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Scientists find gas on Venus that could signal presence of life beyond Earth – FRANCE 24 English

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Issued on: 15/09/2020 – 03:10

The atmosphere of Venus contains traces of phosphine gas — which on Earth can be attributed to living organisms — scientists said on Monday, in a fresh insight into conditions on our nearest planetary neighbour.  

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Conditions on Venus are often described as hellish with daytime temperatures hot enough to melt lead and an atmosphere comprised almost entirely of carbon dioxide. 

A team of experts used telescopes in Hawaii and Chile’s Atacama Desert to observe Venus’ upper cloud deck, around 60 kilometres (45 miles) from the surface.

They detected traces of phosphine, a flammable gas that on Earth often occurs from the breakdown of organic matter.

Writing in Nature Astronomy, the team stressed the presence of phosphine did not prove the presence of life on Venus.

However, as the clouds swirling about its broiling surface are highly acidic and therefore destroy phosphine very quickly, the research did show that something was creating it anew.

The researchers conducted several modelling calculations in a bid to explain the new phosphine production.

They concluded that their research provided evidence “for anomalous and unexplained chemistry” on Venus.

Lead author Jane Greaves, from Cardiff University’s School of Physics and Astronomy told AFP that the presence of phosphine alone was not proof of life on Earth’s nextdoor neighbour.

“I don’t think we can say that — even if a planet was abundant in phosphorus, it might lack something else important to life — some other element, or conditions might be too hot, too dry,” she said. 

Greaves added that it was the first time phosphine had been found on a rocky planet other than Earth.

‘Exciting’ 

Reacting to the study, Alan Duffy, an astronomer from Swinburne University and Lead Scientist of The Royal Institution of Australia, said it while it was tempting to believe that the phosphine was produced by lifeforms, “we have to rule out all possible other non-biological means of producing it”.

He called the finding “one of the most exciting signs of the possible presence of life beyond Earth I have ever seen”.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, which has conducted several fly-bys of Venus, called Monday’s research “intriguing”.

Venus, which rotates in the opposite direction to Earth and where a day lasts 243 times longer, is a subject of intense interest among astronomers. 

It is so close and of such similar size to our home planet that some experts believe it serves as a warning of the dangers of runaway climate change. 

Previous studies have unearthed tantalising clues suggesting Venus has active volcanoes, including signs of recent lava flows. 

(AFP)

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Trio returns to Earth after 6 months aboard International Space Station – CBC.ca

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A trio of space travellers safely returned to Earth on Thursday after a six-month mission on the International Space Station.

The Soyuz MS-16 capsule carrying NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, and Roscosmos’ Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan at 7:54 a.m. local time Thursday. After a brief medical checkup, the three will be taken by helicopters to Dzhezkazgan from where they will depart home.

The crew smiled as they talked to masked members of the recovery team, and NASA and Roscosmos reported that they were in good condition.

As part of additional precautions due to the coronavirus, the rescue team members meeting the crew were tested for the virus and the number of people involved in the recovery effort was limited.

Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner spent 196 days in orbit since arriving at the station on April 9.

NASA’s Kate Rubins and Roscosmos’ Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov arrived at the orbiting outpost a week ago for a six-month stay.

Before the crew’s departure, Russian cosmonauts were able to temporarily seal the air leak they tried to locate for several months. The small leak has posed no immediate danger to the station’s crew, and Roscosmos engineers have been working on a permanent seal.

In November, Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov are expected to greet NASA’s SpaceX first operational Crew Dragon mission comprising NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi. It follows a successful Demo-2 mission earlier this year.

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Osiris-Rex: Nasa asteroid mission confident of success – BBC News

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Osiris-Rex: Nasa asteroid mission confident of success

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By Jonathan Amos
BBC Science Correspondent

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.css-14iz86j-BoldTextfont-weight:bold;“We really did kind of make a mess.”

That was Dante Lauretta’s take after reviewing the first pictures to come down from .css-yidnqd-InlineLink:linkcolor:#3F3F42;.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visitedcolor:#696969;.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visitedfont-weight:bolder;border-bottom:1px solid #BABABA;-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:focus,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:focusborder-bottom-color:currentcolor;border-bottom-width:2px;color:#B80000;@supports (text-underline-offset:0.25em).css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visitedborder-bottom:none;-webkit-text-decoration:underline #BABABA;text-decoration:underline #BABABA;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-skip-ink:none;text-decoration-skip-ink:none;text-underline-offset:0.25em;.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:focus,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:focus-webkit-text-decoration-color:currentcolor;text-decoration-color:currentcolor;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:2px;text-decoration-thickness:2px;color:#B80000;Nasa’s Osiris-Rex probe following its bid to grab a sample from asteroid Bennu on Tuesday.

