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The Extremely Large Telescope is five times larger than the top observing instruments in use today

Construction has begun on the world's first "super telescope", which could prove to be a vital tool in the search for alien life.

The telescope, appropriately named Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), will be the world's largest optical telescope - some five times larger than the top observing instruments in use today.

 

Its main mirror alone will measure 39 metres across, and it will be housed in an enormous rotating dome 85 metres in diameter - comparable in area to a football pitch.

This artist's rendering shows a night view of the Extremely Large Telescope in operation on Cerro Armazones in northern Chile. The telescope is shown using lasers to create artificial stars high in the atmosphere. (Photo: ESO/L. Calada)

Located on a 3,000 metre-high mountain in the middle of the Atacama desert in Chile, it is due to begin operating in 2024.

Among other capabilities, it will probe Earth-like exoplanets for signs of life, study the nature of dark energy and dark matter, and observe the Universe's early stages to explore our origins.

It will also raise new questions we cannot conceive of today, as well as improving life here on Earth through new technology and engineering breakthroughs, scientists claim.

The President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, arrives at the first stone ceremony for the ELT (Photo: ESO/Juan Pablo Astorga)

 

    A ceremony to mark the beginning of the construction process was held at the Paranal Observatory in northern Chile. The ceremony was attended by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.

    "Wee are building more than a telescope here: it is one of the greatest expressions of scientific and technological capabilities and of the extraordinary potential of international cooperation," said Bachelet.

    As well as the laying of the "first stone", the ceremony included the sealing of a time capsule, containing photographs of scientists and engineers who have worked on the project, and a copy of a book describing the future scientific goals of the telescope.

    This infographic provides a basic breakdown of the ELT's structure, focusing particularly on the first-generation of instruments. (Photo: ESO)

    The ELT is being funded by the European Southern Observatory, an organisation consisting of European and southern hemisphere nations.

     

    The dry atmosphere of the Atacama provides as near perfect observing conditions as it is possible to find on Earth, with some 70% of the world's astronomical infrastructure slated to be located in the region by the 2020s.

    Construction costs were not available but the ESO has said previously that the ELT would cost around €1 billion (£871 million) at 2012 prices.

    The ELT is due to begin operating in 2024 (Photo: ESO/L. Calada)

      "The ELT will produce discoveries that we simply cannot imagine today, and it will surely inspire numerous people around the world to think about science, technology and our place in the Universe," said Tim de Zeeuw, director general of ESO.

      "This will bring great benefit to the ESO Member States, to Chile, and to the rest of the world."

      Source: This article was mirror.co.uk By JORGE VEGASOPHIE CURTIS

      Categorized in Science & Tech

       

      • Findings will be presented at 2017 Astrobiology Science Conference April 24- 28
      • Will discuss life on earth and search for habitable worlds in our solar system
      • It comes on the heels of last week's reveal about Saturn's moon Enceladus
      • It was found to have hydrogen gas - a potential source of chemical energy for life
      • Discussions will also involve potential science value of a lander on the Europa
      • Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, thought to be a key candidate for potential life

      NASA researchers will soon present new findings on topics ranging from the origins and evolution of life on earth to the search for habitable environments and life in our solar system, the space agency has revealed. 

       

      The findings will be presented during the 2017 Astrobiology  Science Conference between April 24 and April 28 in Mesa, Arizona.

      The announcement comes on the heels of last week's reveal that Enceladus, one of Saturn's icy moons, was found to have hydrogen - a potential source of chemical energy that could support microbes on its seafloor. 

      NASA researchers will soon present new findings on topics ranging from the origins and evolution of life on earth to the search for habitable environments and life in our solar system. The illustration  shows Cassini spacecraft diving through a plume on Enceladus
      NASA researchers will soon present new findings on topics ranging from the origins and evolution of life on earth to the search for habitable environments and life in our solar system. The illustration shows Cassini spacecraft diving through a plume on Enceladus

      WHO WILL SPEAK AT THE ANNOUNCEMENT?

      Dr Giada Arney of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will discuss organic haze on Earthlike planets as possible biosignatures.

