NASA Announces Discovery of Earth-Like Exoplanet


“Super Earth” Kepler-452b Lies in Habitable Zone of Distant Star


This artist’s concept depicts one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of star that is similar to our sun.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

The search for life on other worlds has taken multiple bold steps this week. Earlier, famed physicist Stephen Hawking helped announce a new $100 million search for intelligent life. Now, NASA has announced the discovery of the first near-Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a sun-like star.

In an announcement released today, the American space agency revealed that its Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the so-called “Goldilocks Zone” of the Kepler-452 system. According to NASA, the discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark “another milestone in the journey to finding another Earth.”

The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.

NASA Discovers Exoplanet in Habitable Zone

This size and scale of the Kepler-452 system compared alongside the Kepler-186 system and the solar system. Kepler-186 is a miniature solar system that would fit entirely inside the orbit of Mercury.
Credits: NASA/JPL-CalTech/R. Hurt

Dubbed Kepler-452b, the planet is the smallest to date discovered orbiting in the area of a star where liquid-water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. The discovery is even more significant because the star in question is a G2-type star, like Earth’s own sun.

While small compared to other discovered exoplanets, Kepler-452b is still 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth. Thus, it is considered to be a “super-Earth-size” planet. NASA has not reached a conclusion as to its mass or composition, but previous research indicates planets of the super-Earth-size variety have a good chance of being rocky.


NASA Selects Astronauts for First U.S. Commercial Space Flights


Space Agency Names Four “Pioneers” to Train on new Spacecraft

NASA Selects Four astronauts to fly on commercial crew vehicle

Image: NASA

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden today announced the names of four astronauts who will fly on the first Commercial Crew Vehicles. The move was described by Bolden as part of NASA’s ambitious plans to return space launches to U.S. soil.

The four veteran astronauts chosen to fly are:

  • Robert Behnken
  • Sunita Williams
  • Eric Boe
  • Douglas Hurley

The Commercial Crew Program (CCP) aims to develop American commercial crew space transportation capability. Its ultimate goal is to achieve safe, reliable, and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station (ISS) and low-Earth orbit. Above all, the program is intended to eliminate, or at least reduce, America’s current reliance on Russian spacecraft.

Fiscally, NASA hopes the return of crew launches to U.S. soil will save a considerable amount of money per launch. According to Bolden, it currently costs $76 million per astronaut to fly on a Russian spacecraft. The goal of CCP is to reduce that figure to $58 million on American-owned spacecraft.


Scientists Find Possible Window to Martian Life


Researchers from Brown University announce discovery of large deposits of glass formed by impactors on the surface of Mars. Similar impactors on Earth have preserved signatures of ancient life.

Martian crater Alga

Researchers have found deposits of impact glass preserved in Martian craters like Alga (above) using data from NASA’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM). Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/University of Arizona

Using satellite data, the team detected deposits of glass within Martian craters. The glass, which was formed by unimaginable heat brought on by violent impact, could possibly offer a “delicate window into the possibility of past life on the Red Planet.”

Could such a window exist in these unlikely circumstances? Research groups on Earth have shown that terrestrial ancient biosignatures can be preserved in impact glass. In one study, geologists found organic molecules and plant matter in glass that formed during an impact millions of years in the past. Evidence suggests the same process could have occurred on Mars.


NASA Selects Eight Projects for 2016 X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge


American space agency announces selection of eight U.S. universities to create new technologies for deep space exploration, including the journey to Mars.

X-Hab loft

This 2011 version of the deep space habitat at the Desert Research and Technology Studies (Desert RATS) analog field test site in Arizona features a Habitat Demonstration Unit, with the student-built X-Hab loft on top, a hygiene compartment on one side and airlock on the other. Credit: NASA

As NASA makes progress on its new Space Launch System and continues to emphasize future deep space missions, it has to deal with a critical problem. Put simply (and in NASA’s own words), the breadth of available technology required to successfully complete such long duration flights is inadequate.

The problem is even broader than that. Not only will new technology be required if humanity is to explore beyond low Earth orbit, but new engineers will also be needed to invent and produce that technology. Hence NASA’s X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge.

X-Hab is NASA’s way of providing university students with the chance to be part of the innovation so desperately needed for space exploration.


Engineers Perform “Heart Surgery” on James Webb Space Telescope


Airbus Defense and Space experts complete a delicate surgical procedure to exchange key components from the “heart” of Hubble’s replacement.

Artist impression of the James Webb Space Telescope

August 2013 James Webb Space Telescope mural image. (Artist’s impression.) Credits: Northrop Grumman, NASA

NASA announced the success of a procedure to upgrade a key component of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). JWST is the successor to NASA’s hugely successful Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built and will revolutionize the discovery and examination of planets beyond our solar system.

The telescope will fly four main instruments that will “detect light from distant stars and galaxies, and planets orbiting other stars.” The engineers carried out the surgery in order to upgrade one of the instruments, the Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec).