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SpaceX Rocket’s Stunning View of Our Home Planet


Falcon 9 Carrying DSCOVR to L1
Image of Earth taken by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket



Excerpt from news.discovery.com

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket made its first foray into deep space this week, depositing a U.S. space weather satellite into an orbit that eventually will reach more than four times farther away than the moon.

The rocket’s upper-stage deposited the Deep Space Climate Observatory, nicknamed DSCOVR, into an initial orbit that stretched more than 770,000 miles from Earth. From there, DSCOVR will spend the next 110 days getting itself into its operational orbit 930,000 miles from Earth and circling the sun.

A camera aboard the upper-stage shared the view. More pictures will be coming from DSCOVR. Though its main mission is to monitor the sun for potentially dangerous geomagnetic storms, the satellite has a camera that will be pointed to the sun-lit side of Earth. Pictures will be taken every two hours and posted on the Internet the following day.

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Moonquakes and blazing heat: What would life really be like on the Moon?


Lunar Base Made with 3D Printing


Excerpt from space.com

The idea of building a lunar outpost has long captured people's imaginations. But what would it really be like to live on the moon?
Space exploration has long focused on the moon, with Earth's satellite the setting for a number of significant missions. A 1959 Soviet spacecraft photographed the moon's far side for the first time, and in 1969, NASA landed people on the lunar surface for the first time. Numerous missions followed, including NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that beamed home the highest-resolution topographical lunar map to date, covering 98.2 percent of the moon's surface. 

Altogether, data beamed back from numerous missions suggest that no place on the moon would be a pleasant place to live, at least compared with Earth. Lunar days stretch for about 14 Earth days with average temperatures of 253 degrees Fahrenheit (123 degrees Celsius), while lunar nights also last 14 Earth days (due to the moon's rotation) and maintain a frigid cold of minus 387 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 233 degrees Celsius). 

"About the only place we could build a base that wouldn't have to deal with these extremes is, oddly enough, near the lunar poles," said Rick Elphic, project scientist for NASA's LADEE probe, which studied the moon's atmosphere and dust environment before performing a planned crash into the natural satellitein April 2014. These areas likely store vast amounts of water-ice and enjoy low levels of light from the sun for several months at a time.

"Instead of the blazing heat of lunar noon, it is a kind of perpetual balmy sunset, with temperatures around 0 degrees Celsius [32 degrees Fahrenheit] due to the low angle of the sun," Elphic added.

Vacations away from pole outposts would offer up sights unlike anything on Earth. Decorating the moon's vast lava plains are large impact-borne "mountains," the tallest of which is 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) high, about the size of Mount Saint Elias on the border of Alaska and Canada. "Skylight" holes puncture some of the plains where lava likely drained into sub-surface caverns — the perfect adventure for lunar spelunkers.

The moon also sports huge craters, such as the 25-mile-wide (40 km) Aristarchus crater. A view from the rim of Aristarchus would "dwarf the Grand Canyon and make Meteor Crater in Arizona look like a hole in a putting green," Elphic told Space.com via email.


Lunar athletes would not need to check the forecast, however. Because of its very tenuous atmosphere, the moon has no weather. "Every day is sunny with no chance of rain!" Elphic added. You would, however, have to look out for so-called space weather, which includes meteor particles that can be as large as golf balls and highly energetic particles from solar flares.

Another potential danger would be moonquakes. Seismometers left on the lunar surface during Apollo show that the moon is still seismically active, and even has rare, hour-long quakes measuring up to 5.5 on the Richter scale. These quakes would be strong enough to cause structural damage to buildings.

"So don't leave Earth for your home on the moon thinking you've left seismic activity behind," Elphic said. "Make sure your lunar house is up to code."

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How Would the World Change If We Found Alien Life?







Excerpt from space.com
By by Elizabeth Howell

In 1938, Orson Welles narrated a radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds" as a series of simulated radio bulletins of what was happening in real time as Martians arrived on our home planet. The broadcast is widely remembered for creating public panic, although to what extent is hotly debated today.

Still, the incident serves as an illustration of what could happen when the first life beyond Earth is discovered. While scientists might be excited by the prospect, introducing the public, politicians and interest groups to the idea could take some time.

How extraterrestrial life would change our world view is a research interest of Steven Dick, who just completed a term as the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair of Astrobiology. The chair is jointly sponsored by the NASA Astrobiology Program and the John W. Kluge Center, at the Library of Congress. 


