We need to talk about K2-18b.
You know why.
You 👏are 👏having 👏fun 👏wrong.
When the Hayabusa2 mission returns to Earth at the end of 2020, it will bring with it a sample from a carbonaceous asteroid. This class of asteroid is thought to have pelted the early Earth, delivering water and possibly the first organic molecules with which to begin life. But what happened after that?
How many habitable worlds like our own could exist around other stars? Since the discovery of the first exoplanets, the answer to this question has seemed tantalizingly close. But to estimate the number of Earths, we first need to understand how our planet could have gone catastrophically awry.
In other words, we need to return to Venus.
Three research papers have been published this month in the International Journal, Science, detailing the first results from the ISAS・ JAXA Hayabusa2 mission to asteroid Ryugu.
After 1302 days in space, Hayabusa2 arrived at asteroid Ryugu on June 27, 2018. The mission is destined to return to Earth at the end of 2020, bringing samples from the asteroid surface. But upon arrival, Hayabusa2 promptly began a detailed examination of the asteroid using the onboard remote sensing instruments.
On March 5 the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) released the extraordinary video shown above. The sequence of 233 images shows a spacecraft descending to collect material from the surface of an asteroid, before rising amidst fragments of ejected debris. It is an event that has never been captured on camera before.
More than two decades before the first exoplanet was discovered, an experiment was performed using a moving flame and liquid mercury that could hold the key to habitability on tidally locked worlds.
Akatsuki may have discovered why Venus’s atmosphere rotates so fast. The reason may play a vital role in the habitability of Earth-sized exoplanets.
As a planet nearly the same size and mass as the Earth, Venus is an essential study for understanding the range of possible conditions on rocky planets. A defining feature of our neighbouring world is a thick atmosphere whose reflective properties enticed ancient astronomers to name the planet after the mythological goddess of beauty, but whose ability to trap heat renders the surface temperature capable of melting lead.
In 2016, the La Silla Observatory in Chile spotted evidence of possibly the most eagerly anticipated exoplanet in the Galaxy. It was a world orbiting the nearest star to the sun, Proxima Centauri, making this our closest possible exoplanet neighbour. Moreover, the planet might even be rocky and temperate.
What would happen if you switched the orbits of Mars and Venus? Would our solar system have more habitable worlds?
This Friday (October 19) at 10:45pm local time in French Guinea, a spacecraft is set to launch for Mercury. This is the BepiColombo mission which will begin its seven year journey to our solar system’s innermost planet. Surprisingly, the science goals for investigating this boiling hot world are intimately linked to habitability.
On the morning of Tuesday June 19, members of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) viewed images beamed from deep space that triggered a flurry of responses.
“I see a Death Star.”
“We will strike it with the SCI!”
June 30th has been designated “Asteroid Day” to promote awareness of these small members of our solar system. But while asteroids are often discussed in the context of the risk they might pose to the Earth, their chewed up remains around other stars may also reveal the fate of our solar system.
Last month, the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission released the most accurate catalogue to date of positions and motions for a staggering 1.3 billion stars.
Let’s do a few comparisons so we can be suitably amazed. The total number of stars you can see without a telescope is less than 10,000. This includes visible stars in both the northern and southern hemispheres, so looking up on a very dark night will allow you to count only about half this number.
On January 5, 2010, NASA issued landmark press release : the Kepler Space Telescope had discovered its first five new extra-solar planets.
The previous twenty years had seen the discovery of just over 400 planets beyond the solar system. The majority of these new worlds were Jupiter-mass gas giants, many bunched up against their star on orbits far shorter than that of Mercury. We had learnt that our planetary system was not alone in the Galaxy, but small rocky worlds on temperate orbits might still have been rare.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has approved the ARIEL space mission—the world’s first dedicated exoplanet atmosphere sniffer— to fly in 2028.
ARIEL stands for the “Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-Survey mission.” It is a space telescope that can detect which atoms and molecules are present in the atmosphere of an exoplanet.
“You can feel what it’s like on Venus here on Earth,” said Kevin McGouldrick from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “Heat a hot plate until it glows red, place your palm on its surface and then run over that hand with a truck.”
The media was abuzz last week with the latest NASA news conference. A neural network — a form of artificial intelligence or machine learning — developed at Google had found two planets in data previously collected by NASA’s prolific Kepler Space Telescope. It’s a technique that could ultimately track-down our most Earth-like planets.
Since the first exoplanets were discovered in the 1990s we have found more than 3,500 worlds beyond our sun. Roughly a third of these are less than twice the size of Earth. It is no surprise we are beginning to wonder if some these worlds could be not just Earth-size (more or less), but also Earth-like. Unfortunately, the data we currently have cannot tell us.
Wherever we find water on Earth, we find life. It is a connection that extends to the most inhospitable locations, such as the acidic pools of Yellowstone, the black smokers on the ocean floor or the cracks in frozen glaciers. This intimate relationship led to the NASA maxim, “Follow the Water”, when searching for life on other planets.
The Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) spacecraft will arrive at Mars in August 2025 and spend the next three years exploring the two moons and the environment around Mars. During this time, the spacecraft will drop to the surface of one of the moons and collect a sample to bring back to Earth. Probe and sample are scheduled to return to Earth in the summer of 2029.