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  1. Making the Moon


    Based on a Southwest Research Institute press release

    The “giant impact” theory, first proposed in the mid-1970s to explain how the Moon formed, has now received a major boost. New computer simulations demonstrate how a single impact could yield the current Earth-Moon system. According to these new results, which appeared in the August 16 issue of Nature, the Moon is a chip off of the terrestrial block.

    The Earth-Moon system is unusual in several respects. The Moon has an abnormally low density compared to the terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars), indicating that it lacks high-density iron. While the ...

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  1. A Greener Planetary Greenhouse


    Based on a Science @ NASA news story

    For more than two decades, northern hemisphere vegetation has become gradually more lush, according to new research based on NASA satellite data.

    Researchers confirm that plant life seen above 40 degrees north latitude, which represents a line stretching from New York to Madrid to Beijing, has been growing more vigorously since 1981. One possible cause is rising temperatures, linked perhaps to the buildup of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

    The area of northern vegetation has not actually expanded, but it has increased in density. The growing season has also increased by several days ...

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  1. Genomics Meets Geology


    The last third of the last century could be called the decades of molecular biology. Biologists turned the spotlight of chemistry on biological black boxes and began to understand how cells and inheritance function at a molecular level. The iconic capstone of this work was the sequencing of the human genome.

    But Steven A. Benner, a biological chemist at the University of Florida and member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), is turning that trend toward reductionism on its head.

    “While all the biologists are rushing to become molecular biologists and chemists,” he says, “here we are chemists trying ...

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  1. Evidence of Recent Climate Change on Mars


    Based on a Brown University press release

    New images of the surface of Mars provide the first direct evidence that the climate of Mars has changed during the last 100,000 years, according to Brown University geologist John Mustard. This is much earlier than previous estimates, which calculated a climate change dating back hundreds of millions of years.

    The images were recorded by the Mars Orbiter Camera aboard NASA’s unmanned Mars Global Surveyor. They show a unique surface terrain of pits and hummocks that appears to have been soil once impregnated by water ice. The ice has since evaporated ...

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  1. Jupiter-Size Planet Found Orbiting Star in Big Dipper


    Based on a National Science Foundation press release

    A team of astronomers has found a Jupiter-size planet in a circular orbit around a faint nearby star, raising intriguing prospects of finding a solar system with characteristics similar to our own.

    The planet is the second found to orbit the star 47 Ursae Majoris (47 UMa) in the Big Dipper, also known as Ursa Major or the Big Bear. The new planet is at least three-fourths the mass of Jupiter and orbits the star at a distance that, in our solar system, would place it beyond Mars but within the orbit ...

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  1. Scientists Hunt for Light Flashes From Extraterrestrial Civilizations


    Adapted from a SETI Institute press release

    California astronomers are broadening the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) by looking for powerful light pulses coming from other star systems. Scientists from the University of California’s Lick Observatory, the SETI Institute, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Berkeley are coupling the Lick Observatory’s 40-inch Nickel Telescope with a new pulse-detection system capable of finding laser beacons sent by alien civilizations.

    “We are looking for very brief but powerful pulses of laser light from other planetary systems, rather than the steady whine of a radio transmitter,” says Frank Drake, Chairman of the Board ...

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  1. Guerrero Negro


    Guerrero Negro, a small town of 10,000 located halfway down Mexico’s Baja peninsula, is a popular destination for ecotourists. They come to gaze at the gray whales, or to marvel at the diverse population of shorebirds.

    But in June, Dr. David Des Marais and his colleagues headed to the area to investigate an ecosystem not likely to be mentioned in any travel guide. Des Marais is a senior research scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA, and a member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. His research team made the trek south to study microbial ...

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  1. Having a Ball on Mars


    Based on a Science @ NASA story by JPL

    Researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have hit upon an idea for exploring the Red Planet that seems to be equal parts fun and serious science: it’s a lightweight, two-story tall beach ball called “the tumbleweed rover.” Equipped with scientific instruments and propelled by nothing more than the thin Martian breeze, the tumbleweed could potentially explore vast tracts of planetary terrain.

