According to research by NASA astronomers using the next-generation optics of the 10-meter Keck II telescope, Jupiter’s ice-encrusted moon Europa has hydrogen peroxide (aka H2O2) across much of the surface of its leading hemisphere, a compound that could potentially provide energy for life if it has found its way into the moon’s subsurface ocean.
“Europa has the liquid water and elements, and we think that compounds like peroxide might be an important part of the energy requirement,” said JPL scientist Kevin Hand, the paper’s lead author. “The availability of oxidants like peroxide on Earth was a critical part of the rise of complex, multicellular life.”
How far away is Mars? The exact answer varies, of course, as both it and our planet are constantly moving along their own orbits around the Sun. At the time of this writing Mars is on the other side of the Sun from us, 2.413 AU away as the space crow flies (which equates to nearly 361 million km or 224.3 million miles) and, back in 2003, Mars and Earth were at their closest in 50,000 years at a scant 56 million km/33.9 million miles apart. So on average, Mars is about 225 million km/140 million miles from Earth. Give or take a few.
For the sake of convenience, let’s say we reduced Earth to a sphere 100 pixels in diameter and you could travel outward at a velocity of 7,000 pixels/second (which is, to scale, about 3 times light speed) how far would Mars be? Find out here.
Think the Milky Way is a big place? Think again — check out this graphic by Arecibo astrophysicist Rhys Taylor, which neatly illustrates the relative sizes of 25 randomly-selected galaxies using images made from NASA and ESA observation missions. It even includes a rendering of our own remarkably mundane galaxy at the center for comparison.
(Warning: this chart may adversely affect any feelings of galactic superiority you may have once held dear.)
Every once in a while an astronomy book comes out that combines stunning high-definition images from the world’s most advanced telescopes, comprehensive descriptions of cosmic objects that are both approachable and easy to understand (but not overly simplistic) and a gorgeous layout that makes every page spread visually exciting and enjoyable.
This is one of those books.
Thanks to Cassini we’ve known about the jets of icy brine spraying from the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus for about 8 years now, but this week it was revealed at the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference outside Houston, Texas that Enceladus’ jets very likely reach all the way down to the sea — a salty subsurface sea of liquid water that’s thought to lie beneath nearly 10 kilometers of ice.
“To touch the jets of Enceladus is to touch the most accessible salty, organic-rich, extraterrestrial body of water and, hence, habitable zone, in our solar system.”
– Cassini imaging team leader Carolyn Porco
There’s nothing like a beautiful sunny day in Gale crater! The rusty sand crunching beneath your wheels, a gentle breeze blowing at a balmy 6º C (43º F), Mount Sharp rising in the distance into a clear blue sky… wait, did I just say blue sky?
Yes I did. But no worries — Mars hasn’t sprouted a nitrogen-and-oxygen atmosphere overnight. The image above is a crop from a panorama made of images from NASA’s Curiosity rover showing Gale crater’s central peak, Mount Sharp (officially Aeolis Mons.) Don’t let the blue sky fool you though — the lighting has been purposely adjusted to look like a sunlit scene on Earth… if only to let geologists more easily refer to their own experience when studying the Martian landscape.
As comet Pan-STARRS heads back out into the depths of the Solar System, it’s become visible to skywatchers in the northern hemisphere (after several weeks of putting on a show in southern skies.) While poor viewing due to weather confounded some over the past few days, many people did get some great views of this cosmic visitor — such as the image above, captured on the night of March 12 by Dr. Travis A. Rector from the Menaker Observatory in Anchorage, Alaska.
“Comet Pan-STARRS is the very faint dot just below the center of the image,” Dr. Rector wrote on his website. “Its tail is pointed towards the upper-left corner. This picture was taken on its greatest elongation from the Sun. Nonetheless it was very hard to see. And nearly impossible to see by the naked eye.”
See a couple more images of Pan-STARRS below: