New NASA Tech Provides Advanced Warning Of Deadly Solar Storms

NASA scientists have discovered a new method to detect dangerous incoming solar storms tens of minutes before they strike the planet giving humanity extra time to seek protection. Our sun periodically erupts in dangerous storms, which take the form of solar flares and eruptions of plasma known as coronal mass ejections. These powerful storms send fast-moving solar energetic particles (SEPs) toward Earth, and while the planet’s magnetic field protects people on the surface, astronauts in space remain exposed, according to NASA scientist Chris St. Cyr. “Robotic spacecraft are usually radiation-hardened to protect against these kinds of events. But humans are still susceptible.” This January, in a study published in Space Weather, scientists from NASA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research proved it was possible to detect SEPs tens of minutes earlier than before. Scientists who are paid to watch out for dangerous solar storms and other space weather use a device known as a coronagraph, which blocks out the sun’s light and enables researchers to study the star’s corona, or outer atmosphere. [Image by Solar & Heliospheric Observatory/NASA/Getty Images] Normally, astronomers use space-based coronagraphs because ground based devices can be interrupted by cloud cover, bad weather, and the Earth’s rotation. NASA scientists, however, discovered ground-based coronagraphs can deliver data faster and with a much higher time resolution, according to St. Cyr. “With space-based coronagraphs, we get images back every 20-30 minutes. You’ll see the CME in one frame, and by the time you get the next frame, which contains the information we need to tell how fast it’s moving, the energetic particles have already arrived.” Using a coronagraph called K-Cor, a High Altitude Observatory situated on top of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, NASA scientists were able to predict the arrival of energetic particles up to 45 minutes before they hit Earth. That’s tens of minutes before the solar particles even left the sun’s inner atmosphere. The next step is for scientists to repeat the experiment over and over to prove the method works as a way to speed space weather predictions, and they’re hoping to improve the process even further. [Image by solarseven/iStock] Right now, images from K-Cor are available to the public via the internet 15 minutes after they’re taken. Researchers, however, are installing a more powerful computer that will be able to process the pictures mere seconds after they’re taken and publish them online within a minute or two, study author Joan Burkepile wrote in Space Weather. “The near-real-time availability of the high-cadence K-Cor observations in the low corona leads to an obvious question: ‘Why has no one attempted to use a coronagraph as an early warning device for SEP events?’” The International Space Station sits within the Earth’s magnetosphere so astronauts living there are somewhat protected from the danger, but deep space travelers remain vulnerable. That’s one reason predicting SEPs, which travel at near the speed of light, will be important for space travel and eventual colonization of the solar system. Without the advance warning, astronauts working in space, one day living on the moon, or traveling to Mars would be vulnerable to the dangerous radiation, according to NASA engineer Ruthan Lewis. “The space radiation environment will be a critical consideration for everything in the astronauts’ daily lives…on the journeys between Earth and Mars.” NASA maintains a fleet of spacecraft that constantly stare at the sun so researchers can better understand just what causes solar eruptions, an area of study known as heliophysics. The space agency is also working to develop better methods of shielding space travelers from both the sun’s radiation and that found in deep space. What do you think about NASA’s new method of detecting solar storms? [Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]

Colonizing Mars: NASA Say Magnetic Shield Could Restore Red Planet's Atmosphere

The idea of colonizing Mars has just become more real as NASA have suggested launching a huge magnetic shield in space in order to restore the Red Planet’s atmosphere. This new magnetic shield would be able to protect Mars from fierce solar winds and might also be able to completely transform the Martian environment so that it would no longer be the dry planet it is today and would have liquid water in abundance. When people think of Mars, oftentimes the image that is conjured is one of a barren, rocky planet, similar to Tatooine in Star Wars. However, at one point in time, Mars had a thick atmosphere, which means that there may have been liquid water oceans on the Red Planet coupled with a more comfortable temperature. Scientists now believe that liquid water and a suitable temperature were lost billions of years ago with the collapse of the Red Planet’s magnetic field. Solar wind has only been exacerbating the problem and has helped to contribute to the demise of the atmosphere on Mars. The lower section of Mount Sharp on Mars taken by NASA on August 18, 2012. [Image by Handout/Getty Images] NASA’s solution to colonizing Mars has come through simulations the agency has run, which show that if a magnetic shield was launched and was used in place of Mars’s magnetosphere, which is now gone, this magnetic shield may be able to help the Red Planet get its atmosphere back once again, as Science Alert report. NASA presented their latest findings with regard to launching a magnetic shield in space over Mars at the Planetary Science Vision 2050 Worship which was held last week. They explained what would happen if Mars had a thicker atmosphere and how it could make the Red Planet habitable. “A greatly enhanced Martian atmosphere, in both pressure and temperature, that would be enough to allow significant surface liquid water would also have a number of benefits for science and human exploration in the 2040s and beyond. Much like Earth, an enhanced atmosphere would: allow larger landed mass of equipment to the surface, shield against most cosmic and solar particle radiation, extend the ability for oxygen extraction, and provide ‘open air’ greenhouses to exist for plant production, just to name a few.” NASA proposes terraforming Mars with an artificial magnetic shield at the Martian L1 Lagrange Point https://t.co/4mv39ovzfp pic.twitter.com/GeIGshGXbl — Darshan Shankar (@DShankar) March 5, 2017 NASA went on to say that if all went according to plan, humans might even be able to colonize Mars in the not too distant future. “These new conditions on Mars would allow human explorers and researchers to study the planet in much greater detail and enable a truly profound understanding of the habitability of this planet. If this can be achieved in a lifetime, the colonization of Mars would not be far away.” Near the end of NASA’s paper, they used the term “fanciful” to describe how this new project may appear but point to the fact that current magnetosphere research is already being done so that scientists will be able to better understand how to protect astronauts from cosmic radiation. This same research could also teach scientists about shielding Mars as Jim Green, NASA’s Planetary Science Division Director, says. “It may be feasible that we can get up to these higher field strengths that are necessary to provide that shielding. We need to be able then to also modify that direction of the magnetic field so that it always pushes the solar wind away.” Hale Crater on Mars shows signs of once being formed by water. [Image by NASA/Getty Images] Jim Green also explained that NASA’s vision of launching a magnetic shield in space to restore Mars’s atmosphere wouldn’t be an artificial project when it comes to changing the Red Planet’s climate. Instead, scientists will use physics in order to bring about natural changes in the planet so that it could one day be inhabitable and colonized. Colonizing Mars has been a dream for a long time, so do you think NASA’s latest proposal to launch a magnetic shield in space to restore the Red Planet’s atmosphere will help to make that dream a reality? [Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]

