Astronomers find first evidence of possible volcanic activity on a super-Earth exoplanet

Artist’s conception of super-Earth exoplanet 55 Cancri e, before and after volcanic activity on its day side. The surface may be partially molten. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt
Artist’s conception of super-Earth exoplanet 55 Cancri e, before and after volcanic activity on its day side. The surface may be partially molten. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt

Discovering new exoplanets has become rather routine in the last few years, but determining just what conditions exist on any of them is naturally more difficult, since they are so far away. But astronomers are making advances in this area as well, and now they have found the first evidence of changing temperatures – and possible volcanic activity – on a distant super-Earth exoplanet.

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Discovery of salty aquifer beneath Antarctica may have implications for life on Mars

The SkyTEM sensor suspended beneath a helicopter over Blood Falls and the Taylor Glacier in Antarctica. Photo Credit: L. Jansan
The SkyTEM sensor suspended beneath a helicopter over Blood Falls and the Taylor Glacier in Antarctica. Photo Credit: L. Jansan

Scientists have discovered a vast network of salty aquifers beneath the surface of Antarctica, thanks to an airborne imaging system used there for the first time. The finding may have interesting implications for the search for life elsewhere, such as Mars, since it is known that, at least on Earth, a large variety of microscopic life forms can thrive in those kinds of environments.

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New NASA NExSS coalition to lead search for life on distant exoplanets

NASA’s NExSS collaboration will bring together scientists from diverse backgrounds to help search for evidence of life in other Solar Systems. Image Credit: NASA
NASA’s NExSS collaboration will bring together scientists from diverse backgrounds to help search for evidence of life in other Solar Systems. Image Credit: NASA

The search for, and discovery of, exoplanets orbiting other stars has become a full-fledged endeavour in recent years, with thousands found so far and more being discovered practically every week. Now, NASA wants to take it a big step further by establishing a coalition of research groups and disciplines tasked specifically with this purpose.

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Just add water: scientists explain Saturn’s powerful thunderstorms

A giant storm in Saturn’s northern hemisphere, which now extends around the planet, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
A giant storm in Saturn’s northern hemisphere, which now extends around the planet, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Thunderstorms are a powerful force of nature, but the ones we experience on Earth are dwarfed by the ones on the gas giant planet Saturn. They are huge and can be larger than Earth itself, and now scientists think they know why they tend to appear most prominently every 20-30 years, encircling the entire planet with intense lightning and massive cloud disturbances.

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‘Old Earths': the search for ancient and habitable (but dying) exoplanets

Illustration depicting the life cycle of Sun-like stars. Billions of years from now, our own Sun will expand into a red giant star, scorching any life that exists. Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser
Illustration depicting the life cycle of Sun-like stars. Billions of years from now, our own Sun will expand into a red giant star, scorching any life that exists. Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Researchers at Cornell University are taking a new approach to the search for alien life: looking for habitable planets older than Earth, “old Earth analogues,” which may be nearing the end of their habitable lifetimes. Astronomers would search for biosignatures from worlds much older than Earth, where lifeforms are dying off due to circumstances such as the planet’s star expanding in its old age, gradually heating the planet to a point where life is no longer possible.

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Curiosity rover finds more evidence for possible liquid water brines on Mars

The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on the Curiosity rover, used to make the brine calculations. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on the Curiosity rover, used to make the brine calculations. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The search for liquid water on Mars is one that has been on-going for decades. It can’t exist for long on the surface, as it will quickly sublimate into the cold, thin atmosphere. Aquifers deep below the surface are still possible, but there is also another tantalizing possibility which scientists have been considering: brines. Such salty liquid water could theoretically last a bit longer on the surface or in the near-subsurface, and now the Curiosity rover has provided more evidence that this may indeed be happening at its location in Gale Crater, as well as elsewhere.

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Image Gallery: first colour photo of Pluto from New Horizons

The first colour photo of Pluto and its largest moon Charon taken by New Horizons. Photo Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
The first colour photo of Pluto and its largest moon Charon taken by New Horizons on April 9, 2015. The spacecraft will make its closest approach on July 14, 2015. Photo Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

This is the first colour photo of the dwarf planet Pluto and its largest moon Charon taken by the New Horizons spacecraft. It was taken on April 9, 2015, from a distance of about 71 million 115 million kilometers (71 million miles).

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Buried glaciers have enough ice to cover entire surface of Mars, according to new study

Image of dust-covered glaciers on Mars from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express. The glaciers are composed of water ice. Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin
Image of dust-covered glaciers on Mars from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express. The glaciers are composed of water ice. Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

When the topic of ice on Mars comes up, the first thing that usually comes to mind are the polar ice caps which are prominent even in small telescopes. There is, however, ice elsewhere on the planet as well, such as beneath the surface in the mid-latitudes, covered by dust. Now, a new study has revealed the extent of these subsurface glaciers and the amount of frozen water they contain.

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