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plate tectonics may have begun a billion years after earth's birth

the differentiation of oceanic and continental crust could date back 3.5 billion years.

sean penn to star in hulu's mars space drama 'the first'

move over, matt damon – it's time for a new name-brand hollywood actor to take the stage during a fictional mars mission. sean penn, a two-time academy award winner, will star in the hulu original drama series "the first."

sean penn to star in hulu's mars space drama 'the first'

move over, matt damon – it's time for a new name-brand hollywood actor to take the stage during a fictional mission to mars. sean penn, who won academy awards as best actor for "mystic river" (2003) and "milk" (2008), will star in hulu's original space-drama series "the first."  while his role has not been disclosed yet, the show follows the first human mission to mars, and explores "the challenges of taking the first steps toward interplanetary colonization," according to a show description. the show will center on the astronauts, as well as the families and loved ones they left behind. the mars crew will also work with a "a ground team on earth" (it's unclear if that would be nasa's mission control in houston, or another entity.) [spacex's mars colonization plan in pictures] "the first" was created by beau willimon, who is best known as the past executive producer and writer for the netflix series "house of cards" (2013-present), a fictional show about the u.s. presidency, and for co-producing the hollywood film "the ides of march" (2011), which follows the fictional campaigns of presidential candidates in the democratic primary. "i have such deep admiration for sean's immense talent and extraordinary body of work," said willimon, who is also executive producer of "the first," in a statement. "i feel very lucky to be collaborating with an artist of his caliber." the series will enter production this year and is expecte...

how cassini managed to live such a long and useful life at saturn

pasadena, calif. – the cassini spacecraft explored the saturn system for 13 years — eight years longer than it was initially scheduled for. what's the secret to the mission's long life? cassini team members told it comes down to having both a dedicated workforce and long-term planning. last week, the cassini spacecraft met its fiery doom when mission planners sent it plummeting into saturn's atmosphere. the little probe sent back data about that alien environment for as long as it possibly could — firing its thrusters at full capacity to fight against the drag of the atmosphere and keep its antennae pointed toward earth.  mission scientists gathered at nasa's jet propulsion laboratory (jpl) on sept. 15 to say goodbye to the probe and watch its final plunge. jpl was the lead institute on designing and building cassini, and the probe was operated from jpl, using the facility's deep space network. [farewell, cassini: gorgeous final photos are a fitting send-off] erick sturm, the cassini mission planner, was in jpl's mission control center during cassini's final hours, watching as data poured in from the probe until the very last second. over the next few months, he'll work with colleagues to determine just how far into saturn's atmosphere the probe fell and where it finally disintegrated.  he'll also write a report about the lessons he and his team learned from the cassini mission that can be applied to future missions. his two m...

most powerful cosmic rays come from galaxies far, far away

the highest-energy cosmic rays to bombard earth apparently come from galaxies far, far away, a new study finds.cosmic rays are made of atomic nuclei of elements ranging from hydrogen to iron, and zip through outer space at speeds approaching that of light. analyzing them gives scientists a way to examine matter from outside the solar system, and potentially outside the galaxy. the sun emits relatively low-energy cosmic rays. however, for more than 50 years, scientists have also detected ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, ones far beyond the capability of any particle accelerator on earth to generate. [100-year cosmic ray mystery solved with supernovas (photos)]researchers used the pierre auger observatory in argentina to track the particles generated by high-energy cosmic rays hitting earth's atmosphere, calculating the powerful rays' a. chantelauze/s. staffi/l. bret "earth sees a constant rain of these particles, but we had no idea where they come from," study co-author karl-heinz kampert, a particle astrophysicist at the university of wuppertal in germany and spokesman for the pierre auger collaboration, told "the particles we detect are so energetic they have to come from astrophysical phenomena that are extremely violent," study co-author gregory snow at the university of nebraska-lincoln, who serves as the education and outreach coordinator for the pierre auger observatory project, said in a statement. "some galaxies have an...

