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NASA has discovered the most Earth-like planets yet

NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered a trio of distant planets that look remarkably like our own. Belonging to solar systems located 1,200 and 2,700 light years from Earth, the three Earth-sized worlds have been spotted orbiting in the so-called Goldilocks Zone of their parent stars – the “just-right” range at which liquid water, and life, can exist on a planet’s surface.
NASA’s Kepler mission has been hunting for worlds beyond our solar system for a little over four years now, and it’s been enormously successful. In that time, it’s spotted literally thousands of planetary candidates. Today, three distant worlds –dubbed Kepler-62f, Kepler-62e, and Kepler-69c –have achieved planetary confirmation, while joining an elite cadre of so-called habitable planets.
Kepler-62f (an artist’s depiction of which appears above) and 62e possess radii just 1.4- and 1.6-times that of Earth’s, respectively, and orbit a star some 1,200 light years away, along with three other newly discovered planets. Kepler-69c, on the other hand, has a radius 1.7-times that of Earth, and orbits a star around 2,700 light years distant from our own. Together, the three newly discovered worlds have become the second,third, and fourth known bodies to wear the badge of “Earth-like, habitable zone planet.”
Above: relative sizes of Kepler habitable zone planets discovered as of 2013 April 18. Left to right: Kepler-22b (with a radius 2.4-times that of our home planet), and the newly discovered Kepler-69c, Kepler-62e, Kepler-62f. All of these, with the exception of Earth, on the far right, are artists’ renditions. Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech
Judging from their radius and orbital period, Kepler researchers are calling 62e and 62f two of the most similar objects to Earth yet. Their discovery is recounted in an article published in the latest issue of Science.
“Kepler-62e probably has a very cloudy sky and is warm and humid all the way to the polar regions,” said co-author Dimitar Sasselov in a statement. “Kepler-62f would be cooler, but still potentially life-friendly.”
The pair belong to a five-planet system that includes 62d, 62c and 62b. These latter three planets vary in size, but orbit far too close to the system’s parent star to have any chance of harboring water or life.
“There may be life [on 62f and 62e], but could it be technology-based like ours? Life on these worlds would be under water with no easy access to metals, to electricity, or fire for metallurgy,” said lead author Lisa Kaltenegger in a statement.
“Nonetheless, these worlds will still be beautiful blue planets circling an orange star — and maybe life’s inventiveness to get to a technology stage will surprise us.”
What 62e, and 62f have going for them, apart from their placement in the habitable zone, is their size. It is thought that smaller planets tend to be more rocky, and less gaseous, than larger worlds. However, the star they orbit is smaller and older than our own. It’s cooler, and only about 20% as bright. Kepler-69c, on the other hand, an artist’s concept of which appears here, orbits a star about 93% as big, and 80% as luminous as our own, making it the smallest world yet discovered in the habitable zone of a sunlike star.
Its neighbor, Kepler-69b is just over twice the size of Earth and orbits once every 13 days. With an orbit that tight, Kepler scientists it’s way too hot to support either water or life.
“The Kepler spacecraft has certainly turned out to be a rock star of science,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA.
“The discovery of these rocky planets in the habitable zone brings us a bit closer to finding a place like home. It is only a matter of time before we know if the galaxy is home to a multitude of planets like Earth, or if we are a rarity.”
The Kepler-62 findings are pubished in the latest issue of Science. Those on Kepler-69 have been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

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How much water is there on Mars and is there enough for future colonists?

For many centuries, man dreamed of conquering the Red Planet, and it seems that in the very near future we will finally be able to take our first step in obtaining an interplanetary view. In order to be able to successfully land on Mars, NASA experts plan to first identify the most suitable place for the landing of future colonists. The main criterion in strict selection will be the presence of ice water, without which the existence of a person in the distant cold desert of a reddish hue would become completely impossible. So where should the first people land on the Red Planet and how much water is on Mars?

Mars and its most suitable zone for the construction of the first human colony outside the Earth

Is there a lot of water on Mars?

According to an article published on the portal phys.org, huge reserves of ice water on Mars can be located only at a depth of 2.5 centimeters from the surface. Its presence will be a key factor in choosing a potential landing site, because such important water resources of the planet will be one of the basic necessities for replenishing the colony’s drinking water reserves and making rocket fuel.

In order to find accessible ice water on Mars, NASA uses data from two spacecrafts at once – NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Mars Odyssey Orbiter. According to the latest data received from the probes, future colonists will not even require the use of excavators and other heavy equipment to extract the vital resource, which can significantly reduce the cost of the course of the future mission.