Dick is a former astronomer and historian at the United States Naval Observatory, a past chief historian for NASA, and has published several books concerning the discovery of life beyond Earth. To Dick, even the discovery of microbes would be a profound shift for science.

"If we found microbes, it would have an effect on science, especially biology, by universalizing biology," he said. "We only have one case of biology on Earth. It's all related. It's all DNA-based. If we found an independent example on Mars or Europa, we have a chance of forming a universal biology."

Dick points out that even the possibilities of extraterrestrial fossils could change our viewpoints, such as the ongoing discussion of ALH84001, a Martian meteorite found in Antarctica that erupted into public consciousness in 1996 after a Science article said structures inside of it could be linked to biological activity. The conclusion, which is still debated today, led to congressional hearings.

"I've done a book about discovery in astronomy, and it's an extended process," Dick pointed out. "It's not like you point your telescope and say, 'Oh, I made a discovery.' It's always an extended process: You have to detect something, you have to interpret it, and it takes a long time to understand it. As for extraterrestrial life, the Mars rock showed it could take an extended period of years to understand it."


ALH84001 Meteorite
The ALH84001 meteorite, which in a 1996 Science publication was speculated to be host to what could be ancient Martian fossils. That finding is still under dispute today.

Mayan decipherments

In his year at the Library of Congress, Dick spent time searching for historical examples (as well as historical analogies) of how humanity might deal with first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. History shows that contact with new cultures can go in vastly different directions.

Hernan Cortes' treatment of the Aztecs is often cited as an example of how wrong first contact can go. But there were other efforts that were a little more mutually beneficial, although the outcomes were never perfect. Fur traders in Canada in the 1800s worked closely with Native Americans, for example, and the Chinese treasure fleet of the 15th Century successfully brought its home culture far beyond its borders, perhaps even to East Africa.

Even when both sides were trying hard to make communication work, there were barriers, noted Dick.

"The Jesuits had contact with Native Americans," he pointed out. "Certain concepts were difficult, like when they tried to get across the ideas of the soul and immortality."



A second look by the Mars Global Surveyor at the so-called Viking “Face on Mars” in Cydonia revealed a more ordinary-looking hill, showing that science is an extended process of discovery.


Indirect contact by way of radio communications through the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), also illustrates the challenges of transmitting information across cultures. There is historical precedence for this, such as when Greek knowledge passed west through Arab translators in the 12th Century. This shows that it is possible for ideas to be revived, even from dead cultures, he said.

It's also quite possible that the language we receive across these indirect communications would be foreign to us. Even though mathematics is often cited as a universal language, Dick said there are actually two schools of thought. One theory is that there is, indeed, one kind of mathematics that is based on a Platonic idea, and the other theory is that mathematics is a construction of the culture that you are in. 

"There will be a decipherment process. It might be more like the Mayan decipherments," Dick said.


The ethics of contact

As Dick came to a greater understanding about the potential c impact of extraterrestrial intelligence, he invited other scholars to present their findings along with him. Dick chaired a two-day NASA/Library of Congress Astrobiology Symposium called "Preparing for Discovery," which was intended to address the impact of finding any kind of life beyond Earth, whether microbial or some kind of intelligent, multicellular life form.

The symposium participants discussed how to move beyond human-centered views of defining life, how to understand the philosophical and theological problems a discovery would bring, and how to help the public understand the implications of a discovery.

"There is also the question of what I call astro-ethics," Dick said. "How do you treat alien life? How do you treat it differently, ranging from microbes to intelligence? So we had a philosopher at our symposium talking about the moral status of non-human organisms, talking in relation to animals on Earth and what their status is in relation to us."

Dick plans to collect the lectures in a book for publication next year, but he also spent his time at the library gathering materials for a second book about how discovering life beyond Earth will revolutionize our thinking.

"It's very farsighted for NASA to fund a position like this," Dick added. "They have all their programs in astrobiology, they fund the scientists, but here they fund somebody to think about what the implications might be. It's a good idea to do this, to foresee what might happen before it occurs."

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Aliens Even More Likely Now To Be Out There ~ Average star has two potentially Earth-like worlds



Concept art depicting the lights of an ET civilisation on an exoplanet. Credit: David A Aguilar (CfA)

Excerpt from theregister.co.uk



Boffins in Australia have applied a hundreds-of-years-old astronomical rule to data from the Kepler planet-hunting space telescope. They've come to the conclusion that the average star in our galaxy has not one but two Earth-size planets in its "goldilocks" zone where liquid water - and thus, life along Earthly lines - could exist.

“The ingredients for life are plentiful, and we now know that habitable environments are plentiful,” says Professor Charley Lineweaver, a down-under astrophysicist.

Lineweaver and PhD student Tim Bovaird worked this out by reviewing the data on exoplanets discovered by the famed Kepler planet-hunter space scope. Kepler naturally tends to find exoplanets which orbit close to their parent suns, as it detects them by the changes in light they make by passing in front of the star. As a result, most Kepler exoplanets are too hot for liquid water to be present on their surfaces, which makes them comparatively boring.
Good planets in the "goldilocks" zone which is neither too hot nor too cold are much harder to detect with Kepler, which is a shame as these are the planets which might be home to alien life - or alternatively, home one day to transplanted Earth life including human colonists, once we've cracked that pesky interstellar travel problem.

However there exists a thing called the Titius-Bode relation - aka Bode's Law - which can be used, once you know where some inner planets are, to predict where ones further out will be found.

Assuming Bode's Law works for other suns as it does here, and inputting the positions of known inner exoplanets found by Kepler, Lineweaver and Bovaird found that on average a star in our galaxy has two planets in its potentially-habitable zone.

That doesn't mean there are habitable or inhabited planets at every star, of course. Even here in our solar system, apparently lifeless (and not very habitable) Mars is in the habitable zone.

Even so, there are an awful lot of planets in the galaxy, so some at least ought to have life on them, and in some cases this life ought to have achieved a detectable civilisation. Prof Lineweaver admits that the total lack of any sign of this is a bit of a puzzler.

"The universe is not teeming with aliens with human-like intelligence that can build radio telescopes and space ships," admits the prof. "Otherwise we would have seen or heard from them.
“It could be that there is some other bottleneck for the emergence of life that we haven’t worked out yet. Or intelligent civilisations evolve, but then self-destruct.”

Of course, humans - some approximations of which have been around for some hundreds of thousands of years, perhaps - have only had civilisation of any kind in any location for a few thousand of those years. Our civilisation has only risen to levels where it could be detectable across interstellar distances very recently.

There may be many planets out there inhabited by intelligent aliens who either have no civilisation at all, or only primitive civilisation. There may be quite a few who have reached or passed the stage of emitting noticeable amounts of radio or other telltale signs, but those emissions either will not reach us for hundreds of thousands of years - or went past long ago.

It would seem reasonable to suspect that there are multitudes of worlds out there where life exists in plenty but has never become intelligent, as Earth life was for millions of years before early humans began using tools really quite recently.

But the numbers are still such that the apparent absence of star-travelling aliens could make you worry about the viability of technological civilisation if, like Professor Lineweaver, you learn your astrophysics out of textbooks and lectures (and publish your research, as we see here, in hefty boffinry journals like the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society).

But if movies, speculofictive novels and TV have taught us anything here on the Reg alien life desk, it is that in fact the galaxy is swarming with star-travelling aliens (and/or humans taken secretly from planet Earth for mysterious purposes in the past, or perhaps humans from somewhere else etc). The reason we don't know about them is that they don't want us to.

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In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth ~ Stunning images of our universe & home

The Creation of Adam ~ Michelangelo ~ Ceiling Fresco, Sistine Chapel ~ Circa 1512Click to zoom

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Will new ruling finally free Lolita after 40 years in captivity at Miami Seaquarium?



Excerpt from seattletimes.com

A decision to list the captive orca Lolita for federal protection is expected to set the stage for a lawsuit from advocates seeking the whale’s release.

Seattle Times staff reporter



A Puget Sound orca held for decades at Miami’s Seaquarium will gain the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act, a move expected to set the stage for a lawsuit from advocates seeking the whale’s release.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Wednesday the decision to list Lolita as part of the southern resident killer whales of Puget Sound, which already are considered endangered under the federal act. 

Whale activists, who petitioned for this status, have long campaigned for Lolita’s return to Puget Sound. They hope the listing will provide a stronger legal case to release Lolita than did a previous lawsuit that centered on alleged violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.

“This gives leverage under a much stronger law,” said Howard Garrett of the Whidbey Island based Orca Network, which hopes a San Juan Island cove will one day serve as the site for Lolita to re-enter the wild.

NOAA Fisheries officials on Wednesday described their decision in narrow terms, which set no broader precedents. It does not address whether Lolita should be released from the Seaquarium.
“This is a listing decision,” said Will Stelle, the NOAA Fisheries regional administrator for the West Coast. “It is not a decision to free Lolita.” 

Aquarium officials have repeatedly said they have no intention of releasing the orca. 

