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Nearby alien planet may be capable of supporting life

This artist’s illustration shows the potentially temperate planet Ross 128b, with its red dwarf parent star in the background. Credit: M. Kornmesser/ESO One of the nearest exoplanets to Earth may be a decent abode for life. Ross 128b — which lies just 11 light-years from our planet — is likely a rocky and temperate world, a new study suggests. “Although Ross 128b is not Earth’s twin, and there is still much we don’t know about its potential geologic activity, we were able to strengthen the argument that it’s a temperate planet that could potentially have liquid water on its surface,” lead author Diogo Souto, of the Observatório Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, said in a statement. [10 Exoplanets That Could Host Alien Life] Ross 128b has excited and intrigued astr...

Could self-repairing ‘Star Wars’ droid L3-37 come to life? Not quite

Phoebe Waller-Bridge plays L3-37 in “Solo: A Star Wars Story”  (Lucasfilm) Is the newest droid in the “Star Wars” universe the future of modern robotics? In the recently released film “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” the droid L3-37, also known as L3 or Elthree, showcased a unique set of traits among “Star Wars” robots. The intelligent pilot droid is always changing, improving and repairing itself with found scraps from other bots. L3 is also one of the first bots in the “Star Wars” franchise to bring feminine programming to a major role. L3 is a hodgepodge of various droids and astromechs, which are robots typically used for repairs aboard starships in “Star Wars.” She’s “a bit of a mutt,” as the film̵...

Apollo Moon rock rediscovered in Cambodia debuts on display

Encased in lucite, this 1.142-gram moon rock was returned to Earth by Apollo 17 in 1972 and presented to Cambodia a year later.  (U.S. Embassy in Cambodia via collectSPACE.com) A small moon rock gifted to Cambodia by the United States amid the Vietnam War has resurfaced after being all but lost to time and strife. Officials representing the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh and the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia unveiled the museum’s display of the “goodwill” moon rock on Monday (June 18), following an extensive effort to determine its origin. “Last fall, the National Museum approached the U.S. Embassy to investigate the background of this unique artifact,” said Michael Newbill, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy. “The history and background r...

Why does Venus spin so weirdly?

A composite image of Venus as seen by Japan’s Akatsuki spacecraft. Venus’ spin varies because of atmospheric waves over the planet’s mountains, according to a new study.  (JAXA) For years, scientists have been unable to agree on the length of a day on Venus, but one new study might put an end to this confusion. The planet Venus rotates very slowly, with a single revolution taking about 243 Earth days, and this rotation rate varies. Additionally, while the planet turns slowly, its atmosphere moves dramatically faster, making a complete rotation in only four Earth days, according to a statement about the new study. However, while we can follow the planet’s changing rotation, until now, scientists weren’t able to clearly explain why the rate changes.   Thanks to ...

Seasonal changes in exoplanet’s atmosphere could signal alien life

This contrasting artistic image of an early Martian environment with a thicker atmosphere (left) and the cold, dry Mars of today (right) shows how atmospheric changes affect a planet’s ability to hold life.  (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center) Seasonal changes in an alien planet’s atmosphere could signal the presence of extraterrestrial life, new research suggests. Researchers aim to expand our ability to hunt for aliens by creating a new search protocol to be used with next-generation telescopes. As described in a paper published yesterday (May 9) in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, a research team at University of California, Riverside’s (UCR) Alternative Earths Astrobiology Center has used the way Earth’s atmosphere changes from season to season to devel...

SpaceX set to debut newest Falcon 9 Rocket: ‘Block 5’

SpaceX’s first Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket rolls to its launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  (Elon Musk/Instagram) SpaceX is set to debut the latest, most advanced version of its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket this Thursday (May 10). The company determined that its first Falcon 9 “Block 5” booster is ready to go, after analyzing data from a routine prelaunch static-fire test that occurred Friday (May 4) at historic Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “Targeting Falcon 9 Block 5 launch of Bangabandhu Satellite-1 on May 10 from Pad 39A in Florida,” SpaceX representatives wrote on Twitter today (May 7). [6 Fun Facts About SpaceX] Bangabandhu 1 is a communications satellite that SpaceX is launching for the government of B...

