Swimming on Pluto? Maybe Someday; Maybe Somebody Today.

New evidence shows Pluto may have an ocean under its many mile-thick shell of ice.

In light of its frigid temperature, the non-planet appears to be warm enough, at least to “easily” have a subsurface ocean.

Beneath a 120-mile layer of ice, this said ocean could be 60 to 105 miles thick.

PlutoIf this is the case, Pluto joins a list of outer solar system bodies, such as Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Titan, which are thought to hold liquid water.

If this were the case, Pluto’s heat would come via decaying radioactive nuclides, particularly potassium-40, inside rocks in the dwarf planet’s interior.

While, chances are Pluto’s surface is probably colder than -380°F, there could still be plenty of liquid-preserving heat beneath the ice cap. For an ocean to exist, Pluto’s rocks would have to be concentrated in a rocky core, with water and ice layered on the surface.

The New Horizons spacecraft will reach Pluto in 2015. At that point it will be easy enough to test whether Pluto really has such a subsurface ocean.

If, however, there is no ocean, say, Pluto would be comparatively flattened at its poles, and would contain a “fossil” equatorial bulge left over from early in the planet’s history, when the body was spinning more rapidly, say.

And if indeed there is an ocean on the former-ninth planet, the surface would show cracks made as Pluto gradually lost heat and the ice cap thickened over the course of billions of years.

That is because the freezing ice would have expanded, causing the surface to bulge upward, cracking in the process. If, however, there was only ice, and never an ocean, the cooling of the planet should have contracted the ice rather than expanded it. When formed, ice contracts as it cools, see?

Stephen Hawking and Extraterrestrial Life

Stephen Hawking believes that the existence of extraterrestrial life is a certainty. Furthermore, he believes that humans should be extremely cautious about interacting with it:

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational…The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like…We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.”

Hawking concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”.

“If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

Hawking has made the argument in the past that humans must colonize space in order to survive and thrive:

“Sooner or later disasters such as an asteroid collision or a nuclear war could wipe us all out…But once we spread out into space and establish independent colonies, our future should be safe.”

Pain in the Asteroid

Russia says that it is considering sending a spacecraft to knock a large asteroid off of its path and keep it from colliding with Earth.

Deep Impact posterFamous Russian Rocket scientist, Dr. Professor Anatoly Perminov, said the space agency will hold a meeting soon to assess a mission to Apophis, and it plans to invite NASA, the European Space Agency, the Chinese space agency and others to join the project once it is finalized.

When the 270-meter (885-foot) asteroid was first discovered in 2004, astronomers estimated the chances of it smashing into Earth, on its first fly-by, in 2029 were as high as 1-in-37. Other studies ruled out the possibility of an impact in 2029, when the asteroid is expected to come no closer than 18,300 miles (29,450 kilometers) above the planet’s surface, but they indicated a small possibility of a hit on subsequent encounters.

In October, NASA lowered the odds that Apophis could hit Earth in 2036 from a 1-in-45,000 to 1-in-250,000. NASA said that another close encounter in 2068 will involve a 1-in-330,000 chance of impact.

Some scientists have proposed sending a probe to circle around a dangerous asteroid in order to change its trajectory. Others suggested sending a spacecraft to collide with the asteroid and alter the momentum, or even using nuclear weapons against it.

Perminov said:
“Calculations show that it’s possible to create a special purpose spacecraft within the time we have, which would help avoid the collision without destroying it (the asteroid) and without detonating any nuclear charges. The threat of collision can be averted.”

“People’s lives are at stake. We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would allow to prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people.”

We cannot help but be reminded of the Hollywood action films “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon,” which both featured space missions scrambling to avoid catastrophic collisions. In both movies the space crews used nuclear bombs to prevent collisions.

Mysteries of the Deep

Marine CensusAre you one of those people who are fascinated by outer-space and the abysmal depths of the deep blue? One who lives for the mysteries? If so check out this news from the bottom of the ocean…

A report released last Sunday recorded 17,650 species living below 656 feet. This is the point where sunlight ceases. The creatures which live down there feed on the decaying matter which cascades down from higher underwater elevations – even sunken whale bones. They also feed on oil and methane. Researchers say that they’ve found 5,722 species living in the most extreme depths of the ocean – deeper than 3,280 feet.

In addition, more than 40 new species of coral were found living on deep-sea mountains, along with cities of brittle-stars and anemone gardens. There are also nearly 500 new species ranging from single-celled creatures to large squid were charted in the abyssal plains and basins.

