SpaceJibe

November 30, 2008

NASA Mission Could Find Life on Europa

Filed under: Extraterrestrial Life, Jupiter — bferrari @ 4:49 pm
Life on Europa? (NASA)

There is an ocean beneath the icy crust of Jupiter's moon Europa. Strange creatures could be swimming in these alien waters, but so far no missions have been sent there to investigate this possibility. (NASA)

By Leslie Mullen
Astrobiology Magazine
posted: 27 November 2008
09:59 am ET

Our closest view of Europa was provided by the Galileo spacecraft, which orbited the Jupiter system from 1995 to 2003. Now researchers are developing a new plan to study the moon with even greater detail. The Europa-Jupiter System Mission (EJSM) calls for one spacecraft to orbit Europa and another to orbit Ganymede, another large moon of Jupiter that also may have a liquid ocean locked beneath an icy outer layer.

EJSM would be a joint mission of NASA and the European Space Agency, with ESA in charge of the Ganymede orbiter and NASA directing the Europa orbiter. Working together, the two spacecraft also would be able to conduct limited studies of the large moons Io and Callisto, as well as the planet Jupiter.

Brad Dalton of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who is helping draft the EJSM proposal, says some of the instruments the Europa orbiter will carry include a camera, a spectrometer, and a powerful radar system. The radar would enable the spacecraft to peer through Europa’s ice and figure out just how thick it is.

Europa appears to have an ocean hidden under its frozen surface crust. It could be 10 times deeper than any ocean on Earth and might contain twice as much water as Earths oceans and rivers combined. (NASA)

Europa appears to have an ocean hidden under its frozen surface crust. It could be 10 times deeper than any ocean on Earth and might contain twice as much water as Earth's oceans and rivers combined. (NASA)

The Ganymede orbiter also would carry a camera and spectrometer, as well as a dust analyzer, mass spectrometer or magnetometer — instruments that could be used to study the surface composition of Ganymede and the surrounding space environment.

“The Ganymede orbiter will be more concerned with overall geophysical processes, from the interior to the magnetosphere,” says Dalton. “The Europa orbiter design is driven in part by the astrobiological significance of the Europa ocean, so it will be focused more on direct evidence for the ocean and the tidal flexing that keeps it liquid.”

Scientists have dreamed of sending a surface lander or even a submarine to investigate Europa’s ocean, but Dalton says the current vision for EJSM does not include any such instrument.

“We tried very hard, within our cost and mass constraints, to come up with a realistic lander concept,” says Dalton. “The truth is, for the amount of mass and cost it adds, it’s very difficult to include sufficient scientific capability to make it worthwhile. Part of the problem is in understanding the surface well enough to constrain the design. Once you get there, of course you are going to want to dig — and that is just outside of the current fiscal reality.”

Dalton says they considered sending a probe that would slam into the ice at high velocity. Such an impactor could provide a lot of information about the composition of the icy shell – just like the impactor did for the Deep Impact mission to a comet. The orbiter itself even could act as the impactor at the end of the mission. However, says Dalton, “this brings up some nightmarish planetary protection issues.”

“After a lot of discussion and head-scratching, it became clear that we really need to look before we leap,” says Dalton. “There is a lot we can do from orbit, (work) that needs to be done before we can send the kind of lander everybody seems to want.”

Still, Dalton says that a lander has not been absolutely ruled out. “There are some minimal instrument concepts still on the table, but nothing like a Viking or a Phoenix (lander),” he says.

One such minimal instrument could be a seismometer, in order to get a sense of how much and how frequently the ice shifts on Europa. The seismometer also could include a mass spectrometer to determine what sort of chemistry takes place within the ice.

This mission could answer the question of whether there is life on Europa by analyzing the ice shell. The underlying ocean on Europa occasionally wells up out of cracks in the ice shell and washes over the surface, erasing features like impact craters. If life is carried in these waters, then their remains could now be frozen in the ice and an orbiter could detect them.