astronaut's dramatic photos show hurricane maria raging over puerto rico

while hurricane maria slammed puerto rico with pounding rainfall and dangerously strong winds yesterday (sept. 20), astronauts at the international space station experienced the storm from a far more serene location roughly 250 miles (400 kilometers) above earth. nasa astronaut and expedition 53 cmdr. randy bresnik shared his aerial views of hurricane maria on twitter. his photos, taken through the windows of the international space station (iss), show the enormous storm stretching across the horizon like a thick blanket of snow. closer views of the hurricane's center reveal some interesting shapes forming in the cloud tops. "amazing cloud formations radiating out as we speed by," bresnik tweeted from the iss today (sept. 21). [in photos: hurricane maria seen from space]the eye of hurricane maria spins beneath the international space station in this close-up shot captured by nasa astronaut randy nasa/randy bresnik/twitter the images show a section of extra-tall cumulonimbus clouds towering near the eye of the hurricane. according to nasa, these higher cloud formations are called "hot towers" and can grow higher than the troposphere, at an altitude of about 9 miles (14.5 km). "these towers are called 'hot' because they rise to such altitude due to the large amount of latent heat," nasa officials said in a statement. "water vapor releases this latent heat as it condenses into liquid. those towering thunderstorms have the potenti...

comet's 2014 mars flyby caused most intense meteor shower ever recorded

the annual perseid meteor shower may be great, but it's got nothing on the brief sky show a comet gave mars a few years back. comet siding spring produced the most intense meteor shower in recorded history when the object flew by the red planet in october 2014, according to newly analyzed data collected at the time by nasa's mars atmosphere and volatile evolution (maven) orbiter. maven's observations suggest that the siding spring shower boasted about 108,000 meteors per hour at its peak and lasted up to 3 hours, scientists led by matteo crismani, of the university of colorado boulder, reported today (sept. 21) in a presentation at the european planetary science congress 2017 (epsc 2017) in riga, latvia. [mars-bound comet: photos of comet siding spring] for comparison, viewers with dark skies can usually count on seeing about 80 meteors per hour during the mid-august peak of the perseid meteor shower, which is perhaps the most famous and reliably impressive of earth's annual showers. the perseids and other such showers occur every year when our planet plows through streams of debris shed by comets over the eons. each shower is caused a particular debris stream. (in the perseids' case, this debris comes from comet swift-tuttle.) the siding spring martian shower, however, was a one-off event. the comet zoomed within 87,000 miles (140,000 kilometers) of the red planet's surface on oct. 19, 2014, sending huge numbers of particles careening into the ...

arecibo observatory remains offline after being buffeted by hurricane maria

the arecibo observatory in puerto rico remained offline today (sept. 21) after hurricane maria battered the island on wednesday, leaving a trail of destruction that included a total loss of power. the arecibo observatory, in puerto rico's northwest, houses the world's second-largest radio telescope. while the facility has been closed all week for the hurricane, a handful of staff members had remained inside the observatory, waiting for the storm to pass. "most cell towers and all landlines are down," aya collins, a spokeswoman for the national science foundation (nsf), told in an email. with no power, phones or internet, the people of puerto rico have very limited means of communication with the outside world. "we haven't received any official communications from the arecibo observatory," collins said. [in photos: hurricane maria seen from space] in an update posted at noon edt today (sept. 21), officials with the universities space research association (usra), which helps to operate the arecibo observatory, said they also have been unable to contact people at the facility. however, the usra update noted that "one observatory staff member located in the town of arecibo contacted via short-wave radio reports that trees are down, power is out, houses damaged and roads impassable." staff who took shelter at the observatory were well-prepared for the treacherous storm, which made landfall as a category 4 hurricane and engulfed the is...

asteroid probe's 'interplanetary billiards' flyby explained

after already traveling millions of miles into space, a nasa asteroid probe will soon return to earth to take advantage of the planet's gravity. at 12:52 p.m. edt (9:52 a.m. pdt) on friday (sept. 22), nasa's osiris-rex spacecraft will zoom 11,000 miles (18,000 miles) over antarctica at a breakneck speed of 19,000 mph (31,000 km/h). using earth's gravity, the probe will adjust its orbit so it can rendezvous with near-earth asteroid bennu in late 2018.  osiris-rex launched toward deep interplanetary space on sept. 8, 2016, and it's made several small course adjustments since then to get on course for friday's flyby with earth. [osiris-rex: an asteroid mission in pictures] but if osiris-rex is going to an asteroid, why did nasa bring the probe back to its home planet after it had already traveled 600 million miles through interplanetary space?  "the earth gravity assist is a clever way to move the spacecraft onto bennu's orbital plane using earth's own gravity instead of expending fuel," dante lauretta, osiris-rex principal investigator at the university of arizona, tucson, said in a statement.  gravity assists are commonly used in spaceflight to adjust the speed and orbits of spacecraft. the maneuver was first theorized by soviet mathematician yuri kondratyuk around 1919. using the gravity of planets in the solar system to slingshot around the solar system can save fuel, allow spacecraft to get to their destinations faster and, ultimately, ...

plate tectonics may have begun a billion years after earth's birth

the grinding of giant chunks of earth's outer layer — responsible for burping volcanoes, crushing temblors and burgeoning mountains, among other things — may have started half a billion years earlier than previously believed. precisely what earth looked like before plate tectonics, which drive these chunks of crust around, bumping and grinding into one another, is an open question. during the archean eon 4 billion to 2.5 billion years ago, there was water and rock on earth, but little oxygen in the atmosphere. simple life arose in this era, possibly around hydrothermal vents, though no one knows exactly when. the earliest chemical traces that could be evidence of life date back to just before 4 billion years ago. more widely accepted as evidence of early life are fossils in australia of microbial mats, called stromatolites, which date back 3.5 billion years. whatever the earth looked like before plate tectonics, these powerful forces define the world as it is today. the diving and crashing of tectonic plates not only created the continents we know and live upon today, it also recycles minerals and nutrients through  earth's system. one 2014 study in the journal proceedings of the national academy of sciences, for example, argued that the formation of continents on early earth brought phosphorous to the surface, feeding microbes that then oxygenated the atmosphere. [what was the first life on earth?] no one has ever been able to show exactly when plate ...

comet's 2014 mars flyby caused most intense meteor shower ever recorded

the annual perseid meteor shower may be great, but it's got nothing on the brief sky show that comet siding spring gave mars in october 2014.

how gravity assists work: asteroid probe's 'interplanetary billiards' flyby explained

after already traveling millions of miles into space, a nasa asteroid probe will soon return to earth to take advantage of the planet's gravity.

stratolaunch's giant rocket-launching aircraft passes engine test

stratolaunch announced sept. 19 that the company has achieved another milestone in the development of a unique giant aircraft that will serve as a launch platform.

2 monster black holes spotted at galaxy's heart

not one but two gigantic black holes lurk at the heart of the distant spiral galaxy ngc 7674, a new study suggests.

new horizons probe wakes from 5-month slumber

nasa's new horizons spacecraft is zooming through the outer solar system with its eyes open once again.

sen. jim bridenstine outlines challenges he foresees for nasa

the nominee to be the next administrator of nasa says that he believes the agency's top challenges include maintaining "consistency and constancy of purpose" that can support long-term plans, while building up international and commercial relationships.

image of the day

the sun shines down on hurricane maria in this photo taken by nasa astronaut randy bresnik at the international space station. beneath the mammoth storm, it was anything but sunny, as puerto rico got pummeled by dangerous winds, heavy rain and floods.

watch live tonight! atlas v rocket launching spy satellite @ 10:38 pm pt

a united launch alliance atlas v rocket will launch the nrol-42 satellite for the u.s. national reconnaissance office late tonight (sept. 21) at 10:38 p.m. pdt (1:38 a.m. edt/0438 gmt). here's how to watch live, courtesy of ula.

atlas v rocket to launch us spy satellite overnight tonight: watch live

an american spy satellite will launch on a clandestine mission early friday (sept. 22), and you can follow the spaceflight action live. liftoff is set for 1:38 a.m. edt (0538 gmt; 10:38 p.m. local california time).

how cassini managed to live such a long and useful life at saturn

the cassini mission at saturn lasted more than twice as long as it was supposed to. what's the secret to its long life?