Also notable were the 170 new species that get their energy from chemicals spewing from ocean-bottom vents and seeps. Among them was a family of “yeti crabs”, which are known for their silky, hair-like filaments on the legs.

Researching the abyss is costly and difficult because it involves deep-towed cameras, sonar and remotely operated vehicles that cost $50,000 a day to operate; but we’ll stay tuned and look forward to what scientists will find next.

Meanwhile scientists predict that there are easily more than a million species on earth and underwater which still remain to be discovered. On land, biologists have catalogued about 1.5 million plants and animals.

Water Water Everywhere But Not a Drop to Drink

lcross waterNews from the final frontier:
According to the US Space Agency, a significant amount of frozen water has been found on the moon, proving the $79 million LCROSS mission successful. Hoorah! Chalk one up for team science…

Here’s How LCROSS Worked:
NASA sent an unmanned craft smashing into the lunar surface. It crashed into the Cabeus crater, located near the lunar southern pole; flying into the moon’s floor at a speed of 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers) per hour. Then they followed the rocket four minutes later with a spacecraft carrying cameras to record the impact. The collision of the first rocket to the lunar surface created an impact which sent a huge cloud of material coming up from the bottom of the crater, which had not seen the light of the sun for billions of years. Inside the 30 meter crater was found about a dozen, two-gallon buckets of H2O.

LCROSSWhat Does It All Mean?
This discovery is revolutionary. Absolutely earth shattering, or moon shattering – if you will; for previously scientists had theorized that outside of the small possibility of a little bit of ice at the bottom of craters, the moon was completely dry. I am sure all of these scientists are pleased to be proved wrong. Apparently, one possible source for the water could have come from a comet. Still 25 gallons of H20 molecules is pretty darn impressive!

Washington Washington, This is NASA, Do You Read Me? Over:
The only human beings to ever step foot on the moon were all Americans, and the last was in 1972. While NASA plans to put US astronauts back on the moon by 2020 to establish “manned lunar bases for further exploration to Mars,” a project entitled Constellation; unfortunately the chances are becoming more and more doubtful, due to Washington’s lack of passion.

According to the President of the country, NASA’s budget is too small to pay for Constellation’s Orion capsule, or the Ares I and Ares V launchers which are needed in order to put the craft in orbit – this is even more unfortunate given the fact that the Obama administration prides themselves in actually increasing funding for NASA. Now with the new discovery, which makes possible the dream of actually colonizing the moon, we will find out just how precious that extra $3 billion is to Mr. Obama.

Are We Alone On The Blue Planet?

Solar SystemGreenies may find this news interesting. Astronomers using European Southern Observatory telescopes have announced that they have discovered 32 more planets, outside of our solar system. This brings the number of planets to more than 400. What is fascinating is that this gives evidence to theorists who say that there could be life outside of Earth. Most of these new planets are bigger than Jupiter, which is of course a larger planet than ours.

The planets were discovered by the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher. The way this massive telescope works is, it looks for wobbling in the movement of a star; the wobbling would be created by the tug of a planet’s gravity. Pretty cool!

Astronomer Stephane Udry of the University of Geneva said in a Web-based news conference in Portugal, “I’m pretty confident that there are Earth-like planets everywhere, nature doesn’t like a vacuum. If there is space to put a planet there, there will be a planet there.”

Four of the planets were found, circling around a star, in a design not unlike our own Solar System. Two of these four planets were about the same size as Earth.

Unfortunately, as of now there are no photos available of the new planets…

Forget Mars, Let’s Live on Europa

Exactly how much oxygen is present in Europa’s oceans? Wait a minute, let’s backtrack here.

europaWhat is Europa?
Europa is the sixth moon of Jupiter, with some tantalizing characteristics that make it very interesting for NASA and us.
Its atmosphere is mostly oxygen, which actually isn’t all that healthy for us, since our atmosphere is actually three quarters nitrogen. However, its surface is ice, and buried under that ice may be water, if it is insulated enough from the cold and warmed enough by the moon’s core. The ice is several miles thick, so it’s hard to conjecture, but the key will be how much oxygen is dissolved in the water. Scientists now think…a lot. Specifically, 100 times more than initially estimated.

The reason for this recalculation is based (and I’m only loosely explaining this since I don’t quite understand it myself) on the smoothness of Europa’s surface. Its smoothness attests to its age, and its age attests to the fact that it must be continuously reformed in quick and successive stages. To be reformed, the ice has to crack, which gives the primarily oxygen atmosphere time to infiltrate the water beneath.

