• Mosaics composed with data from the Cassini spacecraft taken during three separate Titan flybys.Mosaics composed with data from the Cassini spacecraft taken during three separate Titan flybys.

    Intriguing new research shows that liquid water may not be a must-have ingredient for life in the universe, and that strange new lifeforms may be lurking in distant, much colder worlds at the edge of the solar system — and beyond.  

    A new study coming out of Cornell University published this past week in the  journal Science Advances gives us our first tantalizing hints that life may not need to be based on water-chemistry, but could be based on liquid methane instead. And it turns out that Saturn’s largest moon, the methane-sea covered  Titan, fits the bill perfectly (at least theoretically).

    A team of chemical engineers and astronomers looked at how the nitrogen-based chemistry on this distant world may be just right to form cell membranes that could, in theory, function in the minus 292 degrees temperatures found on the surface of this smoggy moon.

    “It is possible to construct structural analogs to terrestrial bio-membranes that may work in the Titan environment, and it also

    Read More »from Just add methane: Liquid water may not be required for strange new lifeforms
  • In this file image, Terry Virts points to his helmet as he sits inside the ISS on Feb. 25, 2015 (AP)In this file image, Terry Virts points to his helmet as he sits inside the ISS on Feb. 25, 2015 (AP)

    This week when an American astronaut returned back inside the safety of the International Space Station after having completed a nearly flawless near 7 hour spacewalk, NASA was confronted with a potentially life-threatening problem it thought it had solved two years prior.  

    As NASA astronaut Terry Virts was re-pressurizing within the Quest airlock on Wednesday after having just finished a cable routing job on the outside of the orbiting laboratory, he reported a water leak within his spacesuit helmet.

    While NASA says Virts was in no apparent danger, their engineers on the ground spent the better part of two days investigating what had happened.

    This is not the first time such a nightmare leak in a spacesuit helmet has occurred during a spacewalk in recent years. In fact, the last time it happened, the astronaut nearly drowned.  

    Back in July 2013 Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano had to abort his spacewalk when he reported his helmet was flooding, saying he had water around his ears and

    Read More »from NASA spacesuit cleared of water leaks ahead of weekend spacewalk
  • Folks waking up in Vernon, British Columbia, this past Sunday were treated to a rather unusual weather phenomenon that looked like something out of a science fiction movie.

    In what is a bizarre coincidence of two atmospheric events, an elongated cloud formation known as a "fall streak" or "hole-punch” cloud" appeared above the southern section of the province in the early morning hours. Photos of the rare appearance, along with speculations, have since gone viral. But in this case neither Hollywood nor aliens had a hand in this event. It was all mother nature’s doing.

    As the name suggests, the unusual sky formation is actually a hole in a cloud that has part of it falling out in the form of localized snowfall. Clouds are made of water droplets and, during wintertime, ice crystals and snowflakes are formed when the drops adhere to particles, otherwise known as cloud condensation nuclei. These particles can be anything from plain-old dust, flower pollen, or even particulate matter from

    Read More »from 'Hole-punch' cloud in B.C. was a bizarre coincidence of two atmospheric events
  • Mysterious Mars plumes stump scientists

    Right: Location of the plume is identified in the yellow circle. Left: Close-up views of the changing plume.Right: Location of the plume is identified in the yellow circle. Left: Close-up views of the changing plume.Mars may not be as dead a planet as we thought. There appears to be a new mystery brewing on Mars that has scientists both puzzled and excited.

    On two separate occasions back in 2012, backyard sky-watchers around the world reported seeing through their telescopes what look like gigantic plume-like features rising into space from the surface of the Red Planet. Our current understanding of the high atmosphere of Mars cannot account for this phenomenon. These unknown plumes could also pose a hazard for future low-orbit missions to Mars.

    The plumes or strange, blurry clouds were observed to rise to altitudes of more than 250 km above the same region of Mars on both occasions. Adding to the mystery, the features developed in less than 10 hours and could be seen for up to 10 days, changing shape over the course of that time.

    “At about 250 km, the division between the atmosphere and outer space is very thin, so the reported plumes are extremely unexpected,” said Agustin Sanchez-Lavega of the

    Read More »from Mysterious Mars plumes stump scientists
  • Artist's depiction of Mars One astronauts and their colony on the Red Planet. (SPACE.com)Artist's depiction of Mars One astronauts and their colony on the Red Planet. (SPACE.com)

    There’s no shortage of prospective astronauts willing to make the perilous journey to Mars on a one way trip.  

    The Denmark-based project called Mars One has whittled down its list of applicants to the final 100 candidates from its original pool of over 200,000 wannabe planetary colonists, who signed up back in April 2013.

    “The large cut in candidates is an important step towards finding out who has the right stuff to go to Mars,” said Bas Lansdorp, co-founder & CEO of Mars One. “These aspiring martians provide the world with a glimpse into who the modern day explorers will be.”