      Dr Morgan Cable at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will speak about mechanisms for enrichment of organics in Enceladus plumes.

      Dr John Grunsfeld, former NASA astronaut associate administrator for science, will deliver a presentation on next-generation space telescopes for terrestrial exoplanet characterization and the search for biosignatures.

      NASA will hold a town hall meeting to obtain feedback from the astrobiology community on the Europa Lander Science Definition Team Report on Sunday, April 23 at the Phoenix Marriott Mesa Hotel from 12:30 to 6pm Pacific Daylight Time. 

      The report looks at the potential science value of a lander on the surface of Jupiter's sixth-closest, icy moon Europa, which is a key candidate for potential extraterrestrial life.

      It lists three science goals for the mission, with the primary goal being the search for evidence of life on Europa.

       

      The report also aims to assess the habitability of Europa by directly analyzing material from the surface, and to characterize the surface and subsurface to support future robotic exploration of Europa and its ocean.

      Europa has long been a high priority for exploration because it has a salty liquid water ocean beneath its icy crust. 
       
      An artist's concept of a plume of water vapour thought to be ejected off the frigid, icy surface of Jupiter's moon Europa, about 500 million miles (800 million km) from the sun
      An artist's concept of a plume of water vapour thought to be ejected off the frigid, icy surface of Jupiter's moon Europa, about 500 million miles (800 million km) from the sun

      Last year, the Hubble telescope spotted possible water plumes, similar to those of Enceladus, erupting from Europa.

      Evidence of a plume was seen at the same location in 2014, and researchers say the new observations are further evidence that these plumes could be real, and experience intermittent flare-ups.

      These vapor flumes coming off Europa make it a key candidate for potential extraterrestrial life.

      NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, named after the clipper ships which sailed across the oceans of our planet in the 19th century, will set off in the 2020s to search for the chemical ingredients of life on Jupiter's moon Europa. 

      JUPITER'S ICY MOON EUROPA

      Jupiter's icy moon Europa is slightly smaller than Earth's moon. 

      Europa orbits Jupiter every 3.5 days and is tidally locked - just like Earth's Moon - so that the same side of Europa faces Jupiter at all times.Jupiter's sixth-closest moon Europa is one of the most interesting bodies in our solar system when it comes to the hunt for extra terrestrial life
      Jupiter's sixth-closest moon Europa is one of the most interesting bodies in our solar system when it comes to the hunt for extra terrestrial life

      It is thought to have an iron core, a rocky mantle and a surface ocean of salty water, like Earth. 

       

      Unlike on Earth, however, this ocean is deep enough to cover the whole surface of Europa, and being far from the sun, the ocean surface is globally frozen over.

      Many experts believe the hidden ocean surrounding Europa, warmed by powerful tidal forces caused by Jupiter's gravity, may have conditions favourable for life. 

      The ultimate aim of Europa Clipper is to determine if Europa is habitable, possessing all three of the ingredients necessary for life: liquid water, chemical ingredients, and energy sources sufficient to enable biology. 

      NASA's Roadmaps to Ocean Worlds (ROW) team, chartered to identify science objectives and exploration roadmaps for ocean worlds, will hold a town hall from 12:15 to 1:15pm on Monday, April 24 to share its progress and obtain feedback.

      Among some of the researchers who will speak at the conference are Dr Giada Arney of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who will discuss organic haze on Earthlike planets as possible biosignatures, and Dr Morgan Cable at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who will speak about mechanisms for enrichment of organics in Enceladus plumes. 

      The findings discussed may also involve Enceladus, Saturn's sixth largest moon.

      After 13 years exploring Saturn, NASA's Cassini aircraft dove into high-powered jets of water spewing from the moon’s surface, where it found hydrogen gas.

      The gas is the final piece of the puzzle following the discovery of water in an ocean under Enceladus’s surface.

      It means Saturn’s sixth moon may have the same single-celled organisms with which life began on Earth, or more complex creatures still.

      These organisms, still found on our planet within the darkest depths of our oceans, use hydrogen and carbon dioxide as fuel in a process known as 'methanogenesis.'

