NASA rebooting its search for life beyond Earth thanks to exoplanets

How Exoplanets Rebooted NASA's Search for Life Beyond Earth

NASA announced a huge cooperative effort to analyze other worlds for possible life this week.

The Nexus for Exoplanet System Science, or NExSS, will bring together scientists from three different NASA research centers, the SETI Institute and teams at 10 different universities. The initiative is the agency's first foray into looking for extraterrestrial intelligence in years.

NASA hasn't funded that goal since 1992, when it deployed the High Resolution Microwave Survey to search for extraterrestrial transmissions. Congress killed its budget less than a year later. The nonprofit SETI Institute has maintained the search since, using independently funded tools such as the Allen Telescope Array.

But NASA's new NExSS initiative is focused more on life than intelligent life, using verifiable scientific data from a relatively new field: the study of exoplanets, which orbit stars other than our own.

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NASA rebooting its search for life beyond Earth thanks to exoplanets

The many sides of the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. Located 10,000 light-years away in the northern constellation Cassiopeia, Cassiopeia A is the remnant of a once massive star that died in a violent supernova explosion 325 years ago. Hubble Space Telescope (HST), Spitzer Space Telescope.

(Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image shows one of the most complex planetary nebulae ever seen, NGC 6543, nicknamed the ?Cat's Eye Nebula.? Hubble reveals surprisingly intricate structures including concentric gas shells, jets of high-speed gas and unusual Lock-induced knots of gas. Estimated to be 1,000 years old, the nebula is a visual ?fossil record? of the dynamics and late evolution of a dying star. A preliminary interpretation suggests that the star might be a double-star system. The suspected companion star also might be responsible for a pair of high-speed jets of gas that lie at right angles to this equatorial ring.

(Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image captures the chaotic activity atop a three-light-year-tall pillar of gas and dust that is being eaten away by the brilliant light from nearby bright stars. This turbulent cosmic pinnacle lies within a tempestuous stellar nursery called the Carina Nebula, located 7,500 light-years away from Earth in the southern constellation Carina. The image celebrates the 20th anniversary of Hubble's launch and deployment into an orbit around Earth. Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 observed the pillar on Feb. 1-2, 2010.

(REUTERS/NASA/Handout)

This Hubble Space Telescope image of the star V838 Monocerotis (V838 Mon) reveals dramatic changes in the illumination of surrounding dusty cloud structures. The effect, called a light echo, has been unveiling never-before-seen dust patterns ever since the star suddenly brightened for several weeks in early 2002. The illumination of interstellar dust comes from the red supergiant star at the middle of the image, which gave off a pulse of light, somewhat similar to setting off a flashbulb in a darkened room. The dust may have been ejected during a previous explosion, similar to the 2002 event.

(Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

By pushing NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to its limits, an international team of astronomers has shattered the cosmic distance record by measuring the farthest galaxy ever seen in the universe. This surprisingly bright infant galaxy, named GN-z11, is seen as it was 13.4 billion years in the past, just 400 million years after the Big Bang. GN-z11 is located in the direction of the constellation of Ursa Major.

(Photo via NASA)

This image, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows a peculiar galaxy known as NGC 1487, lying about 30 million light-years away in the southern constellation of Eridanus.

Rather than viewing it as a celestial object, it is actually better to think of this as an event. Here, we are witnessing two or more galaxies in the act of merging together to form a single new galaxy. Each galaxy has lost almost all traces of its original appearance, as stars and gas have been thrown by gravity in an elaborate cosmic whirl.

Unless one is very much bigger than the other, galaxies are always disrupted by the violence of the merging process. As a result, it is very difficult to determine precisely what the original galaxies looked like and, indeed, how many of them there were. In this case, it is possible that we are seeing the merger of several dwarf galaxies that were previously clumped together in a small group.

Although older yellow and red stars can be seen in the outer regions of the new galaxy, its appearance is dominated by large areas of bright blue stars, illuminating the patches of gas that gave them life. This burst of star formation may well have been triggered by the merger.

(Photo via ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt, Caption via European Space Agency)

These blue-white stars are burning their hydrogen fuel so ferociously they will explode as supernovae in just a few million years. The combination of outflowing stellar “winds” and, ultimately, supernova blast waves will carve out cavities in nearby clouds of gas and dust. These fireworks will kick-start the beginning of a new generation of stars in an ongoing cycle of star birth and death.

(Photo via NASA, ESA, and J. Maíz Apellániz (Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia, Spain), Acknowledgment: N. Smith (University of Arizona))

Most galaxies possess a majestic spiral or elliptical structure. About a quarter of galaxies, though, defy such conventional, rounded aesthetics, instead sporting a messy, indefinable shape. Known as irregular galaxies, this group includes NGC 5408, the galaxy that has been snapped here by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

(Photo: ESA/Hubble & NASA)

The galaxy resembles a giant maelstrom of glowing gas, rippled with dark dust that swirls inwards towards the nucleus. Messier 96 is a very asymmetric galaxy; its dust and gas are unevenly spread throughout its weak spiral arms, and its core is not exactly at the galactic center. Its arms are also asymmetrical, thought to have been influenced by the gravitational pull of other galaxies within the same group as Messier 96.

