• [Article 6633]Earth-size World Around Kepler-186


    A World in the Habitable Zone

    A planet around Kepler-186
    The artistic concept of Kepler-186f is the result of scientists and artists collaborating to help imagine the appearance of these distant worlds. Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech.

    As Etta James once sang in the old standard, “At Last!”  And, now planet-searchers are singing the same tune. Kepler mission scientists have just announced the detection of one of the Holy Grails of exoplanet searches: the first Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of its star. This is a momentous discovery in a long string of amazing exoplanet detections for the Kepler team and the teams of followup observers at the W.M. Keck and Gemini Observatories in Hawai’i. It means, among other things, that worlds similar in many ways to our Earth exist out there.

    Earth orbits in the Sun’s habitable zone, which means that it is in a “safe zone” where liquid water can exist on our planet’s surface. Finding a world in the habitable zone of Kepler-186, which is an M-class red dwarf star about 490 light-years away from us, means that this planet could also support liquid water on its surface. And, where there’s water, there’s likely to be life. That doesn’t mean that there IS life on this planet. It’s too early to tell for that. But, it’s an exciting discovery because it means there’s another world out there that could (in some ways) be very like Earth.

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  • [Article 6631]Water Flowed on Mars


    Welcome to Intricate Osuga Valles

    The search for water on Mars keeps turning up evidence that something wet once flowed across its surface. Images like this one from the Mars Express orbiter show streamlined islands and narrow gorges that were carved out by fast-moving water sometime in the distant past. This one shows a region near the Vallis Marineris canyon complex that splits the mid-section of the planet. Captured on December 7th, 2013 by the Mars Express cameras, this view is of the Osuga Valles region. It’s an outflow channel that emanates from a region of what planetary scientists call chaotic terrain (that is, chaotic landscapes disrupted in some way).

    Flow features on Mars
    A perspective view of Osuga Valles on Mars, showing braided river valleys that once carried water across the surface. Courtesy ESA/Mars Express.

    The search for water on Mars keeps turning up evidence that water once flowed across its surface. Images like this one from the Mars Express orbiter show streamlined islands and narrow gorges that were carved out by fast-moving water sometime in the distant past. This one shows a region near the Vallis Marineris canyon complex that splits the mid-section of the planet. Captured on December 7th, 2013 by the Mars Express cameras, this view is of the Osuga Valles region. It’s an outflow channel that emanates from a region of what planetary scientists call chaotic terrain (that is, chaotic landscapes disrupted in some way).

    So, what caused this scene? The most likely explanation is an episode of chaotic flooding (extremely heavy flash flooding) that sent water and rocks and mud rushing across the landscape and carving out these channels and gullies. The geologic evidence here suggests that there were likely several bouts of flooding, creating these grooved valley floors and islands.

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  • [Article 6627]Red Moon Risin’


    Will You See It?

    By now everybody knows there’s a lunar eclipse happening next Monday night into Tuesday.  Those of us who live in North America, most of South America, parts of the Pacific and Asia will see all or some of the eclipse. For folks in England and parts of western Europe it will be only a short-lived penumbral eclipse, meaning that they’ll see the Moon in the lighter parts of Earth’s shadow for a short time. The same thing is true for people in eastern Asia and Oceania. A huge swath of the South Pacific and Antarctica get to see the full eclipse, so if you’re watching from the VERY far South, dress warmly!

    Here’s a graphic from the folks at Time and Date that gives you a pretty good idea of who will see what parts of the eclipse. Check out their eclipse page for a lot of really good information and clickable links to show you when the eclipse will occur over various parts of the globe. Also check out MrEclipse.com for further information, Eclipsemaps.com for good charts, and NASA’s Eclipse page, which has a lot of cool technical information if you really want to geek out on eclipses.

    What will you during the lunar eclipse? The deepest red indicates places where observers can see the entire eclipse. The red shading on either side of the darkest red covers observers who will see the eclipse until the Moon sets/Sun rises. Beyond that are the folks who will see the eclipse after the moonrise/sunset. If there’s no coloring over your area of the world, then you don’t see any part of the eclipse. Courtesy Timeanddate.com.