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Although the space shuttle program may have been temporarily halted in the United States, NASA is still alive and well — and now, thanks to 18-year-old Rifath Sharook of India, are launching their smallest-ever satellite into space. The satellite is called 'KalamSat,' named after Indian nuclear scientist, pioneer in the aeronautics field, and former president, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, and is the first-ever to be manufactured by 3-D printing, a tech trend we don't see disappearing (or even going away a bit) anytime soon. NASA is planning on launching it off of Wallops Island, Virginia, on June 21, according to the Business Standard.
Read more: http://www.teenvogue.com/story/nasa-smallest-satellite-built-by-teen
By Queen Esther
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NASA Televisionâ€™s newest offering, NASA TV UHD, brings ultra-high definition video to a new level with the kind of imagery only the worldâ€™s leader in space exploration could provide. Using time-lapses shot from the International Space Station, showing both the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis phenomena that occur when electrically charged electrons and protons in the Earth's magnetic field collide with neutral atoms in the upper atmosphere Bringing you the BEST Space and Astronomy videos online. Showcasing videos and images from the likes of NASA,ESA,Hubble etc. ENJOY ;-))
Not just one, but seven Earth-size planets that could potentially harbor life have been identified orbiting a tiny star not too far away, offering the first realistic opportunity to search for signs of alien life outside the solar system.
The planets orbit a dwarf star named Trappist-1, about 40 light-years, or 235 trillion miles, from Earth. That is quite close in cosmic terms, and by happy accident, the orientation of the orbits of the seven planets allows them to be studied in great detail.
One or more of the exoplanets in this new system could be at the right temperature to be awash in oceans of water, astronomers said, based on the distance of the planets from the dwarf star.
“This is the first time so many planets of this kind are found around the same star,” Michael Gillon, an astronomer at the University of Liege in Belgium and the leader of an international team that has been observing Trappist-1, said during a telephone news conference organized by the journal Nature, which published the findings on Wednesday.
Continue reading the main story
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Scientists could even discover compelling evidence of aliens.
“I think that we have made a crucial step toward finding if there is life out there,” said Amaury H. M. J. Triaud, an astronomer at the University of Cambridge in England and another member of the research team. “Here, if life managed to thrive and releases gases similar to that we have on Earth, then we will know.”
Cool red dwarfs are the most common type of star, so astronomers are likely to find more planetary systems like that around Trappist-1 in the coming years.
“You can just imagine how many worlds are out there that have a shot to becoming a habitable ecosystem,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s science mission directorate, said during a NASA news conference on Wednesday. “Are we alone out there? We’re making a step forward with this — a leap forward, in fact — towards answering that question.”
Telescopes on the ground now and the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit will be able to discern some of the molecules in the planetary atmospheres. The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch next year, will peer at the infrared wavelengths of light, ideal for studying Trappist-1.
Comparisons among the different conditions of the seven will also be revealing.
“The Trappist-1 planets make the search for life in the galaxy imminent,” said Sara Seager, an astronomer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was not a member of the research team. “For the first time ever, we don’t have to speculate. We just have to wait and then make very careful observations and see what is in the atmospheres of the Trappist planets.”
Even if the planets all turn out to be lifeless, scientists will have learned more about what keeps life from flourishing.
Astronomers always knew other stars must have planets, but until a couple of decades ago, they had not been able to spot them. Now they have confirmed more than 3,400, according to the Open Exoplanet Catalog. (An exoplanet is a planet around a star other than the sun.)
The authors of the Nature paper include Didier Queloz, one of the astronomers who discovered in 1995 the first known exoplanet around a sunlike star.
While the Trappist planets are about the size of Earth — give or take 25 percent in diameter — the star is very different from our sun.
Trappist-1, named after a robotic telescope in the Atacama Desert of Chile that the astronomers initially used to study the star, is what astronomers call an “ultracool dwarf,” with only one-twelfth the mass of the sun and a surface temperature of 4,150 degrees Fahrenheit, much cooler than the 10,000 degrees radiating from the sun. Trappist is a shortening of Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope.
During the NASA news conference, Dr. Gillon gave a simple analogy: If our sun were the size of a basketball, Trappist-1 would be a golf ball.
Until the last few years, scientists looking for life elsewhere in the galaxy have focused on finding Earth-size planets around sun-like stars. But it is hard to pick out the light of a planet from the glare of a bright star. Small dim dwarfs are much easier to study.
Last year, astronomers announced the discovery of an Earth-size planet around Proxima Centauri, the closest star at 4.24 light-years away. That discovery was made using a different technique that does not allow for study of the atmosphere.
Trappist-1 is about 8 percent the size of the sun. CreditESO
Trappist-1 periodically dimmed noticeably, indicating that a planet might be passing in front of the star, blocking part of the light. From the shape of the dips, the astronomers calculate the size of the planet.
