Gemini Planet Imager finds its first exoplanet, a methane-rich ‘young Jupiter’

Discovery near-infrared image of the exoplanet 51 Eridani b taken by the Gemini Planet Imager on Dec. 21, 2014. The relative size of Saturn’s orbit is also shown for comparison. Image Credit: Gemini Observatory/J. Rameau (UdeM)/C. Marois (NRC Herzberg)
Discovery near-infrared image of the exoplanet 51 Eridani b taken by the Gemini Planet Imager on Dec. 21, 2014. The relative size of Saturn’s orbit is also shown for comparison. Image Credit: Gemini Observatory/J. Rameau (UdeM)/C. Marois (NRC Herzberg)

The Gemini Planet Imager, a new telescopic instrument designed to find, image, and study faint, young planets orbiting bright stars, has discovered its first exoplanet: a young Jupiter-like planet called 51 Eridani b which orbits the star 51 Eridani, about 100 light-years away. Thought to be similar to a younger version of Jupiter, it should help astronomers learn more about how planetary systems form.

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NASA awards grants to Ozark IC to create circuits for proposed Venus rover

Artist’s conception of the Venus Landsailing Rover. It would use advanced circuits which could survive longer than previous landers in the extreme surface conditions. A “sail” on top would help to move the rover on the surface using wind, a technique known as landsailing. Image Credit: NASA GRC
Artist’s conception of the Venus Landsailing Rover. It would use advanced circuits which could survive longer than previous landers in the extreme surface conditions. A “sail” on top would help to move the rover on the surface using wind, a technique known as landsailing. Image Credit: NASA GRC

In what may be a significant step toward the seemingly far-off goal of sending a rover to the surface of Venus, NASA has awarded two grants totalling $245,000 to a semiconductor technology firm to design complex integrated circuits which could withstand the extremely harsh environment on this neighboring world.

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Flying the friendly Martian skies: NASA to test Mars airplane prototype

Artist’s conception of the Prandtl-m airplane flying above the surface of Mars. Image Credit: NASA Illustration/Dennis Calaba
Artist’s conception of the Prandtl-m airplane flying above the surface of Mars. Image Credit: NASA Illustration/Dennis Calaba

For several decades, Mars has been a busy place, with orbiters, landers, and rovers providing unprecedented views of the Red Planet. Another exciting possibility which has yet to be realized is an airplane, which could soar through the atmosphere, showing Mars in a way not possible before – closer than an orbiter, but unique from a lander or rover stuck on the surface. NASA is now testing just such a concept, the first Mars airplane which could fly in the Martian skies in the 2020s.

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Mars Cube One: new deep-space CubeSats will travel to Mars along with InSight lander

Artist’s conception of the MarCO CubeSats flying past Mars as the InSight lander descends to the surface. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Artist’s conception of the MarCO CubeSats flying past Mars as the InSight lander descends to the surface. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The next NASA mission to Mars, the InSight lander, will include some additional experimental technology: the first deep-space CubeSats. Two small CubeSats will fly past the planet as the lander is descending through the atmosphere; this will be the first time CubeSats have been used in an interplanetary mission.

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Flying (mostly) friendly skies: Northrop Grumman developing airplane to cruise atmosphere of Venus

Artist’s conception of the Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP) aircraft in the atmosphere of Venus. Image Credit: Northrop Grumman artist’s concept
Artist’s conception of the Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP) aircraft in the atmosphere of Venus. Image Credit: Northrop Grumman artist’s concept

With so much attention now on the rovers and spacecraft at Mars, Saturn, Ceres, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and, soon, Pluto, it may seem like Earth’s closest planetary neighbor Venus has been forgotten again. But no, Venus is still very much on the minds of researchers who are busy developing a concept airplane which could cruise for years in the hellish planet’s atmosphere.

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Exploring an alien sea: NASA designs submarine to send to Titan

Artist’s conception of the Titan Submarine Phase I Conceptual Design. Much like submarines on Earth, the sub would explore the depths of one of Titan’s methane/ethane seas. Image Credit: NASA
Artist’s conception of the Titan Submarine Phase I Conceptual Design. Much like submarines on Earth, the sub would explore the depths of one of Titan’s methane/ethane seas. Image Credit: NASA

Who wouldn’t want to go explore an alien sea? It seems that NASA would certainly like to, and the agency has unveiled a new submarine design to hopefully do just that one day. The submarine would be sent to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, to dive into one of the large liquid methane seas on the moon’s frigid surface; such a mission idea may sound like science fiction, but it’s not, and would be the first ever to explore a sea on another world which is both Earth-like in some ways, yet utterly alien in others.

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Curiosity takes first nighttime and ‘black light’ photos

Rock illuminated at night using the UV LEDs. The bright material (gypsum?) "glows" in the UV images. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS
Rock illuminated at night using the UV LEDs. The bright material (gypsum?) “glows” in the UV images. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

Addendum: press release is now available here.

The images being taken by the Curiosity rover on Mars have been amazing enough so far, but with one thing in common – they are all daytime images. Now, though, Curiosity has taken its first nighttime photos! These initial images were taken a couple of days ago, on sol 165. This is also the location where Curiosity will soon do its first drilling.

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The next generation of robotic space explorers – powered by bacteria!

Illustration of how a tiny robotic explorer could use bacteria as a fuel source. Credit: NASA/Naval Research Laboratory

As technology advances, a lot of the gadgets and other things we use keep getting smaller, lighter and thinner. Now that trend may soon be taken to another extreme – small robotic space explorers which in turn use a miniscule power source – bacteria

See Universe Today for the full article.