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Christmas Dinner Rocketed To International Space Station – NPR

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Christmas Dinner Rocketed To International Space Station – NPR

Falcon 9 rocket first stage booster experiencing control problems and missing a landing zone at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

John Raoux/AP


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Falcon 9 rocket first stage booster experiencing control problems and missing a landing zone at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

John Raoux/AP

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the tradition dinner, even in space.

So a shipment of smoked turkey breast, cranberry sauce, candied yams and, of course, fruitcake was rocketed to the International Space Station Wednesday with delivery expected by Saturday.

But as the Associated Press reports, the launch was delayed by a day because food for some of the station’s other residents was moldy.

The mold had grown on food for 40 mice which, along with 36,000 worms, were also shipped to the space station for aging and muscle studies.

The current International Space Station crew includes two Americans, two Russians, one German and one Canadian. Three of the crew members arrived earlier this week and they’ll remain there for the next six months. The others return home on Dec. 20, leaving only three for Christmas dinner, not counting the mice and worms.

The 5,600 pounds of cargo were blasted into space successfully on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX engineers were less happy with the first-stage booster which dropped into the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast, missing its designated landing zone on ground.

“Recovery ship dispatched,” tweeted SpaceX chief Elon Musk.

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Hubble spots a distant planet that is literally being vaporized – BGR

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Hubble spots a distant planet that is literally being vaporized – BGR

We usually think of planets as having a certain level of permanence but for worlds that reside within very close proximity of a star existence can be fleeting. One particular type of exoplanet that astronomers are trying to learn more about are the so-called “hot Neptunes,” which are superheated giants that are incredibly rare.

Now, researchers using the Hubble Space Telescope have pinpointed what they believe to be a planet just on the cusp of being considered a “hot Neptune,” and it’s so close to its star that the planet is actually evaporating right before our eyes.

The exoplanet, called GJ 3470b, is located near what researchers call the “Hot Neptune Desert” around its host star. Scientists believe that there’s a lack of such planets because they are completely destroyed over time due to their close relationship with the stars they orbit, and GJ 3470b might be the next to go.

One of GJ 3470b’s fellow planets is GJ 436b, which astronomers believe is losing its atmosphere as its star strips it away. Scientists think that 436b will survive the ordeal without being completely destroyed, but 3470b is in a much tougher spot. 3470b is being stripped of mass 100 times faster than 436b, and it’s possible that the planet will be completely vaporized.

“I think this is the first case where this is so dramatic in terms of planetary evolution,” Vincent Bourrier of the University of Geneva and co-author of the work, said in a statement. “It’s one of the most extreme examples of a planet undergoing a major mass-loss over its lifetime. This sizable mass loss has major consequences for its evolution, and it impacts our understanding of the origin and fate of the population of exoplanets close to their stars.”

So how close is too close when it comes to planets and their stars? The closest planet to our own Sun, the scorching-hot Mercury, has made a go of it for a long time, but 3470b is much closer to its star. In fact, both 436b and 3470b are just one-tenth the distance from their star than Mercury is from the Sun.

Image Source: NASA, ESA, and D. Player

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Comet to light up the sky tonight – NBC4i.com

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Comet to light up the sky tonight – NBC4i.com

The night sky will come alive this weekend when a green comet streaks by Earth on the heels of the Geminid meteor shower’s display of green fireballs.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen began brightening in November, but it will make its closest approach to Earth on Sunday and be visible with the naked eye. The comet will come within 7 million miles of Earth — a proximity that won’t happen again for 20 years. That’s 30 times the moon’s distance from us.

The comet should be brightest on Dec. 16, as bright as the star in the constellation of the Little Dipper’s handle, according to NASA. But even now, it’s currently the brightest comet in the night sky, and the brightest of 2018. It may be visible even to the naked eye.

The University of Maryland’s astronomy department said that Comet 46P will be the 10th closest comet since 1950 because few comets are ever bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.

The “Christmas comet” appears in our sky once every five years as it orbits the sun. It was closest to the sun on Dec. 12. The comet is named for the man that first observed it in 1948, Carl Wirtanen, a senior observing assistant at California’s Lick Observatory.

“Look towards the east with a small pair of binoculars or a telescope to see the green, fuzzy comet. It will be near the constellation Orion, or the saucepan,” said Brad Tucker, from the Australian National University Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Much like watching a meteor shower, you’ll want to be in an area without much light pollution. Look up anytime between twilight and sunrise to catch a glimpse.

Check TimeandDate.com to figure out the best time in your part of the world.

If you aren’t able to view it, the Virtual Telescope Project will stream observations from its robotic telescopes.

