NASA wants to change the way we think about the habitable zone

Earth is just one of many possible models for sustaining life. “There are great possibilities in expanding the habitable zone beyond our traditional blinders on that vision where it’s Earth or nothing.” That’s Dr.

NASA wants to change the way we think about the habitable zone
on 11th of Mar 2018 ‘Engadget

What are some of the obstacles to NASA’s efforts to find life on Mars?
(Mar 2018) ‘SpaceFlight Insider

NASA wants to change the way we think about the habitable zone

“There are great possibilities in expanding the habitable zone beyond our traditional blinders on that vision where it’s Earth or nothing.”

That’s Dr. Cynthia Phillips, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She’s currently working on a mission to study Europa, one of Jupiter’s icy moons with a subsurface ocean. Jupiter — and, by association, Europa — is well outside of the “habitable zone,” the gauge astronomers have used for years to determine whether a planet can sustain liquid water, a major precursor for life. But in Phillips’ view, being outside of this zone doesn’t automatically mean the moon or planet is devoid of life.

At SXSW, Phillips and a panel of NASA scientists discussed how they’re approaching the search for alien life within our own solar system and beyond — and, as it turns out, they’re not necessarily looking for another Earth.

“Our solar system is just one example, but there’s this huge diversity of systems out there that look nothing like the Earth,” Phillips said. “We haven’t found any planets that are like Earth yet, and of course it’s hard to find Earths because they’re relatively small.”

One of the most exciting discoveries in recent years was the TRAPPIST-1 system — a group of seven Earth-sized planets circling a red dwarf star 40 light years away. Hopes of finding life on these planets were dashed in July 2017 after two studies from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics concluded the red dwarf was likely too dim and cool to support Earth-like ecosystems. The habitable zone, in this case, was much closer to the star than Earth is to the Sun, increasing the amount of UV radiation on these planets to an unlivable level.

ReferenceOther things to check out:

What are some of the obstacles to NASA’s efforts to find life on Mars?

The possibility of life on Mars has grabbed the imagination for centuries, inspiring books, films, records, and Earthbound dreamers to gaze into the sky and wonder what could really be out there. NASA is now looking at ways to see of Mars was ever habitable and if it contains life today. The agency is working to overcome an array of hurdles to achieve this long-held dream.

Advances in technology are driving robotic and potential crewed missions to Mars further with each passing day, but the possibility of contaminating the planet is a major concern. In a recent speech delivered in Washington, D.C., NASA’s Mars Planetary Protection Officer, Lisa Pratt, provided more details about current plans for the exploration of Mars.

Reducing contamination remains a priority for the agency, but NASA is now indicating that they are prepared to counter contamination to ensure that any life found on the Red Planet – did not originate on Earth. NASA is planning on launching two missions to the dusty world, Mars Insight and the Mars 2020 rover within the next two years.

Life on Mars would be very different from the variety depicted by Hollywood. It is thought likely that there could be some form of microbial life on the Red Planet. Data collected during the Viking project four decades ago along with a host of more recent missions, along with increasingly advanced computer simulations and analysis, has suggested that the planet contains many of the criteria needed for life to be possible. Areas known as ‘special regions’ have been identified as being particularly promising, as they have the potential to be warm, wet – and possibly habitable. NASA has long been considering the possibility of sending robotic spacecraft to carry out in-situ analysis of these zones.

NASA’s Viking 1 and Viking 2 landing craft touched down on carefully chosen locations on Mars in July and Sept. of 1976. The project cost cost $1 billion in 1970’s dollars, or anywhere from $4 billion to $6 billion today. Viking is regarded as one of the most successful Martian missions to date. It is thanks to Viking that we gained our first insights into what it was like on the surface of Mars. The project also led to important advances in engineering and space science. These, and other Mars landings, have also provided the inspiration for space research at some of the U.S.’ top seats of learning, such as the Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.


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