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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

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)

Next Story

US Scientists Find Out Why Some Don’t Choose to Take Shelter During Tornadoes?

Kim Klockow, a scientist at the University of Oklahoma, is involved in the research as a social scientist and compares her field to medicine

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Police stand at the ruins of a hotel in El Reno, Okla., May 26, 2019, following a likely tornado touchdown late Saturday night. VOA

Following a severe tornado earlier this year in Alabama that killed 23 people, scientists interviewed residents in the area to find out why the storm was so deadly and made an important finding: almost everyone had heard the warnings about the impending storm and had enough time to seek shelter, but some chose not to.

“From a national standpoint, a media standpoint, forecasters did a great job” predicting the March storm in eastern Alabama, Stephen Strader, an atmospheric scientist at Villanova University, said. “But why did we see 23 fatalities? Why didn’t they take shelter?”

These questions are a central part of new research that is being conducted in collaboration between physical scientists, like Strader, and social scientists to try to determine why people behave the way they do during a storm, including whether they choose to seek shelter or not.

The goal of the research is to provide more information to forecasters and policymakers to create better tornado warning systems. Strader said that as a physical scientist, his job is to look at all the physical factors of a storm, including “how wide was it, where did the tornado track, how many homes were damaged.”

He said social scientists, on the other hand, try to find out more information about people’s choices. “We want to understand the decision-making about tornado warnings. If a warning comes, what do you do?” he asked.

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FILE – A tornado rips through part of Oklahoma. VOA

Social science

Kim Klockow, a scientist at the University of Oklahoma, is involved in the research as a social scientist and compares her field to medicine. “Everyone wants to know what treatment to pursue, but there needs to be a diagnosis first,” she said, adding that social science is like the diagnosing phase. In the aftermath of a storm, she said, “all we have is the death total, which doesn’t tell us much.”

When a death toll is low, like after a powerful tornado hit Kansas in May but left no fatalities, Klockow said people call it “a miracle.” However, she said even these situations are “frustrating, because we don’t know why” there were no fatalities.

The death rate from tornadoes in the United States had steadily decreased from 1920 to 1990, but since then has stalled, according to research Strader has done. The reasons for this are not well understood, Klockow said. Without more information, “it is hard to say why things are happening the way they are.” “What I’m advocating for is observation,” she said.

Mobile homes

The new research focuses primarily on people who live in mobile homes, as those structures are particularly vulnerable to tornadoes. Roughly half of the fatalities from the March tornado in Alabama were residents of mobile homes.

Strader said it is not just that a mobile home is more vulnerable to storms, but that the people living in them are often more disadvantaged and have more complexities in terms of their decision-making. He said they might not have a vehicle or might not know where to go.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recommends people who live in mobile homes flee to a safer structure during a tornado, even if their mobile home is tied down, while those who live in traditional houses are advised to go to their basement, or if they do not have one, to an interior room.

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A tornado is seen South of Dodge City, Kansas moving North on May 24, 2016 in Dodge City, Kansas. VOA

Strader said there used to be a belief that people who lived in mobile homes were less educated about the weather. However, he said current research shows they know just as much about the weather as anyone else and are also aware that their mobile homes are not safe. However, sometimes they freeze or don’t know where to flee, he said. “There are a lot of issues we have to start dissecting,” he said.

Getting to safety

Strader suggested that the safest course of action would be for people in mobile homes to flee to safety at the first sign that a tornado could strike, when forecasters issue what is called a “tornado watch,” even before a tornado has formed and they announce a “tornado warning.”

ALSO READ: Natural Disasters Take Psychological Toll on Survivors

He acknowledged, however, this could be a difficult choice for people to make. Strader said people have all kinds of belief systems and biases that could prevent them from seeking shelter, including a fatalistic attitude, thinking, “If I am going to die today, it will be today.’”

According to Klockow, people need to be motived with a little fear, which can drive them to action, but warned that too much fear can make people freeze.

“We can find people kneeling on the floor praying instead of trying to get to a shelter,” she said. Klockow said people tend not to blatantly disregard information about an incoming tornado, but said, “very often, people don’t feel that they need to do something about it.” (VOA)