NASA’s 411 on Extraterrestrial Life

Are we alone?

Life of extraterrestrial origin is out there. This is the word from NASA. (Yes, really.) The agency has predicted that we’ll see “indications” of life outside of Earth within 10 years….and have evidence of it by 2045.

We suspect that this announcement is a much bigger deal than NASA is letting on. It feels like we are being prepared for something, doesn’t it? Although NASA is referring to microbial life (not big-headed little creatures with huge eyes and spindly limbs), consider the fact that this is not the first time NASA has made this claim. Also consider the fact that when it comes to the question ‘Are we alone?’ the U.S. government tends to flip out — making blanket denials and sputtering contradictory nonsense like a Lothario caught in the act. The way we see it, for a government agency to state not once, but twice, that we should expect to meet life from outside this planet within a specific time frame….that’s HUGE. Bottom line: NASA is most likely already aware of the existence of life originating outside of Earth (microbial or otherwise).

But time, as they say, will tell.

PS — Did you know there are Ocean Worlds all over our solar system?

A Heavenly Menage à Trois

Jupiter and Io captured by space probe Cassini

Jupiter and its moon Io

A couple of weeks ago, Jupiter had a lovely menage à trois: a spectacular triple eclipse. Three of its big moons — Europa, Callisto, and Io (shown above) — passed in front of the huge planet at the same time….and like dedicated voyeurs do, the Hubble Telescope got it all on camera. Gas giant Jupiter has 62 moons, so eclipses aren’t exactly a special occasion, but having three of its four superstar moons show up at the same time IS a special occasion. Only Ganymede (my personal fave) couldn’t stay for the fun. Imagine: if you had been standing on Jupiter, you would’ve peeped three solar eclipses at once. Side note: the moon Europa is kind of a big deal. Astronomers think that there’s life in the incredibly deep oceans under its icy surface….life as we know it, that is.

See it happen! At 00:07 look for the shadows of the 3 moons on Jupiter’s surface.

Size Matters

Artist: Ron Miller

Artist rendition of J1407b by Ron Miller

So you thought Saturn was big? Well, it is…but heavenly body J1407b is even bigger than our darling Saturn and it’s surrounded by 37 rings that are 200 times the size of Saturn’s rings. Sit with that for a second.

Galileo discovered Saturn in 1610; that’s old news. Now a joint team of American and Dutch astronomers has published definitive findings on J1407b, which was first peeped in 2012. J1407b is a brown dwarf (i.e., not quite in Magnum territory): it’s smaller than a star, but bigger than a planet. And if you’re in a traveling mood, it’s also only (!) 434 light years away, in the constellation Centaurus. (BTW, this is our first discovery of rings outside of our solar system.) Astronomers speculate that J1407b’s massive, 90-million-kilometer-wide bracelets were carved out by orbiting moons.

A little context: according to Dutch astronomer, Matthew Kenworthy of Team J1407b, “If we could replace Saturn’s rings with the rings around J1407b, they would be easily visible at night and be many times larger than the full moon.”

J1407 in sky

Copyright: M. Kenworthy / Universiteit Leiden