The search for planets with oxygen #HabitableZone #exoplanets

The search for life around other stars is essentially a search for a habitable zone – the area around a star where the distance is warm enough to sustain liquid water on the surface, but cold enough such that the water does not boil away or escape.

This definition of habitable zone now has to change to take into account the star itself. New research shows that winds coming off Red Giant stars can strip the planet of Oxygen. No Oxygen, no life. This means that our nearest confirmed Earth-sized exoplanet, around Proxima Centauri and only 4 light-years away, is not a good spot to go look for neighbors.

“If we want to find an exoplanet that can develop and sustain life, we must figure out which stars make the best parents,” said Vladimir Airapetian, lead author of the paper and a solar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “We’re coming closer to understanding what kind of parent stars we need.”











Send your name to Mars #profmcateer #amacrojot #InSight #JourneyToMars


How about a trip to Mars? NASA is running a competition to  ‘Send Your Name to Mars’ on a silicon microchip aboard the new InSight probe. Anyone can submit their names for inclusion on a dime-sized microchip that will travel on a variety of spacecraft voyaging to destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, including Mars.

“Our next step in the journey to Mars is another fantastic mission to the surface,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, “By participating in this opportunity to send your name aboard InSight to the Red Planet, you’re showing that you’re part of that journey and the future of space exploration.” There are already 67,000 people on there. But time is of the essence since the deadline to submit your name is soon: Sept. 8, 2015.

NASA has made it easy to sign up. To send your name to Mars aboard InSight, click go here:

You can also print out your  ‘Boarding Pass’Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 12.18.28 PMI’ll pick up 297 million airmiles! Your frequent flier points soon accumulate by your participation in NASA’s ‘fly-your-name opportunity’ that will span multiple missions and multiple decades beyond low Earth orbit. Blast off for this mission is March 2016.

ASTR105G students – get your extra credit here by signing up and sharing your boarding pass.



Crowd funding with an old Mcd’s #ISEE-3 #CrowdFunding


Can I get fries and a drink with that? An old abandoned McDonalds in California is the latest site of a crowd funding science success. Using public donations, the team have scrambled together equipment to communicate with an another old abandoned facility- ISEE3- a NASA observatory. The observatory still works fine, but was superseded by other instruments. Now, with some ingenuity, it is back online, taking new data and making it all available to the public immediately.

The full story is on

“The story begins back on August 12, 1978. That’s when NASA launched the International Sun/Earth Explorer 3, aka the ISEE-3 satellite. The satellite entered orbit at Lagrange Point L1, meaning it orbits the sun and maintains its position from the perspective of those of us on Earth. It later became known as the International Cometary Explorer or ICE after it took a quick dip into the tail of comet Giacobini-Zinner. But by 1997, NASA decided to break up with the satellite. I imagine there was some sort of “It’s not you, it’s us” type of message sent along. NASA checked in a couple of times with ISEE-3 but the satellite remained out of commission. Its batteries died a long time ago, but the satellite also has solar panels and can operate within 98-percent of its original parameters using solar power. In other words, it can still do science if someone were willing to put in the work to communicate with it.

Over at Betabeat, there’s a fantastic rundown of the process the team went through, including their limited contact with NASA (an organization that seems to be looking on with bemused curiosity). The team works out of a vacant McDonald’s and have opened the virtual doors to all the data the satellite gathers. Citizen science can move ahead with no delay (typically, NASA holds back on data gathered during missions for a number of months before releasing it to the public).

I absolutely love this story. It has a bit of everything. There’s the crowdfunding success that shows how people are excited about science. There’s the openness of sharing data — you never know who will find something interesting in all that information. And there’s the fact that the team was able to repurpose technology that otherwise would have remained dormant. It’s fantastic. Head over to Betabeat to read up on the whole adventure!”

The voyage continues…


Space­craft Voy­ager 1 has officially entered inter­stel­lar space, although exact­ly when it left the helios­phere is still up for debate.m“This is the first man­made object that has left our home—our bub­ble—ever,” says Merav Opher, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of astron­o­my at Boston Uni­ver­si­ty and a guest inves­ti­ga­tor on NASA’s Voy­ager team. “Voy­ager is like our scout, telling us what lies beyond our home.”

NASA’s recent announce­ment, based on a new study pub­lished in the jour­nal Sci­ence, fol­lows a debate among some astronomers as to when or even whether the tran­sit beyond the heliopause had occurred. The Sci­ence study places the tran­sit as com­plet­ed on August 25, 2012.

One AU is the dis­tance from the sun to the Earth, which is about 93 mil­lion miles or 150 mil­lion kilo­me­ters. Nep­tune, the most dis­tant plan­et from the sun, is about 30 AU. NASA’s Voy­ager 1, humankind’s most dis­tant space­craft, is around 125 AU. It will take about 300 years for Voy­ager 1 to reach the inner edge of the Oort Cloud and pos­si­bly about 30,000 years to fly beyond it.
dif­fer­ent from the solar mag­net­ic field inside.

