A mile-wide asteroid is flying uncomfortably close to Earth tomorrow

April 18, 2017 by  
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A mile-wide asteroid is about to swing by the Earth in the closest shave we’ve had in over a decade. Nicknamed ‘The Rock’ because of its massive size, the asteroid is barreling towards us at 75,072 mph – and it’ll fly past Earth at 4.6 times the distance of the moon. Scientists don’t know much about The Rock – it was only spotted 3 years ago – but we do know that it is twice as reflective as the moon, so you might be able to see it fly past on its way through the galaxy. Object 2014 J025 will fly 1,097,590 miles away from the earth tomorrow – and it won’t be this close again for at least another 400 years. We’ll be safe here on the ground, but it is also a pretty close shave – scientists call it “among the strongest asteroid radar targets of the year.” A large ~2 km asteroid, 143404 (2003 BD44), will pass safely by the Earth today (22 Lunar Distance) pic.twitter.com/X4pWnQyjo1 — Ron Baalke (@RonBaalke) April 18, 2017 Related: Scientists capture first ever image of dark matter web that connects galaxies The Rock should pass by around 8:24 am (Eastern). This will be the closest asteroid this size to pass by Earth since September 2004, when 4179 Toutatis passed within 4 lunar distances. While there isn’t any chance it will hit Earth, it is a startling reminder of how close space debris comes to smacking into the planet all the time. Via the Daily Mail images via NASA and Kevin Gill

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A mile-wide asteroid is flying uncomfortably close to Earth tomorrow

NASA announces alien life could be thriving on one of Saturn’s moons

April 13, 2017 by  
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In a live broadcast today, NASA researchers announced the agency has uncovered the existence of key ingredients for life as we know it on Saturn’s icy moon, Enceladus . Scientists already knew that the moon had liquid water on the surface, due to the presence of geysers spewing water near the moon’s south pole. Now, hydrogen has been detected in those jets of water, which suggests the strong possibility that Enceladus’s oceans could support microbial life. It may seem strange that an ice-covered world like Enceladus is being looked at as a potential source of extraterrestrial life, but beneath the planet’s icy shell spans a worldwide ocean over a rocky core. The ice is thought to act as a protective outer layer for the sea, the same way that our atmosphere protects Earth and makes life possible on our own planet. In fact, NASA is closely observing many of these “ ocean worlds ” for signs of life. While Enceladus’s geysers have been known to scientists since 2005, this is the first time the Cassini probe has been able to detect any traces of possible life within them. It’s believed that the plumes originate in a hydrothermal system within the moon’s core, estimated to be 2 1/2 times more powerful than the one that drives Yellowstone’s geysers and hot springs. Despite the icy outer shell, the gravitational pull of Saturn provides heat for the water in the moon’s interior, another encouraging sign for the development of life. Related: Trump plans to strip NASA’s earth science division, promote mission to Mars This new information about the moon comes from October 2015, when the Cassini craft flew into the plumes themselves, a mere 30 miles above the moon’s surface. The probe was able to capture particles from the plume inside a piece of equipment called an Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer, which can analyze the makeup of material encountered on its journey through space. The probe detected a number of interesting organic molecules, including molecular hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane. The level of hydrogen , in particular, was surprising to researchers . This volatile gas isn’t easily captured on small, icy worlds like Enceladus, so there must be some chemical process beneath the surface producing the molecules. It may be that hot water from the ocean is flowing into iron-rich cracks in the sea floor, causing a chemical reaction that is constantly replenishing the ocean’s supply of molecular hydrogen. This is the same process that happens in Earth’s own hydrothermal vents , which helps fuel the strange and diverse ecosystems of the deep oceans. Because we’re familiar with exactly how this process supports Earth life, there’s a strong possibility that life could thrive on Enceladus in the same way. Unfortunately, we don’t currently have the instruments necessary to detect life directly on these watery worlds – only to look for the chemical indications of an environment that could potentially support it. Related: NASA discovers 7 Earth-sized planets outside our solar system NASA also today announced that they had found evidence of similar water plumes on Jupiter’s moon Europa , though less is known about their makeup. Unlike the Saturn Cassini mission, scientists don’t currently have an up-close view of Europa. Instead, they had to rely on data from the Hubble Space Telescope , which has been monitoring the moon to try to learn more about the makeup of its oceans. We may not know for certain until the 2020s, when NASA’s Europa Clipper mission is scheduled to launch. Via NASA Images via NASA/JPL

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NASA announces alien life could be thriving on one of Saturn’s moons

6 space farming projects that could save the human race

April 11, 2017 by  
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What will humans eat on Mars ? It’s a daunting question: the red planet’s frigid average temperature is around negative 80 degrees Fahrenheit and its thin atmosphere is comprised of 95.32 percent carbon dioxide . But not to worry, future astronauts. NASA’s on it, as are several other institutions worldwide. Inhabitat rounded up six exciting space farming projects revealing the progress scientists have made on the issue of sustainable space cuisine. Scientists grow potatoes in Mars-like conditions, justifying The Martian’s Mark Watney Scientists from the International Potato Center , NASA’s Ames Research Center , and Peru’s University of Technology and Engineering recently showed the 2015 movie The Martian may have not just been science fiction after all. Inside a CubeSat , a small satellite in which the scientists could simulate Mars conditions, they were able to sprout potatoes , the crop of choice for astronaut Mark Watney in the film. Their research shows maybe we could grow those tubers on Mars after all, but also could offer insight into how to cultivate crops here on Earth in climate change -impacted regions. Related: Six scientists just completed a year-long simulated Mars mission Scientists find four crops grown in Mars-like soil are edible Wageningen University scientists in the Netherlands have also been growing crops in Mars-like soil. They successfully cultivated ten crops – like tomatoes, rye, and peas – in dirt provided by NASA that came largely from a Hawaii volcano, but feared the resulting food might be filled with heavy metals . Further tests showed they didn’t have to worry quite so much: at least four of the crops do not contain heavy metals like cadmium, lead, or arsenic and are edible. The Wageningen team hopes to continue their research and raise more money for their project. Astronauts harvest lettuce on the International Space Station International Space Station (ISS) astronauts are in on the space farming effort too. In 2014, Orbital Technologies Corporation’s Veggie system was deployed to the ISS , and recently in late 2016, NASA checked in with space gardener astronaut Shane Kimbrough who has harvested multiple batches of lettuce on the space station. The experiment not only gives astronauts the chance to nibble on some rare fresh greens harvested every ten days or so, but will also further NASA’s knowledge of how different life forms perform in zero gravity environments. Self-contained greenhouse could grow plants with Earth air on Mars The Mars Plant Experiment (MPX) was a small, self-contained greenhouse with enough Earth air to last 15 days and around 200 seeds of the flowering plant Arabidopsis used often in research. The little greenhouse would have hitched a ride to Mars aboard a rover for the 2020 mission. One of 58 proposed experiments, MPX didn’t make the list of seven selected payload proposals NASA announced a little over two months after Inhabitat’s article, but it’s still an intriguing idea for how humans might go about growing plants on Mars. NASA Advanced Food Technology team designs over 100 vegan recipes for future Mars crew Forget freeze-dried ice cream. NASA’s Advanced Food Technology project took a healthier approach by looking into an entirely vegan diet for future space voyagers. They developed more than 100 vegan recipes for a six to eight person Mars crew, featuring fresh fruits and vegetables possibly grown in hydroponic systems. Veganism wasn’t so much a ideological choice for the NASA team as a practical one: it would be difficult to store easily perishable dairy and meat products during the lengthy trip to Mars. Experts suggest kitchen garden for astronauts venturing to Mars All the way back in 2011, NASA was pointing to kitchen-style gardens as a solution for astronauts, realizing pre-packaged food alone probably wouldn’t cut it for deep space missions. Speaking at an American Chemical Society gathering, scientist Maya Cooper of NASA’s Space Food System Laboratory said chefs and horticultural experts could help devise a plan for producing the over 7,000 pounds of food required for the five year journey to Mars. Experts identified 10 likely candidates for a spaceship kitchen garden: cabbage, spinach, herbs, carrots, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, spring onions, radishes and lettuce – of course we’re now growing that last plant already on ISS. In just over five years, scientists have come a long way in developing space farming , and we’re excited to see what innovations crop up in the upcoming years as humanity prepares to go to Mars. Images via Pixabay , Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Food for mars and moon Facebook , NASA , NASA/JPL/Cornell University , Wikimedia Commons , and NASA

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Incredible video of Mars stitched together by hand from 33,000 images

March 23, 2017 by  
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If you’ve ever wanted to get up-close and personal with Mars , check out this incredible video recently released by NASA that shows the Red Planet’s surface in stunning detail. Entitled “A Fictive Flight Above Real Mars,” the video is a composite made from about 33,000 of the 50,000 high-resolution stereo images of the planet’s terrain made over the past 12 years by the powerful camera used in NASA’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). These stereogram images depict the planet’s surface in incredible detail, which can only truly be appreciated in still images by using 3D glasses—or when merged together into an active, three dimensional, fly-over view, as was done by Finnish filmmaker Jan Fröjdman when creating this video. As Wired notes, Mars’ dusty atmosphere obfuscates its surface with massive storms so regularly that the only way to get a decent look at the planet is through imaging technology. So that’s what NASA did. “The best way to see the planet’s surface would be to take a digital image and enhance it on your computer, said planetary geologist and principal investigator for HiRISE, Alfred McEwen. Related: The UAE joins the race to build first city on Mars https://vimeo.com/207076450 Enter Fröjdman, who assembled the flyover shots piece by piece and colorized the monochrome images captured by the HiRISE camera. He was also responsible for identifying features like craters, canyons and mountains, then matching them between pairs of images. The 3D panning effect was the result of a painstaking process that involved stitching the images along reference points and then rendering them as frames in a video. Fröjdman spent three months working on the project, during which time he picked and stitched by hand more than 33,000 images. The result of his work is worth the effort—a truly stunning video. Via Wired Video and image via Jan Fröjdman , Vimeo

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Incredible video of Mars stitched together by hand from 33,000 images

Trump plans to strip NASAs earth science division, promote mission to Mars

March 22, 2017 by  
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On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed into law a new plan for NASA’s future . The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 calls for a $19.5 billion annual budget for the agency – not a major change from the agency’s $19.3 billion budget in 2016 – but the document seems to leave out the agency’s earth science division entirely. Trump claims this is simply a way of reaffirming the agency’s “core mission” of human space exploration, space science, and technology, but given how aggressively the new administration has gone after any agencies involved in atmospheric research, climate change denial is likely the underlying motive for the shift. Under the new act, Congressional Republicans have outlined a new roadmap for the agency’s future. The law calls on NASA to create a plan for humans to reach the surface of Mars by the 2030s, and to continue developing its Orion space capsule and its Space Launch System. The administration has also expressed a desire for NASA to return to the moon in the 2020s. Related: NASA releases startling new images showing 30 years of change on Earth What’s unclear is exactly how the new law will affect NASA’s earth science research. Trump’s proposed budget , however, may offer some clues. He hopes to cut the earth science budget by $102 million, potentially terminating a number of programs, including the   Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem  (PACE),  Orbital Carbon Observatory-3  (OCO-3),  Deep Space Climate Observatory  (DISCOVR), and  CLARREO Pathfinder missions. These four satellites help scientists monitor the Earth’s climate, weather, and oceans. While Trump may claim climate change is outside of the scope of NASA’s original research mission, that’s simply untrue. When NASA was formed in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Act explicitly called on the new agency to contribute to the “expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere.” The loss of these resources would be devastating to the larger scientific world, which often relies on NASA data for research. Related: Gov. Jerry Brown pledges to launch California’s “own damn satellite” if Trump blocks climate research It’s still far too early to know what might happen: the funding requested would be for the 2018 fiscal year, so any cuts wouldn’t be felt immediately. The proposed budget also has to be reviewed and approved by Congress before anything is set in stone. Hopefully, lawmakers will see the value in maintaining some of these programs, even if Trump doesn’t. Via Business Insider Images via   NASA

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NASA releases images of the world’s largest solar farm from space