“Lolita has been part of the Miami Seaquarium family for 44 years,” said Andrew Hertz, Seaquarium general manager, in a statement. 

“Lolita is healthy and thriving in her home where she shares habitat with Pacific white-sided dolphins. There is no scientific evidence that ... Lolita could survive in a sea pen or the open waters of the Pacific Northwest, and we are not willing to treat her life as an experiment.”

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are found in many of the world’s oceans. The southern resident population, which spends several months each year in Puget Sound, is the only group listed in the U.S. under the Endangered Species. 

The three pods in the population were reduced by captures by marine parks between 1965 and 1975, NOAA says. Among them was a roundup in Penn Cove where seven whales were captured, including Lolita. 

The southern resident pods now number fewer than 80. Possible causes for the decline are reduced prey, pollutants that could cause reproductive problems and oil spills, according to NOAA Fisheries.
Under the Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to cause a “take” of a protected orca, which includes harming or harassing them.
Wednesday, NOAA officials said holding an animal captive, in and of itself, does not constitute a take. 

Orca activists are expected to argue in their lawsuit that Lolita's cramped conditions result in a prohibited take.

There is “rising public scorn for the whole idea of performing orcas,” said Garrett, who hopes Seaquarium will decide to release Lolita without a court order. 

But NOAA officials still have concerns about releasing captive whales, and any plan to move or release Lolita would require “rigorous scientific review,” the agency said in a statement.
The concerns include the possibility of disease transmission, the ability of a newly released orca to find food and behavior patterns from captivity that could impact wild whales.

NOAA said previous attempts to release captive orcas and dolphins have often been unsuccessful and some have ended in death.

Garrett said the plan for Lolita calls for her to be taken to a netted area of the cove, which could be enlarged later. She would be accompanied by familiar trainers who could “trust and reassure her every bit of the way,” he said. 

The controversy over releasing captive whales has been heightened by the experience of Keiko, a captive orca that starred in the 1993 movie “Free Willy,” about a boy who pushed for the release of a whale.

In 1998, Keiko was brought back to his native waters off Iceland to reintroduce him to life in the wild. That effort ended in 2003 when he died in a Norwegian fjord. 

Garrett, who visited Keiko in Iceland in 1999, said he was impressed by the reintroduction effort, and that there was plenty of evidence that Keiko was able to catch fish on his own.

“The naysayers predicted that as soon as he got into the (Icelandic) waters he would die, and wild orcas would kill him,” Garrett said. “He proved that 180-degrees wrong. He loved it.”

Mark Simmons, who for two years served as director of animal husbandry for the Keiko-release effort, has a different view. He says Keiko never was able to forage for fish on his own, and that he continued to seek out human contact at every opportunity. 

Simmons wrote a book called “Killing Keiko,” that accuses the release effort of leading to a long slow death for the orca, which he says lacked food and then succumbed to an infection.

“It’s not really the fact that Keiko died, but how he died,” Garrett said Wednesday.

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How Obama wants to spend Americans’ money next year: an agency-by-agency look


PHOTO: President Barack Obama's new $4 trillion budget plan is distributed by the Senate Budget Committee as it arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, early Monday, Feb. 02, 2015. The fiscal blueprint for the budget year that begins Oct. 1, seeks to raise taxes on wealthier Americans and corporations and use the extra income to lift the fortunes of families who have felt squeezed during tough economic times. Republicans, who now hold the power in Congress, are accusing the president of seeking to revert to tax-and-spend policies that will harm the economy while failing to do anything about soaring spending on government benefit programs. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Barack Obama's new $4 trillion budget plan is distributed by the Senate Budget Committee as it arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, early Monday, Feb. 02, 2015. The fiscal blueprint for the budget year that begins Oct. 1, seeks to raise taxes on wealthier Americans and corporations and use the extra income to lift the fortunes of families who have felt squeezed during tough economic times. Republicans, who now hold the power in Congress, are accusing the president of seeking to revert to tax-and-spend policies that will harm the economy while failing to do anything about soaring spending on government benefit programs. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)


Excerpt from therepublic.com 

WASHINGTON — Sure, $4 trillion sounds like a lot. But it goes fast when your budget stretches from aging highways to medical care to space travel and more.