NASA Proposing Giant Magnetic Shield To Make Mars Habitable To Humans

The idea of humans being able to live on Mars, or at least having the means to explore our closest planetary neighbor up close and personal for long stretches, has always been within the realm of science fiction. But a scientist from NASA, along with his fellow researchers, has proposed an idea that could finally make it possible. According to this scientist, we only need to deploy a magnetic shield around Mars to restore its atmosphere and make it habitable to humans. Nasa scientist suggests putting a magnetic shield around Mars to make it habitable https://t.co/ezxvFz8wQF — The Independent (@Independent) March 6, 2017 Speaking at the Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop (which aims to discuss space projects that could be carried out at least starting the year 2050) at the NASA headquarters in Washington, NASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD) Director James Green explained how the organization can carry out the extraordinary plan of launching a “magnetic shield” to a stable orbit between the sun and Mars, shielding the planet from solar winds and radiation. This, in turn, can make it possible for crewed missions to carry out daily explorations of the planet without the risk of radiation exposure and asphyxiation, the Independent reports. Cool! Jim Green: put a magnetic shield at the Sun-Mars L1 point to shield Mars’ atmosphere. Gigantic atmospheric test on Mars. #V2050 pic.twitter.com/4BC20e76dU — Dr. Phil Metzger (@DrPhiltill) March 1, 2017 The magnetic shield would be made of a large dipole powerful enough to generate an artificial magnetic field that would encompass the entire planet. Once the shield is installed and stabilized, Mars can slowly regain its atmosphere, making it habitable for human explorers in a matter of years. “This new research is coming about due to the application of full plasma physics codes and laboratory experiments. In the future it is quite possible that an inflatable structure(s) can generate a magnetic dipole field at a level of perhaps 1 or 2 Tesla (or 10,000 to 20,000 Gauss) as an active shield against the solar wind.” NASA Considers Magnetic Shield to Help Mars Grow Its Atmosphere (Video) https://t.co/ZzjgcPRNko pic.twitter.com/8Cc2g3roAa — Patto Faustiano (@PattoFaustiano) March 6, 2017 The consensus among scientists dictates that Mars once had a magnetic field strong enough to preserve its atmosphere, but it suddenly dissipated roughly 4.2 billion years ago. In the next 500 million years, Mars gradually became colder and more dry, making it incapable of sustaining life. Green and his fellow researchers also claimed that they have made calculations that point to the possibility of restoring 1/7th of Mars’ oceans — the same amount it had lost billions of years ago. If this sounds like a serious proposal on how best to terraform Mars, then these researchers have done an excellent job. “A greatly enhanced Martian atmosphere, in both pressure and temperature, that would be enough to allow significant surface liquid water would also have a number of benefits for science and human exploration in the 2040s and beyond,” said Green. “Much like Earth, an enhanced atmosphere would: allow larger landed mass of equipment to the surface, shield against most cosmic and solar particle radiation, extend the ability for oxygen extraction, and provide “open air” greenhouses to exist for plant production, just to name a few.” Popular Mechanics reports that according to simulation models, a magnetic shield could help Mars reach half the atmospheric pressure of Earth in just a matter of years. With solar winds out of the way, the frozen CO2 at Mars’s polar ice caps would begin to sublimate, or turn into gas, Once the greenhouse effect takes effect on Mars’ thin atmosphere, specifically at the equator, the massive stores of ice under the poles would start to melt and fill the world with liquid water. In another Mars-related research entitled “A Future Mars Environment for Science and Exploration,” the current situation on Mars is detailed as follows. “Today, Mars is an arid and cold world with a very thin atmosphere that has significant frozen and underground water resources. The thin atmosphere both prevents liquid water from residing permanently on its surface and makes it difficult to land missions since it is not thick enough to completely facilitate a soft landing. In its past, under the influence of a significant greenhouse effect, Mars may have had a significant water ocean covering perhaps 30 percent of the northern hemisphere.” [Featured Image by Handout/Getty Images]

