearing gifts.

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The Death Star Is Real, Spotted In Orbit Around Saturn

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It’s finally happened. NASA has discovered evidence that the Empire is preparing to move against the Rebel Alliance. They’ve spotted the Death Star in orbit around Saturn.

The following image, recently released by NASA, is a real photo of Mimas, long thought to be one of Saturn’s moons but now revealed to be a space station of awesome destructive power.

mimas death star