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In an unlikely corner of our solar system, scientists have discovered evidence of what they believe is a subterranean ocean. The water means a tiny moon orbiting Saturn could be one of the few places in the solar system with the right ingredients for life.
The moon Enceladus is only 300 miles wide—it would fit between New York City and Charlottesville, Va. It’s a mini-world with a bright, icy, frigid surface, and it is just one of an astounding 62 moons orbiting the ringed planet. But it is not just a static, boring ice ball. Fractures on the moon’s surface—evocatively named “tiger stripes”—emit jets of frozen water that help form one of the bands in Saturn’s rings.
‘We are all descended from astronomers,’ the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson intones in the rebooted version of the TV show Cosmos. This is as poetic as it is true. Everyone owns the night sky; it was the one natural realm all our ancestors could see and know intimately.
No river, no grand mountain or canyon, not even the oceans can claim that.
But since Edison’s light bulbs colonised our cities, the vast majority of humans has ceased to see those skies.
More than 60 per cent of the world, and fully 99 per cent of the US and Europe, lives under a yellowy sky polluted with light.
For many of us, the only place to see the milky backbone of our own galaxy is on the ceiling of a planetarium.
Although humans are diurnal, factories and Twitter and hospitals and CNN are not, so we must conquer the darkness.
As a result, almost everything industrialised people build is lit up at night. Malls, hospitals, car dealerships. Streets, bridges, air and sea ports. Buildings on a skyline.
These artificial lights identify our cities all the way from the moon. If aliens ever do drop by, this might be their first sign that someone is home.
Classic web interactive (click through and they’ll all start moving)
NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered more than 190 confirmed planets orbiting distant stars. Planets with a known size and orbit are shown below, including Kepler 78b, which has an Earthlike composition.
A New Cosmic Discovery Could Be The Closest We’ve Come to the Beginning of Time
Scientists detect the signature of gravitational waves generated in the first moments of the Big Bang
Top 100 images made by the Hubble Space telescope
Great Lakes Approach Record With Over 90 Percent Ice Cover | Ice cover on the Great Lakes on Mar. 6, when the extent was near record-levels. Terra Satellite/NASA/NOAA via Wired
Ever since NASA retired its space shuttle program in 2011, the only way to get up to the International Space Station is on a Russian Soyuz. That’s why the six humans currently orbiting in space—including two Americans and three Russians—might be paying attention to what’s happening on earth two hundred miles below.
As tensions run high between the U.S. and Russia over the situation in Ukraine, geopolitics may find its way into space again. Over at the blog Looking Up, Duncan Geere has written an excellent piece laying out possible astro-political scenarios in space.
While all-out war remains unlikely, astronauts could become a point of leverage for Vladimir Putin in a larger conflict. “It’s not inconceivable that the International Space Station may play some part in this — either by denying the U.S. the use of Soyuz, or simply by charging exorbitant amounts for it,” Geere writes.
With ISS trips planned years in advance, there are only ten Soyuz launches scheduled from now until 2016. In addition, NASA has to be granted special exemptions to the Iran North Korea Syria Nonproliferation Act, which normally prohibits the U.S. from buying space-related goods and services from Russia while it’s selling nuclear technology to Iran. NASA’s exemption expires in 2016, and, if the relationship between the U.S. and Russia worsens, this could become a tougher sell.