Aliens Will Have An Unexpected Look On A Red Dwarf Star's Planet, Scientist Says

Aliens have become a staple in entertainment, taking on various forms that usually have one or more attributes that seem at least somewhat vaguely human, but one Australian scientist has a few ideas on how alien life might appear on red dwarf planets — and it is definitely not what one would expect if one were seeking the familiar. Humans, as a collective, have been “conditioned” to see aliens in a certain way, according to the Daily Star, with Hollywood and science fiction books pushing images of “small green aliens with large, googly eyes.” In addition, there are many forms taking on something somewhat human-like, such is in many science fiction television series. And then there are those more-or-less human-like aliens that inhabit the realm of UFOlogy and alien abduction reports where the extraterrestrials are usually gray (known as “Greys”), white (Nordic types called “Tall Whites”), or reptiles (“Reptilians”). However, Dr. Brian Choo of the School of Biological Sciences at Flinders University in Australia is working on altering that “conditioned” perception of alien life. Choo, working with artist Steven Grice, has created 3D images of alien life — a planet and a creature — that could be logical manifestations of what forms life might actually take on a world that orbited a red dwarf star. On a world that might have limited resources, where the solar winds of a volatile star hold sway (red dwarfs, at least in their younger stage, are a constant source of plasma bursts and radiation particles that can strip planets of their atmospheres over millions of years, according to noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson), the life must adapt to make the most of what is at hand. Dr. Choo sees alien life on a red dwarf star world as amphibian, or having the characteristics of being cold-blooded, vertebrates, and having an aquatic larval stage as well as a terrestrial adult stage. But this amphibian would not resemble an amphibian on Earth, having evolved on a barren planet where its sources of potential food are not plentiful. The body would be protected by a hard, reticulated shell (like a lobster) across its back and rest four legs, a small pair in the back and a larger pair to the fore, the better for digging and holding up a large, hammerhead-shaped head. Its mouth is located on the flattened underside of its head, a position that allows the creature to clamp down on plants and suck up tubers it finds in the soil. Its skin would be transparent, a characteristic to better capture more energy from its star. A habitat like this on an alien world with a red dwarf star could be home to aliens such as the creature envisioned by Dr. Brian Choo. [Image by LVVs/Shutterstock] Labeling it an “odd creature,” Choo says “it grazes on low growing lichen-like vegetation and digs for buried tubers.” Choo further describes the creature: “The low-slung body and armored carapace permit it to forage during the blistering windstorms that scour surface. The paddle-like tail and vestigial fins betray an aquatic larval stage in the cool lakes at the edge of the melting dark-zone glaciers.” The plant would be a hardy survivor similar to a cactus, able to store water for long periods of time. It would also have propeller-enhanced seeds to enable it to soar to other sites for dissemination. “Harsh surface conditions could drive plants underground,” Choo says. “Like mushrooms, most of its anatomy may be out of sight – protected from the winds, heat and radiation. The fleshy body of this ‘plant’ is mostly underground, save for the spectacular rosette of petals that trap moisture and, with the aid of symbiotic microbes, harness sunlight.” A barren world would be an inhospitable place for alien plant life, but life adapted to the conditions, like the plants imagined by Dr. Brian Choo, could survive. [Image by diversepixel/Shutterstock] The seeds, Dr. Choo says, have a unique survival attribute. “While the mature organism is immobile and unthinking,” he says, “its wind-blown seeds possess the limited degree of self-awareness necessary to navigate it to a site suitable for germination.” But will aliens on red dwarf star planets, like the recently discovered worlds of Trappist-1 (which could have as many as four planets in its habitable zone, according to a recent report at the Inquisitr, thus having the potential for at least four worlds where water-dependent life could be sustainable) actually resemble the alien life forms imagined by Dr. Brian Choo? It is difficult to know for certain. However, choosing to believe that aliens will resemble humans or have human-like attributes is a psychological concept known as anthropomorphism. Although there exists a possibility that, if alien life is eventually discovered, it just might be human-like in some as yet unknown way, given the abundance of varying evolutionary paths taken by the myriad forms of life on Earth, it would appear, as Dr. Choo demonstrates, that such life is likely to be rather alien. NASA, the foremost authority on astrobiology, holds the official position that no aliens in any form have as yet been detected or discovered. [Featured Image by Studio Vlad/Shutterstock]

Amazon's Jeff Bezos Wants To Found A Moon Colony

Amazon is the world’s fourth-most valuable company, and founder Jeff Bezos ranks as the fifth-richest person in the world. So what’s left when you and your company reign supreme among the planet’s retailers? Apparently, the answer is to take your business off Earth. According to a report from TechCrunch, Bezos wants his space flight venture Blue Origin to supply goods, equipment, and eventually people to a hypothetical moon colony, and he wants to get started by 2020. Blue Origin was founded way back in 2000, and began test flights in 2015, reaching space with their second test flight and managing a full recovery-and-reuse flight in early 2016 – rather a better record than rival venture SpaceX, which, as per The Guardian, made headlines worldwide with a very public failure to achieve liftoff in September, 2016, blowing up their rocket only 4 feet off the launchpad. SpaceX rockets actually have a 93% success rate, but their public failures have hurt their image. [Image by NASA via Getty Images] Bezos and Blue Origin have plans to start manned test flights this year, with tourist flights (if all goes well) in 2018. But Bezos has his sights set on bigger things, as revealed by a confidential seven-page white paper sent both to NASA and the Trump administration, regarding Blue Origin’s plans to develop a lunar lander able to drop cargo on the moon and return to Earth. Bezos wants flights to start by mid-2020, and the letter urges officials to make plans to establish a “permanently inhabited lunar settlement.” It’s a bold move, trying to bring NASA and an administration which seems dedicated to sweeping cuts on board with establishing a permanent American presence on the moon. NASA hasn’t sent a shuttle into space since 2011, and the Trump administration recently revealed plans to practically eliminate the NOAA’s satellite budget in favor of an expanded military, alongside other government and research cuts. Bezos is seeking a commitment both in funding and expertise from NASA, although he plans to invest his own funds alongside them. In spite of the current outlook for American research and space travel, Bezos is adamant. “It is time for America to return to the Moon — this time to stay,” he told The Washington Post (which he also owns) after the letter, marked “proprietary and confidential,” was leaked to the press. It urges the space agency and the government to back an Amazon-like shipment service to the moon. “A permanently inhabited lunar settlement is a difficult and worthy objective. I sense a lot of people are excited about this.” The plan is to land a spacecraft at the moon’s south pole, where there is a constant source of light for solar panels and nearby water ice which can be used both for drinking water and in the creation of rocket fuel. The design would allow for shipments of up to 10,000 pounds at a time, and is intended to be compatible with NASA’s existing launch craft, Boeing/Lockheed Martin’s United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, and Blue Origin’s own New Glenn rocket, still in development. While the moon’s surface is certainly inhospitable, the lack of atmosphere (Mars does have an atmosphere) actually makes many aspects of a landing and subsequent return easier. [Image by NASA/Newsmakers] Bezos, Blue Origin, and NASA itself anticipate that, unlike the Obama administration, the Trump administration will make returning to the moon a focus. Many have suggested that establishing a permanent moon base will have serious military implications, making it an attractive target for Trump’s intent to enhance American military capability. Obama rejected plans for a return to the moon in 2010, saying “we’ve been there before,” shortly before NASA’s shuttle program was suspended. But their counter-proposal for a manned mission to Mars never came close to fruition, and critics quickly became frustrated that NASA hasn’t been able to take humans further than low Earth orbit in four decades. A moon shot isn’t at all unfeasible, and could revitalize public interest in manned space exploration. In light of that, NASA has stepped up plans to resume manned space flights, aiming for a manned mission in 2019. Bezos, and other companies, want to be there to meet them. “Blue Moon is all about cost-effective delivery of mass to the surface of the Moon. Any credible first lunar settlement will require that capability.” [Featured Image by NASA via Getty Images]

