Proponents of panspermia theory say life on Earth came from elsewhere, hitching a ride on rocks sheared from other worlds or from migratory asteroids. But what if life did originate here and then it left, hitching a ride on Earth-departed rocks? Earth could seed other worlds, instead of the other way around. A new analysis says the rocks could conceivably make it as far as Jupiter.
Exploring the final frontiers requires a delicate balancing act between competing engineering needs. To probe the mysteries of inhospitable places, from ocean trenches to the blistering atmosphere of the sun, scientific instruments must be tough yet ultra-sensitive — they have to survive their environments but remain exposed just enough to do their jobs. Balancing protection and intentional vulnerability can be a major challenge. A NASA spacecraft launching this morning marks a new leap forward in meeting this balance.
Before I sat down to write this morning, I poured coffee into my shuttle-emblazoned Space Camp mug and thought about the end of this era. Like many of you, and like legions of space advocates around the globe, I've rolled through a litany of emotions at the denouement of the American space shuttle program.
NASA is preparing a flurry of new spacecraft launches, planetary flybys and orbital insertions in the next two years, and is celebrating the "Year of the Solar System" to mark the occasion. Twenty-three months is actually a Martian year, so hey, it works.
The space agency has dozens of missions at any given time, and scientists are always maneuvering some spacecraft into a new orbit or into a new trajectory. But the next two years will see triple the usual amount of activity, NASA says. The second half of 2011 will be as busy, space-wise, as entire decades of the space age, according to Jim Green, NASA's planetary science director.
Next time you're marveling at the fact that Spirit and Opportunity have been roving Mars for over six years now, ponder this: the two Voyager spacecraft have been hurtling through our solar system for nearly 33 years. Today, Voyager 1 hits a mission milestone of operating continuously for 12,000 days. The spacecraft launched on September 5, 1977, while Jimmy Carter was president, and has now traveled 14 billion miles.
A satellite that will help scientists understand the solar system's largest planet is being outfitted with some special interplanetary armor.
The Juno spacecraft will study Jupiter's powerful radiation belt, but it has to be built to survive that radiation. Engineers recently added a special shield around the spacecraft's electronics, turning it into a Jovian armored tank, says its principal investigator, Scott Bolton, based at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
See that little dot in the upper left corner? It is a planet orbiting a sun-like star. We know of a few hundred planets like this, but this one is special -- we now know it's the first one to have its picture properly taken from Earth.
The adaptive optics system at the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii snapped this photo in the infrared part of the light spectrum. It shows a hot, large Jupiter-like planet near a smallish sun-like star. It was actually found two years ago, but astronomers couldn't be sure they were really looking at a planetary system and not some lucky alignment of objects. Now they're sure.
Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope think they’ve found Jupiter’s missing cloud belt, hiding out behind a layer of ammonia clouds.
They also think they can explain the bright flash seen from Earth earlier this month: it was a meteor, though a small one that didn’t get very far.
Thanks to a surface covered in liquid water, Jupiter's moon Europa serves as the prime suspect for bodies in our solar system harboring extraterrestrial life. For the most part though, speculation has assumed the life on Europa would be microscopic, similar to the chemical and rock-eating microbes found atop undersea volcanic vents on Earth. However, a new study estimates the level of oxygen in Europa's seas may be high enough to support fish-sized life. Hello, alien sushi.