Theoretically, the amount of oxygen could support life, both unicellular and bigger animals. So who wants to go and check it out?

Man on the Moon? No! Water on the Moon

There is now “unambiguous evidence” of water on the moon. Can the moon support life now? Heh, not really. I mean, try breathing on the thing. It doesn’t work too well.

But never mind that. The details of the findings, which will be published in tomorrow’s issue of Science, follow on the heels of evidence of lunar ice at the poles. There’s another experiment being planned (and it’s pretty cool) where a satellite will intentionally smash into one of the moon’s permanently shadowed craters and hopefully break through to some water in the debris.

Chandrayaan-1When we landed on the moon 40 years ago, evidence of water was inconclusive because the containers that held the moon rocks leaked, and there is no way to tell the difference between water from Earth and water from the moon.

The strongest evidence for water actually came from an Indian spacecraft, Chandrayaan-1, India’s first-ever moon probe, shown here. It detected wavelengths of light off the surface that indicated the chemical bond between hydrogen and oxygen. Water has that. Other things, too, but water is the most basic. Three separate projects, including Cassini, Deep Impact, and the Indian one previously mentioned all detected strong oxygen-hydrogen bond signals at the moon’s poles.

The findings of all three spacecraft “provide unambiguous evidence for the presence of hydroxyl or water,” said Paul Lacey of the University of Hawaii. He wasn’t involved in the missions, but he probably knows his stuff anyway.
How did the water get there? Scientists theorize that solar wind, which is basically a stream of protons from the sun (AKA hydrogen without an electron) hit oxygen-containing minerals on the moon’s surface, combined, and formed water. Two hydrogens and on oxygen make water.
Since the solar wind keeps hitting, though, it could also break the water apart. This might be why the most water is found at the poles, where it can accumulate without the sun constantly breaking it apart.

Electric, Hybrid, AND Diesel? BMW Technological Orgy

bmw concept carWe know, we know, electric cars use too much rare earth metals. We just wrote about it below. But that’s not going to stop us from covering the next ultra cool electric triple hybrid diesel plugin etc. tour de force vehicle.

That’s just what we need. All these companies coming out with zero emission stuff that runs on one thing or another, that’s either a hybrid or it’s not, that’s hydrogen and nothing else, that’s plug in and that’s it, and now BMW comes with this technological orgy that combines EVERYTHING and then actually succeeds in sticking the entire mess under one hood. How the HECK does this thing even exist?

The car has a top speed of 155mph and can go from 0-60 in less than five seconds. All with only 3 cylinders, because the electric engines are what’s giving this thing its power. The final fuel economy is 63 mpg. Unless, of course, you can get to work using only the batteries, which will get you about 31 miles on a charge, which can be done in 2.5 hours in a standard 220 volt outlet (like the ones on your washing machine or AC. Changing that to a 380 volt line cuts the charge time to 44 minutes. Overall range including gasoline – 400 miles.

Sophisticated software surrounds every system, which takes readings and interprets the data to enable more efficient operation.

Cost? HA! It’s a concept car. Go build your own.

Printer Runs on Used Coffee Grinds, No Electricity

I can’t wait until this bad boy comes out. I’m getting my hands on one of these immediately. The thought of using old coffee and tea grinds to print my next paper gives a whole new meaning to the idea of coffee stains on your homework.

RITI PrinterThe RITI printer was invented by Korean Joen Hwan Ju, and has not yet made it to market, but word is now exploding about it. Here’s what you do: Drink a cup of coffee (not instant) and put the grinds into the ink cartridge on the top. (Drinking the coffee not required for printing.) Add some water. Move the cartridge back and forth with your hand, and watch as your document gets burned in very precisely-patterned coffee stains into a readable document with words on it. Take the cartridge out and wash it. You’re done.

You can also use tea schmutz. After an English breakfast, take your teabag, rip it open, pour the contents into the ink cartridge and do the same thing.

Advantages: Leftover coffee and tea is generally a bit cheaper than a $50 ink cartridge. No electricity means you get some forearm workout and save power. Finally, you paper smells like coffee and/or tea. Just make sure that whatever color fluid you’re using doesn’t smell too bad.

Disadvantages: It’s slow, so if you have to print up thousands of flyers, don’t use this unless you’ve got forearms of steel and about 3 weeks of free time to do nothing but move tea dregs back and forth.