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23 Jul

NASA Seeks Proposals To Hunt For Alien Life On Jupiter Moon Europa

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 11.58.25 AMIf there's life out there, will we find it on Jupiter's icy moon Europa?

NASA recently put out a call for proposals for science instruments to "address fundamental questions about the icy moon and the search for life beyond Earth."

"The possibility of life on Europa is a motivating force for scientists and engineers around the world," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, in a statement. "This solicitation will select instruments which may provide a big leap in our search to answer the question: are we alone in the universe?"

It's believed that Europa has a deep underground ocean that could be capable of sustaining life; a mission to Europa is planned for the 2020s and could cost $1 billion.

About 20 proposals will be selected in April 2015 and $25 million divided among their creators for development.

Tonight, How the Universe Works delves deep into Jupiter's core and in one segment, examines Galileo and the first time NASA dropped a probe into Jupiter's atmosphere:

Watch How the Universe Works TONIGHT at 9/8c on Science Channel

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18 Jul

Where Were You During the Apollo 11 Moon Landing?

Forty-five years ago this weekend, Apollo 11 landed on the moon and humans entered a new era of exploration.

In a video commemorating the anniversary, celebrities, politicians and other prominent figures share their memories of that historic event.

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 11.47.43 AM

Years of work -- and a lot of trial and error -- went into creating spacesuits capable of withstanding a trip to the moon.

The final product, which was better than any that came before it, consisted of three separate garments: a water-cooled layer, a pressurized inner suit and a nylon outer layer that provided protection from extreme temperatures.

In this clip from "Moon Machines," step into the factory that developed this suit:

Should America go back to the moon?

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11 Jul

Dry Ice, Not Liquid Water, Formed Gullies On Mars, NASA Says

PIA18400_ipImages taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter indicate that dry ice and not liquid water formed gullies on the surface of Mars.

"As recently as five years ago, I thought the gullies on Mars indicated activity of liquid water," said researcher Colin Dundas, of the U.S. Geological Survey, in a statement. "We were able to get many more observations, and as we started to see more activity and pin down the timing of gully formation and change, we saw that the activity is in winter."

Dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) is abundant on the red planet, NASA says.

According to the new report, "all of the fresh-appearing gullies seen on Mars can be attributed to processes currently underway, whereas earlier hypotheses suggested they formed thousands to millions of years ago when climate conditions were possibly conducive to liquid water on Mars."

This 2013 video from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory demonstrates what happens when dry ice meets sand dunes.

Here's a closer look at the search for signs of water on Mars:

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3 Jul

'Our Flag Was Still There': American Flags Still Flying On Moon

As Americans head into a long weekend in observance of Independence Day, we're remembering the six American flags planted on the moon. But, decades later, are those flags still flying?

A 2012 report from NASA says that despite theories to the contrary, all but one of the flags are still standing:

"Combined with knowledge of the Apollo site maps which show where the flag was erected relative to the Lander, long shadows cast by the flags at three sites  - Apollo 12, Apollo 16, and Apollo 17 - show that the these flags  are still 'flying,' held aloft by the poles."

The flags may not still display the stars and stripes, however:

"All Moon and material experts have no doubt about it: the flags are now completely white. If you leave a flag on Earth for 43 years, it would be almost completely faded. On the Moon, with no atmospheric protection whatsoever, that process happens a lot faster. The stars and stripes disappeared from our Moon flags quite some time ago."

On this Independence Day weekend, here's a look back at the historic moment in 1969 humans first landed on the moon and planted an American flag to mark the moment:

The next Apollo mission, Apollo 12, had adventures of its own before even leaving Earth's orbit -- and things only got stranger once the crew was in space.


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27 Jun

This Is How Astronauts Settle A World Cup Bet

We know that astronauts love the World Cup, just like us, but when there are two Americans and one German living aboard the International Space Station, it's only natural a little light-hearted ribbing will take place.

In the case of Americans Reid Wiseman and Steve Swanson, and German Alexander Gerst, head-shaving was part of a World Cup bet during Thursday's match between the United States and Germany.

After Germany defeated the U.S. 1-0, Gerst shaved his crewmates' heads:

At least Wiseman has a sense of humor about it!

"This is why you shouldn’t make bets," Swanson joked on Instagram.

If the United States had won, the Americans would have painted an American flag on Gerst's bald head.

Hey, at least Gerst used an electric razor and not a straight razor -- yikes!

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26 Jun

Astronauts Love The World Cup, Just Like Us!

MqdefaultLet's say you're living about 200 miles above Earth, moving at a speed of roughly 17,500 miles an hour. The view can't be beat but it's World Cup season and your team has a big game. What's an astronaut to do?

