Tag Archive | "NASA"

NASA looking at induced hibernation for travel to Mars

In a bid to bring astronauts to Mars who could last the months-long journey, US space agency NASA is looking at possible ways of inducing a coma-like state through extreme cooling.

The news came following last week’s International Astronomical Conference in Toronto, Canada, where some of science’s brightest minds have been discussing what the future holds for space travel and particularly, how we are to get to Mars in the foreseeable future.

One method that is now seriously being considered is through a process known as torpor whose uses are much more closer to home, that is, in medical care where patients who could potentially be close to death are put into an induced coma until a possible solution could be found.

Now NASA are looking to see whether they could implement the same idea but on a much longer timeline as current use of torpor is usually limited to a few days.

However, according to Mark Schaffer, an aerospace engineer for SpaceWorks Enterprises who are collaborating with NASA on the project, astronauts will need to go through a much longer stasis period: “For human Mars missions, we need to push that to 90 days, 180 days. Those are the types of mission flight times we’re talking about.”

To induce the coma, the astronauts would need to be connected through the nose to a pump that will flow coolant into the body gradually bringing the body’s temperature down by one degree Celsius until it reaches stasis.

While NASA are currently conducting tests as to whether the idea is feasible, the benefits to NASA if it is successful could lower costs and vital weight to the mission’s payload by as much as 200 tonnes.

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Is newly discovered Kepler -186f right for life?

Astronomers have for the first time discovered a rocky, Earth-sized exoplanet that might hold liquid water—a necessary ingredient for life as we know it.

The planet Kepler-186f is the fifth and outermost world orbiting the red dwarf Kepler-186. The slow-burning sun is smaller and cooler than our own. Too faint to be seen without a telescope, it’s roughly 500 light years away in the direction of the northern constellation Cygnus (a light year is the distance light travels in a year).

Two attributes make the newfound planet special. First, it’s within its star’s habitable zone. That’s the range of orbital distances where a planet with an atmosphere could harbor lakes, rivers, or oceans that wouldn’t freeze or boil away.

Second, the planet is about the size of Earth. It’s not big enough to accumulate a thick atmosphere of hydrogen and helium as gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn have.

The findings are published in the journalScience.

“One of the most interesting questions in science is whether life can arise on other planets or, alternatively, if life on this planet is unique,” says Fred Adams, professor of physics and astronomy at University of Michigan. “The discovery of planets with Earth-like properties is one important link in the chain required to answer this question. And the discovery of the planet Kepler-186f is an important step toward finding a planet that is like our Earth.”

Over the past two decades, astronomers have found some 1,800 exoplanets in other solar systems. Only 20 orbit their stars in a habitable zone. But these are all thought to be much larger than the earth, according to the SETI Institute. The most likely candidates for habitable planets would be smaller than 1.5 times the size of Earth. Researchers were able to estimate the size of Kepler-186f by observing how the star dimmed as the planet crossed it.

Adams, a theoretical astrophysicist, helped to interpret the results gathered with NASA’s Kepler telescope, which searches for Earth-like planets. Data from the space telescope gave researchers estimates of the planet’s radius and how long it takes to orbit the star. The researchers found that the radius of Kepler-186f is 1.1 times the radius of Earth and that the planet’s year is 130 days long.

Adams was part of the team that used the data to answer questions such as where the solar system’s habitable zone is, what the planet is most likely made of, and whether it could hold on to an atmosphere, for example.

“We found that this solar system does seem to be stable, it can be formed under reasonable conditions, and the planet is likely to be rocky, or Earth-like, and not gaseous,” Adams says.

The system may be too dim for follow-up surveys to find the composition of its atmosphere, even with next-generation telescopes, says first author Elisa Quintana. “However, our research tells us that we should be able to find planets around bright stars that will be ideal targets to observe with James Webb.

NASA’s Webb orbiting telescope, which is still being built, will be able to directly image planets around nearby dwarf stars, and use advanced techniques to characterize their atmospheres. The SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array has been observing the Kepler system for signs of intelligent life.

NASA and the SETI Institute supported the research.

Source: University of Michigan

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