(Photo: ESA/Hubble & NASA and the LEGUS) 

It would be reasonable to think of this as a single abnormal galaxy, and it was originally classified as such. However, it is in fact a “new” galaxy in the process of forming. Two separate galaxies have been gradually drawn together, attracted by gravity, and have collided. We now see them merging into a single structure.

(Photo: ESA/Hubble & NASA)

Most Distant Galaxy Candidate Ever Seen in Universe

The farthest and one of the very earliest galaxies ever seen in the universe appears as a faint red blob in this ultra-deep–field exposure taken with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. This is the deepest infrared image taken of the universe. Based on the object's color, astronomers believe it is 13.2 billion light-years away.

(Photo Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (University of California, Santa Cruz and Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team) 

(Photo: ESA/Hubble & NASA)

The Veil Nebula, left behind by the explosion of a massive star thousands of years ago, is one of the largest and most spectacular supernova remnants in the sky. This is only a small section of it.

(Photo credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage)

A ribbon of gas, a very thin section of a supernova remnant caused by a stellar explosion that occurred more than 1,000 years ago, floats in our galaxy. The supernova that created it was probably the brightest star ever seen by humans.

(Photo credit: NASA, ESA & the Hubble Heritage team)

This image from Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 showcases NGC 1501, a complex planetary nebula located in the large but faint constellation of Camelopardalis (The Giraffe).

Discovered by William Herschel in 1787, NGC 1501 is a planetary nebula that is just under 5,000 light-years away from us. Astronomers have modeled the three-dimensional structure of the nebula, finding it to be a cloud shaped as an irregular ellipsoid filled with bumpy and bubbly regions. It has a bright central star that can be seen easily in this image, shining brightly from within the nebula’s cloud. This bright pearl embedded within its glowing shell inspired the nebula’s popular nickname: the Oyster Nebula.

(Photo: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Marc Canale)

At first glance, Jupiter looks like it has a mild case of the measles. Five spots – one colored white, one blue, and three black – are scattered across the upper half of the planet. Closer inspection by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope reveals that these spots are actually a rare alignment of three of Jupiter's largest moons – Io, Ganymede, and Callisto – across the planet's face. In this image, the telltale signatures of this alignment are the shadows [the three black circles] cast by the moons. Io's shadow is located just above center and to the left; Ganymede's on the planet's left edge; and Callisto's near the right edge. Only two of the moons, however, are visible in this image. Io is the white circle in the center of the image, and Ganymede is the blue circle at upper right. Callisto is out of the image and to the right.

(Photo: NASA, ESA and  E. Karkoschka) 

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the region around a star known as R Sculptoris, a red giant located 1,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Sculptor. Recent observations have shown that the material surrounding R Sculptoris actually forms a spiral structure — a phenomenon probably caused by a hidden companion star orbiting the star. Systems with multiple stars often lead to unusual or unexpected morphologies, as seen, for example, in the wide range of striking planetary nebulae that Hubble has imaged.

(Photo: ESA/Hubble & NASA)

This image shows the center of the globular cluster Messier 22, also known as M22, as observed by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Globular clusters are spherical collections of densely packed stars, relics of the early years of the Universe, with ages of typically 12 to 13 billion years. This is very old considering that the Universe is only 13.8 billion years old.

(Photo: ESA/Hubble & NASA)

In a nearby galaxy called the Small Magellanic Cloud, young stars are spewing radiation that’s eating away at the cloud of gas and dust that gave birth to them not too long ago. This Hubble image, taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys, shows that scene.

The cluster of blue stars, called NGC 602, formed when a large part of the gas cloud collapsed under gravity and became very dense. The fierce radiation now being produced by these hot, young stars is sculpting the inner rim of the gaseous nebula. Parts of the nebula resist this erosion better than others, leaving tall pillars that point toward the source of the radiation — the stars.

(Photo: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) - ESA/Hubble Collaboration ) 

The giant nebula NGC 3603 is a prominent star-forming region in the Carina spiral arm of our galaxy, about 20,000 light-years away. Discovered by Sir John Herschel in 1834, it is the largest nebula seen in visible light in the Milky Way. Within its core is nestled a stellar “jewel box” of thousands of sparkling young stars, one of the most massive young star clusters in the Milky Way Galaxy.

(Photo: NASA, ESA, R. O'Connell (University of Virginia), F. Paresce (National Institute for Astrophysics, Bologna, Italy), E. Young (Universities Space Research Association/Ames Research Center), the WFC3 Science Oversight Committee, and the Hubble Heritage Team)

This esthetic close-up of cosmic clouds and stellar winds features LL Orionis, interacting with the Orion Nebula flow. Adrift in Orion's stellar nursery and still in its formative years, variable star LL Orionis produces a wind more energetic than the wind from our own middle-aged Sun. As the fast stellar wind runs into slow moving gas a shock front is formed, analogous to the bow wave of a boat moving through water or a plane traveling at supersonic speed. The small, arcing, graceful structure just above and left of center is LL Ori's cosmic bow shock, measuring about half a light-year across. The slower gas is flowing away from the Orion Nebula's hot central star cluster, the Trapezium, located off the upper left corner of the picture. In three dimensions, LL Ori's wrap-around shock front is shaped like a bowl that appears brightest when viewed along the "bottom" edge. The beautiful picture is part of a large mosaic view of the complex stellar nursery in Orion, filled with a myriad of fluid shapes associated with star formation.

(NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team/ABACAPRESS.COM)

An undated handout picture by NASA/ESA shows around 5,500 galaxies seen through the Hubble telescope. The time exposure titled 'Hubble extreme Deep Field' (XDF reveals galaxies up to 13.2 billion light-years from earth.

(Photo: NASA/ESA/G. Illingworth/D. Magee/P. Oesch/R. Bouwens/HUDF09 Team)

Sun Seasons: Our sun is constantly changing. It goes through cycles of activity - swinging between times of relative calm and times when frequent explosions on its surface can fling light, particles and energy out into space. This activity cycle peaks approximately every 11 years. New research shows evidence of a shorter time cycle as well, with activity waxing and waning over the course of about 330 days. Understanding when to expect such bursts of solar activity is crucial to successfully forecast the sun's eruptions, which can drive solar storms at Earth. These space weather events can interfere with satellite electronics, GPS navigation, and radio communications. The quasi-annual variations in space weather seem to be driven by changes in bands of strong magnetic field that are present in each solar hemisphere.

(NASA)

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has revisited the famous Pillars of Creation, revealing a sharper and wider view of the structures in this visible-light image. Astronomers combined several Hubble exposures to assemble the wider view. The towering pillars about are 5 light-years tall. The new image was taken with Hubble's versatile and sharp-eyed Wide Field Camera 3. The pillars are bathed in blistering ultraviolet light from a grouping of young, massive stars located off the top of the image. Streamers of gas can be seen bleeding off the pillars as the intense radiation heats and evaporates it into space. Denser regions of the pillars are shadowing material beneath them from the powerful radiation. Stars are being born deep inside the pillars, which are made of cold hydrogen gas laced with dust. The pillars are part of a small region of the Eagle Nebula, a vast star-forming region 6,500 light-years from Earth. The colors in the image highlight emission from several chemical elements. Oxygen emission is blue, sulfur is orange, and hydrogen and nitrogen are green. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) #nasagoddard #space #Hubble #hd

Star V838 Monocerotis's (V838 Mon) light echo, which is about six light years in diameter, is seen from the Hubble Space Telescope in this February 2004 handout photo released by NASA on December 4, 2011. Light from the flash is reflected by successively more distant rings in the ambient interstellar dust that already surrounded the star. V838 Mon lies about 20,000 light years away toward the constellation of Monoceros the unicorn. It became the brightest star in the Milky Way Galaxy in January 2002 when its outer surface greatly expanded suddenly.

(REUTERS/ NASA, ESA, H. E. Bond (STScI)/Handout)

This false-color composite image shows the Cartwheel galaxy. Hubble Space Telescope.

(Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

In this composite image provided by NASA, ESA, globular star cluster Omega Centauri (NGC 5139) in the Centaurus constellation and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team, is pictured July 15, 2009 in Space. Today, September 9, 2009, NASA released the first images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope since its repair in the spring.

(Photo by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team via Getty Images)

What resemble dainty butterfly wings are actually roiling cauldrons of gas heated to more than 36,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

(Photo by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team/MCT/MCT via Getty Images)

The galaxy cluster Abell S1063, located 4 billion light-years away, is pictured in this undated handout Hubble Telescope image surrounded by magnified images of galaxies much farther. The photo unveils the effect of space warping due to gravity. The huge mass of the cluster distorts and magnifies the light from galaxies that lie far behind it due to an effect called gravitational lensing, first predicted by Einstein a century ago.

(NASA, ESA, and J. Lotz (STScI)/Handout via REUTERS)

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took this photo, released on March 1, 2007, of Jupiter with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 on February 17, 2007, using the planetary camera detector. Jupiter's trademark belts and zones of high- and low-pressure regions appear in crisp detail. Circular convection cells can be seen at high northern and southern latitudes.

(REUTERS/NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team)

The sky is seen at night just before the predicted merger between our Milky Way galaxy and the neighboring Andromeda galaxy, in this NASA photo illustration released May 31, 2012. About 3.75 billion years from now, Andromeda's disk will fill the field of view and its gravity will begin to create tidal distortions in the Milky Way. The view is inspired by dynamical computer modeling of the future collision between the two galaxies. The two galaxies collide about 4 billion years from now and merge to form a single galaxy about 6 billion years from now.

