Bacteria discovered in lake of oil: implications for extraterrestrial life?

Pitch Lake in Trinidad, where life has been found inside water droplets within the oil deposits. Credit: Martina Jackson/Wikimedia Commons

Pitch Lake in Trinidad, where life has been found inside water droplets within the oil deposits. Credit: Martina Jackson/Wikimedia Commons

A recent discovery by scientists may have implications for possible extraterrestrial life: Bacteria have been found thriving in a lake of oil in Trinidad, again showing how life can exist in even the most inhospitable conditions on Earth. The discovery brings to mind the similar environment on Saturn’s moon Titan, where lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons (methane/ethane) exist at the moon’s poles.

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Image Gallery: Rosetta arrives at comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

After a ten year journey, the Rosetta spacecraft finally arrived earlier today at comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The close-up images sent back so far are amazing. Rosetta is now in orbit around the comet, the first spacecraft to ever do so. There will be many more images to come, and in November, the lander module, Philae, will attempt to land on the surface. Stay tuned!

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Curiosity rover celebrates second anniversary on Mars as it approaches mountain goal

A “self-portrait” of the Curiosity rover in Yellowknife Bay, with part of Mount Sharp in the background. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A “self-portrait” of the Curiosity rover in Yellowknife Bay, with part of Mount Sharp in the background. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Curiosity rover has been actively exploring Mars for two years now, and as it celebrated its second anniversary today, Aug. 5, it is also, after a lengthy journey, approaching its primary mission goal: the massive Mount Sharp in the middle of Gale crater.

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Behold Enceladus: Cassini maps 101 geysers on tiny Saturn moon

The geysers at the south pole of Enceladus, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

The geysers at the south pole of Enceladus, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Saturn’s moon Enceladus is already known as one of the most intriguing places in our solar system, and now new findings from the Cassini spacecraft have been published, which will only add to our fascination with this little world.

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Image Gallery: comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Series of images taken by Rosetta showing the double cometary nucleus tumbling around. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Series of images taken by Rosetta showing the double cometary nucleus tumbling around. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Some new images are coming in of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko from the Rosetta spacecraft. Unexpectedly, it seems to be a contact binary, two objects in close contact instead of just one larger cometary nucleus (there’s no tail right now). It’s a weird shape, called a “boot” or “rubber duckie” by some. Rosetta is getting closer to the comet now, and scheduled to arrive on August 6, 2014. A probe will then attempt to land on the comet in November. Should be interesting!

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Blog update: Safari notifications to Mac desktop

I’ve added a new feature to the blog, so that if you are using the Safari browser (Mavericks version), you can get new blog posts automatically pushed to your Mac desktop as notifications. Another alternative to email or rss. If you use that browser, go to the blog (refresh if necessary) and you should get a pop-up asking if you would like to get notifications. You will then get notifications of new posts automatically pushed from Safari to your Mac desktop.

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NASA seeks science instrument proposals for future mission to Europa

The Europa Clipper is a leading contender for a return mission to Jupiter’s ocean moon. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Europa Clipper is a leading contender for a return mission to Jupiter’s ocean moon. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

For many space enthusiasts, a new mission to Jupiter’s ocean moon Europa is high up on their wishlists. Yesterday, NASA announced that they are seeking proposals for science instruments for just such a mission, bringing it one step closer to reality.

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MRO finds new evidence for dry ice formation of gullies on Mars

Before and after images showing the formation of a new gully channel in Terra Sirenum, taken between Nov. 5, 2010 and May 25, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Before and after images showing the formation of a new gully channel in Terra Sirenum, taken between Nov. 5, 2010 and May 25, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Some of the most interesting features on the surface of Mars are its gullies, often found on crater walls or other slopes, first seen from orbit back in 2000. They resemble gullies on Earth created by water, but the origin of located on Mars have become the subject of much debate. These gullies appear to be actively forming today, and are not just some relic of past activity that took place millions of years ago. But on Mars, water can’t exist for long on the surface even if it is briny, so how are these gullies being created? New observations from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft suggest that dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) may actually be responsible. The new findings have been published in the journal Icarus.

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Image Gallery: reddish bands on Europa’s surface

converted PNM file

The icy surface of Europa, with reddish bands of water ice mixed with hydrated salts. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

The icy surface of Europa, with reddish bands of water ice mixed with hydrated salts. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

A “new” (previously unreleased) colour view of Europa’s surface from the old Galileo spacecraft; the image is a product of clear-filter grayscale data from one orbit, combined with lower-resolution colour data taken on a different orbit. The surface here is primarily almost pure water ice, with reddish bands of water ice containing hydrated salts. The image area measures approximately 163 km by 167 km (101 by 103 miles). What might be found in the subsurface ocean below? More information here.

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Titan’s hidden ocean might be as salty as the Dead Sea

Illustration of what Titan’s interior is thought to look like, with a rigid ice shell above the salty water ocean below. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Illustration of what Titan’s interior is thought to look like, with a rigid ice shell above the salty water ocean below. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Saturn’s moon Titan is known for its methane seas, lakes, and rivers; surprisingly Earth-like in appearance yet distinctly alien at the same time. But there is also evidence for another ocean, this one of water, below the surface. Little is known about this hidden watery world, but now new results suggest it is likely very salty – as much as the Dead Sea on Earth.

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