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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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16 Jul

Will the Universe End With a Bang or a Whimper?

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

- 'The Hollow Men,' T. S. Eliot

When the universe finally ends, will it be through the powerful forces of gravity or the unendeding pull of expansion?

It's an ongoing debate, but one study suggests that the universe shouldn't even exist -- at least not according to Higgs physics.

"During the early universe, we expected cosmic inflation -- this is a rapid expansion of the universe right after the Big Bang," study co-author Robert Hogan told LiveScience. "This expansion causes lots of stuff to shake around, and if we shake it too much, we could go into this new energy space, which could cause the universe to collapse."

An analysis by our colleagues at DNews explains the quandary in-depth and concludes:

"So, if BICEP2′s observations are real and Higgs boson theory continues to strengthen, perhaps theorists will be buoyed-up in the knowledge that something else — something exotic — prevented cosmological inflation from collapsing the universe back down to a dot. Might there be another mechanism that counteracts the Higgs field’s universe-killing potential?"

Tonight, "How the Universe Works" explores different ways the universe might end and presents a picture of our universe as it looked 13 billion years ago, just after the Big Bang.
Here's a sneak peek:

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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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1 Jul

What Are The Odds Of A Massive Asteroid Hitting Earth?

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 10.04.35 AMCould a collision with a giant asteroid wipe out life on Earth?

On tonight's season finale of "Alien Encounters," that's the quandary facing Earthlings as a virtual reality simulator sees a huge object hurtling through space toward Earth.

NASA's Near Earth Object Program tracks the risk of objects from space colliding with Earth (it's been calculated that your odds of being killed by an asteroid impact are 1 in 700,000), but a 2013 article in Nature claims that the "risk of [a massive asteroid] hitting our planet may be ten times larger than previously thought."

Reporter Quirin Schiermeier writes:

"Of the millions of estimated near-Earth asteroids 10–20 metres in diameter, only about 500 have been catalogued. Models suggest that an object the size of the Chelyabinsk asteroid hits Earth once every 150 years on average, [planetary scientist Peter] Brown says. But the number of observed impacts exceeding 1 kiloton of TNT over the past 20 years alone hints at an actual impact risk that may be an order of magnitude larger than previously assumed, Brown and his co-workers show in their study."

One asteroid causing panic among starwatchers was Asteroid 2013 TV135, which buzzed Earth in 2013 and could return in 2032.

"Asteroid 2013 TV135 Could Hit Earth In 2032, Says Ukrainan Observatory," one headline trumpted.

Are we actually in danger?

Almost certainly not. NASA puts "the current probability of no impact in 2032 at about 99.998 percent"; in other words, there's less than a .0021 percent chance the asteroid will hit Earth.

So, are asteroids a threat to Earth?

Here, Dr. Michio Kaku explains his solution should an asteroid threaten our planet.

Be sure to watch "Alien Encounters" TONIGHT at 10/9c on Science Channel.

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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)

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