    Considered by many to be the most audacious and complex space mission of its kind, the aim is to establish a permanent human settlement on the Red Planet, starting with its first mission which will have a crew of four launching in 2024 with the entire adventure broadcast as a TV reality show.

    At this point, there are 100 round three candidates who remain after being personally interviewed by the foundation’s

    Read More »from Mars One mission narrowed to 100 candidates, but still light-years from liftoff
  • (Photo via Space.com)(Photo via Space.com)

    Are we alone in the Universe? Could there be other intelligent civilizations out there? Discovering life beyond Earth is considered one of the Holy Grails of science, however after a half century of listening to the cosmos, all that has been heard is static and silence.

    But this hasn’t dampened enthusiasm among astronomers who are now actively considering taking a more pro-active approach in contacting distant intelligent civilizations.

    Known as active SETI (Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence), the new approach would have us use the world’s largest radio telescopes, like the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, to repeatedly broadcast transmissions to hundreds of neighbouring stars that have been identified as having habitable planets.  

    Some scientists believe that after so many decades of just listening, it is now time to send out virtual greetings to see if we get a response.  

    Space travel itself holds no hope in the near future since distances between the stars are so vast

    Read More »from Phone ET: SETI's director wants to up search for extra-terrestrials
  • Our oceans and beaches are drowning in plastic says a new sobering study, which estimates a whopping 8 million metric tons of the stuff wound up in our oceans, in 2010 alone.

    “This is equal to five retail size bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline across the globe,” said co-author Jenna Jambeck, an Environmental Engineering Professor at the University of Georgia, in an interview with Yahoo Canada News.

    Jambeck and her team discovered close to 275 million tons of plastic waste generated by 192 coastal countries in 2010, of which somewhere between 4.8 and 12.7 million tons made its way into the oceans. They estimate about 9.1 million metric tons will also end up in the oceans in 2015, with the top offenders being China and the United States.

    The new findings published today in the journal Science points out that if the current pollution trends continue, things will get a lot worse in the not-so-distant future.

    “If we move forward with business as usual, the annual input

    Read More »from Plastic found to be accumulating in world oceans at alarming rate
  • Europe’s mini-robotic space shuttle completed its first test-flight Wednesday afternoon, marking Europe’s entry into developing reusable rockets that one day may help take humans to Mars.

    The Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) is a minivan-sized spacecraft that has a wingless design that is able to make a fiery return through Earth’s atmosphere – something only a handful of spacecraft designs have been able to do.

    The flight blasted off this morning from Europe’s Guiana Space Center on the northern coast of South America, sending it eastward over the Pacific Ocean in a sub-orbital flight at an altitude of 200 kilometres. The entire flight lasted just over 100 minutes before parachutes were deployed and the vehicle gently splashed down about 3,000 kilometres west of the Galapagos Islands. Upon hitting the water, a balloon-based floating system was deployed, which kept the two-ton spaceship from sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

    Loaded with over 300 on-board sensors, the goal was

    Read More »from Europe's mini-space shuttle completes historic 100-minute mission
  • For everyone in eastern Canada hoping for an early spring: Don’t hold your breath.

    It appears the below-average temperatures the region has been suffering through since the start of 2015 will continue – likely until April, at least.

    “The below-seasonal pattern looks to persist well into March,” said Dayna Vettese, meteorologist with The Weather Network, “and the focus of the cold will likely shift a bit west to include the Prairies, but it looks like this cold pattern for the Great Lakes region is here to stay for the next several weeks.”

    The culprit for all this misery has to do with the polar vortex – a mass of swirling, frigid air above the North Pole and the orientation of the jet stream, which will continue to pump down waves of arctic air into southeastern Canada. Weather models are suggesting by this weekend temperatures will plummet by as much as 20 degrees below normal.

    Yahoo Weather: Get your local forecast before you head out

    “In the near term, we expect two shots of arctic

    Read More »from Cold temperatures to keep a firm grip on eastern Canada, likely until April
  • NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory is set to launch this week and join a flotilla of sun-monitoring satellites that act as an early-warning system for solar storms heading our way.

    Without timely warnings about incoming solar storms, there is a potential for disruptions in power grids, aviation and telecommunication systems. The Sun is just coming coming off of its natural 11-year cycle of activity, but is expected to still pack a punch when it comes to solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) – giant clouds of charged particles that are hurled out into space.

    The Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, will act as a solar tsunami alert system by giving critical real-time data about brewing solar storms. The probe will be placed about a million miles from Earth, in what is called a Lagrange Point, where there is neutral gravity between the Earth and the Sun, so it stays stationary. From this vantage point, DSCOVR will able to give us a constant monitoring system of the

    Read More »from DSCOVR probe will offer early warnings of emissions heading to Earth from the Sun


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