NASA scientists reveal their plan for finding life beyond Earth

On July 14, a panel of experts in astronomy and engineering met at the NASA headquarters to discuss the newly developing technology that could help us discover life on other planets.

Charles Bolden, administrator of NASA, opened the discussion by recounting the discoveries made by the Kepler Space Telescope. “Over the course of its life [the telescope] has shown that our galaxy is host to billions of planets and planetary systems, that small planets the size of Earth are common and that planets come in astonishing diversity.”

As our understanding of this diversity increases, so does the possibility of finding life on other planets—but how can we search for life beyond earth?

The panellists proposed that the answer lies in the James Webb Space Telescope, a highly advanced tool that is poised to shoot into space in October of 2018.

The telescope will collect data in space, looking for planets with habitable conditions such as signs of greenhouse gases.

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To ensure that the telescope works properly, NASA is rehearsing and testing it at various sites throughout the US in both extremely hot and cold conditions. The team is building two of every component of the telescope, designing it with several panels that unfold to collect solar power and collect data.

One of the many difficulties in detecting habitable planets is that planets can be billions of times fainter than their parent stars, making it challenging to detect and photograph them.

However, the designers of the James Webb Telescope have developed a device called a starshade to combat this problem. The starshade’s flower shape helps block out light from the parent star for a clearer view of the planet.

The telescope also uses lightweight replicated optics to create a larger but less weighty design, compactable because of its folding elements.

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While the James Webb Telescope does not guarantee any groundbreaking discoveries, it is the next step in a graduated approach to finding life in space. First, the telescope will help us learn how to characterise atmospheres of other planets and determine signs of life.

According to planetary scientist Sara Seager, the shift towards big data is playing an integral role in potential discoveries, as well. “It will be the new discoveries and the statistics, having lots of the same object, knowing how many numbers there are and what their distribution is. I think our hope is… understanding planet formation.

“Only with more and more data, covering all of the regimes of planets possible, can we start to understand planet formation in detail.”

Then, the next generation of scientists must take this understanding gained from the James Webb Telescope and develop an even more sophisticated technology that is lighter and more powerful to continue the progress.


Images courtesy of NASA. Watch the full discussion here


In pictures: Designing the home of the future

With the rapidly increasing trend of companies attempting to create smarthomes, there is a need for new products that can work in and with our homes.

These need to keep our lives healthy without being too intrusive to our daily routines.

Now a competition organised by Electrolux Design Lab is looking for solutions. More than 1,700 submissions from around the world have been whittled down to a shortlist of just 35.

The winner will receive €5,000 and a 6-month paid internship with Electrolux’s global design centre, while second and third place will win €3,000 and €2,000 respectively.

Problems in the home that the concepts are trying to solve include unclean air and storage.

Head of group design at Electrolux and head of jury Lars Erikson comments on the submissions: “This year’s Electrolux Design Lab semi-finalists have created visionary concepts that are prime examples of what you might see in the home of the future.

“They focus on connectivity, biomimicry, robotics, wearable tech, recycling and reusing materials, all promoting healthy, sustainable lifestyles at home—virtually in some cases. Overall, the concepts make our every day busy lives more efficient and our choices more sustainable for a greener planet.”

Here are some of our favourites from the semi-finalists.

Izotz

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The Izotz is designed to conserve food using vacuum technology that is placed half in the kitchen and half on the wall outside of the building.

Outside the device, designed by Iker Legarda Gabiria, are grooves that can change size to allow for the regulation of the temperature.


Lotus

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The Lotus is an air purifier that has been made to be portable so you can take it wherever you go.

A set of three balls, which were designed by Fulden Dehneli, can be used in different areas for different tasks as suited to the lifestyle of the user.


Fabric Pen

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The Fabric Pen, created by Ingrida Kazėnaitė, is intended to help repair your clothing when it gets damaged by printing fabric.

The concept would involve nanotechnology that makes composite fabric based on the clothing of the owner.


Yura

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When it has been a long day, everyone enjoys relaxing and having a drink – it would just be even more convenient if it was given to you by a drone.

Whether it is a cocktail, tea or coffee the Yura, designed by Herman Haydin, will not only bring you a refreshing beverage but it will also make it.


Instant cleaning glove

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Stains are one of the biggest pains of homelife and there’s no simple solution for them. However this glove will disintegrate any stain or dirt from fabrics.

Using nanotechnology, ultrasound and water the glove, by Stefan Bogdan, uses hand gestures to get rid of the stains – and even has an LED screen.


AMO

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This concept by George Preoteasa is aiming to make the air in your home cleaner as well as providing games for autistic children to play.

The AMO device keeps the air within 2m clean and healthy.

All of the semi-finalists in the competition can be found here – they will all be looked at by experts from the company and then narrowed down to six finalists.


Images courtesy of Electrolux