Americans Reid Wiseman and Steve Swanson, and German Alexander Gerst, are looking forward to today's USA vs. Germany match, and they've already indulged in some friendly taunting.

"I believe we will win," Wiseman told ESPN. "It’s two against one up here, so I think the U.S. chances are pretty good."

But will they be able to watch live?  Maybe.

According to NASA, "the crew already is checking its busy schedule for Thursday to see how they can fit in watching the game during what will be afternoon time for them."

How busy?

Our friends at DNews looked into the question, "How do astronauts watch the World Cup in space?"

NASA told DNews that the final match of the World Cup falls on a Sunday, during off-duty hours, so the astronauts "might choose to watch some of the game live."

If the World Cup isn't your thing, how about the RoboCup?

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19 Jun

On This Day in 1976, Viking 1 Entered Mars' Obit

Thirty-eight years ago today, NASA's Viking 1 Orbiter entered Mars' orbit; a month later on July 20, 1976, the the Viking 1 lander became the first U.S. spacecraft to successfully touch down on the surface of Mars and send images back to Earth.

By the time its mission was completed four years later -- far surpassing its planned 90-day operation -- Viking 1 had sent thousands of images back to Earth, taken during nearly 1500 orbits around Mars.

See some of the images taken by the Viking 1 Orbiter here.

Part of Viking 1's mission was to search for signs of life. Decades later, scientists are still seeking out signs of extraterrestrial life and preparing for manned missions to Mars right here on Earth:

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16 Jun

Cracks On Pluto Moon Charon Could Hold Clue To Underground Ocean

137120main_hst_pluto1_full_0Cracks detected on the surface of Charon, an icy moon of Pluto, could be a sign the tiny moon once had an underground ocean.

NASA notes that "Pluto's remoteness and small size make it difficult to observe," but the New Horizons mission is scheduled to make a fly-by of Pluto and its moons in July 2015.

Pluto is far too cold to have liquid water on its surface, where the temperate is around minus 380 degrees Fahrenheit; Charon is just as cold.

"Our model predicts different fracture patterns on the surface of Charon depending on the thickness of its surface ice, the structure of the moon's interior and how easily it deforms, and how its orbit evolved," said NASA's Alyssa Rhoden in a statement. "By comparing the actual New Horizons observations of Charon to the various predictions, we can see what fits best and discover if Charon could have had a subsurface ocean in its past, driven by high eccentricity."

In April, signs of an underground ocean were detected on Saturn's largest moon, Titan.

Pluto may have been officially demoted from a planet to a dwarf planet, but it still looms large in our hearts. Learn more:

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Image Credit:  NASA, ESA and G. Bacon (STScI)

9 Jun

This Is The First Vine Video From Space!

In April, we saw the first Instagram photo from space.

Now, astronaut Reid Wiseman has posted the first Vine from space, with the caption, "1st Vine from space! Single Earth orbit. Sun never sets flying parallel w/terminator line #ISS #Exp40 @astro_alex"

Since arriving at the International Space Station in late May, American Wiseman and his European Space Agency counterpart, German Alexander Gerst, have been prolific sharers of photos from space.

Also living aboard the ISS right now are Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov, Oleg Artemyev and Max Surayev, and American astronaut Steve Swanson.

What's the next social media tool you'd like to see used in space? Perhaps astronauts should start pinning their favorite ISS recipes to Pinterest!

In the meantime, it's clear that social media is now a fact of life aboard the International Space Station, so we'll look forward to more fun (and educational!) videos like this one, where Chris Hadfield shows what happens when you wring out a wet washcloth in space:

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4 Jun

Marvel At The 'Most Colorful View of Universe' Ever Seen By Hubble Telescope

When NASA uses a superlative to describe an image, you know it has to be good. And with a headline like "Hubble Team Unveils Most Colorful View of Universe Captured by Space Telescope," expectations are certainly high -- but this image doesn't disappoint:


The composite image, taken during 841 orbits of the Hubble Space Telescope over a nine-year period, "provides the missing link in star formation," NASA said in a statement; approximately 10,000 galaxies are contained within the shot.

A full range of colors -- from near-infrared to ultraviolet -- are apparent in the colorful composite.

"It’s an astonishing panoply of galaxies," Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy writes in Slate. "There are 10,000 such beasts in this image, a feast for astronomers who want to understand how the Universe evolves. Remember, it takes light billions of years to reach Earth from these galaxies, so we’re seeing them when the Universe was substantially younger. This helps fill in the gap in our knowledge of this cosmic era."

Also filling gaps in knowledge is Through the Wormhole, which returns to Science Channel TONIGHT at 10/9c. In tonight's season premiere, Morgan Freeman explores a timely question: "Is poverty genetic?"

Here's a sneak peek: Are there actually physical differences between the brains of rich children and poor children?

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Image Credit:  NASA/ESA

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