Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – A bumper crop of Earth-size planets huddled around an ultra-cool, red dwarf star could be little more than chunks of rock blasted by radiation, or cloud-covered worlds as broiling hot as Venus.
Or they could harbor exotic lifeforms, thriving under skies of ruddy twilight.
Scientists are pondering the possibilities after this week’s announcement: the discovery of seven worlds orbiting a small, cool star some 40 light-years away, all of them in the ballpark of our home planet in terms of their heft (mass) and size (diameter). Three of the planets reside in the “habitable zone” around their star, TRAPPIST-1, where calculations suggest that conditions might be right for liquid water to exist on their surfaces—though follow-up observations are needed to be sure.
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.
The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water — key to life as we know it — under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.
Written by Guy Webster
Pasadena, CA – Mars scientists are wrestling with a problem. Ample evidence says ancient Mars was sometimes wet, with water flowing and pooling on the planet’s surface. Yet, the ancient sun was about one-third less warm and climate modelers struggle to produce scenarios that get the surface of Mars warm enough for keeping water unfrozen.
A leading theory is to have a thicker carbon-dioxide atmosphere forming a greenhouse-gas blanket, helping to warm the surface of ancient Mars. However, according to a new analysis of data from NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, Mars had far too little carbon dioxide about 3.5 billion years ago to provide enough greenhouse-effect warming to thaw water ice.
Written by Eric Gillard
Hampton, VA – Brooke Thornton has devoted eight years to a project that aims to check on the atmospheric health of the Earth. Needless to say, when NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III on the International Space Station (SAGE III on ISS) launches, she’ll be among the many cheering and working for its success in space.
“After seeing SAGE III mature from concept, to development, to assembly and testing, and preparing for mission ops … I’m excited to see it launch so we get the science we have worked so hard for,” she said.
Written by Alan Buis
Pasadena, CA – A new study of the first year of observational data from NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission is providing significant surprises that will help in modeling Earth’s climate, forecasting our weather and monitoring agricultural crop growth.
The findings are presented in a paper published recently in the journal Nature Geosciences by scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge; and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. They used SMAP measurements to estimate soil moisture memory in the top 2 inches (5 centimeters) of Earth’s topsoils.
NASA’s Ames Research Center
Moffett Field, CA – New observations show that Ceres, the largest body in the asteroid belt, does not appear to have the carbon-rich surface composition that space- and ground-based telescopes previously indicated.
Using data primarily from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, a team of astronomers has detected the presence of substantial amounts of material on the surface of Ceres that appear to be fragments of other asteroids containing mostly rocky silicates.
Written by Steve Cole
Washington, D.C. – NASA has selected a first-of-its-kind Earth science mission that will extend our nation’s lead in measuring key greenhouse gases and vegetation health from space to advance our understanding of Earth’s natural exchanges of carbon among the land, atmosphere and ocean.
The primary goals of the Geostationary Carbon Cycle Observatory (GeoCARB), led by Berrien Moore of the University of Oklahoma in Norman, are to monitor plant health and vegetation stress throughout the Americas, and to probe, in unprecedented detail, the natural sources, sinks and exchange processes that control carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane in the atmosphere.
Written by Bob Jacobs / Allard Beutel
Washington, D.C. – In 2016, NASA drove advances in technology, science, aeronautics and space exploration that enhanced the world’s knowledge, innovation, and stewardship of Earth.
“This past year marked record-breaking progress in our exploration objectives,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “We advanced the capabilities we’ll need to travel farther into the solar system while increasing observations of our home and the universe, learning more about how to continuously live and work in space, and, of course, inspiring the next generation of leaders to take up our Journey to Mars and make their own discoveries.”
Written by Preston Dyches
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has sent to Earth its first views of Saturn’s atmosphere since beginning the latest phase of its mission. The new images show scenes from high above Saturn’s northern hemisphere, including the planet’s intriguing hexagon-shaped jet stream.
Cassini began its new mission phase, called its Ring-Grazing Orbits, on November 30th. Each of these weeklong orbits — 20 in all — carries the spacecraft high above Saturn’s northern hemisphere before sending it skimming past the outer edges of the planet’s main rings.
Written by Preston Dyches
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft has made its first close dive past the outer edges of Saturn’s rings since beginning its penultimate mission phase on November 30th.
Cassini crossed through the plane of Saturn’s rings on December 4th at 5:09am PST (8:09am EST) at a distance of approximately 57,000 miles (91,000 kilometers) above Saturn’s cloud tops. This is the approximate location of a faint, dusty ring produced by the planet’s small moons Janus and Epimetheus, and just 6,800 miles (11,000 kilometers) from the center of Saturn’s F ring.
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