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Posted: 16 Mar 2015 07:08 PM PDT
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Posted: 16 Mar 2015 06:56 PM PDT
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Posted: 16 Mar 2015 06:53 PM PDT
Posted: 16 Mar 2015 06:50 PM PDT
Excerpt from space.com
The moon's past was livelier and more complex than scientists had thought, new from China's first lunar rover suggest.
China's Yutu moon rover found evidence of at least nine distinct rock layers deep beneath its wheels, indicating that the area has been surprisingly geologically active over the past 3.3 billion years.
"Two things are most interesting," said Long Xiao, a researcher at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, who is the lead author of the study detailing the new findings. "One is [that] more volcanic events have been defined in the late volcanism history of the moon," Xiao told Space.com via .
Yutu (whose name means "jade rabbit") is part of China's Chang'e 3 moon mission. Chang'e 3 delivered Yutu and a stationary lander to the lunar surface on Dec. 14, 2013 — the first soft touchdown on the moon since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 mission in 1976.
Yutu traveled 374 feet (114 meters) on the moon in a zigzag fashion before a glitch ended its travels in January 2014.
The rover was equipped with cameras and three main scientific instruments — the Lunar Penetrating Radar (LPR), the Visible Near-Infrared Spectrometer (VNIS) and the Active Particle-Induced X-ray Spectrometer (APXS). The new , which was published online today (March 12) in the journal Science, reports results from the camera and the LPR, which can probe about 1,300 feet (400 m) beneath the moon's surface.
Those paint a detailed portrait of the Chang'e 3 landing site, which sits just 165 feet (50 m) away from a 1,475-foot-wide (450 m) crater known as C1. C1 was gouged out by a cosmic impact that occurred sometime between 80 million and 27 million years ago, the study authors said.
Yutu studied the ground it rolled over, characterized the craters it cruised past and investigated an oddly coarse-textured rock dubbed Loong, which measures about 13 feet long by 5 feet high (4 by 1.5 m). Overall, the rover's observations suggest that the composition of its landing site is quite different from that of the places visited by NASA's Apollo missions and the Soviet Union's Luna program.
While Yutu isn't beaming home any new data these days, the scientific community can expect to hear about more discoveries from the mission shortly, Xiao said.
"Unfortunately, Yutu encountered mechanical problems and has ended its mission," he told Space.com. "No more data will come. However, our report only provides the scientific results based on imagery and radar data. More results from NIS and APXS for composition study will come out soon."
Posted: 16 Mar 2015 06:34 PM PDT
Excerpt from smithsonianmag.com
In the hunt for alien life, our first glimpse of extraterrestrials may be in the rainbow of colors seen coming from the surface of an exoplanet.
That's the deceptively simple idea behind a study led by Siddharth Hegde at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany. Seen from light-years away, plants on Earth give our planet a distinctive hue in the near-infrared, a phenomenon called red edge. That's because the chlorophyll in plants absorbs most visible light waves but starts to become transparent to wavelengths on the redder end of the spectrum. An extraterrestrial looking at Earth through a telescope could match this reflected color with the presence of oxygen in our atmosphere and conclude there is life here.
"No one had looked at the wide range of diverse life on Earth and asked how we could potentially spot such life on other planets, and include life from extreme environments on Earth that could be the 'norm' on other planets," Lisa Kaltenegger, a co-author on the study, says via email. "You can use it to model an Earth that is different and has different widespread biota and look how it would appear to our telescopes."
To make sure they got enough diversity, the researchers looked at temperate-dwelling microbes as well as creatures that live in extreme environments like deserts, mineral springs, hydrothermal vents or volcanically active areas.
While it might seem that alien life could take a huge variety of forms—for instance, something like the silicon-based Horta from Star Trek—it's possible to narrow things down if we restrict the search to life as we know it. First, any life-form that is carbon-based and uses water as a solvent isn't going to like the short wavelengths of light far in the ultraviolet, because this high-energy UV can damage organic molecules. At the other end of the spectrum, any molecule that alien plants (or their analogues) use to photosynthesize won't be picking up light that's too far into the infrared, because there's not enough energy at those longer wavelengths.
In addition, far-infrared light is hard to see through an Earth-like atmosphere because the gases block a lot of these waves, and whatever heat the planet emits will drown out any signal from surface life. That means the researchers restricted their library to the reflected colors we can see when looking at wavelengths in the visible part of the spectrum, the longest wavelength UV and short-wave infrared.
The library won't be much use if we can't see the planets' surfaces in the first place, and that's where the next generation of telescopes comes in, Kaltenegger says. The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2018, should be able to see the spectra of relatively small exoplanet atmospheres and help scientists work out their chemical compositions, but it won't be able to see any reflected spectra from material at the surface. Luckily, there are other planned telescopes that should be able to do the job. The European Extremely Large Telescope, a 40-meter instrument in Chile, will be complete by 2022. And NASA's Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, which is funded and in its design stages, should be up and running by the mid-2020s.
Another issue is whether natural geologic or chemical processes could look like life and create a false signal. So far the pigments from life-forms look a lot different from those reflected by minerals, but the team hasn't examined all the possibilities either, says Kaltenegger. They hope to do more testing in the future as they build up the digital library, which is now online and free for anyone to explore atbiosignatures.astro.cornell.
Posted: 16 Mar 2015 04:42 PM PDT
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Posted: 16 Mar 2015 04:35 PM PDT
Posted: 16 Mar 2015 04:08 PM PDT
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Posted: 16 Mar 2015 04:02 PM PDT