Organic Matter Found on Mars — Two NASA Studies

For many decades, the idea of life outside Earth has intrigued many of us, but most especially scientists, astronomers, and well, sci-fi writers. For them and other Mars enthusiasts (a.k.a. people who eagerly believe that Mars can harbor life), the recent year has shown us great updates. Snow has been discovered in the planet. Soil made to simulate the planet’s conditions has grown earthworms.

Due to updates like these, some organizations are being inspired to plan ahead for life on Mars. MIT designed dome forests that will adapt to the environment there. The UAE is building a Mars-like metropolis as well, in preparation for a future in that planet. And it looks like they are bound to be more inspired as NASA releases the results of two new major studies about the Red Planet in the journal Science.

The first study centers on methane, a simple organic molecule that forms the basis for natural gas. Biological sources produce most of the methane on Earth, so researchers suspected that methane on Mars could point them towards biological sources — life! — on Mars.

Astronomers were already detecting methane in Mars as far back as 2003, but they first confirmed its presence there in 2015. After analyzing years worth of data, they realized that the methane was probably coming from pockets of ice. When these ice pockets melt during “summer” in Mars, methane slips out and methane levels go higher. Scientists say the seasonal presence of methane might clue us in on how there used to be life in the Red Planet, though the current study is still inconclusive about that.

The next study, however, also implies the idea of ancient life, as scientists find evidence of organic matter in soil that came from Mars.

In the second study, [NASA’s Curiosity rover] collected soil samples from two spots in Gale crater estimated to be about three billion years old. When Curiosity heated them up, the researchers recognized several organic molecules commonly found in Earth’s organic-rich sedimentary rock.

The discovery of methane in the Martian atmosphere and organic matter on Martian soil suggests interesting similarities between that planet and ours. Thus, it further spurs the question of life on Mars. And since the Curiosity rover is still roving around and looking for signs, one can only hope its next breakthrough will finally answer that question.

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Independent Space Nation Launches Satellite

While NASA is busy trying to ward off aliens, Russian scientist Dr. Igor Ashurbeyli is considering other options. The rocket scientist is behind Asgardia, the world’s first space community which has launched its first satellite into orbit late last year.

[The nanosat] contains 0.5 TB of data belonging to 18,000 of Asgardia’s citizens, such as family photographs, as well as digital representations of the space nation’s flag, coat of arms and constitution.

Talk about getting serious! Asgardia may not be NASA’s brainchild, but the agency is on board as a partner. Currently, 114,000 people are cleared for citizenship in the independent space nation. Asgardia’s physical platforms will hover close to Earth in low orbits, and will be home to its first inhabitants in just eight years. While the UN remains skeptical about the space nation, as they should, Ashurbeyli is more than optimistic.

“We have to be like a normal country. All countries have problems, and soon we will have the same problems,” he says. “But we will have more than normal countries because we are not on earth.”
I myself have doubts, but with the many technological breakthroughs by humans that were previously thought of as impossible, I am assured that at least, a person can dream. And pursue that dream scientifically. It may be a long ways away for Dr. Ashurbeyli, but if I’m still around by the time he successfully puts Asgardia up in the air, I might just look into applying as a citizen.
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NASA Successfully Pings Voyager 1 Antenna In Test

Holding on to its promise of saving the world, NASA has a lot to prove to the public. Now may be a good time to breathe a sigh of relief, as the space agency successfully communicated with a faraway spacecraft. 13 billion miles away, to be exact.

Last week, ground controllers sent commands to fire backup thrusters on Voyager 1, our most distant spacecraft. The thrusters had been idle for 37 years, since Voyager 1 flew past Saturn.

Voyager 1 then pinged a signal back to the Jet Propulsion Lab, received after a 19-hour wait. At 40-years-old, the senior spacecraft is the only one floating outside of our own solar system. A team at NASA conducted a thorough study of its original software, which (obviously) remained mostly intact.

“The mood was one of relief, joy and incredulity after witnessing these well-rested thrusters pick up the baton as if no time had passed at all,” he said in a statement.

If further testing proves successful, the decrepit Voyager 1 may see extra years of potential hovering.

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Scientists Discover Snow On Mars

Most discoveries are a pleasant surprise. For two Florida students, unearthing vintage NASA suits was a jackpot find. The New Jersey Liberty Hall Museum is proudly boasting a wine older than the United States. But for planetary scientist Aymeric Spiga, discovering snow on Mars was beyond unexpected.

Mars is dry compared to Earth: Its cold nature makes it unlikely that any of the ice on the Red Planet’s surface would melt, and its extremely thin atmosphere would cause any liquid water on the surface to vaporize nearly immediately. Still, Mars’ atmosphere does possess clouds of frozen water.

