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Saturn Moon Has Oxygen Atmosphere

An oxygen atmosphere has been found on Saturn's second largest moon, Rhea, astronomers announced Thursday—but don't hold your breath for colonization opportunities. For one thing, the 932-mile-wide (1,500-kilometer-wide), ice-covered moon is more than 932 million miles (1.5 billion kilometers) from Earth. For another, the average surface temperature is -292 degrees Fahrenheit (-180 degrees Celsius). And at less than 62 miles (100 kilometers) thick, the newfound oxygen layer is so thin that, at Earthlike temperatures and pressure, Rhea's entire atmosphere would fit in a single midsize building. Still, the discovery implies that worlds with oxygen-filled air may not be so unusual in the cosmos. At about 327,000 miles (527,000 kilometers) from Saturn, Rhea orbits inside the planet's magnetic field. The Hubble Space Telescope and NASA's Galileo probe found in 1995 that a similar process creates tenuous oxygen atmospheres on Jupiter's ice moons Europa and Ganymede. Related:  spaceMoons of Saturn

Solar Breeze On August 25, 1997, NASA launched the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite on a mission to monitor energetic ions coming from the Sun, as well as higher energy particles (cosmic rays) thought to be arriving from intergalactic space. ACE is in orbit around the L1 LaGrange point approximately 1,500,000 kilometers from Earth and will remain there until 2024. Scientists hope that data from the spacecraft's onboard sensors will help them understand how the Solar System formed, including how the solar magnetic field moderates incoming high-speed ions. Several research groups have been investigating a possible link between our climate and cosmic rays. During periods of high activity, energetic pulses on the Sun eject charged particles in the billions of tons. Although the Sun is in a relatively quiescent state with few sunspots visible, it occasionally erupts with solar flares that can reach incredible velocities. Sunlight reaches Earth in approximately eight minutes. Stephen Smith

Incredible Pics from ISS by NASA astronaut Wheelock Go Discovery! It was October 23, 2007 at 11:40am EST when I had my first ride to space on Discovery. She’s beautiful… just sad that this will be her last voyage. Looking forward to climbing aboard the flight deck when Discovery arrives at the Space Station in November. (9-23-2010). On September 22, 2010, with the departure of the Expedition 23 crew, Colonel Douglas H. We thought that we should put some of the space photos together as a tribute to him and the whole ISS crew. The following space photos are all visible on Astro_Wheels’ twitpic account, and we are eternally grateful to him for sharing these space photos with the world. Incredible Photos from Space: ‘Earthshine’… The Space Station basking in blue Earthshine as the rising sun pierces our razor-thin atmosphere to cover the Space Station with blue light. NASA astronaut Douglas H. Incredible Photos from Space: Isle Juan de Nova In the Mozambique Channel between Madagascar and the African mainland.

Dark Jupiter May Haunt Edge of Solar System | Wired Science A century of comet data suggests a dark, Jupiter-sized object is lurking at the solar system’s outer edge and hurling chunks of ice and dust toward Earth. “We’ve accumulated 10 years’ more data, double the comets we viewed to test this hypothesis,” said planetary scientist John Matese of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “Only now should we be able to falsify or verify that you could have a Jupiter-mass object out there.” In 1999, Matese and colleague Daniel Whitmire suggested the sun has a hidden companion that boots icy bodies from the Oort Cloud, a spherical haze of comets at the solar system’s fringes, into the inner solar system where we can see them. In a new analysis of observations dating back to 1898, Matese and Whitmire confirm their original idea: About 20 percent of the comets visible from Earth were sent by a dark, distant planet. “But we began to ask, what kind of an object could you hope to infer from the present data that we are seeing?” See Also:

Strongest evidence yet indicates Enceladus hiding saltwater ocean This image shows icy spray spewing from Saturn's moon, Enceladus. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute The new discovery was made during the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn , a collaboration of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. Launched in 1997, the mission spacecraft arrived at the Saturn system in 2004 and has been touring the giant ringed planet and its vast moon system ever since. The plumes shooting water vapor and tiny grains of ice into space were originally discovered emanating from Enceladus -- one of 19 known moons of Saturn -- by the Cassini spacecraft in 2005. During three of Cassini's passes through the plume in 2008 and 2009, the Cosmic Dust Analyser, or CDA, on board measured the composition of freshly ejected plume grains. The study shows the ice grains found further out from Enceladus are relatively small and mostly ice-poor, closely matching the composition of the E Ring. Enlarge University of Colorado at Boulder

Hubble Ultra Deep Field 3D "Awesome" doesn't begin to describe this. It’s an uplifting and mind-expanding experience to have a glimpse of how the playground of the physical world extends outward farther than one had ever imagined. “We pointed the most powerful telescope ever built by human beings at absolutely nothing, just because we were curious, and discovered that we occupy a very tiny place in the heavens,” the narrator says. When the Hubble Telescope is pointed at an “empty” area of the sky, the images of over 10,000 galaxies appear in the telescope’s long-range view: Photons of these galaxies have traveled for 13 billion years to record their images for us to see. Also see Hubble Deep Field Each day the Flixxy team looks through hundreds of new videos to pull out a few we think are the best.