(REUTERS/NASA, ESA, Z. Levay and R. van der Marel)

The central region of our Milky Way galaxy. Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra.

(Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

The photo, taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, captures a small region within M17, a hotbed of star formation M17, also known as the Omega or Swan Nebula, is located about 5,500 light-years (1690 parsecs) from Earth in the constellation Sagittarius. The turbulent gases in this photo of Gaseous Nebula in the Milky Way Galaxy shows roughly 1.9.arcminutes (3.1 light-years or 0.95 parsecs) across. The image is being released to commemorate the 13th anniversary of Hubble's launch on April 24, 1990.

(NASA, ESA and J. Hester (ASU)

UNSPECIFIED - 1992: Composite image, taken by Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field & Planetary Camera, of hypersonic shock wave (lower right) of material (clouds of dust) moving through Orion Nebula, surrounding (relatively) newborn stars.

(C.R. O'Dell/Rice UniversityNASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

The Hubble Space telescope's soon-to-be decommissioned Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 photographed this image of planetary nebula K 4-55 as its final image, released by NASA May 10, 2009. This Hubble image was taken by WFPC2 on May 4, 2009. The colors represent the makeup of the various emission clouds in the nebula: red represents nitrogen, green represents hydrogen, and blue represents oxygen. K 4-55 is nearly 4,600 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus.

(REUTERS/NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team)

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, in this undated image, has released on April 24, 2007, one of the largest panoramic images ever taken with Hubble's cameras, a 50-light-year-wide view of the central region of the Carina Nebula where a maelstrom of a star's birth and death is taking place.

(REUTERS/NASA/Handout)

An image of four moons of Saturn passing in front of their parent planet in seen this image taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope February 24, 2009 and released by NASA March 17, 2009. In this view, the giant orange moon Titan casts a large shadow onto Saturn's north polar hood. Below Titan, near the ring plane and to the left, is the moon Mimas, casting a much smaller shadow onto Saturn's equatorial cloud tops. Farther to the left, and off Saturn's disk, are the bright moons Dione and the fainter Enceladus.

(REUTERS/NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team)

Planetary nebula NGC 2818 in the southern constellation of Pyxis (The Compass). Glowing layers and shell of gas were created when a star shed its outer layers into space after running out of nuclear fuel. 

(Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

Hubble image of Arp 148 is the staggering aftermath of an encounter between two galaxies, resulting in a ring-shaped galaxy and a long-tailed companion. The collision between the two parent galaxies produced a shockwave effect that first drew matter into the center and then caused it to propagate outwards in a ring. The elongated companion perpendicular to the ring suggests that Arp 148 is a unique snapshot of an ongoing collision. Infrared observations reveal a strong obscuration region that appears as a dark dust lane across the nucleus in optical light. Arp 148 is nicknamed "Mayall's object" and is located in the constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, approximately 500 million light-years away. This interacting pair of galaxies is included in Arp's catalog of peculiar galaxies as number 148. This image is part of a large collection of 59 images of merging galaxies taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and released on the occasion of its 18th anniversary on April 24, 2008.

(REUTERS/NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team)

Thousands of sparkling young stars nestled within the giant nebula NGC 3603. This stellar 'jewel box' is one of the most massive young star clusters in the Milky Way Galaxy. NGC 3603 is a prominent star-forming region in the Carina spiral arm of the Milky Way, about 20,000 light-years away. This image shows a young star cluster surrounded by a vast region of dust and gas. The image reveals stages in the life cycle of stars. The nebula was first discovered by Sir John Herschel in 1834. The image spans roughly 17 light-years.

(NASA/MCT via Getty Images)

The barred spiral galaxy M83, also known as the Southern Pinwheel, is seen in a NASA Hubble Space Telescope mosaic released January 9, 2014. The Hubble photograph captures thousands of star clusters, hundreds of thousands of individual stars, and "ghosts" of dead stars called supernova remnants.

(REUTERS/NASA/Handout via Reuters)

IN SPACE - This undated image taken by the Hubble telescope shows Pluto and its moons: Charon, Nix, and Hydra.The International Astronomical Union announced on August 24, 2006 that it no longer considers Pluto a planet, a status it has held since its discovery in 1930. The announcement reduces the solar system from nine planets to eight.

(Photo by NASA via Getty Images)

A new view of the Whirlpool Galaxy, one of the largest and sharpest images Hubble Space Telescope has ever taken, is released by NASA. A new view of the Eagle Nebula, one of the two largest and sharpest images Hubble Space Telescope has ever taken, is released by NASA on Hubble's 15th anniversary April 25, 2005. The new Eagle Nebula image reveals a tall, dense tower of gas being sculpted by ultraviolet light from a group of massive, hot stars. During the 15 years Hubble has orbited the Earth, it has taken more than 700,000 photos of the cosmos.

(REUTERS/NASA/Handout)

Galaxy Ngc 5866, Image Of The Disk Galaxy Ngc 5866 Taken With The Advanced Camera For Surveys (Acs) On The Hubble Space Telescope, November 2005.

(Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG Via Getty Images)

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope catches the Boomerang Nebula in this image taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys in early 2005 and released on September 13, 2005. This reflecting cloud of dust and gas has two nearly symmetric lobes of matter that are being ejected from a central star. Each lobe of the nebula is nearly one light-year in length, making the total length of the nebula half as long as the distance from the Sun to the nearest neighbors-the Alpha Centauri stellar system, located roughly 4 light-years away. The Boomerang Nebula resides 5,000 light-years from Earth. Hubble's sharp view is able to resolve patterns and ripples in the nebula very close to the central star that are not visible from the ground.

(REUTERS/NASA, ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team)

Some stars aren't born, they're hatched from interstellar gas pockets called EGGS (Evaporating Gas Globules) at the end of vast tubes known as "elephant trunks", according to new Hubble Space Telescope images released November 2. This picture was taken April 1 1995 by the Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Camera of gas pillars in M16 Eagle Nebula. 

(STR New / Reuters)

The photo, taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, captures a small region within M17, a hotbed of star formation M17, also known as the Omega or Swan Nebula, is located about 5,500 light-years (1690 parsecs) from Earth in the constellation Sagittarius. The turbulent gases in this photo of Gaseous Nebula in the Milky Way Galaxy shows roughly 1.9.arcminutes (3.1 light-years or 0.95 parsecs) across. The image is being released to commemorate the 13th anniversary of Hubble's launch on April 24, 1990.

(NASA, ESA and J. Hester (ASU)

A composite image of the Crab Nebula showing X-ray (blue), and optical (red) images superimposed is shown in this undated photo. Multiple observations made over several months with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope captured the spectacle of matter and antimatter propelled to nearly the speed of light by the Crab pulsar, a rapidly rotating neutron star the size of Manhattan.

(Photo by NASA/Getty Images)

What may first appear as a sunny side up egg is actually NASA Hubble Space Telescope's face-on snapshot of the small spiral galaxy NGC 7742 released October 21 by the Hubble Heritage Program. This spiral is known to be a Seyfert 2 active galaxy, a type of galaxy that is probably powered by a black hole residing in its core.

(STR New / Reuters)

Hubble Image of Galaxies' El Dorado NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has produced this beautiful image of the galaxy NGC 1483. NGC 1483 is a barred spiral galaxy located in the southern constellation of Dorado ? the dolphinfish (or Mahi-mahi fish) in Spanish. The nebulous galaxy features a bright central bulge and diffuse arms with distinct star-forming regions. In the background, many other distant galaxies can be seen. The constellation Dorado is home to the Dorado Group of galaxies, a loose group comprised of an estimated 70 galaxies and located some 62 million light-years away. The Dorado group is much larger than the Local Group that includes the Milky Way (and which contains around 30 galaxies) and approaches the size of a galaxy cluster. Galaxy clusters are the largest groupings of galaxies (and indeed the largest structures of any type) in the universe.

(Photo by ESA/Hubble & NASA/Handout/Corbis via Getty Images)

A globular star cluster called Messier 5 (M5) containing 100,000 stars or more and packed into a region around 165 light-years in diameter is seen in an undated image taken by NASA's Hubble Space telescope and released April 25, 2014. Messier 5 lies some 25,000 light-years away and its stars are estimated to be nearly 13 billion years old, according to NASA.

(REUTERS/NASA/Hubble Space Telescope/Handout via Reuters)

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The first definitive detection of a pair of exoplanets came in 1992. Researchers found evidence of the first exoplanet orbiting a G-type star, like our own sun, three years later.

The Kepler mission launched in March of 2009 and really opened the floodgates. Since it started scanning distant stars, researchers have compiled a list of more than 1,000 confirmed exoplanets, plus thousands of additional candidates.

In fact, some research based on gravity data now indicates there's at least one exoplanet for each star in the Milky Way. Researchers found "stars are orbited by planets as a rule, rather than the exception."

But the mere presence of a planet doesn't mean much. Finding Earth-like life on another planet would require that planet orbit within its star's habitable zone, a certain set of distances at which water on the surface is a liquid.

There are a number of other variables to consider as well, which is where the brain trust at NExSS comes in. The goal is to develop a sort of equation to evaluate a given exoplanet for the possibility of life: a way to learn about and classify its formation, interior, geology, atmosphere, tidal dynamics, ecosystem and the effects of its host star.

At NExSS, Earth scientists will contribute their knowledge of how life works on our home planet. Planetary scientists will compare that Earth baseline to other worlds in our solar system. Heliophysicists will explain the interactions and effects stars have on their orbiting planets. And astrophysicists will give NExSS exoplanet targets to analyze using these rules.

Jim Green, NASA's Director of Planetary Science, says this "provides a synthesized approach in the search for planets with the greatest potential for signs of life. The hunt for exoplanets is not only a priority for astronomers, it's of keen interest to planetary and climate scientists as well."

NASA will keep NExSS well-stocked with data to sift through. Missionsover the next decade are expected to lengthen our list of exoplanets. The earliest dedicated mission, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is set to launch in 2017.

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NASA rebooting its search for life beyond Earth thanks to exoplanets
Astronauts on the International Space Station see the Earth at night on every orbit. They captured this broad, short-lens stunning view of Earth’s night lights while looking out over the remote reaches of the central equatorial Pacific Ocean on August 9, 2015. The station was passing over the island nation of Kiribati at the time, about 2600 kilometers (1,600 miles) south of Hawaii. Knowing the exact time and the location of the ISS, scientists were able to match the star field in the photo to charts describing which stars should have been visible at that moment. They identified the pattern of stars in the photo as our Milky Way galaxy (looking toward its center). The dark patches are dense dust clouds in an inner spiral arm of our galaxy; such clouds can block our view of stars toward the center. The curvature of the Earth crosses the center of the image and is illuminated by a variety of airglow layers in orange, green, and red. Setting stars are visible even through the dense orange-green airglow. The brightest light in the image is a lightning flash that illuminated a large mass of clouds. The flash reflected off the shiny solar arrays of the ISS and back to the camera. The dim equatorial cloud sheet is so extensive that it covers most of the sea surface in this view. Image Credit: NASA Caption: M. Justin Wilkinson, Texas State U., Jacobs Contract at NASA-JSC and Mark Matney, NASA-JSC #nasa #space #astronomy #iss #spacestation @iss #science #earth #night #stars
Hubble Spies a Spiral Snowflake: Spiral galaxies, like this one, make up around 60% of the galaxies in the local universe. However, despite their prevalence, each spiral galaxy is unique — like snowflakes, no two are alike. The Hubble Space Telescope peered toward the luminous nucleus and spectacular sweeping arms of this galaxy, NGC 6814. NGC 6814 has an extremely bright nucleus, a telltale sign that the galaxy is a Seyfert galaxy. These galaxies have very active centers that can emit strong bursts of radiation. The luminous heart of NGC 6814 is a highly variable source of X-ray radiation, causing scientists to suspect that it hosts a supermassive black hole with a mass about 18 million times that of the sun. As NGC 6814 is a very active galaxy, many regions of ionized gas are studded along its spiral arms. In these large clouds of gas, a burst of star formation has recently taken place, forging the brilliant blue stars that are visible scattered throughout the galaxy. Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt #nasa #astronomy #science #space #Hubble #galaxy
Behemoth supermassive black hole weighing 17 billion suns was found in an unlikely place: in the center of a galaxy in a sparsely populated area of the universe. The observations, made by our Hubble Space Telescope and the Gemini Telescope in Hawaii, may indicate that these monster objects may be more common than once thought. This computer-simulated image shows a supermassive black hole at the core of a galaxy. The black region in the center represents the black hole's event horizon, where no light can escape the massive object's gravitational grip. The black hole's powerful gravity distorts space around it like a funhouse mirror. Light from background stars is stretched and smeared as the stars skim by the black hole. Credits: NASA, ESA, and D. Coe, J. Anderson, and R. van der Marel (STScI) [Computer Simulated Image] #nasa #space #hubble #hst #gemini #telescope #blackhole #nasabeyond #astronomy #galaxy #science
Blue Bubble: Sparkling at the center of this beautiful Hubble Space Telescope image is a Wolf-Rayet star known as WR 31a, located about 30,000 light-years away. The distinctive blue bubble appearing to encircle WR 31a is a Wolf-Rayet nebula - an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other gases. Created when speedy stellar winds interact with the outer layers of hydrogen ejected by Wolf-Rayet stars, these nebulae are frequently ring-shaped or spherical. The bubble - estimated to have formed around 20,000 years ago - is expanding at a rate of around 220,000 kilometers (136,700 miles) per hour! Unfortunately, the lifecycle of a Wolf-Rayet star is only a few hundred thousand years - the blink of an eye in cosmic terms. Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt #nasa #hubble #hst #nebula #planets #stars #nasabeyond #astronomy #science
Aurora and the Pacific Northwest: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and ESA astronaut Tim Peake shared a series of aurora photographs taken from the International Space Station on Jan. 20, 2016. Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) wrote, "#goodmorning #aurora and the Pacific Northwest! #YearInSpace" and Peake (@astro_timpeake) followed up with, "Getting a photo masterclass from @StationCDRKelly - magical #aurora" The dancing lights of the aurora provide spectacular views on the ground, but also capture the imagination of scientists who study incoming energy and particles from the sun. Aurora are one effect of such energetic particles, which can speed out from the sun both in a steady stream called the solar wind and due to giant eruptions known as coronal mass ejections or CMEs. Image Credit: ESA/NASA #nasa #spacestation #iss #aurora #space #earth

Posted on NASA's Instagram on 2 March 2014

"Tonight, #Gravity is up for awards at the#Oscars2014 & we're sharing #RealGravity images from living & working in space. First up is this stunning picture where the bright sun greets the International Space Station in this Nov. 22, 2009 scene from the Russian section of the orbital outpost."