    The wind blowing across the face of the Red Planet would be the only engine needed to move such a ball from place to place, says Jack Jones of ...

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  1. Advances in Our Understanding of Life


    Excerpts from the testimony of Jack D. Farmer, Director and Principal Investigator of the NASA funded Astrobiology Program at Arizona State University, for the “Life in the Universe” hearings before the House Subcommiteee on Space and Aeronautics

    Over the past two decades, advances in a number of scientific disciplines have helped us better understand the nature and evolution of life on Earth. These scientific developments also have helped lay the foundation for astrobiology, opening up new possibilities for the existence of life in the Solar System and beyond.

    A New Look at Life

    Carl Woese of the University of Illinois ...

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  1. Water on Mars: Not So Ancient, After All


    Based on a University of Arizona press release

    Scientists have known for decades that Mars, at least in its ancient past, has had a considerable amount of water.

    But when Mars Global Surveyor began mapping the Red Planet in sharp detail early in 1999, it disclosed startling evidence that water has shaped Martian landforms within the past 10 million years.

    The discovery challenges the prevailing view that Mars’ surface has remained extremely cold and dry – much as it is today – for the past 3.9 billion years.

    It confirms the idea that internal heat periodically triggers short-term warmer ...

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  1. Gravity Hurts (So Good)


    Based on a Sceince@NASA press release by Karen Miller.

    Gravity hurts: you can feel it hoisting a loaded backpack or pushing a bike up a hill. But lack of gravity hurts, too: when astronauts return from long-term stints in space, they sometimes need to be carried away in stretchers.

    Gravity is not just a force, it’s also a signal — a signal that tells the body how to act. For one thing, it tells muscles and bones how strong they must be. In zero-G, muscles atrophy quickly, because the body perceives it does not need them. The muscles used ...

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  1. Life on Ice


    From Arctic sea ice to Antarctic lakes and dry valleys, scientists study microbes that tolerate freezing temperatures on Earth to learn where to look for life on other worlds. Among the possibilities are fossils in ancient Martian lakebeds and bacteria wrapped in mucus and ice on Jupiter’s moon Europa.

    “It’s terribly important that we learn more about cold-adapted microbes because all the environments we even contemplate for supporting life elsewhere [in our solar system] are cold,” says microbiologist Jody W. Deming, an oceanography professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.

    “We need to know how all ...

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  1. Extrasolar Planets With Earth-Like Orbits


    Most of the planets discovered outside our solar system don’t have orbits like Earth’s. Either the planets are closer to their stars, with orbital periods of only a few days, or they have highly elliptical orbits – some of which better resemble the paths of comets. Recently, however, a team of astronomers from the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland announced they had discovered a planet with an orbital path very similar to Earth’s.

    Dubbed HD 28185 b, this planet has a nearly circular orbit and is about the same distance away from its star as the Earth is from ...

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  1. Are We Alone? Where Are Our Nearest Neighbors?


    Excerpts from the written testimony submitted by Edward Weiler, Associate Administrator for Space Science, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, to the “Life in the Universe” hearings held by the House Subcommiteee on Space and Aeronautics on July 12, 2001.

    “There are countless suns and countless Earths all rotating around their suns in exactly the same way as the seven planets of our system. We see only the suns because they are the largest bodies and are luminous, but their planets remain invisible to us because they are smaller and non-luminous. The countless worlds in the universe are no worse and ...

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  1. Did Tectonis Get an Early Start?


    Based on a St. Louis University and Washington University in St. Louis press release

    A recent discovery near the Great Wall in China adds new support to the theory that plate tectonics began very early in the Earth’s history. The finding not only will help in understanding the geological processes of ancient Earth, but it could also provide some clues about the development of early life.

    It has long been known that plate tectonics – the motion of oceanic and continental plates – dates back at least 1.9 billion years. But Timothy Kusky, professor of geology at St. Louis ...

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Astrobiology Magazine