So why does the comet look fuzzy or ghostly? It’s three-quarters of a mile across with a core that’s less than a mile wide. But the atmosphere around the comet, or coma, is bigger than Jupiter. When it passes the sun, this icy comet essentially experiences some melting. That’s what creates the glowing green cloud.

The diffuse nature of the coma and its glow may actually make it more difficult to view, especially if using binoculars or a telescope. Astronomers have predicted the comet will have a magnitude of 4.2, which means that a dark, clear sky and an absence of ambient light will most likely be needed to see it.

And unlike other comet sightings, this comet’s tail will be behind it when it passes, meaning we most likely won’t see it unless the tail develops a curve before its closest approach to Earth.

Comet 46P was originally chosen by the European Space Agency to land the Rosetta probe on its surface, but launch delays caused a new target to be selected. (Rosetta went on to land on Comet 67P in 2014.)

“Wirtanen’s comet could easily be chosen again for another mission,” said Jim Lattis, director of the University of Wisconsin astronomy outreach center, UW Space Place. “So that means watching this comet each time it comes near could be important.”

Much like the OSIRIS-REx mission to study the asteroid Bennu, a remnant from the early solar system, Comet 46P could provide similar insight.

“We’re getting a look at stuff that was formed during the formation of the solar system and has been out in the deep freeze since then,” Lattis said. “When these things come in and we get a chance to study them, we’re seeing some of the raw materials out of which the Earth and the other planets and everything else formed.”

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Could Life on Mars Be Lurking Deep Underground? – Live Science

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Could Life on Mars Be Lurking Deep Underground? – Live Science
Could Life on Mars Be Lurking Deep Underground?

Artist’s illustration of NASA’s InSight lander on the surface of Mars. InSight touched down on Nov. 26, 2018, to study Mars’ internal structure and composition.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

WASHINGTON — To find life on Mars, scientists may need to give up surface exploration and “go deep.”

Typically, Mars missions searching for signs of life target the planet’s surface, at sites where there are signs of ancient water (a reliable indicator of where life is found on Earth). But while no life has turned up yet on Mars’ surface, there may be an abundance of microbial Martians congregating underground, according to research presented Dec. 11 here at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

In recent decades, explorations underground on Earth have revealed the so-called deep biosphere — a subsurface environment teeming with microorganisms. And scientists suspect that a similarly biologically-rich zone may be thriving under Mars’ surface, too. [Mars-like Places on Earth]

In fact, perhaps there was never an evolutionary push to inhabit the surface of Mars at all, Joseph Michalski, an associate professor with the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Hong Kong, said at the presentation. The expectation that life evolved on the Martian surface may reflect a bias established by what we know about life on our home planet, Michalski said.

Billions of years ago, when the planets in our solar system were young, the surface of Mars was likely quite similar to that of Earth, its rocky neighbor. That changed when Mars lost its magnetic field, which exposed it to bombardment from intense radiation that would have made survival aboveground extremely challenging, Michalski told Live Science.

However, it’s possible that life was already “cooking” on Mars before that happened. Scientists think life first appeared on Earth about 3.8 billion to 3.9 billion years ago, when conditions in some spots likely resembled today’s hydrothermal environments — much like Mars at the time. Perhaps, life arose on Mars at the same time that it was taking shape on Earth, but adapted exclusively to life underground, Michalski said.

“Life could have emerged in those hydrothermal settings and survived in the subsurface for quite a long time,” he said.

And if Earth’s deep biosphere is any indication, the underground Martian microbial communities could be exceptionally rich and diverse. Earth’s deep biosphere was first discovered only about 30 years ago, and estimates since then have suggested that those deep-dwelling microorganisms make up nearly half of all life on the planet, Michalski told Live Science.

Microbes in Earth’s deep biosphere play a role in burying carbon that could otherwise become a greenhouse gas, are linked to deep energy resources “and are important for understanding the origins and evolution of life,” Michalski said.

“We’re at a point now where it’s truly a frontier of understanding what ‘deep biosphere’ truly means on Earth, and how that relates to exoplanets and other planets in our solar system,” he said. “It’s a window into our own origins.”

Mars’ subsurface is an especially promising place to start looking for extraterrestrial microbes because it’s “even more habitable” for microorganisms than Earth’s deep biosphere. Subsurface rock on Mars is more porous than on Earth — creating pockets for nutrients and gas exchange — and Mars’ cooler core (though still molten) provides a more hospitable temperature for microbes living in deep rock, Michalski added.

“We could have single-celled organisms that could be dormant for a long time, but could survive through metabolizing hydrogen, methane, potentially sulfur,” Michalski told Live Science. “Without being too specific, we think there are a lot of possibilities.”

Original article on Live Science.

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