       

      ‘What is intriguing about the data at Enceladus, with the hydrogen detection, is that we are now able to determine how much energy would be available from the methanogenesis reaction at Enceladus,' said Dr Chris Glein, Cassini INMS team associate at the Southwest Research Insitiute during a press conference about Enceladus. 

      'We have made the first calorie count in an alien ocean.'

      Organisms, found on our planet in hot vents within the darkest depths of our oceans, use hydrogen and carbon dioxide as fuel in a process called 'methanogenesis.' Researchers have now discovered the building blocks for life exist on Enceladus as well
      Organisms, found on our planet in hot vents within the darkest depths of our oceans, use hydrogn and carbon dioxide as fuel in a process called 'methanogenesis.' Researchers have now discovered the building blocks for life exist on Enceladus as well
       

      WHAT IS ENCELADUS? 

      Enceladus is Saturn's sixth largest moon, at 313 miles wide (504 kilometers).

      Cassini observations have revealed hydrothermal activity, with vents spewing water vapour and ice particles out from a global ocean buried beneath the icy crust.

      Cassini observations have revealed hydrothermal activity on Enceladus, with vents spewing water vapor and ice particles out from a global ocean buried beneath the icy crust
      Cassini observations have revealed hydrothermal activity on Enceladus, with vents spewing water vapor and ice particles out from a global ocean buried beneath the icy crust
       

       

      According to NASA, the plume includes organic compounds, volatile gases, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, salts, and silica.

      While it may look 'inhospitable' like Saturn's other moons, the observations suggest it may have the ingredients to support microbial life

      This, the researcher explained, is a major step in assessing the moon's habitability. 

      The host of the upcoming conference, Arizona State University (ASU), will also hold two free public events at the Phoenix Marriott Mesa Hotel.

      ASU's Beyond Center will hold an event called 'Where a Second Example of Life Might be Discovered in the Next Century' on Tuesday, April 25 from 7 to 8:30pm,

      ASU's Origins Project will host an event titled 'How Astrobiology and Planetary Science Inform a Perspective of Planetary Stewardship' on Thursday April 26 from 6:30 to 8:30pm. 

      Source: This article was published dailymail.co.uk By CECILE BORKHATARIA

      Categorized in Science & Tech
      NASA and the ESA are planning to launch a joint mission to Jupiter's moon Europa. This icy satellite hosts a subterranean ocean larger than those on Earth, and it could host extraterrestrial life.

      EXPLORING TOGETHER

      Recent discoveries in space have made the search for life beyond Earth easier and more difficult at the same time. As more exoplanets and moons with the potential to support extraterrestrial life turn up, the probability of finding one that actually does increases. However, sending missions to explore all these potentially inhabited worlds has also become more difficult.
       
       
      NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have come up with a rather practical solution: The two space agencies will pool their resources for one of these exploration missions. The target is Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, and it is considered one of the best candidates for alien life.
       
      The proposal, dubbed the Joint Europa Mission (JEM), was unveiled Sunday in Vienna, Austria, at the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union. “The whole idea is that if we think exploring Europa for life is important, it should be an international adventure,” Michel Blanc from the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology in Toulouse, France, told New Scientist. “The ultimate goal is to get to the surface and look for biosignatures of life.”

      LIFE LURKING BENEATH

      The prospect of life on Europa increased when the moon was discovered to have a vast ocean hidden beneath its icy crust. This discovery was reinforced by the observation of water plumes escaping to the surface. Researchers estimate that Europa boasts twice as much water as our planet, so there’s plenty to explore, and the ocean even seems to be more similar to Earth’s than previously thought.
       

       

       
      The plan is for JEM to launch by the mid-2020s, and it would run for about six-and-a-half years. The first five of those would be used simply to reach Jupiter, then a few more days would be needed to reach Europa.
       
      Upon reaching Europa’s orbit, a lander would be launched to explore the surface for 35 days, scanning material samples for traces of life. Meanwhile, the orbiter craft would spend three months taking various measurements to reveal Europa’s basic structure, focusing on the ocean’s composition. After that, the lander could crash into Europa while taking and transmitting data about the moon’s atmosphere.
       