NASA’s MAVEN Spacecraft Narrowly Avoids Collision With Martian Moon Phobos

It was a close call indeed earlier this week, as NASA’s MAVEN orbiter had maneuvered out of the path of the Martian moon Phobos. This small correction helped the spacecraft avoid a collision that would have been due to take place today. According to an official press release from NASA, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft is closing in on its third year orbiting Mars, as it studies the planet’s atmosphere, ionosphere, and how it interacts with the sun and its solar winds. This week’s collision avoidance maneuver marked the first time in that near-three-year span that NASA had to make adjustments to ensure MAVEN misses the crater-filled Martian moon. Phobos, according to a 2016 report from Space.com, orbits just about 4,200 miles above Mars, making it extremely close to its host planet. (Other reports estimate the moon as being about 3,700 miles above.) The Space.com report described the satellite as a “doomed” moon, as it has been drawing closer to Mars over the past several centuries, and is destined to break up or get sucked into the Red Planet’s surface. The moon was first believed to exist early in the 17th century by famed astronomer Johannes Kepler, who theorized that Mars may have two moons due the fact it is located between Earth and Jupiter, which have one and four satellites respectively. But it was only in 1877 when American astronomer Asaph Hall confirmed Phobos’ existence, doing so just six days after he discovered Deimos. Mars has 2 moons:
Phobos and Diemos pic.twitter.com/0oBA7wCAPW — Learn to Skywatch (@Learntoskywatch) March 5, 2017 On February 28, the MAVEN spacecraft performed a “minor rocket burn,” which, according to Spaceflight Now, lowered its speed by less than one mile per hour. That tiny decrease in speed allowed MAVEN to avoid colliding with Phobos, with the craft now expected to miss the moon by about two and a half minutes. MAVEN, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission, and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express all make elliptical paths and frequently cross paths with other probes, as well as Phobos itself. Considering this, as well as the peculiar size and shape of the Martian moon Phobos, NASA said that there was a good chance that MAVEN would collide with Phobos on Monday, March 6. Both the spacecraft and the moon were expected to be about seven seconds within each other, had they reached their orbit crossing point. In a prepared statement, MAVEN principal investigator Bruce Jakosky expressed his pleasure in how NASA and its Jet Propulsion Lab in particular had acted quickly and accurately when conducting the collision avoidance maneuver. “Kudos to the JPL navigation and tracking teams for watching out for possible collisions every day of the year, and to the MAVEN spacecraft team for carrying out the maneuver flawlessly.” [Image by NASA/ESA/Getty Images] NASA’s collision avoidance framework was first announced in 2015, and is known as the Multi-Mission Automated Deep Space Conjunction Assessment Process. This formal framework is facilitated by JPL scientists, who notify spacecraft operators about potential collisions and close encounters. The agency also has its Deep Space Network, which is a group of antennas located in various parts of the world – California, Spain, and Australia – that provides tracking services to orbiters from multiple space agencies, including NASA itself and ESA. In a meeting held on February 22, JPL Mars exploration director Fuk Li underscored the need of proper tracking and communications systems, as there are seven more spacecraft on track to arrive at Mars by 2021, joining the active fleet of eight spacecraft as of the present. “All these missions, potentially, will also require very detailed tracking in order to do the precision navigation to make sure they are entering orbit the right way. The month of February (2021), and a few weeks before that, will be extremely hectic, but we look forward to such things because of the science that will come after that.” With the growing importance of the above systems and the fact that MAVEN had had such a close call with the Martian moon, it’s safe to say that this week’s maneuver may be followed by more in the future. [Featured Image by NASA]

Near-Miss Asteroid Breaches Earth's Ring Of Satellites Six Hours After Discovery

A previously undetected asteroid passed by Earth on Thursday, hurtling through the ring of satellites that encircle the planet and traveling onward, according to NASA. The space agency said that the asteroid, designated 2017 EA, had been detected only six hours before it whizzed past the planet. Fortunately (“luckily” was how the Daily Mail phrased it) for Earth and its 7.4 billion people, the asteroid was estimated to be only about ten feet wide, which, given what is known about prior asteroid/meteor impactors, would have done relatively minor damage had it survived somewhat intact after entry through the Earth’s atmosphere. But it is just that near-miss fly-by that gives experts pause when considering what a space rock just five to ten times the size of 2017 EA could do to the Earth if its path were a bit more direct. Not that anything could have been done with just six hours notice of its arrival. It is a scenario NASA scientists (and scientists around the world) have confronted for some time, one where NASA scientist Joseph Nuth bluntly told colleagues in San Francisco in December (per The Inquisitr), “The biggest problem, basically, is there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it at the moment.” He was bemoaning the fact that Earth had inadequate defenses to mitigate the approach of what he referred to as a “dinosaur killer” asteroid (one large enough to alter life on Earth), for which the planet was somewhat overdue. Latest small asteroid near miss only underscores the problem of the Earth having no detection/deflection system. The asteroid was discovered only six hours before its fly-by. [Image by Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock] Nuth noted in his presentation at a conference designed to address potential detection and deflection defensive methods that there exists nothing in place worldwide that could realistically be used to protect Earth unless given several years to mount the mitigation strategy. The scientist said that at present design-to-launch vehicles take an average of five years to reach actualization. Asteroids reaching the dimensions of at least 35 meters (115 feet) in diameter are considered large enough to destroy a city on direct impact, but there is nothing to nudge or deflect such an asteroid from its course, nor is there anything ready to destroy it. As noted, 2017 EA soared just 9,000 miles (14,500 kilometers) above the eastern Pacific Ocean, according to NASA. It reached its nearest point at 6:04 a.m. PST on Thursday morning. The space rock was detected by Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona, which is funded by NASA, only just six hours prior to its closest approach, according to the space agency’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies. As the Daily Mail pointed out, the Earth has been buzzed by four other asteroids already this year, all coming within 165,000 miles of hitting the planet. The closest of the four, Asteroid 2017 BH30, came within 32,200 miles (51,820 kilometers) of Earth on January 30, according to Space.com. It was 19 feet in diameter, roughly the size of a pick-up truck, and had been detected only hours before it flew by. Another, 2017 AG13, passed at its closest approach at 126,461 miles (203,520 kilometers) was as large as a ten-story building, large enough to fit the city-killer description should an asteroid of its size actually impacts the Earth. It passed by on January 8, having been discovered just two days prior to its passage by the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona. 2017 EA, the latest and nearest approaching near-miss asteroid, quickly passed into the daytime sky shortly after its closest approach and then out of sight of ground-based telescopes. The ten-foot object was detected by a number of observatories before entering Earth’s shadow. Astronomers say its orbit has now been plotted “quite accurately.” But the smaller asteroids, though giving everyone pause for thought, are not the objects that worry the scientists. At least not until they get to city-killer size (at least 35 meters, 115 feet in diameter). Only 30 percent of the Potentially Hazardous Objects (asteroids and comets over 100 meters in diameter) have been detected thus far, NASA estimates. [Image by Igor Zh./Shutterstock] Experts designate an asteroid or comet a Potentially Hazardous Object (PHO) if it is at least 100 meters (330 feet) wide. These objects are are of a size that could potentially do regional devastation should they impact the planet. NASA estimates that only 30 percent of these massive space rocks or comets have been discovered. But even though scientists discuss the the need for asteroid defense systems and various ways to mitigate an incoming asteroid approach path, when such a system will be in place to at least have a chance at protecting the planet from a potential impact is unknown. [Featured Image by MarcelClemens/Shutterstock]