One of features of voyager is this golden disk, with a map of how to get to earth, pictures of mankind, and sounds of humanity. Sort of like throwing a note in a bottle out to sea- I wonder if anyone will ever read it, and if we’ll still be around.

How to capture an asteroid


According to a Florida senator, U.S. President Obama’s proposed federal budget for the coming fiscal year will include a line item for catching an asteroid and placing it in orbit around the moon. The budget is expected to be released later this week. There’s speculation that this proposal is in response to the recent realization by many that Earth is vulnerable to strikes from asteroids. This realization followed the February 15, 2013 asteroid explosion in the atmosphere over Russia on the same day that a second asteroid, traveling from a different direction in space, passed closer to Earth than some communications satellites.

A statement from the office of Florida Senator Bill Nelson said:

“In a nutshell, the plan in NASA’s hands calls for catching an asteroid with a robotic spacecraft and towing it back toward Earth, where it would then be placed in a stable orbit around the moon.”

The idea is that would then travel to the asteroid where, the statement said:

“… there could be mining activities, research into ways of deflecting an asteroid from striking Earth and testing to develop technology for a trip to deep space and Mars.”

Nelson, who is chairman of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space, said this plan is similar to one suggested by experts at the California Institute of Technology last year. That plan proposed bringing a 500-ton asteroid closer to Earth. Obama supports NASA’s plan and is including about $100 million in his proposed budget to kick it off. Of course the real mission will be more like $2.6 billion.

The biggest garage sale ever


So what do you do when you’ve outgrown all your old toys? Hold a garage sale and try to make a few bucks! NASA hopes to do the same thing with all its old toys. The space shuttles are all nestled in their retirement homes, but NASA still has plenty of equipment, buildings and other infrastructure left over from their 30-year run. The space agency is quietly trying to sell it or lease it, and in some cases by the end of this year.,0,5714317.story

According to the Orlando Sentinel, which has been tracking NASA’s garage sale efforts, the steel and concrete buildings will almost certainly start to rust in the humid, salty climate of Florida’s Space Coast. Some commercial partners already have deals with the space agency to use its facilities. Boeing is refurbishing one of the Orbiter Processing Facilities for its CST-100 space transport capsule, which could eventually ferry up to seven astronauts to the space station. And SpaceX has already used the launch facilities at KSC.

But there’s plenty left, from the huge shuttle landing strips and rollout paths to the parachute-packing plants. Keep an eye on eBay, see what appears!

Check out this gallery to see some of the assets NASA is hoping to offer to the next generation of space explorers.

Thinking outside the (small) box


The most frustrating aspect of exploring the solar system is that it can be expensive. Not really expensive when compared to many other things we pay for, but still expensive. This has lead us to go down the safe path of super missions- big but infrequent and very safe missions to explore very specific questions. Maybe this will all change though.

lunar cubesats

Cubesats are the new tool for the exploratory mind. Instead of doing a few big missions, why not do lots and lots of small missions? Cubesats are small, cheap and quiet reliable. We can get loads of data from lot of points, and who cares if one or two fail- we would still have hundreds. So what can we do with these shoe boxed sized satellites. Well, why not send a bunch to the moon. There is loads of science to be done at our nearest neighbor, and it serves as a great proof of concept for going further afield. What else could we do with a load of small individual satellites? Time to think outside the box.

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Watching us, watching Mars


This mission is amazing. The fundamental questions about life and origins of life, the technology to get there, the ingenuity in the landing, the creative nature of the experiments. All amazing. But to me, this picture is most amazing part. No longer do we just land on planets and go wandering. Now we take pictures of us getting there. And all in near-real time (That’s better than NBC do with the Olympics).

The dwindling pot pits astronomers against each other

At first glance at this story I think ‘Great. Another achievement for ESA’

JUpiter ICy moon Explorer mcateer JUICY

but then the flip side reveals itself as

the Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics mcateer ATHENA

organizes a preemptive strike against a possible forthcoming rejection. At 2 euro per person per year ESA basically is struggling on a shoestring. It is having to make impossible scientific judgement calls on comparing a mission to Jupiter’s moon to X-ray cosmology. It’s like pitting apples and oranges in a fight to see who is ‘most fruity’. And so the decision, although supposedly based on science, often turns to be based on history, politics, and supposed technology readiness level.

Astronomers are left fighting amongst themselves for 2-euro scraps off the table. Economies are bad, money is tight, but is asking for another couple of Euro per person really that bad? After all, UK alone spends 50 billion euro (38 billion pounds) per year in military – 1000 euro per UK taxpayer. And we just ‘awarded’ over 120 billions euros (100 billion pounds) to the banks – 2000 euro per taxpayer.

For less than the price of a morning coffee Europe could have a space agency to be proud of, with missions surpassing all other nations – even NASA.