Natural color image of Jupiters moon Europa. (NASA)

Natural color image of Jupiter's moon Europa. (NASA)

The orbiter would have a tougher time finding evidence for life if it is confined to the bottom of the ocean. Some scientists think the origin of life on Earth occurred at volcanic vents in the ocean. They suspect Europa has similar volcanic activity thanks to the gravitational influence of Jupiter, which squeezes Europa as it orbits from one side of the planet to the other. This “tidal flexing” should keep Europa’s core molten and result in volcanic activity – just look at Europa’s neighbor Io as an example. Io orbits even closer to Jupiter than Europa, and its surface is pockmarked with active volcanoes that spew sulfur and other chemical compounds into space. Many of these same compounds are found at Earth’s hydrothermal vents, and may be associated with early life on our planet.

Even if EJSM doesn’t find direct evidence for life on Europa, it may be able to determine whether the moon is generally conducive to life as we know it. If EJSM finds that Europa’s environment is habitable, says Dalton, then “that improves our prospects for searching later with a landed system.”

Of course, EJSM could determine that Europa is inhospitable to life. Yet Dalton says even if the evidence suggests Europa is a dead moon, that still won’t be the final answer about the possibility for life on Europa.

“As with Mars, where we have not yet found any evidence of life, there are still many ways life could exist there,” he notes. “EJSM will help us narrow down the possibilities so we know where to look closely. There is so much we don’t know about Europa yet.”

Arc-shaped troughs (black and white arrows) extend 100s of kilometers on the surface of Jupiters moon Europa. These enigmatic features are likely fractures resulting from a shift in Europas spin axis. Vertical scale bar (right) is 100 km. (Schenk/NASA/LPI)

Arc-shaped troughs (black and white arrows) extend 100s of kilometers on the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. These enigmatic features are likely fractures resulting from a shift in Europa's spin axis. Vertical scale bar (right) is 100 km. (Schenk/NASA/LPI)

Several plans to send a mission to Europa have been foiled in the past. Most recently the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter was cancelled in 2005, partly due to the complexity of the mission plan. NASA plans to send the Juno mission to Jupiter in 2011, but that spacecraft will only orbit Jupiter and will not study any of the giant planet’s moons. ESA has been developing a Jovian Europa Orbiter, but that mission is still in the early planning stages and does not have a projected launch date yet.

NASA and ESA are currently trying to determine what the next outer planet mission will be. Competing with EJSM is TSSM, a mission to Saturn and its large moon Titan. The final selection will be made in early 2009 (the last meeting to pitch the projects was held in early November). Whichever mission is selected, the projected launch date is around 2020, with an arrival around 2030.

Source: http://wwww.space.com/businesstechnology/081127-am-europa-ejsm.html

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November 26, 2008

Astronomers find hints of water on Saturn moon

Filed under: Inner Solar System, Saturn — bferrari @ 2:34 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Astronomers looking at the spectacular supersonic plumes of gas and dust shooting off one of Saturn’s moons say there are strong hints of liquid water, a key building block of life.

This 2007 photo by NASAs Cassini probe shows plumes of gas and dust shooting off Enceladus. (NASA)

This 2007 photo by NASA's Cassini probe shows plumes of gas and dust shooting off Enceladus. (NASA)

One of Saturns moons, Enceladus is the white orb in the middle of this image. (NASA)

One of Saturn's moons, Enceladus is the white orb in the middle of this image. (NASA)

Their research, appearing in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature, adds to the growing push to explore further the moon Enceladus, as one of the solar system’s most compelling places for potential life.

Using images from NASA’s Cassini probe, astronomers had already figured that the mysterious plumes shooting from Enceladus’ icy terrain contain water vapor. New calculations suggesting the gas and dust spew at speeds faster-than-sound make the case for liquid, said study lead author Candice Hansen of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California. Her team calculated the plumes travel more than 1,360 mph.

More on the story, after the jump: http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/space/11/26/saturn.moon.water.ap/index.html

November 25, 2008

Experts Call for Global Network to Prevent Asteroid Disasters

Filed under: Asteroids, Inner Solar System — bferrari @ 9:24 pm

Nov 25 04:23 PM US/Eastern
Artists rendition released by NASA shows an asteroid belt in orbit around a star. Between 500 and 1,000 massive asteroids cross the Earths path regularly and any one of them could cause a global catastrophe, space experts warned Tuesday, urging quick preventive measures.

Artist's rendition released by NASA shows an asteroid belt in orbit around a star. Between 500 and 1,000 massive asteroids cross the Earth's path regularly and any one of them could cause a global catastrophe, space experts warned Tuesday, urging quick preventive measures.

Between 500 and 1,000 massive asteroids cross the Earth’s path regularly and any one of them could cause a global catastrophe, space experts warned Tuesday, urging quick preventive measures.Some 6,000 cosmic objects circulating around the planet are currently known to experts in the field, the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) told a press conference at the UN headquarters in Vienna, where it presented its report “Asteroid Threats: A Call for Global Response.

And of these, up to 1,000 had a diameter of 150 kilometres (93 miles) or more, meaning they could cause major damage to the Earth’s surface, prompting fires, tsunamis and ensuing disasters like famine, it said.

More on the story after the jump: http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=081125202309.3nc9oytq&show_article=1

November 20, 2008

Signs of Weather Seen on Dwarf Planet

Filed under: Dwarf Planets, Kuiper Belt, Outer Solar System — bferrari @ 9:35 pm
This artist rendering shows the dwarf planet, Eris, with hte sun in the background. The discovery of Eris by Mike Brown of Caltech was announced on July 29, 2005. (NASA/JPL/Caltech)

This artist rendering shows the dwarf planet, Eris, with hte sun in the background. The discovery of Eris by Mike Brown of Caltech was announced on July 29, 2005. (NASA/JPL/Caltech)

Signs of Weather Seen on Dwarf Planet

By Jeanna Bryner
Senior Writer
posted: 18 November 2008
08:25 am ET

Strange weather on the icy dwarf planet Eris could be causing changes that scientists are now seeing at the methane-ice sufrace of this distant object in our outer solar system.

Eris is the largest known solar-system object beyond the orbit of Neptune. It is larger than Pluto, with a diameter of ranging somewhere between about 1,490 miles and 1,860 miles (2,400 km and 3,000 km).

A team of researchers examined data on Eris collected from the MMT Observatory in Arizona. They specifically looked at concentrations of methane ice based on light-reflection and absorption information.

Their results show possibly nitrogen ice mixed in with the methane ice covering Eris’ surface. And the relative amount of nitrogen ice increases with depth into the ice, they found.

Story continues after the jump: http://www.space.com/scienceandastronomy/081118-st-dwarf-planet.html

This illustration of the largest known Kuiper Belt Objects shows Xena slightly larger than Pluto. (NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI))

This illustration of the largest known Kuiper Belt Objects shows Xena (later to be called Eris) slightly larger than Pluto. (NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI))

Bob Ferrari writes:

Incidentally it was the discovery of this dwarf planet Eris that lead to the downgrading of Pluto from a planet down to a dwarf planet.

November 18, 2008

What Does, Star Trek, “Dinosaur-killer” Comets, and The Farthest Man-made Object from Earth – All Have in Common ?

Filed under: Space Exploration — bferrari @ 8:30 pm

Story by Bob Ferrari

VGer - Sentient Space Probe

V'Ger - Sentient Space Probe

Many of you remember “V’Ger” in the very first Star Trek movie. “V’Ger” was an “alien” sentient being of immense power that was coming to Earth and on it’s way to Earth was cutting a swath of destruction like no enemy of the Federation ever had before. “V’Ger” turned out to be an “ancient” probe from the 21st Century called Voyager 6 that after discovering a machine world out in the vastness of space (Borg?) and given life by it’s inhabitants, the probe was returning… to find it’s “creator”. That is the fiction.

The facts are well… very different. There never was a Voyager 6 as NASA stopped at 2, and of course the Earth has yet to be visited by anything more powerful than a 12 mile wide “Dinosaur-killer” meteor at Chicxulub, Yucatan Penninsula, that many scientists believe was the that caused the demise of the dinosaurs…

Chicxulub Impact Rendering

Chicxulub Impact Rendering

… Or the Mars-sized object that made a glancing blow off of Earth, that created the Moon.

Which segues us into the Farthest Man-made Object from Earth.


The Voyager 1 spacecraft is a 722-kilogram robotic space probe of the outer Solar System and beyond, launched September 5, 1977. It remains operational, currently pursuing its extended mission to locate and study the boundaries of the Solar System, including the Kuiper belt and beyond. Its original mission was to visit Jupiter and Saturn; and it was the first probe to provide detailed images of the moons of these planets.

Voyager 1 and 2

Voyager 1 and 2

Voyager 1 is now the farthest man-made object from Earth, traveling away from both the Earth and the Sun at a faster relative speed than any other probe.[1] Though its twin space-probe, Voyager 2, was launched 16 days earlier, Voyager 2 will never pass Voyager 1. Neither will the New Horizons mission to Pluto, despite being launched from Earth at a faster speed than both Voyager craft, since during its flight Voyager 1 benefited from a number of gravity assisted speed boosts. The current speed of New Horizons is greater than Voyager 1 but when New Horizons reaches the same distance from the sun as Voyager is now, its speed will be about 13 km/s compared to Voyager’s 17 km/s.[2]

More info after the jump: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyager_1

Voyager 1 and 2’s current location? Currently passing through the Termination Shock of our Solar System. Both Voyagers are still communicating with Earth stations and transmitting data and telemetry. No man-made object has ever come close to coming this far away from Earth.

Voyager 1 and 2 passing through the Termination Shock of our outer Solar System (holoscience.com.au)

Voyager 1 and 2 passing through the Termination Shock of our outer Solar System (holoscience.com.au)

November 14, 2008

Unknown “Structures” Tugging at Universe, Study Says

Filed under: Cosmology — bferrari @ 5:54 pm
Bullet Cluster of galaxies lies 3.8 billion light-years away

Bullet Cluster of galaxies lies 3.8 billion light-years away

John Roach
for National Geographic News

November 5, 2008

Something may be out there. Way out there.

On the outskirts of creation, unknown, unseen “structures” are tugging on our universe like cosmic magnets, a controversial new study says.

Everything in the known universe is said to be racing toward the massive clumps of matter at more than 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers) an hour—a movement the researchers have dubbed dark flow.

The Story continues: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/11/081105-dark-flow.html

Commentary by Bob Ferrari:
Interestingly, as time goes on, we seem to uncover yet another wild layer to this Universe. From the long-standing “geo-centric” theory of the famous Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 1400s which suggested an Earth-centric solar system with the Milky Way as the extent of the Universe – which held sway for over a century, to the Polish astronomer Copernicus who rightly set our solar system as a Sun-centric one, to Edwin Hubble’s discoveries with the aid of the 100 inch Hooker Telescope, that the Universe was “not only immeasurable, but also expanding more rapidly the further away from us”, to this most recent discovery of possible extra-universe “structures” tugging at components of our own Universe. It seems that as time goes on, we just may discover that not only are we “not alone” in this Universe, but there possibly may be “other Universes” as well… if String Theory gets it’s way….