‘Mars ain’t gonna be easy’: What Apollo 17 leaders are saying about future space exploration

Apollo 17 flight director Gerry Griffin (left), retired astronaut Jack Schmitt (center) and backroom scientist James Head held a panel discussion for the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 17 mission at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas, on March 21, 2018.  (National Institute of Aerospace/Lunar and Planetary Institute ) THE WOODLANDS, Texas — To commemorate the 45th anniversary of Apollo 17 — the last time astronauts walked on the moon — three key figures from the historic mission held a panel discussion here at the 49th annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference on Wednesday (March 21). Apollo 17 flew to the moon in December 1972 and marked the end of NASA’s Apollo program. The lunar module pilot Harrison “Jack” Schmitt and Cmdr. Gene Cer...

Asteroid skimming past Earth may loom larger than exploding Russian meteor

File illustration of an asteroid (Texas A&M) A newly discovered asteroid that will fly safely past Earth today (Feb. 9) may be larger than a celestial object that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, five years ago. The newly found interloper, called 2018 CB, is estimated to be from 50 to 130 feet in diameter, and will fly by Earth at about 2:30 p.m. PST (5:30 p.m. EST). “Asteroids of this size do not often approach this close to our planet — maybe only once or twice a year,” said Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, in a statement from the agency. 2018 CB is a small asteroid by celestial standards; the largest asteroid in our solar system, Vesta, is roughly 326 miles across. (Dwarf planet Ce...

Astronaut set to be first African American on Space Station crew removed from flight

NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps, seen here in November 2017 at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, has been removed from her scheduled expedition to the International Space Station in June 2018.  (Andrey Shelepin/GCTC via NASA) A NASA astronaut who was slated to become the first African American to serve as a member of the crew aboard the International Space Station has been removed from her upcoming mission. Jeanette Epps, who had been scheduled to launch to the space station in June of this year for a five-month expedition, has been replaced on the flight by another NASA astronaut, Serena Auñón-Chancellor, who was serving as Epps’ backup. NASA announced the crew change on Thursday (Jan. 18), stating that Epps will assume duties in the Astronaut Office at Johnso...

Super blue blood-Moon 2018: When, where and how to see it this month

 (Image via NASA) January skywatchers are in for a rare treat: a Blue Moon, a total lunar eclipse and a supermoon all in the same month. A Blue Moon is when two full moons happen in the same calendar month; lunar eclipses occur when the moon passes into Earth’s shadow; and supermoons happen when the moon’s perigee — its closest approach to Earth in a single orbit — coincides with a full moon. In this case, the supermoon also happens to be the day of the lunar eclipse. The first full moon of January will take place on the night of Jan. 1 or the morning of Jan. 2, depending on your location. The second full moon and the lunar eclipse will occur on the night of Jan. 31 or the morning of Feb. 1. And the supermoon will take place on the night of Jan. 30, which is technically one day...

‘Equator trap’ may complicate search for alien life

Artist’s illustration of the Earth-size planet TRAPPIST-1d and its red-dwarf host star. New research suggests that potential signs of life in the atmospheres of planets like this could be tougher to detect than previously thought.  (MPIA Graphics Department) Spotting signs of life in an alien planet’s atmosphere may be tougher than scientists had thought. One prominent such “biosignature” target, ozone, may get trapped near the equators of Proxima b, TRAPPIST-1d and other potentially habitable worlds that orbit close to their host stars, making the gas hard to detect from afar, a new study suggests. “Absence of traces of ozone in future observations does not have to mean there is no oxygen at all,” study lead author Ludmila Carone, of the Max Planck Inst...

Scorching-hot alien planet may have Earth-like atmosphere

The searing-hot planet 55 Cancri e likely has a thick atmosphere with a similar composition to that of Earth, a new study suggests.  (NASA/JPL Caltech) A planet circling a star in the constellation Cancer might have an atmosphere similar to Earth’s, but with dayside temperatures hot enough to melt titanium, a new study suggests.  The planet is called 55 Cancri e, and it lies about 41 light-years from the sun. The alien world has a diameter twice that of Earth and harbors about eight times more mass than our planet.  55 Cancri e was discovered in 2004, and it orbits just 1.4 million miles (2.3 million kilometers) from its host star — so close that a year on the alien planet lasts just 18 hours. In fact, 55 Cancri e is tidally locked, meaning it always shows the same face to its star. ...

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