If Exoplanets Have Lightning, it’ll Complicate the Search for Life

Lightning on exoplanets could mask some biosignatures and amplify others. Image Credit: NASA/T.Pyle

Discovering exoplanets is almost routine now. We’ve found over 5,500 exoplanets, and the next step is to study their atmospheres and look for biosignatures. The James Webb Space Telescope is leading the way in that effort. But in some exoplanet atmospheres, lightning could make the JWST’s job more difficult by obscuring some potential biosignatures while amplifying others.

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Electrodes in Spacesuits Could Protect Astronauts from Harmful Dust on Mars

Martian dust could be a serious health hazard for future missions to Mars. Credit: NASA/AI. SpaceFactory

To quote NASA associate administrator Jim Reuter, sending crewed missions to Mars by 2040 is an “audacious goal.” The challenges include the distance involved, which can take up to six months to traverse using conventional propulsion methods. Then there’s the hazard posed by radiation, which includes increased exposure to solar particles, flares, and galactic cosmic rays (GCRs). And then there’s the time the crews will spend in microgravity during transits, which can take a serious toll on human health, physiology, and psychology.

But what about the challenges of living and working on Mars for several months at a time? While elevated radiation and lower gravity are a concern, so is Martian regolith. Like lunar regolith, dust on Mars will adhere to astronauts’ spacesuits and inflict wear on their equipment. However, it also contains harmful particles that must be removed to prevent contaminating habitats. In a recent study, a team of aerospace engineers tested a new electrostatic system for removing Martian regolith from spacesuits that could potentially remove harmful dust with up to 98% efficiency.

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Odysseus Moon Lander Sends More Pictures — and We Know Where It Is

Odyssey's view of lunar terrain during approach to landing site
The Odysseus lander captured this image about 35 seconds after pitching over during its approach to the lunar landing site. The ultra-wide-angle view shows Odysseus and its landing legs at the bottom of the frame. (Credit: Intuitive Machines)

Four days after Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus lander made an off-kilter touchdown on the moon, the mission team is releasing snapshots that were taken during its descent.

The ultra-wide-angle images confirm that the lander is continuing to communicate with flight controllers, even though it’s lying in an awkward angle that limits how much data its antennas can transmit.

Meanwhile, images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have identified Odysseus’ landing spot, within a mile (1.5 kilometers) of its intended target near a crater called Malapert A in the moon’s south polar region. The bad news is that the solar-powered lander may have to go dark sooner than anticipated.

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Astronomers Discover a New Meteor Shower. The Source is Comet 46P/Wirtanen

Comet Wirtanen imaged using a 130P-DS Newtonian telescope on a guided HEQ5 mount and an astro modified and cooled Canon 450D. 45 two-minute images stacked using deep sky stacked to stack comet and stars separately before recombination topo remove blurring. Stub Mandrel

Like many of you, I love a good meteor shower. I have fond memories of the Leonid meteor storm back in 1999 when several hundred per hour were seen at peak. Sadly meteor storms are not that common unlike meteor showers of which, there are about 20 major showers per year. Wait, there’s another one and this time it comes from the debris left behind from Comet 46P/Wirtanen with an expected peak on December 12. Last year, 23 meteors were seen on that night that matched the location of the comets trail. 

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Surprise! Japan’s SLIM Moon Lander Wakes Up After a Freezing Night

Illustration: SLIM lander on the moon
An artist's conception shows Japan's SLIM lander in its upended position on the lunar surface. (Credit: JAXA)

Japan’s space agency didn’t expect its wrong-side-up SLIM moon lander to revive itself after powering down for a circuit-chilling lunar night on Feb. 1. But that’s exactly what happened.

“Last night, a command was sent to SLIM and a response received, confirming that the spacecraft has made it through the lunar night and maintained communication capabilities!” the SLIM mission team reported today in a posting to X / Twitter.

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Titan Probably Doesn’t Have the Amino Acids Needed for Life to Emerge

Image of Titan’s surface obtained by the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe from an approximate altitude of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) during the probe’s slow descent to the surface on January 14, 2005. (Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

Does Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, possess the necessary ingredients for life to exist? This is what a recent study published in Astrobiology hopes to address as a team of international researchers led by Western University investigated if Titan, with its lakes of liquid methane and ethane, could possess the necessary organic materials, such as amino acids, that could be used to produce life on the small moon. This study holds the potential to help researchers and the public better understand the geochemical and biological processes necessary for life to emerge throughout the cosmos.

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What Kinds of Astronomy Could Be Done With a Telescope on the Moon?

An illustration of a lunar telescope inside a crater. Credits: Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay/NIAC.

For decades, astronomers have said that one of the most optimal places to build large telescopes is on the surface of the Moon. The Moon has several advantages over Earth- and space-based telescopes that make it worth considering as a future home for giant observatories. A new paper lists all the advantages, including how telescopes on the lunar surface wouldn’t be blocked by an atmosphere or impacted by wind, and how the low gravity would allow gigantic structures to be built that could be upgraded over time by astronauts.

“Progress on the big questions in astronomy, such as life on certain exoplanets or dark matter, will ultimately require high angular resolution, a large collecting area and access to the full optical spectrum,” write French astronomers Jean Schneider, Pierre Kervella, and Antoine Labeyrie. “All astronomy will benefit from the advantages provided by the localization on the Moon.”  

And even though it might be decades before we have a permanent presence on the Moon, the astronomers suggest we should start with small telescopes now.

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The Kuiper Belt is Much Bigger Than We Thought

Artist’s concept of a collision between two objects in the distant Kuiper Belt. Such collisions are a major source of dust in the belt, along with particles kicked up from Kuiper Belt objects being peppered by microscopic dust impactors from outside of the solar system. Credit: Dan Durda, FIAAA

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is just over 8.8 billion km away, exploring the Kuiper Belt. This icy belt surrounds the Sun but it seems to have a surprise up its sleeve. It was expected that New Horizons would be leaving the region by now but it seems that it has detected elevated levels of dust that are thought to be from micrometeorite impacts within the belt. It suggests perhaps that the Kuiper Belt may stretch further from the Sun than we thought! 

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A Planetary Disk in the Orion Nebula is Destroying and Replenishing Oceans of Water Every Month

A closeup of the inner region of the Orion Nebula as seen by JWST. There's a protoplanetary disk there that is recycling an Earth's ocean-full of water each month. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, PDRs4All ERS Team; Salomé Fuenmayor image
A closeup of the inner region of the Orion Nebula as seen by JWST. There's a protoplanetary disk there that is recycling an Earth's ocean-full of water each month. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, PDRs4All ERS Team; Salomé Fuenmayor image

Planet-forming disks are places of chaotic activity. Not only do planetesimals slam together to form larger worlds, but it now appears that the process involves the destructive recycling of water within a disk. That’s the conclusion from scientists studying JWST data from a planetary birth crèche called d203-506 in the Orion Nebula.

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Brrr. JWST Looks at the Coldest Brown Dwarf

Artist's illustration of a cold brown dwarf star. (Credit: NASA)

What are the atmospheric compositions of cold brown dwarf stars? This is what a recent study published in The Astronomical Journal hopes to address as an international team of researchers used NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to investigate the coldest known brown dwarf star, WISE J085510.83?071442.5 (WISE 0855). This study holds the potential to help astronomers better understand the compositions of brown dwarf stars, which are also known as “failed stars” since while they form like other stars, they fail to reach the necessary mass to produce nuclear fusion. So, what was the motivation behind using JWST to examine the coldest known brown dwarf star?

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