Geothermal Heating Could Make Life Possible on the Super Earth Planet at Barnard’s Star

In 2018, scientists announced the discovery of a extrasolar planet orbiting Barnard’s star, an M-type (red dwarf) that is just 6 light years away. Using the Radial Velocity method, the research team responsible for the discovery determined that this exoplanet (Barnard’s Star b) was at least 3.2 times as massive as Earth and experienced average surface temperatures of about -170 °C (-274 °F) – making it both a “Super-Earth” and “ice planet”.

Based on these findings, it was a foregone conclusion that Barnard b would be hostile to life as we know it. But according to new study by a team of researchers from Villanova University and the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC), it is possible – assuming the planet has a hot iron/nickel core and experiences enhanced geothermal activity – that this giant iceball of a planet could actually support life.

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Seeding the Milky Way with Life Using Genesis Missions

When exploring other planets and celestial bodies, NASA missions are required to abide by the practice known as “planetary protection“. This practice states that measures must be taken during the designing of a mission to ensure that biological contamination of both the planet/body being explored and Earth (in the case of sample-return missions) are prevented.

Looking to the future, there is the question of whether or not this same practice will be extended to extra-solar planets. If so, it would conflict with proposals to “seed” other worlds with microbial life to kick-start the evolutionary process. To address this, Dr. Claudius Gros of Goethe University’s Institute for Theoretical Physics recently published a paper that looks at planetary protection and makes the case for “Genesis-type” missions.

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Cassini Saw Rain Falling at Titan’s North Pole

An image from the Nasa-Esa-Asi Cassini spacecraft provides evidence of rainfall on the north pole of Titan

The Cassini mission to Saturn ended in September 2017, but the data it gathered during its 13 year mission is still yielding scientific results. On the heels of a newly-released global image of Saturn’s moon Titan comes another discovery: Rainfall at Titan’s north pole.

Climate models developed by scientists during Cassini’s mission concluded that rain should fall in the north during Titan’s summer. But scientists hadn’t seen any clouds. Now, a team of scientists have published a paper centered on Cassini images that show light reflecting off a wet surface. They make the case that the reflecting light, called a Bright Ephemeral Flare (BEF) is sunlight reflecting from newly-fallen rain.

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CERN is Planning to Build a Much Larger Particle Collider. Much, Much, Larger.

CERN's Future Circular Collider. Image Credit: CERN

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, wants to build a particle collider that will dwarf the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC has made important discoveries, and planned upgrades to its power ensures it will keep working on physics problems into the future. But eventually, it won’t be enough to unlock the secrets of physics. Eventually, we’ll need something larger and more powerful.

Enter the Future Circular Collider (FCC.) The FCC will exceed the LHC in power by an order of magnitude. On January 15th, the FCC collaboration released its Conceptual Design Report (CDR) that lays out the options for CERN’s Future Circular Collider.

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Astronomers Aren’t Pleased About a Russian Plan to Put Billboards in Space

A screen capture from StartRocket's promotional video for their Orbital Display. Image Credit: StartRocket.

It was bound to happen.

While the rest of us look up at the night sky, and wonder at what we’re seeing, ponder how it all fits together, and strain ourselves trying to understand how our origins are intertwined with all that we see, others don’t. They look up at the magnitude of the night sky and think none of these things.

Instead they think, “Hmmm…that’s a big, empty billboard. How can I make money from it?”

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Weekly Space Hangout: Jan 16, 2019: Paul MacNeal of JPL’s Annual Invention Challenge

Hosts:
Fraser Cain (universetoday.com / @fcain)
Dr. Pamela Gay (astronomycast.com / cosmoquest.org / @starstryder)
Dr. Morgan Rehnberg (MorganRehnberg.com / @MorganRehnberg & ChartYourWorld.org)

This week’s guest Paul MacNeal, a mechanical systems engineer at JPL, created the Annual Invention Challenge twenty-one years ago after helping his son with an extra credit assignment. Since then, teams of high school students from around the world compete each year against JPL engineers to see who can design and build the smartest and most efficient machine. The objective of the 2018 Challenge, which took place on Friday, December 14th, was to “to get a 24-inch length of two-inch PVC pipe from a horizontal position to an upright position on a platform using whatever device they could come up with, instructions not included.”

To view the 2018 results – as well as those from the prior 20 challenges – visit the Invention Challenge website at https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/events/inventionchallenge/

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There’s Life on the Moon! China’s Lander Just Sprouted the First Plants

China's Chang'e-4 lander on the lunar surface. Image Credit: CNSA/CLEP

It’s official, for the first time ever, scientists have found a living organism on the Moon! Well, not so much found, we put it there. But the implications are immense nonetheless! According to photos and a statement released by the China National Space Administration this week (Mon. Jan. 14th), the Chang’e-4 mission’s Lunar Micro Ecosystem (LME) experiment has produced its first sprouted plant.

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The Prototype for the Starship has been Assembled, Hop Tests Could be Happening Soon

The prototype Starship. Image: SpaceX

In an announcement sure to make you quiver with delight, Elon Musk says that SpaceX could begin short-hop test flights of its Starship prototype as early as next Spring. The Starship, which looks like something from a 1950’s sci-fi novel cover (awesome!) is intended to carry people to the Moon and Mars. When the spacecraft design was originally announced in 2016, it was called the Mars Colonial Transporter, and it sent shockwaves through the community.

Now, it’s almost test-flight time.

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Jupiter Meets Venus at Dawn in a Close Conjunction

Jupiter v Venus

You might be asking yourself: Where have all the planets gone?

With Mars past its epic opposition in 2018 and still lingering in the evening sky, all other naked eye planets are loitering in the early dawn for January 2019. Sure, it’s cold outside this month for folks up north, but January dawn skies offer early risers an amazing view, as Jupiter closes in on brilliant Venus for a close conjunction on the morning of January 22nd.

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Titan’s Thick Clouds Obscure our View, but Cassini Took these Images in Infrared, Showing the Moon’s Surface Features

A global mosaic of the surface of Titan, thanks to the infrared eyes of the Cassini spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Nantes/University of Arizona

Saturn’s moon Titan is a very strange place. It’s surrounded by a dense, opaque atmosphere, the only moon in the solar system with an atmosphere to speak of. It has lakes of liquid methane on its surface, maybe some cryovolcanoes, and some scientists speculate that it could support a form of life. Very weird life.

But we still don’t know a lot about it, because we haven’t really seen much of the surface. Until now.

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