Trappist-1’s light dipped so many times that the astronomers concluded, in research reported last year, that there were at least three planets around the star. Telescopes from around the world then also observed Trappist-1, as did the Spitzer Space Telescope of NASA.
Spitzer observed Trappist-1 nearly around the clock for 20 days, capturing 34 transits. Together with the ground observations, it let the scientists calculate not three planets, but seven. The planets are too small and too close to the star to be photographed directly.
All seven are very close to the dwarf star, circling more quickly than the planets in our solar system. The innermost completes an orbit in just 1.5 days. The farthest one completes an orbit in about 20 days. That makes the planetary system more like the moons of Jupiter than a larger planetary system like our solar system.
“They form a very compact system,” Dr. Gillon said, “the planets being pulled close to each other and very close to the star.”
In addition, the orbital periods of the inner six suggest that the planets formed farther away from the star and then were all gradually pulled inward, Dr. Gillon said.
Because the planets are so close to a cool star, their surfaces could be at the right temperatures to have water flow, considered one of the essential ingredients for life.
The fourth, fifth and sixth planets orbit in the star’s “habitable zone,” where the planets could sport oceans. So far that is just speculation, but by measuring which wavelengths of light are blocked by the planet, scientists will be able to figure out what gases float in the atmospheres of the seven planets.
So far, they have confirmed for the two innermost planets that they are not enveloped in hydrogen. That means they are rocky like Earth, ruling out the possibility that they were mini-Neptune gas planets that are prevalent around many other stars.
Because the planets are so close to Trappist-1, they have quite likely become “gravitationally locked” to the star, always with one side of the planets facing the star, much as it is always the same side of Earth’s moon facing Earth. That would mean one side would be warmer, but an atmosphere would distribute heat, and the scientists said that would not be an insurmountable obstacle for life.
For a person standing on one of the planets, it would be a dim environment, with perhaps only about one two-hundredth the light that we see from the sun on Earth, Dr. Triaud said. (That would still be brighter than the moon at night.) The star would be far bigger. On Trappist-1f, the fifth planet, the star would be three times as wide as the sun seen from Earth.
As for the color of the star, “we had a debate about that,” Dr. Triaud said.
Some of the scientists expected a deep red, but with most of the star’s light emitted at infrared wavelengths and out of view of human eyes, perhaps a person would “see something more salmon-y,” Dr. Triaud said.
NASA released a poster illustrating what the sky of the fourth planet might look like.
If observations reveal oxygen in a planet’s atmosphere, that could point to photosynthesis of plants — although not conclusively. But oxygen together with methane, ozone and carbon dioxide, particularly in certain proportions, “would tell us that there is life with 99 percent confidence,” Dr. Gillon said.
Astronomers expect that a few decades of technological advances are needed before similar observations can be made of Earthlike planets around larger, brighter sunlike stars.
Dr. Triaud said that if there is life around Trappist-1, “then it’s good we didn’t wait too long.”
“If there isn’t, then we have learned something quite deep about where life can emerge,” he continued.
The discovery might also mean that scientists who have been searching for radio signals from alien civilizations might also have been searching in the wrong places if most habitable planets orbit dwarfs, which live far longer than larger stars like the sun.
The SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., is using the Allen Telescope Array, a group of 42 radio dishes in California, to scrutinize 20,000 red dwarfs. “This result is kind of a justification for that project,” said Seth Shostak, an astronomer at the institute.
“If you’re looking for complex biology — intelligent aliens that might take a long time to evolve from pond scum — older could be better,” Dr. Shostak said. “It seems a good bet that the majority of clever beings populating the universe look up to see a dim, reddish sun hanging in their sky. And at least they wouldn’t have to worry about sun block.”
Correction: February 22, 2017
An earlier version of this article named the wrong telescope that is trained on the Trappist-1 dwarf star. It is the Spitzer Space Telescope, not the Kepler. The article also misstated how many days it takes for the planet farthest from Trappist-1 to orbit the star. It is about 20 days, not 12.35.
(CNN) Planets, like people, go through phases. We try new things.
And right now, astronomers are watching Saturn, our gassy neighbor in the sky, give one of its poles a seasonal makeover.
Its hexagon cloud-like barrier, that once posed for NASA pictures as blue, is appearing in Cassini spacecraft photos a shade of sunshine gold.
And, of course, these types of changes intrigue academics for reasons complex and esoteric.
"Scientists are investigating potential causes for the change in color of the region inside the north-polar hexagon on Saturn," NASA reported.
"The color change is thought to be an effect of Saturn's seasons," the US space agency said.
This change is complicated.