Alien Life Upgrade: Research Suggests Fourth Planet In Trappist-1 Habitable Zone

The red dwarf star Trappist-1 that shot to fame just last week because NASA had discovered that it was the parent star of at least seven planets, all Earth-sized with three in the habitable zone, may have already received an upgrade to the number of planets circling the star that could have the potential for sustaining alien life. New research indicates that volcanism and and the warming of a planet’s atmosphere could extend a star’s habitable zone as much as 60 percent. Astronomers at Cornell University have found, the Daily Mail reported, that the planets displaying active volcanoes on more distant, frozen worlds could improve the chances of detecting alien life by extending the perimeter of a star’s habitable zone, that area within a star system where liquid water can form, by as much as two-thirds what was originally believed. The scientists found that volcanism and the warming of a planet’s atmosphere could produce conditions where alien life might evolve, thus generating biosignatures for which astronomers and astrobiologists search. “On frozen planets, any potential life would be buried under layers of ice, which would make it really hard to spot with telescopes,” Ramses Ramirez, research associate at Cornell’s Carl Sagan Institute and lead author of the study, said. “But if the surface is warm enough, thanks to volcanic hydrogen and atmospheric warming – you could have life on the surface, generating a slew of detectable signatures.” The study found that the greenhouse gases — like hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide — generated by a planet’s volcanism could extend a star’s habitable zone from 30 to 60 percent. The new findings not only expanded the potential number of habitable exoplanets throughout the universe, it did so for our own Solar System. And that expansion, of course, only expands the potential for discovering alien life. The Daily Mail notes that the habitable zone in our own Solar System, by the older calculations, extends to just beyond the orbit of Mars, or 1.67 astronomical units (one astronomical unit, an AU, is equal to the distance from the Sun to the Earth). With the revised calculations, the zone then extends to the Asteroid Belt (2.4 AU), which is located between Mars and Jupiter. “We just increased the width of the habitable zone by about half, adding a lot more planets to our ‘search here’ target list,” said Ramirez. The extension is achieved, according to the research, when volcanism on an exoplanet produces hydrogen in enough amounts to add to the warming effect for the otherwise icy world. Ramirez explained: “Adding hydrogen to the air of an exoplanet is a good thing if you’re an astronomer trying to observe potential life from a telescope or a space mission. It increases your signal, making it easier to spot the makeup of the atmosphere as compared to planets without hydrogen.” Earth-like exoplanets can only hold their hydrogen for only a few million years, the researchers say, but active volcanoes putting hydrogen back into the atmosphere of a planet could alter the dissipation. Subsequent hydrogen increases in the planet’s atmosphere make it easier for astronomers to detect what could be a potential biosignature. “Where we thought you would only find icy wastelands, planets can be nice and warm– as long as volcanoes are in view,” said Lisa Kaltenegger, Cornell professor of astronomy and director of the Carl Sagan Institute. Volcanism and warming atmospheres on frozen planets could increase a star system’s habitable zone by up to 60 percent. [Image by Jagoush/Shutterstock] Given the new findings, an extension of the habitable zone of the newly discovered Trappist-1 planets could extend outward to possibly include a fourth planet in the system. At present, as NASA announced last week, there are three planets in the habitable zone of the red dwarf star. Kaltenegger noted that the discovery of multiple worlds in the habitable zone “is a great discovery because it means that there can be even more potentially habitable planets per star than we thought. Finding more rocky planets in the habitable zone — per star — increases our odds of finding life. Although uncertainties with the orbit of the outermost Trappist-1 planet ‘h’ means that we’ll have to wait and see on that one.” Research indicates that the habitable zone of planets can increase substantially due to a planet’s volcanism and whether or not its atmosphere is warmed via greenhouse gases. This indicates that the number of planets in newly discovered Trappist-1’s habitable zone might be four instead of three, as has been announced. [Image by NASA Images/Shutterstock] As good as the news is for those searching for alien life, another scientist from Cornell University, noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, stated that there was some bad news that leavens the excitement and could potentially adversely impact whether or not alien life could survive on not only the three (now perhaps four) exoplanets but all seven. As reported by The Inquisitr, Tyson explained that young red dwarf stars like Trappist-1 were extremely volatile and its discharge of solar wind particles (every two hours, according to NASA) very well could have destroyed any atmospheres on any and all of the planets in its system, making the planets less likely to host alien life. Still, increasing the odds of habitability increases the odds of eventually discovering alien life. Tyson suggested that the discovery of the seven Earth-sized worlds gave rise to notion that the number of exoplanets might exceed the number of stars. And as Tyson said after delivering the disappointing news (and admitting that there was still a chance life might be found on a Trappist-1 planet), scientists should also be expanding the search parameters on alien life, asking themselves “how many possible ways exist for being alive.” [Featured Image by ustas7777777/Shutterstock]

