November 5, 2012: This Week's Alien and Space News

By on 5:16 PM

November kicked off with a lot of space action. SpaceX, NASA, and ESA are all
planning or doing some pretty spectacular things in space, from captaining the first stages of commercial space flight, studying the sun’s nanoflares, and looking for some more planets. Of course, space itself is pretty busy, too, what with asteroid belts having to be sized just right to allow for life and Titan deciding to glow in the dark.

SpaceX Passes Third Milestone: I’m not quite sure what all space-readiness entails, but it’s bound to be fairly rigorous. Throw in NASA (hopefully) trying to stretch its money for maximum output, and SpaceX better be able to prove itself. Luckily, it has. With its run of recent successes, SpaceX is now leading NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative. Someday soon, especially since SpaceX is moving faster than NASA has since the ’60s, there will be spaceflight for both governments and paying customers.
Where the Tiny Things Are: NASA’s FOXSI mission will launch soon in order to give the sun a good look-over. The mission, Focusing Optics X-Ray Solar Imager, is going to get a more complete picture of solar flares. Not sunspots or massive flares – they’re cool, but we understand them to some small extent and people are already studying them – but nanoflares, which occur much more frequently and which we can barely see. Nobody knows if these nanoflares cause the bigger flares or if they’re part of the reason why the sun’s atmosphere is so much hotter than its surface, but we might after FOXSI does its thing.

You Can’t Get Panspermia Without the Right Kind of Apocalypse?: Asteroids are usually fairly nasty things. We live in perpetual fear of extinction, and dinosaurs did go extinct. But they have they’re good points, too, such as bringing about life. An increasing number of scientists think that asteroids crash-landing on Earth might have brought the organic material that eventually evolved into life as we know it. So while asteroid and asteroid belts could destroy us at virtually any moment, it’s potentially thanks to a couple of their fellows that we’re here to get smashed. And a couple of NASA scientists have applied this idea to the search for extraterrestrial life: not only do planets have to be at the right temperature with the right water levels and atmosphere to house life we might recognize, but they have to be surrounded by just the right kind of asteroid belt, not too big and not too small. I guess Goldilocks really does apply.

Titan Glows and It’s Not Because of the Sun: Scientists expected Titan to potentially glow in the dark: ultraviolet light can excite particles enough to do that. Magnetic fields can also add a bit of a shine, like in our own aurora borealis. And Titan does glow a little bit because of this. But there is a deeper glow in Titan’s atmosphere, too far down to be caused by the sun or magnetic field alone, and scientists think there’re some interesting organic chemistry reactions going on that makes this light happen. Titan has long since a spot on the list of places that could house life due to a thick atmosphere and already present organic materials, and this just makes the moon that much more interesting.

Europe Goes Planet Hunting: It’s not just NASA and SpaceX up in space. The European Space Agency plans on launching a satellite in 2017 that can better find planets in other solar systems. Cheops, or CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite, will be searching for exoplanets around stars already known to have planets, since it’s likely that there will be more than just one per star. Cheops will also be searching for exoplanets with strong atmospheres, seeing as how all the life we know of tends to rely on them.
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Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

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