Space

An international team of scientists has found some of the best evidence yet that Venus, Earth's nearest neighbor, is volcanically active.

In combing through data from the European Space Agency's Venus Express mission, the scientists found transient spikes in temperature at several spots on the planet's surface. The hotspots, which were found to flash and fade over the course of just a few days, appear to be generated by active flows of lava on the surface.

"We were able to show strong evidence that Venus is volcanically, and thus internally, active today," said James W. Head, a geologist at Brown University and co-author of a paper describing the new research. "This is a major finding that helps us understand the evolution of planets like our own."


Have you ever seen Venus in full daylight ? It's a fun experience. Of course we are accustomed to see even a small crescent Moon in daylight -it is large and although of the same colour of clouds, it cannot be missed in a clear sky. But Venus is a small dot, and although it can be quite bright after the sunset or before dawn, during the day it is just a unconspicuous, tiny white dot which you never see, unless you look exactly in its direction.

Now that Philae has woken up, we may be on the brink of major steps forward in our understanding of comets. We already know that perhaps as much as 30% of a comet consists of dust and organics. Now we'll be able to look at this close up. Why, though, do most scientists expect Philae to find pre-biotic chemistry? Is there any chance of life? Also, where else in the solar system can we look?

The ancient oceans of Jupiter's Europa and Saturn's tiny Enceladus are hidden beneath an ice sheet kilometers thick. They may have ET microbes, even multicellular swimming creatures around hydrothermal vents. Or they could have imperfectly reproducing "protocells"; a window into the first stages of evolution. 

These conditions, which make them so habitable, and interesting for astrobiology, may also make them especially vulnerable to invasive species. Cassini orbiter found geysers at the south pole of Enceladus, continually venting sea water from its ocean into space, as ice particles. This may give us a wonderful opportunity to look at ET life in our solar system without interference from Earth life.

If an extraterrestrial race - or indeed later civilization on the Earth looks at the relics of our space explorations - one thing they might notice is our fondness for placing flags and pennants in space. All the space faring nations have signed the Outer Space Treaty. So these are not claims of territory (forbidden by the treaty) but rather, celebrations of national pride and accomplishment.

The ESO's Very Large Telescope has revealed what appears to be an aging star giving birth to a butterfly-like planetary nebula.

These observations of the red giant star L2 Puppis, from the ZIMPOL mode of the newly installed SPHERE instrument, also clearly showed a close stellar companion. 


Elon Musk, and NASA both have in mind the idea of doing interplanetary voyages straight away, aiming for Mars, with Obama going so far as to say about the Moon: “But I just have to say pretty bluntly here: We’ve been there before.”. If you hold that view, you are undoubtedly in distinguished company.

Now - there are two things here - yes we've been to the Moon before - but is that the end of all interest in it? But first - how ready are we for interplanetary voyages? 

The present day habitability of Mars is an area of research that has exploded hugely in the last decade, to the extent that it's often hard to keep track of everything that's going on. This is by way of background material for my other articles on habitability of Mars.

 Researchers have used satellite data to detect deposits of glass within impact craters on Mars. Though formed in the searing heat of a violent impact, the glasses just might provide a delicate window into the possibility of past life on the Red Planet.

Over the last few years, several research groups have shown that, here on Earth, ancient biosignatures can be preserved in impact glass. One of those studies, led by Brown geologist Peter Schultz and published last year, found organic molecules and even plant matter entombed in glass formed by an impact that occurred millions of years ago in Argentina. Schultz suggested that similar processes might preserve signs of life on Mars, if indeed they were present at the time of an impact.
When a space hurricane was unleashed from the sun on January 7 2014, space-weather centers around the world sent out warnings.

The hurricane was heading directly for Earth and was predicted to produce a strong geomagnetic storm. But then an unexpected thing happened: the storm bypassed Earth and headed for Mars instead.