NASA plans a robotic mission to search for life on Europa | io9

It looks like it’s finally going to happen, an actual mission to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa — one of the the solar system’s best candidates for hosting alien life.

Yesterday, NASA announced an injection of $17.5 billion from the federal government (down by $1.2 billion from its 2010 peak). Of this, $15 million will be allocated for “pre-formulation” work on a mission to Europa, with plans to make detailed observations from orbit and possibly sample its interior oceans with a robotic probe. Mission details are sparse, but if all goes well, it could be launched by 2025 and arriving in the early 2030s.

This is incredibly exciting. Recent evidence points to a reasonable chance of habitability. Its massive subsurface ocean contains almost twice as much water as found on Earth. The water is kept in liquid state owing to the gravitational forces exerted by Jupiter and the moon’s turbulent global ocean currents. The good news is that a probe may not have to dig very deep to conduct its search for life; the moon’s massive plumes are ejecting water directly onto the surface.

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Recently, girls across the United States applied for WISH, a program run by NASA which was offered to junior girls who hoped to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, a field in which women are a scathing minority.

However, today an email from NASA to the applicants canceled the program as a result of complaints from male high school students who demanded to participate as well. There is nothing wrong with men and women working together to create innovations and better the world, but with men holding 76% of the jobs in STEM and the stigma surrounding women in science, programs to specifically encourage female participation are essential.

Please join in combating this discouraging act against women in the STEM field by reminding NASA what WISH was really about.

I have several friends who have participated in this program, and it was an amazing experience for all of them. One is currently majoring in Engineering, and the other is majoring in Biology and Flute Performance. If I had known about this program when I was eligible, I would have loved to participate. It would have helped me immensely. 

You’ve probably seen me posting about how isolated I feel in my male-dominated physics and math classes. If you care about changing that to help the future women interested in STEM fields, please sign this petition. 

Sign it!



One planet, two stars: New research shows how circumbinary planets form | Science Daily

Luke Skywalker’s home planet Tatooine would have formed far from its current location in the Star Wars universe, a new University of Bristol study into its real world counterparts, observed by the Kepler space telescope, suggests.

Like the fictional Star Wars planet, Kepler-34(AB)b is a circumbinary planet, so-called because its orbit encompasses two stars. There are few environments more extreme than a binary star system in which planet formation can occur. Powerful gravitational perturbations from the two stars on the rocky building blocks of planets lead to destructive collisions that grind down the material. So, how can the presence of such planets be explained?

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