But here's what's up, literally:
Saturn has four seasons. They last about seven Earth years.
The planet has photochemical haze, or particles in its atmosphere.
Between November 1995 and August 2009, Saturn underwent a "winter polar darkness," according to Hampton University Assistant Professor Kunio Sayanagi.
Saturn a few years back, when there was a lot less action going on.
What does this do?
Well, the northern cloud-like barrier, which scientists call a six-sided jet stream, is affected.
During the winter, particles are not produced. There's no sunshine.
They can't reach the hexagonic jet stream. And the jet stream itself blocks them.
It goes blue.
"The hexagon jet acts as a barrier and when when there is nothing produced inside, the atmosphere clears up and the inside looks blue," Sayanagi explained.
Summer is slowly approaching (May 2017) for the ringed sixth planet.
Inside the jet stream, particles are building up.
It's turning gold.
The folks at NASA say, "Since the planet experienced equinox in August 2009, the polar atmosphere has been basking in continuous sunshine, and aerosols are being produced inside of the hexagon, around the north pole, making the polar atmosphere appear hazy ... "
In other words, Saturn's getting a tan.
CNN's Sophie Lewis contributed to this report.
‘This is our first opportunity to really take a close-up look at the king of our solar system,’ says a leading investigator
An artist's conception of Juno - who has three Lego "passengers" on board - approaching Jupiter's swirling gaseous clouds Nasa/JPL-Caltech
Juno, the spacecraft on a mission to Jupiter, orbited closer to the giant planet than any man-made object before it, in a record-breaking approach on Saturday.
The Nasa creation, which was launched five years ago, made the close approach to Jupiter by soaring around 2,600 miles above the planet.
As it cruised by at a speed of 130,000 mph, Juno was expected to capture astonishing images and plenty of scientific data, say mission controllers at Nasa.
The probe was said to have reached its closest point at 1.51pm – following the spacecraft’s dizzying flight path which involved escaping Earth’s orbit and moving into Jupiter’s.
Scott Bolton, a principle investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio in Texas, said Juno would have its whole suite of nine instruments activated as it soars above Jupiter’s swirling cloud tops. The instruments had previously been switched off so as to survive the entry into the planet’s dangerous radiation belts.
"This is the first time we will be close to Jupiter since we entered orbit on 4 July. Back then we turned all our instruments off to focus on the rocket burn to get Juno into orbit around Jupiter," said Dr Bolton.
"Since then, we have checked Juno from stem to stern and back again. We still have more testing to do, but we are confident that everything is working great, so for this upcoming flyby Juno’s eyes and ears, our science instruments, will all be open.
"This is our first opportunity to really take a close-up look at the king of our solar system and begin to figure out how he works."
Nasa space agents have said they hope to release some of the first detailed pictures of Jupiter's north and south poles. It could take some days for the images to be downloaded on Earth.
Scientists are also anticipating a wealth of data about Jupiter's composition, gravity, magnetic field, and the source of its 384 mph winds.
A British team from the University of Leicester are playing a key role in the mission by focusing on the planet’s magnetic field, its auroras and atmosphere.
There are also some "passengers" onboard the spacecraft, which is powered by three enormous solar panels. These are titanium-built Lego figures of 17th century astronomer Galileo Galilei, the Roman goddess Juno and her husband the Roman god Jupiter.
Scientists celebrate in Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as the solar-powered Juno spacecraft goes into orbit around Jupiter (AP
It took five years to complete the 1.8 billion-mile journey from Earth, including a trek through circuit-frazzling radiation that requires its flight computer to be armoured in a titanium vault weighing almost 400 lb.
At the end of its 20-month mission, Juno will self-destruct by plunging into Jupiter’s dense atmosphere.
The craft is part of Nasa’s New Frontiers programme of robotic space missions which last year saw the New Horizons craft obtain close-up views of dwarf planet Pluto.
Scientists cooking up test with potato pros in Peru; 65 varieties, red desert dirt
NASA says the Pampas de La Joya Desert in southern Peru has soil conditions like Mars. PHOTO: RYAN DUBE/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
PAMPAS DE LA JOYA, Peru—As humans prepare to blast off to Mars, there is still the question of what they’ll eat once they colonize the red planet. Scientists who have traveled here to the Peruvian desert say they have the answer. Potatoes.
Researchers at the Lima-based International Potato Center and scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are studying which type of potato could be best suited for extraterrestrial farming to support a human settlement on Mars. If everything goes as planned, the Martian colonies could be munching on french fries, chips and mashed potatoes one day.
“It’s got to be a Martian potato that tastes good,” Julio Valdivia-Silva,a Peruvian astrobiologist with NASA, said while surveying the reddish-brown desert on a trip to collect soil. “It’s a big challenge to take a living organism somewhere else. We’ve never done this before.”
