The Week In Space: Alien Life, Meteor Shower And Hubble's 25th Anniversary


Now that the world has a renewed interest in space exploration, we're seeing a lot of exciting news coming from and about space.

This week was no exception and provided a few surprises, including the discovery of more evidence that liquid water exists on Mars, the search for alien life, the hunt for dark energy, a spectacular meteor shower and the celebration of a special telescope's anniversary.

Here are the top stories in space and space exploration for this week.

The Lyrid meteor shower peaked last night.

Here's hoping you were watching the skies last night, otherwise you missed a spectacular event: the annual Lyrid meteor shower. The meteor activity peaked around 10:30 p.m. in the northern hemisphere, with those in the southern hemisphere catching it just after midnight.

The meteors are actually pieces of comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. Every April, for at least the past 2,600 years, the meteor shower lights up the sky.

Hubble celebrates its 25th anniversary.

It's hard to believe that NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has been among the stars for 25 years, but today, Hubble celebrates just that: its 25th anniversary. In honor of that, NASA revealed this official image marking the occasion, a photograph of "celestial fireworks" in a giant star cluster called Westerlund 2 that sits 20,000 light-years from Earth.

"Hubble has completely transformed our view of the universe, revealing the true beauty and richness of the cosmos" says John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "This vista of starry fireworks and glowing gas is a fitting image for our celebration of 25 years of amazing Hubble science."

Scientists find proof of liquid water on Mars.

NASA's Curiosity rover has given us evidence that Mars once had water, but thanks to other information obtained by Curiosity about the red planet, scientists recently learned that Mars could have water now, perhaps just underneath its surface. Researchers found salty brines on Mars' surface, which suggest that the salts allow for Mars to have water on its surface, not in the past, but right now.

NASA's head scientists says we'll find alien life by 2025.

Alien life: it's the thing we talk about most when discussing space exploration. At one point, we wondered "if" there was life out there. However, we now believe, more than ever, that alien life exists somewhere in the cosmos. Now, the only question left is when: when will we discover alien life?

This week, NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan spoke at a panel and answered that question. And her answer? We'll discover alien life a lot sooner than we thought.

"I think we're going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we're going to definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years," says Stofan. "We know where to look. We know how to look."

Other NASA scientists agreed with Stofan, and one even suggested that we will probably find alien life not just in our own solar system, but outside of it, as well.

"I think we're one generation away in our solar system, whether it's on an icy moon or on Mars, and one generation on a planet around a nearby star," says former NASA astronaut John Grunsfeld.

NASA begins the hunt for dark energy.

Dark energy is that stuff, the web that holds the Universe together, that we can't see, but we're almost 100 percent positive is there. However, we still haven't been able to find direct proof of its existence, although it makes up nearly 70 percent of the Universe. Now, NASA plans on joining the search for dark energy by using two telescopes for a mission called the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope-Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets (WFIRST-AFTA).

These combined telescopes have the same resolution as Hubble, but they can cover much wider patches of sky.

However, don't hold your breath just yet: the mission isn't set for launch until 2024, and NASA still has to go through the red tape of getting the mission approved by the White House and Congress.

[Photo Credit: Phillip Chee | Flickr]

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