Image Credit: NASA

 

Posted to NASA's Instagram on 16 April 2014

"Eclipse! From open prairie land on the 1625-acre Johnson Space Center site, one of our photographers took this multi-frame composite image of the so-called "Blood Moon" lunar eclipse in the early hours of April 15. During these rare events, the full moon rapidly darkens and then glows red as it enters the Earth's shadow."
 
Image Credit: NASA 

 

Posted to NASA's Instagram on 24 May 2014

"Hubble Sees Flickering Light Display on Saturn - Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have captured new images of the dancing auroral lights at Saturn’s north pole. Taken from Hubble’s perspective in orbit around the Earth, these images provide a detailed look at Saturn’s stormy aurorae — revealing previously unseen dynamics in the choreography of the auroral glow. The cause of the changing patterns in Saturn's aurorae is an ongoing mystery in planetary science. These ultraviolet images, taken by Hubble’s super-sensitive Advanced Camera for Surveys, add new insight by capturing moments when Saturn’s magnetic field is affected by bursts of particles streaming out from the sun."

Image Credit: European Space Agency

Posted to NASA's Instagram on 1 June 2014

"This image shot by astronauts aboard the International Space Station is a striking view of Sarychev volcano (Russia's Kuril Islands, northeast of Japan) in an early stage of eruption on June 12, 2009. Sarychev Peak is one of the most active volcanoes in the Kuril Island chain and is located on the northwestern end of Matua Island."
 

Image Credit: NASA

Posted to NASA's Instagram on 8 May 2014 

"It's a small world! The phrase "encircling the Earth" has a double entendre flavor to it in this picture showing all six Expedition 39 crew members in the Kibo module around a globe while actually orbiting the "real thing" aboard the International Space Station. Clockwise from his position are Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Tyurin of Russia's Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Steve Swanson and Rick Mastracchio of NASA and Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos."

Image Credit: NASA

Posted to NASA's Instagram on 6 June 2014

"Astronaut Reid Wiseman, aboard the International Space Station, shared this image on Twitter on Friday, June 6, 2014 wishing everyone a great weekend. He shared that this image shows 'Trinidad and Tobago in the evening sun.'

Image Credit: NASA

Posted to NASA's Instagram on 11 June 2014

"An adult osprey returns home to its nest built on a platform in a parking lot at our Kennedy Space Center, carrying a fish in its talons. In the background is the 12,300-square-foot NASA logo painted on the side of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB)."

Image Credit: NASA/Daniel Casper

Posted to NASA's Instagram on 10 June 2014

"The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 7:42 a.m. EDT on June 10, 2014. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory – which typically observes the entire sun 24 hours a day -- captured images of the flare. It is seen bursting off the left limb of the sun in this image captured by SDO and is shown in a blend of two wavelengths of light: 171 and 131 angstroms, colorized in gold and red, respectively."

Image Credit: NASA/SDO/Goddard/Wiessinger

Posted to NASA's Instagram on 30 May 2014

"Violent Birth Announcement from an Infant Star - This Hubble image shows IRAS 14568-6304, a young star that is cloaked in a haze of golden gas and dust. It appears to be embedded within an intriguing swoosh of dark sky, which curves through the image and obscures the sky behind."

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA Acknowledgements: R. Sahai, NASA JPL/ Serge Meunier

 

Posted to NASA's Instagram on 29 May 2014

"The 'Serpent' Star-forming Cloud Hatches New Stars - Within the swaddling dust of the Serpens Cloud Core, astronomers are studying one of the youngest collections of stars ever seen in our galaxy."

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/2MASS

 

Posted to NASA's Instagram on 11 May 2014

"IceBridge Concludes Arctic Field Campaign - Researchers with our Operation IceBridge have completed another successful Arctic field campaign. On May 23, NASA's P-3 research aircraft left Thule Air Base, Greenland, and returned to Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia marking the end of 11 weeks of polar research." This image is a view of mountains and sea ice near Thule Air Base, Greenland, from the NASA P-3 on May 6, 2014."

Image Credit: NASA/Michael

Posted to NASA's Instagram on 14 May 2014

"Landing time! The Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft is seen as it lands with Expedition 39 Commander Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos, and Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio of NASA near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, May 14, 2014."


Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
 

Posted to NASA's Instagram on 5 May 2104

"Here's what happens when galaxies collide - as seen by our Chandra X-Ray Observatory: M51 is a spiral galaxy, about 30 million light years away, that is in the process of merging with a smaller galaxy seen to its upper left. This image is part of a "quartet of galaxies" collaboration of professional and amateur astronomers that combines optical data from amateur telescopes with data from the archives of NASA missions."
 
Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: Detlef Hartmann; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech 
 

Posted to NASA's Instagram on 19 April 2014

"Researchers were greatly surprised to discover 3-million-year-old landscape beneath Greenland Ice Sheet! The finding provides strong evidence that the Greenland Ice Sheet has persisted much longer than previously known, enduring through many past periods of global warming."
 