       
      While both NASA and the ESA have existing plans to explore Europa and the other icy-watery moons in the solar system, the planned combined effort would offer a unique advantage for both space agencies. Pooling their resources might make it easier to figure out solutions to key problems, such as Jupiter’s intense radiation and the need to make sure Europa won’t be contaminated by organisms from Earth.
       
      “There’s great enthusiasm for this on both sides,” Jakob van Zyl, director for solar system exploration at NASA JPL, told New Scientist. “The budget request is now with the president.
       

       

       
      ”Europa is just the first goal for collaborative space exploration. Potential missions to Jupiter’s other moons, as well as those of Saturn, could well be developed in the future. Perhaps alien life is just an Earth-formed partnership away.
       
      This article was  published in futurism.com by Dom Galeon
      Categorized in Science & Tech

      Ellen Stofan, current NASA chief scientist, said sending humans to Mars would be a powerful step in the search for life beyond Earth.

      "I am someone who believes it is going to take humans on the surface [of Mars] … to really get at the question of not just did life evolve on Mars, but what is the nature of that life," Stofan said at a scientific workshop in Irvine, California, hosted by the National Academy of Sciences. "To me, we're going to go Mars because Mars holds the answers to such fundamental scientific questions that we're trying to ask."

      The workshop, titled "Searching for Life Across Space and Time," drew together leading scientists who are, through various avenues, working to find signs of alien life in Earth's solar system and beyond. Stofan has argued before for the scientific benefits of a human mission to the Red Planet.

      Stofan said she believes strongly in sending humans to Mars to search for signs of life because humans can perform tasks that would be difficult for a rover. Humans can operate drills that could go deeper than the few inches plumbed by the Curiosity rover, or even beyond a depth of 6.5 feet (2 meters), which is the expected limit for the Mars 2020 rover. Humans could potentially explore more locations than a rover could and perform deeper scientific analysis than what is possible using a remote, robotic scientific laboratory, she said.

      "We now know water was stable for long periods of time on the surface [of Mars], and Mars' potential for habitability, I think, is huge," Stofan said. "I do believe that we need … brave people to spend time on Mars, to have a scientific laboratory on Mars, to do the work that we need to do to truly understand what life on Mars tells us about life beyond Earth."

       

      Multiple sessions at the meeting focused on the search for signs of ancient life or even present-day life on Mars. Today, the surface of the Red Planet appears to be inhospitable to the kind of life that exists on Earth, mainly because liquid water exists only in very small amounts, and is extremely salty. Other factors would also make life hard on the Red Planet, including high doses of space radiation (because Mars lacks the protective atmosphere and magnetic field that Earth has),and wildly oscillating surface temperatures: During the Martian summer months, the surface of the planet might be 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) during the day, but plummet to minus 100 F (minus 73 C) at night.

      Image:

      There are examples of extreme life-forms on Earth that can survive in some of those conditions, including frigid temperatures and exposure to high doses of radiation. However, liquid water is a necessity for all known Earth-based life-forms. But based on the discovery of brines on the surface of Mars, some people think it's possible that life exists on the Red Planet today. With that in mind, some people are concerned that sending rovers and humans to Mars could risk contaminating the planet with Earth-based microbes.

      Right now, NASA has plans that could allow scientists to bring rock samples backto Earth from Mars, Stofan said. An in-depth analysis of a Martian rock might help the scientific community make a more informed decision about whether life likely exists on Mars today, and thus what steps would be needed to prevent biological contamination from a human visit to the Red Planet, Stofan said.

      "I think these are questions that should be in the hands of the science community via the [NAS]," she said.

      Stofan briefly addressed concerns about whether NASA could actually pull off its plan to send humans into orbit around Mars by the early 2030s and onto the planet's surface by the late 2030s, saying that she is an "incredible optimist on this."

       

      The scientist added that she has also heard people say that there is "no real reason" to send humans to the surface of Mars (as opposed to robotic missions), and she called on members of the science community to "speak up" if they disagree.

