Space Exploration
Thursday, May 26, 2022

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On a remote hilltop 8,000 feet above sea level in Chile's Atacama Desert, scientists hope to answer one of the most fundamental questions facing humankind: Is there life elsewhere in the universe?


That's one of various goals of the Giant Magellan Telescope, or GMT, now in the early stages of construction and scheduled to start scanning outer space in 2021. Once it does, it's expected to offer views of the farthest depths of the universe ever achieved.

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Scientists think they can now tie dark streaks seen on the surface of Mars to periodic flows of liquid water. Data from a Nasa satellite shows the features, which appear on slopes, to be associated with salt deposits.


Liquid Water - Mars 

Crucially, such salts could alter the freezing and vaporisation points of water in Mars's sparse air, keeping it in a fluid state long enough to move. There are implications for the existence of life on the planet today, because any liquid water raises the possibility that microbes could also be present. And for future astronauts on Mars, the identification of water supplies near the surface would make it easier for them to "live off the land".

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India's first mission to Mars has captured a stunning new 3D view of a vast chasm, revealing gullies shaped by erosive forces on the Red Planet.


The images, sent back by India's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), show Ophir Chasma, a portion of the massive Valles Marineris system that stretches across much of the planet's equator. The images were taken July 19 and have a resolution of about 315 feet (96 meters). The new images show the chasm from above and two different views of the sides, revealing hills, small impact craters and gullies shaped by landslides.

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The images of Pluto that the New Horizons probe beamed across 3 billion miles of hard vacuum are, in a word, breathtaking. Towering mountains of ice, smooth plains, a wan alien landscape. They're amazing not only for what they tell us about Pluto, but for instilling wonder at seeing something human beings have until now only imagined and speculated upon.


The photos are composites of multiple images taken by three sophisticated cameras aboard New Horizons. Alice is an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer. The Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) is essentially a black-and-white digital camera with a telephoto lens sporting an 8.2-inch aperture. Ralph features three black-and-white and four color imagers; it is the probe's primary "eye" and the reason you're seeing such vivid color. It offers resolution 10 times that of the human eye. As far as NASA's concerned, what you see here is what you'd see if you were out there.


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It's not just Earth that has volcanoes blasting stuff onto the surface. Other worlds do too. Volcanoes have shaped the Earth. By pumping hot molten rock onto the surface, they have built new lands. The islands of Hawaii were formed by underwater volcanoes that blasted out so much rock, it reached above the surface of the sea. Volcanoes have also changed the makeup of the atmosphere. By pumping greenhouse gases into the air, they have ensured that the planet doesn't freeze over – well, most of the time.


But Earth isn't the only world with volcanoes. The more we explore the solar system, the more we find that they are common, and they can dwarf our homemade ones.