Image Credit: Joshua Brown, University of Vermont 
 
 

Posted to NASA's Instagram on 16 April 2014

"The Grand Canyon in northern Arizona is a favorite for astronauts shooting photos from the International Space Station. The steep walls of the Colorado River canyon and its many side canyons make an intricate landscape that contrasts with the dark green, forested plateau to the north and south. "
 
Image Credit: NASA 
 
 

Posted to NASA's Instagram on 26 March 2014

"Off into Space! This long exposure photograph shows the flight path of the Soyuz TMA-12M rocket as it launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan yesterday. The rocket carried Expedition 39 Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, Flight Engineer Steven Swanson of NASA, and Flight Engineer Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos to the International Space Station."
 
Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

 
 

Posted on NASA's Instagram on 2 February 2014

"This view of the Crab Nebula in visible light comes from the Hubble Space Telescope and spans 12 light-years. The supernova remnant, located 6,500 light-years away in the constellation Taurus, is among the best-studied objects in the sky."
 
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/ASU/J. Hester 
 

Posted on NASA's Instagram on 24 January 2014

"Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy donned their Russian Orlan spacesuits for a "dry run" dress rehearsal to test the suits in advance of Monday's spacewalk to reinstall a pair of cameras as part of a commercial endeavor between a Canadian firm and the Russian Federal Space Agency. The cameras will be used to downlink Earth imagery to Internet-based subscribers. The two cosmonauts also plan to retrieve an experiment package housed on the Zvezda service module's hull."
 
Image Credit: NASA

Posted on NASA's Instagram on 31 December 2013

"Quiet Corona and Upper Transition Region of the Sun: This image, taken on Dec. 31, 2013 by the AIA instrument on NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) at 171 Angstrom, shows the current conditions of the quiet corona and upper transition region of the Sun on the last day of 2013."

Image Credit: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory

Posted on NASA's Instagram on 27 December 2013

"On Dec. 24, 2013, NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, Expedition 38 Flight Engineer, participates in the second of two U.S. spacewalks, spread over a four-day period, which were designed to allow the crew to change out a faulty water pump on the exterior of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station. He was joined on both spacewalks by NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, whose image shows up in Hopkins' helmet visor."

Image Credit: NASA

Posted on NASA's Instagram on 22 May 2014

"On Earth Day this year, NASA asked people all around the world a simple question - "Where are you on Earth Right Now?"We asked people to answer the question on social media, with a selfie. The goal was to use each picture as a pixel in the creation of a "Global Selfie" - a mosaic image that would look like Earth appeared from space on Earth Day. The mosaic was made with 36,422 individual images that were posted to social media sites on or around Earth Day, April 22, 2014."
 
Image Credit: NASA

Posted on NASA's Instagram on 2 March 2014

"A crescent moon and Earth's horizon are featured in this nighttime image photographed by an Expedition 40 crew member on the International Space Station. Over the weekend, the station’s residents will have some free time to relax, speak with family members back on Earth and take care of weekly housekeeping chores. They’ll also have a chance to catch up on the action at the World Cup 2014 games in Brazil."

Image Credit: NASA
 

Posted on NASA's Instagram on 15 June 2014

"Our scientists have created a new recipe that captures key flavors of the brownish-orange atmosphere around Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. The recipe is used for lab experiments designed to simulate Titan’s chemistry." This Cassini image from 2012 shows Titan and its parent planet Saturn."

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Posted on NASA's Instagram on 16 June 2014

"Cracks in Pluto's Moon Could Indicate it Once Had an Underground Ocean: If the icy surface of Pluto's giant moon Charon is cracked, analysis of the fractures could reveal if its interior was warm, perhaps warm enough to have maintained a subterranean ocean of liquid water, according to a new NASA-funded study."

Image Credit: NASA, ESA and G. Bacon (STScI)

 

Posted on NASA's Instagram on 26 May 2014

"All-American Salute - Astronaut John W. Young, commander of the Apollo 16 lunar landing mission, leaps from the lunar surface as he salutes the United States flag at the Descartes landing site during the first Apollo 16 extravehicular activity. Astronaut Charles M. Duke Jr., lunar module pilot, took this picture."

Image Credit: NASA

Posted on NASA's Instagram on 9 May 2014

"Spacewalk Training in the Pool! In November 2012, astronaut Reid Wiseman attired in training versions of their spacesuits, submerged in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near Johnson Space Center in Houston."

Image Credit: NASA 

Posted to NASA's Instagram on 13 June 2014

"Hubble Eyes Golden Rings of Star Formation Taking center stage in this new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image is a galaxy known as NGC 3081, set against an assortment of glittering galaxies in the distance. Located in the constellation of Hydra (The Sea Serpent), NGC 3081 is located over 86 million light-years from us."

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; acknowledgement: R. Buta (University of Alabama)

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