TIME space

New View of the Solar System’s Most Fascinating Moon

The newly released image of Jupiter's moon Europa.
The newly released image of Jupiter's moon Europa. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

NASA's reprocessed picture of Jupiter's Europa gives us a fresh look at the likeliest place in the solar system for extraterrestrial life.

This is not the back of an eyeball—even though it looks like the back of an eyeball. It’s Jupiter’s frozen moon Europa—the sixth largest moon in the solar system, just behind Earth’s. But the organic appearance of Europa in this newly released, newly reprocessed image captured by the Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s is apt all the same, because the moon may be the likeliest world in the solar system to harbor extraterrestrial life.

Europa is entirely covered by a shell of water ice, anywhere from 1.8 mi. to 62 mi. (3 to 100 km) thick, depending upon which astronomer’s estimates you’re using and where on the moon you’re measuring. But the existence of the ice is proven, and it all but certainly covers a deep, mineral rich water ocean descending to a depth of another 62 mi. It is tidal flexing that keeps the ocean liquid—the steady gravitational plucking Europa experiences every time is passes or is passed by one of its three large sister moons, Io, Ganymede and Callisto.

In the same way a wire hanger bent rapidly back and forth can become too hot to touch at the point of flexing, so too does the center of Europa heat up. That causes the water to remain both relatively warm and constantly in motion. Keep that up for 4 billion years in an oceanic environment believed to contain hydrocarbons, and you may well cook up something living.

The most compelling evidence for Europa’s dynamic behavior was gathered by Voyager 2, when it flew by the moon in 1979, and Galileo, when it arrived in Jovian orbit in 1995. The cameras of both spacecraft captured the vascular-looking webwork of fractures in the moon’s surface ice, and close up images revealed what looked like jagged icebergs that had broken free, tipped sideways and quickly frozen back in place in the paralyzing cold of deep space. All this suggested an ocean that was in constant motion.

The colors used in earlier versions of the reprocessed image were based on knowledge of what the moon’s chemistry is and a bit of conjecture about exactly what shades it would produce. But the new version is based on both improved knowledge and improved image processing. The ruddy colors in the fractures are the products of the minerals that bubble up through the cracks. Green, violet and near-infrared filters were used to establish the proper palette.

A better, more accurate picture of Europa does nothing to change the facts on the ground there—or, more tantalizingly, below the ground. The moon remains the most fascinating non-Earthly object in our solar system. The new image, however, does serve as one more come-hither gesture from a world that’s been beckoning us to return for a long time.

TIME psychology

Extraterrestrials on a Comet Are Faking Climate Change. Or Something

Just to be clear: This is a comet, not a spacecraft
Just to be clear: This is a comet, not a spacecraft ESA

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Conspiracy theories never die, but that doesn't mean we can't get smarter about dealing with them

You’ve surely heard the exciting news that the European Space Agency successfully landed a small spacecraft on the surface of Comet 67P—or perhaps we should say “Comet 67P.” Because what you probably haven’t heard is that the ostensible comet is actually a spacecraft, that it has a transmitting tower and other artificial structures on its surface, and that the mission was actually launched to respond to a radio greeting from aliens that NASA received 20 years ago.

Really, you can read it here in UFO Sightings Daily, and even watch a video that seals the deal if you have any doubt.

None of this should come as a surprise to you if you’ve been following the news. Area 51, for example? Crawling with extraterrestrials. The Apollo moon landings? Faked—because it makes so much more sense that aliens would travel millions of light years to visit New Mexico than that humans could go a couple hundred thousand miles to visit the moon. As for climate change, vaccines and the JFK assassination? Hoax, autism and grassy knoll—in that order.

Conspiracy theories are nothing new. If the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the myriad libels hurled at myriad out-groups over the long course of history indicate anything, it’s that nonsense knows no era. The 21st century alone has seen the rise—but, alas, not the final fall—of the birthers and the truthers and pop-up groups that seize on any emerging disease (Bird flu! SARS! Ebola!) as an agent of destruction being sneaked across the border from, of course, Mexico, because… um, immigration.

The problem with conspiracy theories is not just that they’re often racist, foster cynicism and erode the collective intellect of any culture. It’s also that they can have real-world consequences. If you believe the fiction about vaccines causing autism, you will be less inclined to vaccinate your kids—exposing them and the community at large to disease. If you believe climate change is a hoax, you just might become the new chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, as James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma soon will be, thanks to the GOP’s big wins on Nov. 4.

That’s the same James Inhofe who once said, It’s also important to question whether global warming is even a problem for human existence… In fact, it appears that just the opposite is true: that increases in global temperatures may have a beneficial effect on how we live our lives.” It’s the same James Inhofe too who wrote the 2012 book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. So, not good.

Clinical studies of conspiracy theory psychology have proliferated along with the theories themselves, and the top-line conclusions the investigators have reached make intuitive sense: People who feel powerless are more inclined to believe in malevolent institutions manipulating the truth than people who feel more of what psychologists call “agency,” or a sense of control over their own affairs.

That’s why the CIA, the media, the government and the vaguely defined “elite” are so often pointed to as the source of all problems. That’s why the lone gunman is a far less satisfying explanation for a killing than a vast web of plotters weaving a vast web of lies. (The powerlessness explanation admittedly does not account for an Inhofe—though in his case, Oklahoma’s huge fossil fuel industry may be all the explanation you need.)

Psychologist Viren Swami of the University of Westminster in London is increasingly seen as the leader of the conspiracy psychology field, and he’s been at it for a while. As long ago as 2009, he published a study looking at the belief system of the self-styled truthers—the people who claim that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by the U.S. government as a casus belli for global war.

He found that people who subscribed to that idea also tested high for political cynicism, defiance of authority and agreeableness (one of the Big Five personality traits, which also include extraversion, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism). Agreeableness sounds, well, pleasantly agreeable, but it can also be just a short hop to gullible.

In 2012, Swami conducted another study among Malaysians who believe in a popular national conspiracy theory about Jewish plans for world domination. Swami found that Malaysians conspiracists were likelier to hold anti-Israeli attitudes—which is no surprise—and to have racists feelings toward the Chinese, which is a little less expected, except that if there were ever a large, growing power around which to build conspiracy theories, it’s China, especially in the corner of the world in which Malaysia finds itself.

The antisemitic Malaysians also tended to score higher on measures of right-wing authoritarianism and social domination—which is a feature of almost all persecution of out-groups. More important—as other studies have shown—they were likelier to believe in conspiracy theories in general, meaning that the cause-effect sequence here may be a particular temperament looking for any appealing conspiracy, as opposed to a particular conspiracy appealing to any old temperament. People who purchased Jewish domination also liked climate change hoaxes.

Finally, as with so many things, the Internet has been both potentiator and vector for conspiracy fictions. Time was, you needed a misinformed town crier or a person-to-person whispering campaign to get a good rumor started. Now the fabrications spread instantly, and your search engine lets you set your filter for your conspiracy of choice.

None of this excuses willful numbskullery. And none of it excuses our indulgence in the sugar buzz of a sensational fib over the extra few minutes it would take find out the truth. If you don’t have those minutes, that’s why they invented Snopes.com. And if you don’t have time even for that? Well, maybe that should tell you something.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME space

Comet Drill Data Could Be Lost

ESA Attempts To Land Probe On Comet
The surface of the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet as seen from the Philae lander. European Space Agency

The robot Philae may not have the battery power needed to transmit data

The European Space Agency’s Philae robot may not have sufficient power to send data from its groundbreaking comet drill back to earth.

“We are not sure there is enough energy so that we can transmit,” said lander manager Stephan Ulamec at a press conference in Darmstadt, Germany, Agence-France Presse reports.

The unmanned robot landed on the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comment, becoming the first ever human landing on a comet. The probe successfully transmitted images but may not have the battery power to send results from a drill. The probe’s solar powered battery is in the shade of a cliff, giving it just 1.5 hours of sunlight a day, which isn’t enough to replenish the battery.

[AFP]

TIME space

Comet Probe Landed Successfully, Scientists Say

After three bounces, the lander came to rest at an angle.

The European Space Agency’s Philae lander successfully landed on a comet and is sending signals backs after an early mishap, scientists said at a news conference in Germany Thursday.

The lander, dropped from the Rosetta spacecraft on Wednesday after a 4-billion mile, 10-year journey, became the first craft to make a soft landing on a comet.

But the lander initially failed to fire anchoring harpoons into the surface of the comet, which has very weak gravity, and it bounced three times before coming to an awkward stop in a still undetermined area of the comet, said Stephan Ulamec, the lander project manager.

Some instruments are up and running, but the scientists are wary of activating others because the lander is not anchored into the ground and risks rising up again, Ulamec said. Only two of the craft’s three feet are touching the ground.

Based on images relayed back, the scientists believe that the lander is partially in a shadow of a cliff, reducing the amount of solar energy that the lander can collect.

“We are in a shadow permanently, and that’s part of our problem,” said Jean-Pierre Bibring, the lead lander scientist.

