Agriculture
Keeping Bugs Away from Food
Growing Healthier Tomato Plants
Protecting Cowsóand Peopleófrom a Deadly Disease
Amphibians
Bullfrogs
Poison Dart Frogs
Newts
Animals
A Fallout Feast for Crabs
Revenge of the Cowbirds
No Fair: Monkey Sees, Doesn't
Behavior
Brain cells take a break
When Darwin got sick of feathers
Mind-reading Machine
Birds
Mockingbirds
Tropical Birds
Lovebirds
Chemistry and Materials
A Diamond Polish for Ancient Tools
The hungry blob at the edge of the universe
Bang, Sparkle, Burst, and Boom
Computers
A Light Delay
Hubble trouble doubled
It's a Small E-mail World After All
Dinosaurs and Fossils
Some Dinos Dined on Grass
A Living Fossil
Meet your mysterious relative
E Learning Jamaica
E Learning in Jamaica WIN PRIZES and try our Fun Animated Games
2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
Results of GSAT are in schools this week
Earth
Recipe for a Hurricane
Hot Summers, Wild Fires
Coral Gardens
Environment
What is groundwater
Antarctica warms, which threatens penguins
Pollution Detective
Finding the Past
Fakes in the museum
If Only Bones Could Speak
Ancient Art on the Rocks
Fish
Bull Sharks
Trout
Bass
Food and Nutrition
Strong Bones for Life
Moving Good Fats from Fish to Mice
In Search of the Perfect French Fry
GSAT English Rules
Capitalization Rules
Whoever vs. Whomever
Problems with Prepositions
GSAT Exam Preparation Jamaica
Ministry of Education Announces 82 GSAT Scholarships for 2010
Preparing for the GSAT Exam
GSAT Scholarship
GSAT Exams Jamaica Scholarships
GSAT stars reap scholarship glory
GSAT Practice Papers | GSAT Mathematics | Maths
2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
GSAT Mathematics
How a Venus Flytrap Snaps Shut
Setting a Prime Number Record
Secrets of an Ancient Computer
Human Body
The tell-tale bacteria
What the appendix is good for
A Sour Taste in Your Mouth
Invertebrates
Starfish
Grasshoppers
Scallops
Mammals
Coyotes
Bison
Opposum
Parents
Children and Media
How children learn
What Not to Say to Emerging Readers
Physics
Strange Universe: The Stuff of Darkness
Gaining a Swift Lift
The Particle Zoo
Plants
Fastest Plant on Earth
Flower family knows its roots
Farms sprout in cities
Reptiles
Box Turtles
Gila Monsters
Rattlesnakes
Space and Astronomy
A Star's Belt of Dust and Rocks
Icy Red Planet
A Dusty Birthplace
Technology and Engineering
Bionic Bacteria
Model Plane Flies the Atlantic
Searching for Alien Life
The Parts of Speech
Pronouns
Problems with Prepositions
What is a Preposition?
Transportation
Troubles with Hubble
Tinkering With the Basic Bike
Are Propellers Fin-ished?
Weather
In Antarctica watch the heat (and your step)
Warmest Year on Record
Weekend Weather Really Is Different
Add your Article

Searching for Alien Life

On a clear night, go outside, lie on your back, and stare into the sky. As you gaze at the multitude of stars, you might wonder: Is there life on other planets out there? "That's one of the great questions of humanity," says David Wettergreen. He's a robotics scientist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "Are we alone or not?" Wettergreen asks. "You can spend your whole life pondering this question." Instead of just thinking about the question, Wettergreen wants to answer it. And he's getting funds from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to help find an answer. The space agency has a project called the Astrobiology Science and Technology Program for Exploring Planets (ASTEP). Astrobiology is the study of life in the universe. One way that NASA researchers have looked for signs of life in outer space is by sending signals into the void and listening for a response. So far, these messages have turned up nothing but silence. Wettergreen has a different strategy, and it begins right here on Earth. Earlier this month, he and his team traveled to one of the driest, most desolate places on the planetóthe Atacama Desert in northern Chile. Conditions there are similar to conditions on Mars. And, because the landscape is so dry, scientists argue about whether any sort of life could possibly survive in the desert on its own. In the Atacama, Wettergreen and a team of researchers use an equipment-loaded robot to search for pockets of life. The scientists want to learn if, how, and why anything can survive in such harsh conditions. "Our ultimate goal is to discover something unique about the Atacama," says Wettergreen. In a broader sense, he says, the techniques used on the mission could eventually help astrobiologists explore other parts of the solar system. "We're trying to learn about the desert," Wettergreen says, "and about how you go looking for life." Roving robot The team's most valuable member is not a person. It's a robot named ZoŽ. ZoŽ happens to be the Greek word for "life." ZoŽ is about the size of an office desk. It's 1 meter high and 2 meters wide, and it weighs about 180 kilograms. Its top speed is 1.2 meters per second. It carries an array of solar cells on its back to collect energy from the sun. The robot is similar to the rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which are currently on Mars. The scientists give ZoŽ a general program telling it what to do. The vehicle then explores the landscape. As it cruises around, ZoŽ sends data back to the researchers. Nobody drives it, and there's no remote control. Using a robot allows the researchers to take frequent measurements over a large area, creating a sort of catalog of what's out there. Last year, the team spent about a month in the Atacama just developing and testing instruments for ZoŽ. The robot carries three sophisticated cameras that record everything in very clear, color images. To mimic the 3-dimensional view that a person would have while walking around, the cameras sit close to each other just above eye-level. To detect microscopic life on the ground, ZoŽ carries a fluorescence imager. Fluorescence occurs when a substance absorbs certain kinds of electromagnetic radiation, such as ultraviolet light or x-rays, and gives off visible light of a particular color in return. As soon as the ultraviolet light or other source is turned off, the substance stops giving off visible light. Because different materials absorb and give off different colors of light, ZoŽ can detect and distinguish between various kinds of minerals and molecules. ZoŽ also carries a spectrometer, which analyzes how objects in the soil reflect light. The spectrometer detects which particular colors, of wavelengths, of visible and infrared light are reflected by soil particles. Like fingerprints, particular patterns of wavelengths correspond to different minerals. The robot also has a plow that can turn over rocks and dig into the soil, allowing the fluorescence imager and spectrometer to examine what's under the surface. Field life Even though the robot does much of the work during the research mission, life in the field isn't easy for the researchers. "We work from dawn until dusk, 7 days a week," Wettergreen says. The scientists and technicians have to make sure that ZoŽ is working correctly, and they must sift through loads of data transmitted by the robot. The environment can be hard to adjust to. Less than a centimeter of rain falls on the Atacama every year. A bone dry, rocky landscape stretches as far as the eye can see. There are no trees, no lakes, no little animals scurrying around. The only contrast is the brilliantly blue, cloudless sky above. "In the Atacama, you see rock and soil in all directions and really nothing else," Wettergreen says. "When you look up, it's blue. When you look down, it's brown. With the midday sun overhead beating down on you, it does seem desolate." Still, Wettergreen and his colleagues are convinced that there is more to the Atacama than meets the eye, and they're determined to prove it. "We are finding that the desert is not uniform," he says. "There are microhabitats, small oases. Sometimes a single rock provides shelter or a trap for moisture." Water is often the first sign that there might be life around. If ZoŽ finds good ways to look for these hidden specks of life, scientists might eventually make similar discoveries on Mars and beyond. That would answer one of life's biggest questions, and stargazing would gain a whole new meaning.

Searching for Alien Life
Searching for Alien Life








Designed and Powered by HBJamaica.com™