The 7 Earth-Sized Exoplanets Around Trappist-1? Neil deGrasse Tyson Has Bad News

NASA had everyone excited when they announced the discovery of a planetary system with seven Earth-sized planets around the star Trappist-1 last week, but noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has some bad news for the alien hunters out there. He says that Trappist-1, being a red dwarf, just might have blasted its train of worlds with its plasma and electromagnetic particles to the point of being uninhabitable. Neil deGrasse Tyson, in speaking with TMZ via video chat, told the celebrity news outlet that although the discovery of the seven planets was great news, there was a “problem they did not tell you in the headlines” about the newly discovered exoplanets. “Because the star is a dwarf — it’s small — it’s still generating energy and the like, but it’s not as hot as the Sun is. Red dwarf stars a hugely turbulent on their surface and they are spewing forth plasma particles at high speeds. Tyson went to say that scientists do calculations of the “spewing,” which is known as solar winds in the Solar System. “This can ablate [process of removal through melting, vaporization, erosion, etc.]” — Tyson accompanies this explanation with a sweeping away motion of his hands — “a planet’s atmosphere, and so it is likely that any atmosphere these seven planets had have been completely stripped from them billions of years ago.” Still, the scientist told TMZ that there was still a possibility that life might exist on the Trappist-1 planets. Early excitement over the discovery of the planet, Proxima b, around the nearest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri, produced all sorts of speculation on whether or not there was a chance the planet might be habitable, what manner of alien life might thrive there, how long it might take to get there and how long it might take to detect and/or confirm the presence of life. But Proxima b also orbits a red dwarf star, which fires off, according to NASA, “torrents of X-ray and extreme ultraviolet radiation from superflares occurring roughly every two hours.” Its close proximity to its parent star (0.05 AU, where 1.0 AU — Astronomical Unit — would equal the distance between the Sun and the Earth) and the red dwarf’s age, along with the two-hour bombardments, suggest that life on Proxima b, at least as we understand it, could not survive. Scientists now believe the exoplanet orbiting Proxima Centauri, Proxima b, is waterless and possibly devoid of life. [Image by By ESO/M. Kornmesser/CC BY 4.0/Wikimedia Commons] Scientists from NASA concluded (per Wired) that the harsh X-ray and ultraviolet radiation slamming into the planet would dissipate any atmosphere like Earth’s and any oxygen in Planet b’s atmosphere would dissipate within 10 million years. That lack of oxygen would also contribute to the planet not having liquid water on its surface. The work of the NASA scientists, which was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters in early February, found that planets orbiting young red dwarfs would likely suffer similar fates. Which is more bad news for future astronomical discoveries around red dwarf stars… The volatility of young red dwarf stars leads scientists to believe that any planets in their systems would possibly by devoid of oxygen, making the planet incapable of holding liquid water. [Image by Jurik Peter/Shutterstock] But Neil deGrasse Tyson was upbeat about future discoveries. He told TMZ that the discovery of seven exoplanets revolving around Trappist-1 gave scientists “confidence that there may be more planets than stars in the galaxy.” And even though the chances of finding life on a Trappist-1 world, where new research suggests that the number of planets orbiting in the star’s habitable zone could be upgraded from three to four, might be exceeding slim to none, Tyson did leave alien hunters with the consolation of knowing that alien life, when (if?) eventually discovered, might not fit into the biological parameters that necessitate life on Earth. “So how many possible ways exist for being alive comes the next question we should all be asking,” he said. Which then reopens the door to the possibility of alien life on a Trappist-1 planet. Very alien life, as it were, but life. And so the search for alien life continues… [Featured Image by manjik/Shutterstock]

