Friday, April 18, 2014

Kepler 186f

NASA announced yesterday that, using Kepler data, researchers have discovered an exoplanet only ten percent larger than Earth orbiting its red dwarf parent star in that star's habitable zone.  Those researchers believe it to be a rocky world that could have liquid water on its surface, which means it's a possible abode of life.

Kepler 186f is 500 light-years away, and, very likely, the first of many such worlds to be discovered.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pad 39A Goes Private

In a sign of the times, NASA has negotiated a twenty year lease with SpaceX, giving the company control of Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center.

Launch Pad 39A saw the launches of such historic missions as Apollo 8 and Apollo 11, plus 82 shuttle flights.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Volcanic Mercury

Scientists using data from NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft have found there were explosive volcanoes on Mercury for far longer than originally thought.

The standard view has been that Mercury lost most of its volatiles early in its history, but researchers have found pyroclastic ash-- evidence of volcanic eruptions-- in areas that suggest volcanism was active on Mercury for a billion years longer than thought.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Definiing The Oort Cloud

Astronomers in recent years have discovered two dwarf planets researchers suggest may mark the inner edge of the Oort Cloud, the realm of comets.

They also think there could be hundreds of bodies out there 200 miles or more in diameter, plus maybe one or two as big as Earth or Mars.  Many of the bodies observed so far also sport ultra-red material on their surfaces, which might be organics.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lunar Base?

President Obama cancelled NASA's lunar base program in 2010 in favor of a more flexible approach to manned space exploration, with the ultimate goal being landing on Mars in the 2030s.

Many experts, however, say building a manned lunar base should be the next step out.  Such a base, they argue, would serve as a testbed for technologies and techniques for future Mars missions as well as being a focal point for scientific research and further lunar exploration.  Several nations have expressed an interest in participating in an international lunar base program, and some members of Congress favor the lunar base approach, as do some private companies.  There's some chance, therefore, that Mr. Obama's plan will not survive after his administration.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Possible Added Spacewalk

NASA is considering adding a spacewalk to repair a backup computer system on ISS.

The station's primary computer system is operating normally, and the crew is safe-- or as safe as they can be in space-- but having a functioning backup computer is obviously important.

Friday, April 11, 2014

First Exomoon?

Astronomers may have found the first moon orbiting a planet outside our solar system.  If so, it's in an interesting place.  The exoplanet involved would be a rogue planet-- a world whizzing through space on its own terms, not orbiting a star.

Alternatively, the pair of objects could be a failed star and its planet.