February 24, 2017 by  
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China is home to the world’s largest solar farm , which is so immense, it is visible from space. With around four million solar panels , Longyangxia Dam Solar Park has a capacity of 850 megawatts (MW) – pushing the country closer to its ambitious renewable energy goals. NASA recently shared satellite images of the solar park as seen from space – and they are admittedly impressive. The award for world’s largest solar farm has switched hands rapidly in the last few years. In 2014, California’s 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm was the biggest, but a year later the state’s 579 MW Solar Star claimed victory. The next year, 2016, saw India’s 648 MW Kamuthi Solar Power Project topple the throne, only to be ousted by the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park this year. Related: India just fired up the world’s largest solar plant to power 150,000 homes NASA Earth Observatory’s satellite images of the Chinese solar park reveal immense growth over four years. By early January of this year, the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park, which is in the high desert of the Qinghai province, covered 10 square miles. China became the largest producer of solar power in the world after the country’s total installed capacity increased to around 77 gigawatts in 2016, even though other countries like the United States and Germany produce more solar energy per person. Rapid progress has marked China’s renewable energy industry in recent years. According to Climate Central, drawing on preliminary 2016 data released by Greenpeace’s Energydesk , the country “installed the equivalent of one and a half soccer fields of solar panels every hour.” Such advancement means China could hit their 2020 renewable energy targets as soon as 2018. NASA doesn’t expect the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park to retain the crown for long. The Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai is still growing – phase 3 will add 800 megawatts to the farm. And another solar farm planned for China’s Ningxia region in the northwest is slated to have a capacity of 2,000 MW. Via Climate Central Images via Jesse Allen/NASA Earth Observatory

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NASA releases images of the world’s largest solar farm from space

Foldable, lightweight kayak assembles in 10 minutes

February 24, 2017 by  
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For all the joy they can bring out on the water, traditional kayaks are bulky, heavy and often cumbersome to transport. But that’s all about to change thanks to the Justin Case Kayak , a foldable, lighweight kayak design made with 3D-printed materials that can be assembled in just 10 minutes. Most kayaks are long, bulky and heavy, making transport extremely difficult. The Justin Case Kayak prototype is designed for water lovers by fellow adventurers who wanted to make kayaking easier, simultaneously enabling better access to nature and spontaneous adventure. Related: Modular kayak with an off-color name breaks down into three portable pieces  The team behind Justin Case developed their prototype based on optimal functionality. With the foldable design , kayakers of any level can easily carry their kayak folded up in its carry case, making impromptu water excursions easier than ever. The compact design is optimal for storage as well, easily hidden from view unlike most kayaks. The lightweight carbon fiber frame is held together with 3D printed connectors, and covered in a water and tear-proof ripstop skin. The prototype development process was green-minded throughout, focusing on using as little material as possible while providing a long-lasting product. Via Justin Case Kayak Images via Justin Case Kayak

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Foldable, lightweight kayak assembles in 10 minutes

Dakota Access Pipeline 99 percent finished, says Energy Transfer Partners

February 24, 2017 by  
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After months of protests by Native Americans and supporters worldwide, the Trump administration ignored the pleas of so many American citizens and gave permission for the hotly contested Dakota Access Pipeline to move forward. And Energy Transfer Partners didn’t waste much time doing just that. The group said in a recent statement that the oil pipeline is now 99 percent finished. Federal authorization came earlier in February and Energy Transfer Partners got to work. In March or April, oil could start flowing through the $3.8 billion pipeline, which will transport Bakken crude oil from North Dakota oilfields through the Midwest. The oil will end up at refineries near the Gulf of Mexico. The part of the pipeline that runs so close to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation is the last to be completed. Related: Standing Rock protesters evicted by police at gunpoint White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer indicated that the White House is communicating with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. In a press briefing yesterday, a reporter asked if the President had been briefed on the Standing Rock situation, and Spicer replied, “Our team has been involved with both the tribe and the governor there, and so we are not only – we are constantly in touch with them. And I think we feel very confident that we will move forward to get the pipeline moving.” But tribe chair Dave Archambault II said Spicer’s claims aren’t true. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe issued a statement yesterday and quoted Archambault II as saying, “[Spicer’s] claim is absolutely false. We repeatedly asked for meetings with the Trump administration, and never received one until the day they notified Congress that they were issuing the easement. I was on a plane to Washington, D.C. when the easement was issued. It was an insult to me and to the Tribe. I cancelled the meeting upon hearing this news. We have since filed a lawsuit for the immoral and illegal issuance of the easement and suspension of the environmental impact study.” Via Reuters Images via Standing Rock Rising Facebook

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NASA discovers 7 Earth-sized planets outside our solar system