Elon Musk And SpaceX To Send Two Space Tourists To Orbit Moon In 2018

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, announced today that his ambitious and lofty space travel company is planning a trip around the moon next year. However, Musk isn’t sending NASA astronauts – or any astronauts – on the “mission,” rather he’s arranging a space tourism trip for two private customers. The unnamed SpaceX clients have, according to Elon Musk, already paid a “significant deposit” for their trip around the moon, and are reportedly incredibly serious about orbiting the Earth’s natural satellite next year. Fly me to the moon … Okhttps://t.co/6QT8m5SHwn — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 27, 2017 Musk used the SpaceX website to make the official announcement about the proposed lunar trip, and the first private space tourists are expected to take their roughly week-long trip around the moon in the SpaceX Crew Dragon (Dragon Version 2) spacecraft. Most funding for the development of the SpaceX passenger spacecraft has come from NASA and the organization’s Commercial Crew Program, and Musk thanked the agency for their support, adding that the impending new stage in space exploration and tourism “wouldn’t be possible” NASA support. As The Verge reports, the private citizens reportedly approached Elon Musk and SpaceX in order to have their dream of traveling to the moon’s orbit – and beyond – facilitated. The initial plans for the moon visit are lofty indeed, with Musk describing a tour that would “skim” the lunar surface, then extend beyond the moon before looping back to return to Earth. In all, the entire trip is expected to cover and impressive 300,000 to 400,000 miles. The current plan is to conduct the private moon mission near the end of 2018, however the two proposed participants (who are reportedly already acquainted with one another) will soon begin health and fitness tests to ensure their physical capability of enduring space travel. The pair who have chosen Elon Musk and SpaceX to fulfill their dreams for a trip to the moon will also require substantial specialized training between now and their launch date. Despite the fact that Elon Musk and SpaceX only announced their plans for a private moon mission just today, some critics are already taking issue with the proposed endeavor. After all, the Crew Dragon spacecraft has yet to complete a successful launch; that test isn’t even scheduled until later this year. And SpaceX has faced some highly-publicized and even catastrophic rocket failures in the past. The Crew Dragon is slated to pair with the Falcon Heavy rocket by SpaceX. Additionally, Elon Musk has a history of putting the cart ahead of the horse to a certain degree, and has failed to meet his deadlines in the past. For example, Musk vowed in 2011 to have people in space within three years, something that never materialized. SpaceX to fly two paying customers on tourist trip around the moon in 2018, Elon Musk reveals https://t.co/QlxVkDBLvE pic.twitter.com/mhlZxP6T3b — Mirror Tech (@MirrorTech) February 27, 2017 Musk has long-touted private space trips and tourism as “significant drivers of revenue” tso help fund future advanced rocket and space travel technology. Neither Elon Musk nor SpaceX have divulged how much their first lunar visitors have shelled out (or will shell out) for their trip arund the moon. However, Musk described the cost as “comparable” to that of a crewed mission to the ISS. According to Elon, the Crew Dragon spacecraft has been designed from the concept stage to be manned, and to transport humans to the moon and possibly beyond. However, the first tests of the spacecraft later this year will be unmanned. In a real-world situation, the Crew Dragon is reportedly designed to be flown automatically, and that is how it is intended to function throughout the majority of the planned 2018 trip around the moon. However, Musk says that if needed the passengers will be able to intervene with the operation of the SpaceX craft, although Musk claims that “the success rate is quite high” for the as-yet untested vehicle. @WSJ Can it also drop people off? I can think of a few folks I’d like to buy one-way tickets. — Suburban Chicken (@SuburbanChicken) February 28, 2017 Elon Musk says SpaceX will send two people around the moon next year. In related news, my TIE Fighter has a new target to practice on — Darth Vader (@DepressedDarth) February 28, 2017 @katelunau @Bryson_M think they could take @realDonaldTrump too? — Kim Anderson (@K_AndersonSays) February 27, 2017 @USATODAY I think I know the two tourists #America would like to vote for & probably start a gofundme to pay ???? #TrumpInSpace — 305 Pirate ☮????☠ (@305Pirate) February 27, 2017 Elon Musk further announced in his Monday statement that he believes that next year’s planned trip around the moon could be the first of many, possibly as many as one or two a year in the immediate future, which could generate up to 20 percent of SpaceX revenue once the project gets off the ground. Despite his lofty plans and boasts of a high success rate, Elon Musk admits that space travel is inherently dangerous. What’s more, no government safety regulations exists for private space travel and tourism. The Congress passed the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act in 2004, and it has been extended to 2023; the act allows for an unregulated “learning period” for private sector space exploration companies. According to the FAA, this may put the public at risk, and the agency has expressed interest in controlling and regulating private space travel when it expires. “Next year is going to be the big year for carrying people. This should be a really exciting mission that hopefully gets the world really exciting about sending people into deep space again.” SpaceX plans to fly two private citizens around the moon by late next year: Elon Musk https://t.co/YFb7mecdKe pic.twitter.com/uZyV8vc9HU — National Post (@nationalpost) February 27, 2017 According to Musk and SpaceX, the space tourists paying for a trip around the moon are aware of and have accepted the risks of their proposed, historic flight. “[These paying customers] are entering this with their eyes open, knowing that there is some risk here. We’re doing everything we can to minimize that risk but it’s not zero.” Government officials from the Government Accountability Office have also recently reported that the SpaceX vehicles involved in the proposed 2018 trip around the moon may not receive their official certifications until 2019, which casts some doubt on Elon Musk’s ability to send two private citizens to the moon and back in 2018. For his part, Musk claims SpaceX will be up to the task in the time-frame proposed. Provided Dragon 2 demo missions go well, SpaceX is highly confident of being able to fly US astronauts in 2018 https://t.co/usUto6QSi7 — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 18, 2017 What are your thoughts regarding the plan to send private space tourists on a trip around the moon next year? Do you think Elon Musk and SpaceX can pull it off on the timeline they are promising, or is this going to be another instance of broken space travel promises? [Featured Image by Refugio Ruiz/AP Images]