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This is a blog post I wrote in March of 2008—a year before there was even Lights in the Dark! I’m sharing it again because it’s fun…I hope you think so too.
We’ve all seen the grade-school models of the solar system. Maybe you made one in science class. Out of painted styrofoam balls or colored construction paper. Maybe you saw one of those giant models hanging from the ceiling of your local science museum. Big colorful globes, some with rings around them, some painted swirly colors, others looking more like pitted rocks. For most people, that’s their impression of the solar system. Yellow sun in the middle, then all the different colored balls swooping around it. Some people even remember all the names from third-grade science class. Maybe even in order. (My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies?) If so, scratch-n-sniff stickers all around. Yum, root beer!
Both the book and the movie 2010 told us we can pretty much go wherever we want in the Solar System except Europa; “ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE.” But Europa is exactly where we should go, especially if we want to take advantage of the best chances we know of to find extraterrestrial life. This ice-covered cue ball moon of Jupiter harbors a subsurface ocean with more liquid water than found on the surface of Earth and its surface is stained with streaks of organic compounds. Everything we know about life on Earth and Europa indicates that there’s a habitable environment located just a few miles below its ice, right now, waiting for us to not only attempt a landing but drill down and take a look around. Fortunately, this is exactly what some scientists at NASA are planning on doing.
NASA researchers have modified a decades-old chemistry technique called capillary electrophoresis to identify the amino acids necessary for life, and have tested its success in California’s Mono Lake. The lake’s exceptionally high alkaline content makes it a challenging habitat for life—and an excellent substitute for the salty subsurface water believed to be on Mars and the icy moons Enceladus and Europa.
“Using our method, we are able to tell the difference between amino acids that come from non-living sources like meteorites versus amino acids that come from living organisms,” said the project’s principal investigator Peter Willis from JPL in Pasadena, CA.
This sampling method is 10,000 times more sensitive than anything capable by existing spacecraft like the Curiosity rover.
Florida’s Space Coast is anticipating 32 rocket launches in 2017, according to the USAF’s 45th Space Wing which manages Patrick AFB and the launch region around Cape Canaveral. This is nine more than the amount that launched from the Cape in 2016 (two of which I was lucky enough to be present for) but still just a few short of the 2021 goal of 48 launches annually. Still, with launch providers like ULA, OrbitalATK, and SpaceX all increasing their services for NASA, the U.S. military, and commercial companies—and newcomer Blue Origin ready in the wings—the Space Coast is rapidly becoming a busy place again…undoubtedly a welcome development nearly six years after the last shuttle flight.
Many if not all galaxies—including our Milky Way—harbor enormous, supermassive black holes at their centers, surrounded by disks of superheated gas and orbiting stars caught in a deadly gravitational grip. When these black holes swallow large amounts of gas or even whole stars, they can fire out huge flares of material and radiation that’s can be seen far across the universe. But if there happens to be a lot of cold, dark dust in the way these active galactic nuclei can remain hidden from our view…that is, until NASA’s NuSTAR space telescope was put on the job. Especially sensitive to radiation in high-energy x-ray wavelengths, NuSTAR has allowed astronomers to detect previously hidden supermassive black holes…one of them at the heart of a galaxy relatively close to our own.
Read the rest of this story from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory here: Black Holes Hide in Our Cosmic Backyard
For more than 25 years the Hubble Space Telescope has been giving us unprecedented and breathtaking views of our Universe, looking deep into distant galaxies and revealing the structures and secrets of our own Milky Way. Hubble literally allowed us to rewrite the book(s) on what we know about the Universe, and to this day it’s still going strong. But in October 2018 NASA will launch its next great observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope, and with its enormous suite of gold-plated mirrors the JWST will gaze even deeper into the cosmos than any other telescope ever could. Yes, like Hubble, JWST will be an orbiting space observatory but it isn’t just “another Hubble”—it will be something far, far more.
“Hubble showed us what the Universe looks like; James Webb will show us how the Universe came to be the way it is today.”
— Ethan Siegel, Astrophysicist
Read more about JWST in Ethan Siegel’s article on Forbes here: The James Webb Space Telescope Will Truly Do What Hubble Only Dreamed Of