A group of scientists in a plane caught sight of a mysterious piece of space junk right as it burned up in Earth’s atmosphere above the Indian Ocean near Sri Lanka in November of 2016.

NASA and other space agencies around the world monitor a large percentage of the millions of bits of space debris that orbit the planet, and researchers had been expecting the object — appropriately named WT1190F — to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere when it was first spotted in October.

The International Astronomical Center (IAC) and the United Arab Emirates Space Agency hosted a team of veteran U.S. and German observers of spacecraft reentries to study the reentry of the object, which was approximately 1 meter (about 3 feet) in size. The object burned up on reentry and was not a threat to anyone on Earth due to its low density and small size.

But months, they still aren’t sure what the object actually was. They do have some ideas. The leading theory is that it’s the second stage of a rocket — though they have no idea which rocket.

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told Scientific American that this could very likely be a lost piece of space history, returning to haunt us. According to the ESA, 8,500 objects larger than 10 cm orbit the Earth, along with 150,000 objects larger than 1 cm.


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Possible Life on Saturn’s Moon



In the fall of 2016, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which has been exploring Saturn since 2004, got closer than ever to an extraterrestrial ocean on Enceladus, which is one of the planet’s 62 moons. During its daring dive into an icy plume erupting from the moon’s south pole, Cassini sampled the spray to figure out what’s lurking beneath the surface.

“Enceladus is not just an ocean world. It’s a world that might provide a habitable environment for life as we know it,” Cassini program scientist Curt Niebur said at that time.

But even if the ocean material is full of little lifeforms, Cassini or any of us won’t know it. The spacecraft wasn’t built to actually detect life. Its instruments don’t have the ability to parse out sure signs, like DNA, from the icy spray.

Instead, scientists are hoping to learn more about the pH balance and molecular composition of the water. NASA is still analyzing the data from that October flyby. In the best-case scenario, the spacecraft might be able to determine if the small moon’s ocean could be habitable.

Cassini’s mission will end when it runs out of fuel sometime this year, 2017. Until then, the probe will be making its final observations of many of Saturn’s moons.

But is possible for life on Saturn’s Moon?

With a diameter of just 310 miles Enceladus is nevertheless the sixth largest of Saturn’s more than 60 moons, orbiting at a distance of just two planet-widths. Cassini has shown that Enceladus is the source of huge geysers of neutral water-rich gas and ice grains erupting at a rate of 220-660 lbs per second. This makes Enceladus the second most active object, after Jupiter’s moon Io which ejects 2200 lbs per second of sulphur-rich material.

Gravity measurements have shown that there is at least a local and possibly a global ocean under Enceladus’ icy crust, and some of the emitted grains are rich in sodium salt, which indicates the presence of a salty ocean. Now we also discover that some are silicate-rich, and analysis shows that these may have been produced close to hydrothermal vents at temperatures above 194°F. This raises the interesting comparison with hydrothermal vents on Earth, which may have played a role in the origin of life on our planet.

For life as we know it to exist, four key ingredients are important: liquid water; the right chemistry involving the elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur; a source of heat; and enough time for life to develop. While we know these conditions exist on Earth, planetary research throughout the solar system shows that it may exist on other objects too, and the details from research pushes Enceladus towards the top of the list.

Image source and Reference: Discover Magazine



The 8,000-year-old Kazakhstan Puzzle

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The mysterious earthworks known as the Steppe Geoglyphs are thousands of years in the making. Scattered throughout remote parts of Kazakhstan and only visible from high above, their patterns vary in shapes — from giant rings to swastikas.

There are nearly 300 of these strange works, the oldest of which was constructed at least 8,000 years ago. And no one, including scores of scientists who have studied them, really knows why they’re there. The theory is that they came from an ancient settlement.

Dmitriy Dey, who first spotted them in 2007 on Google Earth — he was looking for ancient pyramids at the time — thinks they may have been built as “horizontal observatories to track the movements of the rising sun,” according to a New York Times interview last year.

The ancient relics are so puzzling that NASA has been working to unravel the mystery. From 430 miles above the Earth, the space agency captured some of the clearest images, which were released in late 2015.

Amateur archaeologist Dmitriy Dey first discovered the geoglyphs in 2007 using Google Earth. Since then, Dey has already discovered 260 forms of the land design, which look like strange versions of crop circles and coming in a variety of shapes.

Another formation, called Ushtogaysky Square, is 810,000 square feet—with each side as long as an aircraft carrier. To make the shape more complex, there is an X shape that runs through the middle of the square.

These formations, however, would seem normal when placed side by side the Turgai Swastika, which, as the name suggests, resembles the infamous swastika. Of course when one thinks of swastika, they think of Nazi Germany, however the swastika is a far more ancient and sacred Vedic Indian symbol that the Nazis repurposed.

All of these formations can be found at the northern region of Kazakhstan, which offered rich hunting grounds for nomadic Stone Age tribes.

Persis B. Clarkson, an archaeologist at the University of Winnipeg, said these geoglyphs are making him and his colleagues rethink what they know about human civilisation.

“The idea that foragers could amass the numbers of people necessary to undertake large-scale projects—like creating the Kazakhstan geoglyphs—has caused archaeologists to deeply rethink the nature and timing of sophisticated large-scale human organisation as one that predates settled and civilised societies,” Clarkson said, as quoted by Gizmodo

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