Here's an agency-by-agency look at how President Barack Obama would spend Americans' money in the 2016 budget year beginning Oct. 1:


HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
Up or down? Up 4.3 percent
What's new? Medicare could negotiate prices for cutting-edge drugs.
Highlights:
— The president's proposed health care budget asks Congress to authorize Medicare to negotiate what it pays for high-cost prescription drugs and for biologics, including advanced medications for diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Currently, private insurers bargain on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries. Drug makers have beaten back prior proposals to give Medicare direct pricing power. But the introduction of a $1,000-a-pill hepatitis-C drug last year may have shifted the debate.
— Tobacco taxes would nearly double, to extend health insurance for low-income children. The federal cigarette tax would rise from just under $1.01 per pack to about $1.95 per pack. Taxes on other tobacco products also would go up. That would provide financing to pay for the Children's Health Insurance Program through 2019. The federal-state program serves about 8 million children, and funding technically expires Sept. 30. The tobacco tax hike would take effect in 2016.
— Starting in 2019, the proposal increases Medicare premiums for high-income beneficiaries and adds charges for new enrollees. The charges for new enrollees include a home health copayment, changes to the Part B deductible, and a premium surcharge for seniors who've also purchased a kind of supplemental insurance whose generous benefits are seen as encouraging overuse of Medicare services.
— There's full funding for ongoing implementation of Obama's health care law.
—The plan would end the budget sequester's 2 percent cut in Medicare payments to service providers and repeal another budget formula that otherwise will result in sharply lower payments for doctors. But what one hand gives, the other hand takes away. The budget also calls for Medicare cuts to hospitals, insurers, drug companies and other service providers.
The numbers:
Total spending: $1.1 trillion, including about $1 trillion on benefit programs including Medicare and Medicaid, already required by law.
Spending that needs Congress' annual approval: $80 billion.

NASA
Up or down? Up 2.9 percent
What's new? Not much. Just more money for planned missions.
Highlights:
—The exploration budget — which includes NASA's plans to grab either an asteroid or a chunk of an asteroid and haul it closer to Earth for exploration by astronauts — gets a slight bump in funding. But the details within the overall exploration proposal are key. The Obama plan would put more money into cutting-edge non-rocket space technology; give a 54 percent spending jump to money sent to private firms to develop ships to taxi astronauts to the International Space Station; and cut by nearly 12 percent spending to build the next government big rocket and capsule to carry astronauts. Congress in the past has cut the president's proposed spending on the private firms and technology and boosted the spending on the government big rocket and capsule.
—The president's 0.8 percent proposed increase in NASA science spending is his first proposed jump in that category in four years. It's also the first proposed jump in years in exploring other planets. It includes extra money for a 2020 unmanned Martian rover and continued funding for an eventual robotic mission to Jupiter's moon Europa. But the biggest extra science spending goes to study Earth.
— Obama's budget would cut aeronautics research 12 percent from current spending and slash NASA's educational spending by 25 percent. It also slightly trims the annual spending to build the over-budget multi-billion dollar James Webb Space Telescope, which will eventually replace the Hubble Space Telescope and is scheduled to launch in 2018.
The numbers:
Total spending: $18.5 billion
Spending that needs Congress' annual approval: $18.5 billion

TRANSPORTATION
Up or down? Up 31 percent
What's new? A plan to tackle an estimated $2 trillion in deferred maintenance for the nation's aging infrastructure by boosting highway and transit spending to $478 billion over six years.
Highlights:
— The six-year highway and transit plan would get a one-time $238 billion infusion from the general treasury. Some of the money would be offset by taxing the profits of U.S. companies that haven't been paying taxes on income made overseas. That infusion comes on top of the $35 billion a year that normally comes from gasoline and diesel taxes and other transportation fees.
— The proposal also includes tax incentives to encourage private investment in infrastructure, and an infrastructure investment bank to help finance major transportation projects.
— The new infrastructure investment would be front-loaded. The budget proposes to spend the money over six years and pay for the programs over 10 years.
— The proposal also includes a new Interagency Infrastructure Permitting Improvement Center to coordinate efforts across nearly 20 federal agencies and bureaus to speed up the permitting process. For example, the Coast Guard, Corps of Engineers and Transportation Department are trying to synchronize their reviews of projects such as bridges that cross navigation channels.
The numbers:
Total spending: $94.5 billion, including more than $80 billion already required by law, mostly for highway and transit aid to states and improvement grants to airports.
Spending that needs Congress' annual approval: $14.3 billion.

Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Seth Borenstein, Joan Lowy and Connie Cass contributed to this report.

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Is Cancer a Gift and Not a Curse? Greg Giles

We all, thankfully, have to leave this world and return home eventually, one day, when it is time. This is an inevitable fact of our journey here. With this in mind, can you think of any other way to leave here that allows a soul to look back and refle...

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