TIME space

Celebrate Philae’s Comet Landing With These 3 Mesmerizing Music Videos

Time for a victory dance

To celebrate the successful touchdown Wednesday of its Philae lander on Comet 67P, the European Space Agency released these three music videos inspired by the decade-long mission and scored by Greek composer Vangelis. The videos show an entrancing artist’s rendition of Comet 67P “dancing” in space, as well as an animation of Philae’s journey to the comet on the Rosetta spacecraft.

Philae will remain on the comet’s surface as it approaches the sun and will relay data back to Rosetta as it continues to orbit 67P. The mission is expected to end in December 2015.

“Philae’s Journey”

“Arrival”

TIME space

See Pictures of Philae Detaching From Rosetta

Philae as seen from Rosetta
The Philae lander shortly after separation from Rosetta, on Nov. 12, 2014. ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA/EPA

Space probe landed on a speeding comet for the first time ever

A space probe landed on a speeding comet for the first time ever on Wednesday morning. More than a decade ago, Rosetta and a lander called Philae set off to find the commit 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The European Space Agency’s Philae lander separated from the Rosetta orbiter at 09:03 GMT on Tuesday and touched down on the speeding comet around 4:00 GMT.

Scientists hope that exploring the comet will answer questions about how planets are formed.

TIME Tech

Google Leases NASA’s Silicon Valley Airfield

Crew members walk the Solar Impulse to its hangar following a test flight at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California
Crew members walk the Solar Impulse to its hangar following a test flight at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California April 19, 2013. Robert Galbraith—Reuters

Google plans to use the sprawling facility for research and develop space and robot technology

With dreams of an increased footprint in space, NASA is cutting back on its Earthly properties.

The agency said Monday it will lease its Moffett Field airbase in Silicon Valley to a shell company owned by Google. The tech giant will pay $1.16 billion over the course of a 60-year lease, according to NASA.

Google plans to use the sprawling facility for research and testing in the areas of spaceships, robotics and other technologies.

Located on 1,000 acres in southern end of San Francisco Bay, the Moffett lease is expected to save NASA approximately $6.3 million annually in “maintenance and operation costs,” the agency said. The airfield home to NASA Ames Research Center, including an airfield, a golf course, office space and several giant hangers that once housed blimps.

“As NASA expands its presence in space, we are making strides to reduce our footprint here on Earth,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement. “We want to invest taxpayer resources in scientific discovery, technology development and space exploration – not in maintaining infrastructure we no longer need.”

“Moffett Field plays an important role in the Bay Area and is poised to continue to do so through this lease arrangement,” he added.

In February, NASA had agreed to negotiate exclusively with Google to lease the property. The base is close to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and its airfield is home to a fleet of private jets owned by Google’s co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, along with executive chairman Eric Schmidt.

Google had previously signed a deal to develop a new office complex on 42 acres at Moffett Field. But last year, the company halted those plans, possibly to await an agreement to manage the entire facility.

Under the latest deal, Planetary Ventures, Google’s real estate arm, is expected to pump $200 million in improvements to the property, including refurbishing a hangar and creating a facility for the public to “explore the site’s legacy” and learn about Silicon Valley.

“We look forward to rolling up our sleeves to restore the remarkable landmark Hangar One, which for years has been considered one of the most endangered historic sites in the United States,” David Radcliffe, vice president of real estate and workplace services at Google Inc., said in a statement.

The news of NASA’s lease to Google comes after a series of setbacks for space excursions and the industry over the last few weeks. On October 31, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two crashed during a flight test in the Mojave Desert, which resulted in the death of a pilot. Days earlier, an unmanned Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded six seconds after lift-off.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME space travel

Watch the ISS Crew Land Safely Back on Earth

Footage from NASA shows Maxim Suraev, Alexander Gerst, and Reid Wiseman touch safely back down to earth in the Soyuz-13M capsule at 10:58 p.m. EST

Three crew members from the International Space Station (ISS) landed safely back on earth in Kazakhstan on Sunday after spending 165 days in orbit.

The trio were part of Expedition 41 and were conducting hundreds of scientific experiments and other research focusing on how humans can stay healthy while spending long durations in space.

Commander of the station, Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, and flight engineers Alexander Gerst, from the European Space Agency, and Reid Wiseman, an astronaut from NASA, completed a remarkable 82 hours of research in a single week in July.

During their time on board the ISS they traveled more then 70 million miles.

TIME space

Orbital Sciences CEO Gives Reason for Antares Rocket Explosion

A failure may have occurred in the rocket's engine

Investigators believe they know what made the Antares rocket explode just seconds after it lifted off from a Virginia launch pad. Orbital Sciences’ president and CEO David Thompson said one of two main engines used to launch the rocket failed.

Thompson also said Orbital Sciences plans on continuing with its nearly $2 billion contract with NASA to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. The failed AJ26 engine will no longer be used to launch the rocket.

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