The Dawn spacecraft is now very close to the dwarf planet Ceres, but there are some interesting new findings from its previous visit to the asteroid Vesta. Curved gullies on its surface suggest that small amounts of water may have once been present in the form of wet debris flows—a rather surprising discovery.
The rover and lander missions on Mars have been cool enough with their high-tech cameras, lasers, and on-board laboratories, but now they are about to get even better, thanks to a new partnership between NASA and Microsoft. New technology being developed, called OnSight, will allow scientists to work virtually on Mars within 3-D simulations, changing how they interact with the machines and conduct science operations.
Last week was a good one for exoplanet enthusiasts, with yet more news relating to how other worlds are now being found by the thousands, and that there may be many habitable planets out there. Now there’s already another discovery being announced of three more planets almost the same size as Earth, all orbiting a nearby star.
I’ve been working on updating the blog a bit more again, including a better layout for phones and tablets. Special thanks to Kees Veenenbos for the use of his amazing (and well-known) space artwork; one of his Mars images is currently the new header image.
This is an update to a previous post.
There is a report about Mars which has been getting a lot of attention the past few weeks (in addition to the methane and organics found): that the Curiosity rover may have found evidence for ancient microbial life itself. Specifically, microbial mats, which are common on Earth; the report comes from noted geobiologist Nora Noffke, who has been studying images sent back by the rover since it landed in 2012.
Even after problems threatened to end the Kepler space telescope’s mission for good last year, the planet-hunting observatory has continued to help astronomers discover thousands of exoplanets orbiting other stars, including ones that are potentially habitable. As reported yesterday at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting, Kepler has now confirmed just over 1,000 exoplanets, with thousands more awaiting confirmation. A growing number are also potentially habitable, at least by Earthly standards.
When it comes to exoplanets, the most exciting for many people are, of course, the ones which may be the most Earth-like, since these are regarded as the most likely to possibly support some form of life. Now, two new findings announced today will help astronomers to find these worlds and narrow down the best places to search for evidence of life in other solar systems.