February 22, 2017 by  
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In a press conference today, NASA scientists revealed an extraordinary new discovery – the first known system of seven rocky, Earth-sized planets orbiting a single star. Three out of the seven planets are situated at the perfect distance from the sun to potentially harbor liquid water , making them habitable for life as we know it. This is the largest number of habitable-zone planets ever found around a single star outside our own solar system . It’s important to note that simply because these planets could potentially hold liquid water doesn’t mean that they do – but the likelihood is higher given their location. The planets are orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1, located about 40 light years (or 235 trillion miles) from Earth in the Aquarius constellation. The system is named after the TRAPPIST ( The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope ), located in an observatory in Chile. In May 2016, TRAPPIST researchers announced they’d discovered three planets in the system. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope was able to confirm those exoplanets’ existence and that of four additional planets. The results of NASA’s study have been published in the journal Nature today. Related: Astronomers just discovered an alien planet with three suns that shouldn’t exist What’s especially interesting about the TRAPPIST-1 system is how different its habitable zone is from that of systems like our own. Because the star is much cooler than our sun, planets much closer to the sun than Earth could potentially have liquid water. In fact, all seven of TRAPPIST-1’s planets are closer to the star than Mercury is to our own sun, and each of the planets are so close to one another they would appear in one another’s skies the same way the moon appears in ours. NASA scientists also speculate the planets may be tidally locked , so that the same side of the planet is always facing the star, casting one half of the planet in permanent daylight and the other in perpetual night. This could cause weather patterns unlike anything we’ve ever seen before on Earth, and extreme differences in temperature from one side to the other. The Spitzer telescope was able to detect the presence of the planets by observing the infrared wavelengths emitted by the star over a period of 500 hours. Each time a planet crossed in front of the star, the telescope could detect changes in the star’s brightness. NASA also followed up with a study using the Hubble Space Telescope to determine whether the planets were rocky, or likely had a “puffy” atmosphere like those of our own system’s gas giants. There’s still much about these planets we simply do not know, but studies will continue to help NASA learn more about them. Right now, the Kepler space telescope is also recording observations about the system, which will reveal more properties about the exoplanets in March. NASA’s new James Webb Telescope will also be pointed toward TRAPPIST-1 after its launch in 2018, and will analyze the planets’ temperature, surface pressure, and atmospheric makeup – all key factors that will reveal whether these worlds can actually sustain life. Via NASA Images via NASA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnKFaAS30X8

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NASA discovers 7 Earth-sized planets outside our solar system

Ancient microbes survive inside massive cave crystals for 50,000 years

February 20, 2017 by  
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Scientists have found strange, ancient microbes in Mexico’s Naica crystal caves that could be around 50,000 years old. Although the caves are so hot they’ve been described as hell – while also being so magical they’ve been described as Fairyland – the microbes have survived for thousands of years trapped in crystals . A biologist who studied the microbes referred to them as super life. Scientists discovered 40 different microbe strains and some viruses in the caves. The microbes are so bizarre that even their closest relatives are genetically 10 percent different, which is about as far away as mushrooms and humans, according to NASA Astrobiology Institute director Penelope Boston, who recently presented the research. The dormant microbes survived on minerals like manganese and iron. Related: Researchers discover that architecture has an impact on which microbes thrive around you The Naica caves are a great example of an extreme environment. Found by miners only around 100 years ago, the caves were isolated from the rest of the world for centuries until a mining company commenced drilling. According to Phys.org, some of the caves are as colossal as cathedrals , and are covered in crystals. But the magnificent caves are so sweltering the researchers could work for just about 20 minutes before retreating to a cool room around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. They wore inexpensive space suits and kept ice packs on their bodies. The find doesn’t claim the prize for oldest extreme life – years ago scientists wrote about living microbes trapped in salt and ice that may be around half a million years old. But Boston told the BBC the microbes her team found are extraordinary because “they are not very closely related to anything in the known genetic databases” and scientists can add the recently found microbes “to this atlas of possibilities that we can apply to different planetary settings.” The findings draw on nine years of research, but have not yet been published in a journal. Boston aims to run more genetic tests on the microbes, but did present the find at the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston, Massachusetts late last week. Via the BBC and Phys.org Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Ancient microbes survive inside massive cave crystals for 50,000 years

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