Map of water ice on Mars

Blue shades show the closest water sources to the surface, red shades show the most distant ones. Black spots are sandy deserts, and the white area can be an ideal candidate for the landing of the first astronauts.

Due to the fact that liquid water cannot exist for a long time in a rarefied Mars atmosphere, almost instantly evaporating into outer space, scientists have yet to develop a technology that can allow water production without loss. The exact location of the ice can be detected using two heat-sensitive instruments – the Martian climate probe MRO and the thermal imaging camera system (THEMIS), designed specifically for Mars Odyssey.

Although there are a large number of places of interest for scientists on Mars, only a few of them are able to provide suitable landing sites for astronauts. So, despite the fact that the middle and southern latitudes of Mars receive more sunlight than its more northern regions, planetologists believe that the most preferred place for landing on Mars will be the Arcadia Planitia region, where water ice reserves are located only 30 centimeters under the surface of the planet.

Researchers believe that at present, the total water resources of the Red Planet are approximately 65 million cubic kilometers, which could well be enough to cover the surface of Mars with a layer of 35 meters thick water. Well, perhaps, future Martian colonists are unlikely to have to worry about the fact that the water on the Red Planet will someday end.

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The Interstellar Research Initiative plans to send people to the exoplanet of Proxima Centauri b

In an attempt to protect humanity from extinction in the event of some kind of global catastrophe of a planetary scale, a group of scientists announced a bold plan for the colonization of a distant exoplanet.

Proxima Centauri b

Scientists from the Initiative for Interstellar Studies said they were considering sending people to a potentially inhabited exoplanet in another stellar system.

The most promising option they consider, Proxima Centauri b, which is 4.24 light years away from Earth, which means the journey will take centuries or even millennia. This suggests that generations will succeed each other during the journey.

Technically, this is possible.

However, the challenges facing the mission are so numerous and complex that it can take decades to prepare.

“From the point of view of physics, there are no fundamental obstacles. There are many nuances, but this is not a violation of the fundamental laws of physics, ”said Andreas Hein, Executive Director of Initiative for Interstellar Studies.

No problem.

The main problem is the lack of experience being far beyond the Earth for such a period of time.

Even a flight to Mars, which will last about 6-8 months, raises a lot of questions.

Proxima Centauri b

There is no reliable protection against merciless radiation yet. Medical problems caused by a prolonged stay in space are still poorly understood. Other than that, there is no guarantee that Proxima Centauri b is indeed liveable.

Can you imagine what a setup would be if people born on a spaceship for one purpose would come to a planet absolutely unsuitable for settlement …

However, the authors of the project do not plan to curtail the program and continue to work actively in this direction.

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European Space Agency to launch space waste collector

A four-armed robotic junk collector will be launched into space by the European Space Agency in what it says will be the first mission to remove an item of debris from orbit.

European Space Agency to launch space waste collector

The ClearSpace-1 mission, scheduled for launch in 2025, will cost €120m and will grab a single piece of junk. But the agency hopes the mission will pave the way for a wide-reaching clear-up operation, with Esa’s director general calling for new rules that would compel those who launch satellites to take responsibility for removing them from orbit once they are retired from use.

Jan Wörner, CEO of ESA, said:

Imagine how dangerous sailing the high seas would be if all the ships ever lost in history were still drifting on top of the water. That is the current situation in orbit, and it cannot be allowed to continue.

In the past 60 years, thousands of tonnes of junk has accumulated around the Earth, including old rocket parts, about 3,500 defunct satellites and an estimated 750,000 smaller fragments, some from collisions between larger bits of junk. The fragments are typically circulating with a velocity of 20,000km/h (12,500mph).

Unless a clear-up operation is mounted, the chances of collisions will escalate as thousands more satellites are put into orbit.

Funding for the mission was agreed at Space19+, ESA’s misterial council, which took place in Seville, Spain, at the end of November. The mission will be run by a consortium led by a Swiss startup called Clearspace.

The target for ClearSpace-1 is a piece of junk called Vespa, which was left in an orbit around 800km above the Earth by ESA’s Vega launcher in 2013. Vespa weighs 100kg – around the size of a small satellite – and was selected because it has a simple shape and sturdy construction, which make it unlikely to fragment when it is grabbed.

The “chaser” ClearSpace space probe will be launched into the target orbit where it will track down Vespa, grab it using a quartet of robotic arms and drag it out of orbit, with Vespa and the chaser both burning up in the atmosphere on the way down to Earth.

A future ambition is to create a clear-up robot that could eject junk into the atmosphere, before continuing to capture and de-orbit other pieces of junk.

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