      Image: Martian sand dunes

      The scientific interest in Mars extends beyond NASA. The European, Indian and Chinese space agencies are all sending probes or rovers to Mars. Private companies (primarily Elon Musk's SpaceX) are also working on plans related to Mars. Someone in the audience asked Stofan if she thought the global scientific community is engaged in a sort of "soft space race" to Mars.

      "I really don't see it as a soft race. I see it as this amazing confluence of interests," Stofan said. "I think Mars has incredible public appeal. .... It engages the public in a way that very few other things do, which is great.

      Author:  CALLA COFIELD

      Source:  http://www.nbcnews.com/

      Categorized in Science & Tech

      The search for life on Mars might just center around a strange funnel-shaped surface feature inside a crater, scientists say in a new study. Located in what is known as the Hellas depression, the feature could hold the “ingredients of life.”

      The Daily Mail reported last week that a new study suggests that volcanic activity on Mars might have been a key contributor to the odd funnel depression that could be Mars’ best chance to host living organisms. Scientists have believed that a volcano located beneath a glacier on Mars’ surface created the Hellas depression, but new data taken from stereoscopic images and digital elevation models indicates that the formation is not only volcanic in origin, it might be similar to “ice cauldrons” on Earth. Such a formation could create an environment warm enough to host liquid water and chemical nutrients that might support life.

      Ice cauldrons are found on Earth in places like Iceland and Greenland, created when volcanoes erupt under an ice sheet. On Mars, these same conditions potentially could host life.

      Joseph Levy, a research associate and lead author of the study from the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, explained the reasoning behind the study’s site choice.

      “We were drawn to this site because it looked like it could host some of the key ingredients for habitability – water, heat, and nutrients.”

      The Hellas depression, as noted, is located in a crater at the edge of the Hellas basin. Ancient glacial deposits surround the feature.

      Photo of Mars' Hellas basin

      The Hellas basin on Mars. [Image by ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)/Getty Images]

      Nor is the feature, which was first discovered in 2009 in images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, unique. It is similar to a depression in the Galaxias Fossae region.

      “These landforms caught our eye because they’re weird looking. They’re concentrically fractured so they look like a bull’s-eye. That can be a very diagnostic pattern you see in Earth materials,” Levy admitted.

      The study concluded that the two funnel structures were formed in different ways. The Galaxias Fossae depression seems to be a product of an impact, while the Hellas depression showed several indications of volcanism.

       

      Levy and his fellow researchers suggest that such depressions on Mars should be considered as prime locations for the search for life on the Red Planet. The Hellas formation is of particular interest due to its possible volcanic origins and the potential for life-fostering properties.

      The search for life on Mars might have received a boost or perhaps even a confirmation (or denial) of its existence last month had the Rocosmos and European Space Agency’s lander been able to continue its mission on the planet’s surface. Called Schiaparelli, the lander was an astrobiology project specifically designed to search for life on Mars. As the Inquisitr reported, Schiaparelli exploded on impact with the surface on October 19, a victim of its parachute deploying too early (although conspiracy theorists oddly accused NASA of shooting down the craft to maintain its scientific dominance).

      Mars landscape at sunset

      Mars life might be found first in a crater in the Hellas basin that exhibits a strange funnel-shaped depression. [Image by Jurik Peter/Shutterstock]

      Beyond Mars, the search for life outside the bounds of the Solar System received help from the Parkes Observatory in Australia this week. According to Space.com, the telescope joined the $100 million Breakthrough Listen project, the astronomical initiative launched by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, becoming the third telescope in the line-up that includes the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Automated Planet Finder at Lick Observatory in Northern California.

       

      “The addition of Parkes is an important milestone,” Milner said in a statement. “These major instruments are the ears of planet Earth, and now they are listening for signs of other civilizations.”

      The Parkes dish’s first Breakthrough Listen observations were received from the nearest star system, Proxima Centauri, where a planet has been detected that exists in the star’s habitable zone.

      Author:  Norman Byrd

      Source:  http://www.inquisitr.com/

      Categorized in News & Politics

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