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Life, Unbounded

The Grand Texture of Planets

color_etopo1_ice_low

              In an idle moment, while staring at a set of solar system data, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to display a set of planetary surfaces on an equal footing, where the overall texture of these worlds was visible (although topography is probably a more [...]

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Life, Unbounded

A Blizzard of Astrobiology

A wet Mars? (Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser/N. Risinger)

Astrobiology has one key advantage when it comes to tooting its own horn – it can lay claim to a diverse range of scientific research as being relevant to the study of life in the universe. In that spirit (and an optimistic celebration of what might, just possibly, hopefully, be the advent of spring-like conditions [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Titan Loses its Speckles

A 3-D view of a region of Kraken Mare showing the sharp turns in a 'river' (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI)

Some of the most stunning images of Saturn’s moon Titan are made using a synthetic aperture radar to penetrate the thick atmosphere to see the frigid surface. But radar images are prone to what’s called ‘speckle noise’. This is the granular texture that covers the radar maps, and it’s caused by the physical roughness of [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Will We Find Extraterrestrial Life In 2015?

ESO

Probably not, but just possibly yes. One of the reasons that the search for life elsewhere in the universe is so exciting is that it would take only one chance discovery, one lucky break, for all the walls to come tumbling down. But where is that revolution going to come from? Perhaps the best news [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Astrobiology Roundup II

Life in all it's glory... (Credit: C. Scharf)

It’s been a busy season for research that comes in under the astrobiology umbrella, here’s a smattering of some of the more interesting recent discoveries and studies.       The youngest solar system….so far. Locating and studying the birth of stars and planets is an enormous challenge, but a vital component in learning about [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Exo-cornucopia

Watch out! There's a lot of stuff up there...

  This has been an extraordinary week for planets (moons), exoplanets, and astrobiology. I’m hard pushed to write properly about all these things but sometimes the sheer tidal mass of discoveries tells its own story.       And tidal masses is the first one up. This week new results from the Cassini mission around [...]

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Life, Unbounded

The Austere Beauty of Other Worlds

Magnificent Saturn, subtle blue and gold tones, while its moon Dione circles in silence (NASA/JPL)

In the northern winter months we are surrounded by the stark beauty of chilled landscapes. From the darkness of the far north, broken perhaps only by starlight and the glow of aurora, to the brisk grey streets of Manhattan and its now skeletal trees with their claw-like limbs and knobbly stubs pressed to the skies, [...]

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Observations

The Top 10 Space and Physics Stories of 2014

A spacecraft photographs itself approaching a comet in deep space

From humanity’s first, flawed foray to the surface of a comet to the celebrated discovery of (and less celebrated skepticism about) primordial gravitational waves, 2014 has brought some historic successes and failures in space science and physics. Here are my selections for the top ten stories from this year, with a look forward at what [...]

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Observations

Are Mars and Titan geologically dead?

mars-viking-dust-devil

PASADENA—They say that null results never get published, either in science or in journalism. Well, I’m about to break that rule. Some of the most interesting results to come out of the Division for Planetary Sciences meeting this week concern non-discoveries. In recent years, planetary scientists have gotten excited by the prospect that Mars and [...]

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Observations

Study shows how sunlight on Titan yields life-precursor compounds

Saturnian moon Titan and its hazy atmosphere from Cassini

Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, does not harbor alien life as far as anyone knows, but the prospects for extraterrestrial biology there are about as good there as anywhere else in the solar system. Numerous promising compounds based on hydrogen, nitrogen and carbon—some of the key constituents of terrestrial biological molecules such as amino acids—have been [...]

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Plugged In

Photo Friday: Titan supercomputer looks at cold weather wind

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Much of the world’s best wind resources lie in colder climates that can prove challenging for current wind turbine designs. This visualization is from research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where researchers are simulating the freezing of water droplets in order to help them in developing advanced wind turbines for cold climates. The team uses [...]

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