"Page One" Story of the Century? NASA May Announce Thursday to Have Found Life on Saturn's Moon Titan NASA has called a 2 p.m. news conference for Thursday "to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life." The group includes Pamela Conrad, author of a paper on geology and life on Mars; and James Elser, an Arizona State University professor involved in a NASA-funded program that emphasizes looking at the chemistry of environments where life evolves (and not just looking at water or carbon or oxygen); Felisa Wolfe-Simon (an oceanographer) has written extensively on photosynthesis using arsenic recently (she worked on the team mentioned in this article); Steven Benner (a biologist) is on the "Titan Team" at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; they're looking at Titan (Saturn's largest moon) as an early-Earth-like chemical environment. This is likely related to the Cassini mission. The space agency did not release more details, but the list of news conference participants is telling, according to blogger Jason Kottke. Casey Kazan via Kotte.org

Radiation Rings Hint Universe Was Recycled Over and Over | Wired Science Most cosmologists trace the birth of the universe to the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. But a new analysis of the relic radiation generated by that explosive event suggests the universe got its start eons earlier and has cycled through myriad episodes of birth and death, with the Big Bang merely the most recent in a series of starting guns. That startling notion, proposed by theoretical physicist Roger Penrose of the University of Oxford in England and Vahe Gurzadyan of the Yerevan Physics Institute and Yerevan State University in Armenia, goes against the standard theory of cosmology known as inflation. The researchers base their findings on circular patterns they discovered in the cosmic microwave background, the ubiquitous microwave glow left over from the Big Bang. The circular features are regions where tiny temperature variations in the otherwise uniform microwave background are smaller than average. See Also:

Titan’s Haze Could Hold Recipe for Life, No Water Needed | Wired Science When it comes to determining exactly where in the solar system life began, things have never been so up in the air. Scientists over the past decade have suggested deep-sea hydrothermal vents, underground aquifers, partially frozen lakes and even comets as locations for the origin of life. Now an experiment that simulates chemical reactions in the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s haze-shrouded moon, adds a new location to the list of unexpected places where life could have begun — in the sky. The study used radio waves as an energy source, simulating the action of ultraviolet radiation from the sun that strikes the top of Titan’s thick atmosphere and breaks apart molecules such as methane and molecular nitrogen. The experiment is the first to produce amino acids and the nucleotide bases that make up DNA and RNA — the basic ingredients of life — without the need for liquid water, says Sarah Hörst of the University of Arizona in Tucson. Image: NASA See Also:

Twinkling Stars May Reveal Human-Size Wormholes | Wired Science If wormholes big enough to fit a human or a spaceship exist, telescopes should be able to detect any wavering starlight the space-time shortcuts cause while moving in front of a distant star. Star brightness would fluctuate from a wormhole because of gravitational lensing, caused when a massive object (such as a galaxy) warps the fabric of space and bends light around it. The effect, which resembles the distortion of objects behind a thick lens, exaggerates with increasingly massive objects. When it comes to wormhole hunting, said Nagoya University astrophysicist Fumio Abe, looking for the distant signatures of smaller gravitational lenses, called microlenses, is the way to go. “Gravitational microlensing in stars has already been observed, but the variation of the brightness by a wormhole would be different from any ordinary star,” said Abe, whose wormhole-detecting methodology appears Dec. 10 in The Astrophysical Journal. “If they do turn out to exist, I’ll be ecstatic,” Visser said.

NASA contemplates manned mission to Mars - one-way The project for human colonization of the Red Planet is called the Hundred Year Starship, and the space agency has already received $1.6 million in seed funding to begin research into it, Britain's Daily Mail reports. The source of the $1.6 million has not been revealed. NASA itself is chipping in $100,000 to fund the Ames Research Center team's initial work, which is being co-sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). NASA Ames Research Center Director Pete Worden publicly disclosed the project's existence in a talk that was part of an event called "Long Conversation," a six-hour roundtable idea exchange that took place Oct. 16 at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum. "The human space program is now really aimed at settling other worlds. Among those billionaires Worden is inveigling is Google co-founder Larry Page. Depending on Mars' position in its orbit around the sun, the distance between it and Earth varies from 34 million to 250 million miles.

In Flyby of Saturn's Moon Rhea, Cassini Probe Gets First Whiff of Non-Earthly Oxygen NASA's Cassini spacecraft has taken a breath of oxygen while passing over the icy surface of Saturn's second-largest moon, marking the first time a spacecraft has directly sampled oxygen in the atmosphere of another body. Cruising just 60 miles above Rhea, one of more than 60 moons orbiting Saturn, Cassini found an extremely thin atmosphere of oxygen and carbon dioxide likely sustained by high-energy particles slamming into the moon's frozen surface. Rhea's isn't the only other atmosphere in the universe, but it is so thin that Cassini had to fly through it just to confirm that it was there at all (other atmosphere's have been detected and studied from afar by tools like the Hubble Space Telescope). According to Cassini's onboard science instruments, Rhea's atmosphere contains something like 50 billion oxygen molecules per cubic meter, matched by 20 billion carbon dioxide molecules. [Guardian]

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