Snowstorms on Mars are similar to Earthly microbursts, in which dense air zips downward from a cloud. Any snow landing on Mars would be quick to disappear. More often than not, Martian snow turns to vapor before even hitting the surface.

“This is something observed on Earth sometimes, with something called virga — streaks of rain falling from the clouds can vaporize before reaching the surface,”

What, then, does this phenomenon mean for how we depict Mars? Besides the fact that the little red planet continues to surprise us, its atmosphere is more dynamic than we thought. With a constant slew of new findings making an appearance, it seems we may get to know Mars on a more personal level.

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Earth-like Planet Is Only 11 Lightyears Away

Since the discovery of four Earth-sized planets along Tau Ceti, Mars-like community simulations are being set in motion. While space studies are progressing, new intergalactic breakthroughs may be calling for NASA to pick up the pace. The planet may not look much like Earth, but it appears to be the most potentially habitable — and it’s only 11 lightyears away.

“Those flares can sterilize the atmosphere of the planet,” said Xavier Bonfils of the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics in Grenoble, France… “Ross 128 is one of the quietest stars of the neighborhood.”

The planet’s mother star, Ross 128, is significantly calmer than most others, and minimally eruptive. Though astronomers have only managed to observe the planet with a telescope, the facts don’t lie. The planet is warm enough to sustain liquid water, and has since stabilized in its billions of years of existence.

The star may have been more turbulent in its youth. But even if solar flares billions of years ago stripped away the planet’s atmosphere, it could have been replenished by gases emanating from the planet’s interior.

Whatever the case, I’m glad to know that if our own planet bites the dust, there are others to hold future generations.

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There’s A Possibility Of Life On Saturn’s Moon

People are always eager to learn more about space. This astronomy student even photographed it, using only a telescope and Game Boy. While it’s impressive, NASA never fails to blow us out of the water. In its final voyage, satellite Cassini discovered a possibility of life on Saturn’s moon Titan.

Using data from Cassini, the first study… documents so-called carbon chain anions—negatively charged carbon molecules that are thought to serve as a step to the formation of more complex organic molecules that can develop life.

These molecules don’t normally appear in other space environments, meaning this is big news. Also found present on Titan was vinyl cyanide, a molecule that can build cell membranes.

This molecule, if it fell into the pools of liquid hydrocarbons on Titan’s surface, could theoretically serve a role similar to that of phospholipids on Earth, which comprise the soft, but durable membranes surrounding all of our cells and their precious genetic material.

The material is toxic on Earth but would develop perfectly on Titan — just differently. Actual life on Saturn has not yet seen the light of day, but this major discovery is crucial, nonetheless. (Or should I say out of this world?)

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Second Home: Four Earth-Sized Planets Discovered

NASA couldn’t have sought planetary protection officers at a better time because we may be facing life in space. A team of astronomers has detected four Earth-sized planets orbiting a nearby sun-like star. Tau Ceti is close enough to Earth that it’s visible to the naked eye.

These planets have masses as low as 1.7 Earth mass, making them among the smallest planets ever detected around nearby sun-like stars. Two of them are super-Earths located in the habitable zone of the star, meaning they could support liquid surface water.

Researchers discovered the planets using a sensitive movement-detection technique. Two of the planets are potentially habitable, though prone to disruption by asteroids and comets. How these planets were studied is anything but simple.

“We are slowly learning to tell the difference between wobbles caused by planets and those caused by stellar active surface. This enabled us to essentially verify the existence of the two outer, potentially habitable planets in the system.”

We may not be migrating to the four planets anytime soon, but due to tau Ceti’s similarity to the sun, it could eventually be possible.

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NASA Hiring Protection Officer To Ward Off Aliens

We may now be able to photograph planets using a makeshift super-camera, but can we defend Earth? NASA certainly thinks so and is looking to hire a planet protection officer to ward off alien microbes.

The position was created after the US ratified the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, specifically to support Article IX of the document:

“States Parties to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose.”

The annual salary projected for the position boasts six figures. In fact, it’s approximately $187,000 and that doesn’t include additional benefits. The final candidate will travel to space centers around the world — but not everything is fun and games.

The officer helps ensure something from another world, most imminently Mars, doesn’t contaminate Earth.

They help establish the equipment, protocols, and procedures to reduce… risks.

The job is not as easy as it seems, and not just anyone can qualify. Candidates must have been civilian government employees and (obviously) know a lot about space. Not to mention NASA also requires applicants to hold degrees in physical science, engineering, or mathematics. I wouldn’t be surprised if top universities saw a spike in such degrees!

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