There is a mathematical formula called Drake’s Equation that can be used to “predict”, more like guess, the number of active civilizations in just our own galaxy. This equation is:

N = N* fp ne fl fi fc fL

Play with the equation here:

Drake Equation interactive web page: http://www.activemind.com/Mysterious/Topics/SETI/drake_equation.html

Based on this equation and some really “out there” guesses, it is estimated that there are 900 active civilizations just in our own Milky Way Galaxy. Multiply this number by the billions of galaxies that there actually are out there, and you get the picture as to the possibility of life in the known universe.

Never mind the mind-numbing theory that this story is suggesting that there is more to this Universe than what we can “see”. The possibilities are endless !!

First Direct Images of Planets Around Other Stars

Filed under: Exoplanets — bferrari @ 3:46 pm

Friday, November 14, 2008

First Photographed Exoplanet

Left: Infrared image of one planet orbiting HR 8799. Right: Isolated dots are planets; multicolored ball is residual light from HR 8799. (National Research Council Canada)

Astronomers have taken what they say are the first-ever direct images of planets outside of our solar system, including a visible-light snapshot of a single-planet system and an infrared picture of a multiple-planet system.

Earth-like worlds might also exist in the three-planet system, but if so they are too dim to photograph.

The full Eye-of-Sauron-like 2006 image of the dust disk surrounding Fomalhaut.

The full Eye-of-Sauron-like 2006 image of the dust disk surrounding Fomalhaut.A Hubble Space Telescope image from 2006 of the debris belt around the nearby star Fomalhaut. A planet, inset, is clearly visible. (NASA)

A Hubble Space Telescope image from 2006 of the debris belt around the nearby star Fomalhaut. A planet, inset, is clearly visible.

A Hubble Space Telescope image from 2006 of the debris belt around the nearby star Fomalhaut. A planet, inset, is clearly visible. (Paul Kalas/UC Berkeley; STScI)

Story continues here:

Dazzling Mysterious Aurora Spotted on Saturn

Filed under: Inner Solar System, Saturn — Tags: , — bferrari @ 2:42 pm
Mysterious Rings of Saturn

Bizzare Hexagon Pattern on Saturn

An inexplicable new broad region of auroral light has been photographed at Saturn’s polar cap. “We’ve never seen an aurora like this elsewhere,” said Tom Stallard, an RCUK Academic Fellow working with Cassini data at the University of Leicester. “It’s not just a ring of aurorae like those we’ve seen at Jupiter or Earth.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Story Continues Here: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,451372,00.html

Here is an awesome view of the Saturn Hexagons: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap070403.html

Ever since the arrival of the Saturn probe Cassini, Saturn’s veil of mystery has begun to lift itself. Yet, at the same time, new mysteries have revealed themselves, and many like this one, continue to evolve. One such mystery lies in Saturn’s polar caps region. This is part of an ongoing new discovery process with astronomers in regards to Saturn as it’s polar regions have begun to unlock some fo the wild processes that occur on our most brilliant gas giant, Saturn.

Here is an older story in the continuing saga of Saturn’s polar regions:

Mysterious Hexagons

Mysterious Hexagons

Bizarre Hexagon Spotted on Saturn

posted: 27 March 2007
01:18 pm ET
One of the most bizarre weather patterns known has been photographed at Saturn, where astronomers have spotted a huge, six-sided feature circling the north pole.

Rather than the normally sinuous cloud structures seen on all planets that have atmospheres, this thing is a hexagon.

The honeycomb-like feature has been seen before. NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft imaged it more than two decades ago. Now, having spotted it with the Cassini spacecraft, scientists conclude it is a long-lasting oddity.

“This is a very strange feature, lying in a precise geometric fashion with six nearly equally straight sides,” said Kevin Baines, atmospheric expert and member of Cassini’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “We’ve never seen anything like this on any other planet. Indeed, Saturn’s thick atmosphere, where circularly-shaped waves and convective cells dominate, is perhaps the last place you’d expect to see such a six-sided geometric figure, yet there it is.”

Story Continues Here: http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/070327_saturn_hex.html

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