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NASA identifies a Moon orbiting Saturn as a new candidate for Potential Life

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FILE - The Cassini spacecraft captured this of Saturn's moon Enceladus, in a flyby Oct. 28, 2015. The U.S.-European spacecraft skimmed within 30 miles of the south pole. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute via AP) VOA
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US, April 16, 2017: The U.S. space agency NASA has identified a moon orbiting Saturn as a new candidate for potential life.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft said the icy, ocean-covered body possesses ample amounts of hydrogen gas. The gas could be a chemical energy source of life, scientists involved with the mission said.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, called Saturn’s moon Enceladus “the closest we’ve come” to identifying a planet with the necessary ingredients for a habitable planet.

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“These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA’s science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not,” he said in a statement.

The paper from researchers with the Cassini mission was published Thursday in the journal Science.

FILE – This image provided by NASA is a Hubble Space Telescope close-up of Saturn’s disk, and it captures the transit of several moons across the planet’s face. The giant orange moon Titan is at upper right. The white icy moons close to the ring plane are, from left, Enceladus, Dione and Mimas. The dark band running across the face of the planet slightly above the rings is the shadow of the rings cast on the planet. The dark dots are the shadows cast by Enceladus and Dione. VOA

Plume analyzed

The Cassini spacecraft detected the hydrogen in a plume of gas and icy material spraying off Enceladus in October 2015. Scientists determined the gas in the plume nearly 98 percent water, about 1 percent of which is hydrogen, with the rest being a mixture of carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia.

The scientists noted that “life as we know it requires three primary ingredients”: liquid water, a source of energy for metabolism, and a combination of chemical ingredients that include hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, among others.

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“With this finding, Cassini has shown that Enceladus — a small, icy moon a billion miles farther from the sun than Earth — has nearly all of these ingredients for habitability,” NASA said in a statement announcing the findings.

While some ingredients for life were found on Enceladus, the scientists made clear that the discovery didn’t confirm life on the planet, but merely confirmed favorable conditions.

“Although we can’t detect life, we’ve found that there’s a food source there for it. It would be like a candy store for microbes,” said Hunter Waite, lead author of the Cassini study. (VOA)

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Wintertime Ice Growth in Arctic Sea Slows Long-Term Decline: NASA

The switch will happen once the sea ice is less than 1.6 feet thick at the beginning of winter, or its concentration

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Wintertime ice growth in Arctic sea slows long-term decline: NASA. Flcikr

While sea ice in the Arctic continues to be on the decline, a new research from the US Space agency NASA suggests that it is regrowing at faster rates during the winter than it was a few decades ago.

The findings showed that since 1958, the Arctic sea ice cover has lost on average around two-thirds of its thickness and now 70 per cent of the sea ice cap is made of seasonal ice, or ice that forms and melts within a single year.

But at the same time, that sea ice is vanishing quicker than it has ever been observed in the satellite record, it is also thickening at a faster rate during winter.

This increase in growth rate might last for decades, explained the researchers, in the paper to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

However, this does not mean that the ice cover is recovering, though. Just delaying its demise.

“This increase in the amount of sea ice growing in winter doesn’t overcome the large increase in melting we’ve observed in recent decades,” said lead author Alek Petty, a sea ice scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

NASA, Hubble, Keplar, asteroids
However, this does not mean that the ice cover is recovering, though. Just delaying its demise. Flickr

“Overall, thickness is decreasing. Arctic sea ice is still very much in decline across all seasons and is projected to continue its decline over the coming decades,” she added.

To explore sea ice growth variability across the Arctic, the team used climate models and observations of sea ice thickness from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite.

They found that in the 1980s, when Arctic sea ice was on average 6.6 feet thick in October, about 3.3 extra feet of ice would form over the winter.

This rate of growth may continue to increase, and in the coming decades, we could also have an ice pack that would on average be only around 3.3 feet thick in October, but could experience up to five feet of ice growth over the winter.

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However, by the middle of the century, the strong increases in atmospheric and oceanic temperatures will outweigh the mechanism that allows ice to regrow faster, and the Arctic sea ice cover will decline further, Petty said.

The switch will happen once the sea ice is less than 1.6 feet thick at the beginning of winter, or its concentration — the percentage of an area that is covered in sea ice — is less than 50 per cent, she noted. (IANS)