The idea is literally science fiction, included in the Hollywood blockbuster “The Martian,” where Matt Damon played a stranded astronaut and botanist who plants potatoes to survive on Mars. It’s also not so far-fetched.
Mars One, a Dutch nonprofit foundation, plans to send individuals to the planet in about 10 years on a one-way trip to establish a permanent colony. Inventor Elon Musk says his spacecraft company, SpaceX, also hopes to send humans within a decade but warned during a startup conference in Hong Kong in January that it would be “hard and dangerous and difficult in every way you can imagine.”
NASA, which landed the Curiosity rover on Mars in 2012 and found last year that water flows there, has recently announced plans to land astronauts.
That will be when the potato comes in handy.
“When humans go to Mars, they will want to grow things. They’ll need food,” said Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California and participant in the potato study. “I think we’ll be able to find varieties of potatoes that will grow at cold and low-pressure conditions. That would be interesting to know for Mars applications.”
The potato is a major global crop thanks to its ability to adapt to a variety of climates and its abundance of carbohydrates, as well as protein, vitamin C, iron and zinc. Peru, birthplace of the humble tuber, is home to over 4,500 varieties, more than anywhere else, according to the International Potato Center. Potatoes here also have another advantage: They’re not just for eating.
Reddish, purple and yellow spuds are used as dyes. Potatoes can be used as a battery. In Peru’s rural highlands, a lumpy potato called “the weeping bride” is given by the groom’s mother to the bride-to-be to test how good a wife she will be (it all depends on how neatly she peels the hard-to-peel spud).
In ‘The Martian,’ Matt Damon played a stranded astronaut trying to grow potatoes on Mars. PHOTO: 20THCENTFOX/EVERETT COLLECTION
Peru is good for the experiment because of the Pampas de La Joya Desert, one of the driest spots on Earth, which receives about a millimeter of precipitation a year. It is part of South America’s vast Atacama Desert that has long been studied by NASA for its Mars-like conditions, in particular its dirt.
For the potato study, scientists selected 65 varieties of spuds known to be the most resilient.
The first step will be to plant the tubers in over 1,300 pounds of soil transported from this desert to Lima. If they grow successfully, the potatoes will then be planted in a simulator that factors in the atmospheric conditions on Mars.
Walter Amoros, a Peruvian scientist at the International Potato Center, said he thinks half of the potatoes will grow in the desert soil, but only about 10 will yield a good-sized tuber. The flavor could change under the stress, he warned, which is common on Earth when potatoes are exposed to severe drought and high temperatures. That sometimes makes them so bitter they are inedible.
On Mars, the temperature averages minus 84 degrees Fahrenheit, with lows of minus 284 degrees, according to NASA. It has high levels of radiation and over 60% less gravity than Earth. Its atmosphere has 96% carbon dioxide, with only a tiny amount of oxygen. Then there are the dust storms and salty water.
Mars and Peru. The landscape is very similar.PHOTOS: NASA, RYAN DUBE/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL;
The potatoes “are going to pass through an acid test. I’ve done tests under stressful conditions, but never so stressful,” Mr. Amoros said. “I don’t think they’ll grow in the open air [on Mars]. They will have to plant them under controlled conditions, in domes.”
Early space travelers relied on paste-like food squeezed from aluminum tubes. Today, astronauts have a more appetizing menu: chicken, beef and even salmon jerky. Salt and pepper are provided in liquid form, to prevent them from floating away. There is coffee, orange juice and lemonade, consumed through straws.
NASA’s plant studies are currently focused on leafy greens like lettuce, which has been grown in small plant chambers on the international space station. They also plan to study Chinese cabbage and dwarf tomatoes. While less nutritious than potatoes, researchers hope the greens will be able to complement astronauts’ diet during space flights.
Scientists say growing food—should humans colonize Mars—would reduce costs and mitigate risks of transporting food by shuttle.
“If something goes wrong, if you can produce some of your own food in situ, then you have that as a means to sustain yourself,” saidRaymond Wheeler, a plant physiologist at NASA.
Until cultivating begins, scientists foresee transporting potatoes to Mars in refrigerated tubes. They could be planted by machines in a controlled environment before humans arrive. If Martian soil proves to be too hostile, there are options of growing them without soil by hydroponics and aeroponics, which deliver nutrients in water and air, respectively.
They will still need fertilizer, which scientists say could be resolved on Mars by recycling nutrients from urine and inedible plant parts.
“This will be important for achieving sustainable-type systems,” Mr. Wheeler said, “regardless of the approach.”
Abel Yapo, a student volunteer who helped dig up the desert soil, said he hopes one day to eat potatoes on Mars. “It would be a dream,” he said. “With my potatoes from the results we get here.”
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