Dust and grit flew in all directions but that was good news, enthused the University of Arizona professor.

“Everything that we can see from these initial images indicates sampling success. So in case you can’t tell, I’m pretty excited.”

The principal investigator’s team now has to work out precisely how much material Osiris-Rex might have lifted from the surface of 500m-wide Bennu.

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If it’s a kilo or more, it would represent the biggest extra-terrestrial sample cache since the Apollo astronauts gathered rocks from the Moon some 50 years ago.

But even a smaller amount would still be a great prize.

Bennu is a very primitive object, with chemistry preserved from the dawn of the Solar System more than 4.5 billion years ago. As such, it can tell us a great deal about how the Sun and the planets came into being.

Osiris-Rex used what had been described as a “reverse vacuum cleaner” to acquire its clutch of “soil”.

More properly called the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism, or Tag-Sam, this device comprised a long boom with a ring-shaped collection chamber on the end.

The idea was to deliver a squirt of nitrogen when the Tag-Sam made contact with the asteroid.

The hope was this gas would stir up Bennu’s fragmented surface, leading to a considerable number of rocky pieces getting trapped inside the collection chamber.

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The downlinked pictures certainly suggested the strategy was the right one.

Osiris-Rex may have been in contact with Bennu for only six seconds before retreating, but the sampling ring was flat and stable, and even pressing into the soil slightly. This should have maximised the chances of retaining material.

Rich Burns, Nasa’s project manager on the mission, lauded the the way his team managed to put the probe in just the right place on Bennu – almost exactly at the centre of the targeted sampling zone.

“We’re over 320 million km away from Earth at this point, and we touched this asteroid within a metre of where we intended to. So that’s extraordinary and a real credit to our team,” he told reporters.

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Artwork of probe

image copyrightNASA/Goddard/UoA

On Thursday, engineers will command the spacecraft to take detailed pictures of the sampling ring to try to see what it contains.

And then on Saturday, they’ll make Osiris-Rex spin itself around with the Tag-Sam outstretched. Any extra mass on board will change the level of torque required to turn the probe, compared with the level that was needed to perform the same rotation exercise prior to sample acquisition.

“We are expecting a final sample mass measurement report on Monday,” explained Sandy Freund, the mission operations manager at Lockheed Martin, the company that manufactured Osiris-Rex.

It seems highly likely that Osiris-Rex has achieved its objective of taking at least 60g off Bennu. But if it hasn’t, there are two more nitrogen bottles still aboard the probe to facilitate further sampling bids. And there’s plenty of time, too.

The spacecraft is not scheduled to depart Bennu for Earth until April next year. A landing on Earth for any rock cache in this timeline would be late 2023.

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Prof Lauretta once again on Wednesday’s paid tribute to the British scientist who conceived Osiris-Rex.

This was Bristol-born Michael Drake who held senior science positions at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

He worked up the concept for the mission but sadly died in 2011, aged 65, just months after Nasa had green-lit the project.

“I’m pleased to see that my dad’s legacy is being honoured at this exciting time in Osiris-Rex’s mission,” Michael Drake’s son, Matt Drake, told BBC News.

“My father’s idea to study near-Earth asteroids as a means of peering back in time to the birth of the Solar System finally came to fruition during [Tuesday’s] Tag event.

“As the principal investigator of this team from its inception until his passing almost 10 years later, he would have been incredibly proud of his team’s accomplishments.”

Osiris-Rex carries a plaque of remembrance to Michael Drake.

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Michael Drake

image copyrightUoA

Bennu size comparison with Empire State Building

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

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Rare 'blue moon' to appear on Halloween this year – Richmond News

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The year 2020 has brought many surprises and this year’s Halloween is no different.

A rare “blue full moon” will be appearing on Halloween night this year.

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While the moon will not look blue, the term “blue moon” is given when two full moons appear in a single month.

A full moon on Halloween occurs roughly once every 19 years – a pattern known as the Metonic Cycle.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanc, the cycle is uncommon and happens on average every two and a half to three years with the last time two full moons appearing in the same month in 2018.

The next illuminated Halloween full moon, says astronomers, after 2020 will be in the 2039, 2058, 2077 and 2096.

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