NASA hoping for a stellar look at the plumes of Enceladus

This week it was possible to observe the light of a star in the Orion constellation though the plumes of
Enceladus and NASA positioned Cassini to do that.

The star is Epsilon Orionis, the middle star in the belt of Orion. Such an alignment is called a stellar occultation. Usually “occultation” refers to an event where one object blocks and observer’s view of a second object.

In this case, the observer’s view isn’t blocked, its filtered through the water and gas of Enceladus’ plumes. Cassini has made four stellar and one solar occultations of the plumes over the last ten years.

From a distance of 535,000 miles from Enceladus NASA will use Cassini’s Ultraviolet Image Spectrograph (UVIS) to record the filtered starlight. The star itself is 2,000 light years from Enceladus.
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Tide swinging towards Europa’s ocean in search for life

Despite the fact that since the 1990’s Europa has been considered the most likely candidate for life in our solar system, NASA has had no formal organized effort to pursue its exploration until recently.

While President Obama’s budget for 2013 and 2014 had no provision for Europa exploration Congress appropriated $120 million for the effort.

When the President’s budget asked for $15 million in 2015, Congress appropriated $175 million.

The Europa mission is benefitting from the efforts of Congressman John Culberson, Republican-Texas, whose district happens to include the Johnson Space Center. The House Appropriations Subcommittee has jurisdiction over NASA’s budget and Culberson is its chairman.

Culberson’s efforts are not just pork barrel politics though. There is wide spread belief in the scientific community that there is strong possibility that life can be found on Europa. Europa is certainly the most promising place to look.

Consider the findings of a joint effort of a dozen government agencies engaged in space exploration and published in August 2011 in a paper titled “Science Potential from a Europa Lander”:

– The presence of water: Europa has an ocean
– Europa has a source of energy to create and maintain complex molecules: the energy source is the gravitational influence of Jupiter which causes Europa’s iron core to heat and in turn
causes significant movement in the ocean
– Europa has the basic chemical elements needed for life as they are found throughout the solar system.
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Canals On Mars: Lowell Revisited

In his book Cosmos, Carl Sagan wrote: “ . . . I have the nagging suspicion that some essential feature of the Martian canal problem still remains undiscovered.”

Canals On Mars: Lowell Revisited is a new book which examines statements about canals made by Carl Sagan, Percival Lowell and others as well as some of the material contained in Lowell’s own book Mars.

The impetus for the book was NASA’s discovery of flowing water on the surface of Mars. It seems inconceivable that such an important feature should have gone undiscovered during fifty years of satellite and rover exploration and yet it was.

The fact that it was makes Sagan’s “nagging suspicion” seem less like suspicion and more like prescience.
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