3 more homes for life in the universe?
This illustration depicts Kepler 62f, a planet in the habitable zone of a star smaller and cooler than the sun, in the same system as Kepler 62e.
April 22nd, 2013
10:22 AM ET

3 more homes for life in the universe?

Is anybody out there?

For millennia, humans have gazed at the night sky, asking this question. That's why scientists and NASA are eagerly searching for "exoplanets" - that is, planets that orbit around stars other than our sun.

Last week NASA's Kepler satellite reported the discovery of three Earth-sized exoplanets within the so-called "habitable zone," defined as the neighborhood of a star where liquid water - essential for life as we know it - can exist.

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Filed under: Commentary • Kepler • Voices
April 19th, 2013
04:51 PM ET

What happens to a wet washcloth in space?

By Matt Dellinger, CNN

Astronauts on the International Space Station get to do the coolest experiments. And sometimes the simplest ones can be the most impressive.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield demonstrates what happens when you wring out a soaking wet washcloth in zero gravity. The idea came from two high school students in Nova Scotia who won a contest to design a simple science experiment to be conducted on the ISS. The experiment had to use materials that were already available on the space station and was selected out of almost 100 entries.

Watch the video above to see the incredible effect of weightlessness on the water absorbed by the washcloth.

What are some simple experiments you would like to see conducted in space? Let us know in the comments below!

(The Science Seat will resume next Friday)

April 18th, 2013
10:14 PM ET

Space harpoon plan to nail orbital garbage

By Dave Gilbert, CNN

What do you do with 6,000 tons of space junk traveling at thousands of miles an hour? Harpoon it of course.

It might sound like a scenario straight off the pages of a science fiction novel but it is a suggested solution to an increasing and potentially costly problem in space - that of debris littering low earth orbit.

The harpoon plan is one of a range of options being discussed by scientists at a forum in Germany next week, and aimed at finding a way of tackling space debris that threatens commercial operations.

Engineer Jaime Reed, who is leading the harpoon project for the space technology company Astrium, explains that if a rogue satellite hits another, not only does it ruin the mission but it creates more debris and propagates the problem. This run-away scenario is often called the Kessler Syndrome, named after NASA's Don Kessler who first highlighted the risk.

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Filed under: In Space
April 18th, 2013
04:14 PM ET

3 new planets could host life

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

In the midst of chaos here on Earth, scientists are finding hope for life on other planets.

Scientists announced Thursday the discovery of three planets that are some of the best candidates so far for habitable worlds outside our own solar system - and they're very far away.

NASA's Kepler satellite, which is keeping an eye on more than 150,000 stars in hopes of identifying Earth-like planets, found the trio.

Two of the planets - Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f - are described in a study released Thursday in the journal, Science. They are part of a five-planet system in which the candidates for life are the farthest from the host star.

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Filed under: In Space • Kepler
April 15th, 2013
11:45 AM ET

What happens if you cry in space?

By Matthew Abshire, CNN

Crying probably isn’t on the top of the list of official experiments being explored on the International Space Station, but that doesn’t stop astronaut Chris Hadfield from demonstrating the phenomenon of human tears in space.

The Canadian ISS commander recently took time to answer a question he says he commonly receives: What happens to your tears when you cry in space? Hadfield's video demonstration will make the inner nerd in you shout with glee.

Hadfield uses a bottle of drinking water to place droplets in his eyes and then proceeds to blink and move around. He shows off this bizarre reality: Tears don't fall in space.

Check out the video to see what happens. Trust me, you’ll understand why Hadfield says that if you’re going to cry in space, bring a hankie.

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Filed under: In Space • People in Orbit
April 8th, 2013
11:25 AM ET

Forget falling stars: NASA plans to catch an asteroid

NASA is planning to catch an asteroid and place it in orbit around the moon.

Seriously.

What sounds like something from science fiction is actually a part of President Barack Obama's proposed federal budget for the next fiscal year, according to a Florida senator.

The budget is expected to be unveiled this week.

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Filed under: In Space
Science Seat: Another Earth called a certainty
An illustration shows a possible planet outside our solar system. The Milky Way is thought to have at least 100 billion planets.
March 22nd, 2013
02:03 PM ET

Science Seat: Another Earth called a certainty

By Nana Karikari-apau, CNN

Editor's note: The Science Seat is a feature in which CNN Light Years sits down with movers and shakers from different areas of scientific exploration. This is the seventh installment.

Sara Seager is a professor of physics and planetary science at MIT. She works on exoplanets, which orbit stars other than the sun.

Seager considers herself a pioneer and risk taker. She worked on exoplanets before it was considered cool, when people thought the field would go nowhere. Time magazine named Seager one of the 25 most influential in space in 2012, and she recently appeared in a CNN gallery of top women scientists.

MIT's Sara Seager studies exoplanets, which orbit stars other than the sun.

CNN Light Years recently chatted with Seager about her work. Here is an edited transcript:

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Filed under: In Space • Kepler • Science Seat • Voices
Better 'baby picture' of universe emerges
This is a map of the light of the universe when it was only 380,000 years old.
March 21st, 2013
03:25 PM ET

Better 'baby picture' of universe emerges

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

How cute was our universe as a baby? We now know better than ever: The picture of our early universe just got sharper and tells scientists with greater precision many important facts about how the universe evolved.

This new photogenic moment, released Thursday, comes courtesy of the European Space Agency's Planck space telescope, which detects cosmic microwave background radiation - the light left over from the Big Bang. Scientists used data from Planck to create an artificially colored map of temperature variations across the sky in the early universe, in more detail than ever before.

"It's a big deal," said Charles Lawrence, Planck project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a news briefing. He added, "We can tie together a whole range of phenomena that couldn't be tied together so well before, and the sum total of that, the impact, is felt in many, many ways."

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Filed under: In Space
March 20th, 2013
02:12 PM ET

Apollo mission rocket engines recovered

By Brian Walker, CNN

A set of giant rocket engines that once propelled astronauts to space have now been recovered from the icy depths of the Atlantic, say a team of researchers led by Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos four decades after they splashed into the ocean.

“What an incredible adventure,” Bezos posted on his website from onboard his recovery ship off the Florida coast.

“We found so much,” the billionaire adventurer says. “We’ve seen an underwater wonderland – an incredible sculpture garden of twisted F-1 engines that tells the story of a fiery and violent end, one that serves testament to the Apollo program.”

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Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space • the Moon
March 19th, 2013
02:27 PM ET

Money needed to prevent big asteroid strike

By Tom Cohen, CNN

The good news is that the chances an asteroid big enough to destroy a continent or all of civilization will hit Earth this year are only one in 20,000, a congressional panel learned Tuesday.

The bad news is the government needs to spend billions of dollars in coming years for new technology to prevent such a possible catastrophe, regardless of the low probability, experts told the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

"The odds are very small, but the potential consequences of such an event are so large, it makes sense to take the risk seriously," contended John Holdren, who directs President Barack Obama's Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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