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Methane

In science, it's often the case that solving one mystery just raises more questions. Take Saturn's moon Enceladus. For almost a decade, scientists have been puzzled by the gossamer plumes that waft up from its surface. Data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft now indicates that these may might be due to present-day hydrothermal activity in the vast ocean beneath the crust of the frozen moon, raising the possibility that Enceladus may harbor life. Read More
An MIT-led team of researchers has developed an instrument capable of quickly and accurately analyzing samples of methane, pinpointing how they were formed. The breakthrough could give scientists a greater understanding of the role the gas plays in global warming. Read More
The hunt for present or past life on Mars got a boost as NASA's Curiosity rover records spikes in atmospheric methane ten times greater than previously measured by the unmanned probe. Though the levels are far below those found on Earth, methane is a key indicator that life may be or may once have been present. In addition, the nuclear-powered explorer has also detected the first confirmed organic compounds in drill samples taken from Martian rocks. Read More
Flushing the human waste produced on space missions out an airlock isn't an option for astronauts. Currently its stored in containers before being loaded into cargo vehicles that burn up as they pass through Earth's atmosphere, but researchers at the University of Florida (UF) have found a better use for the material, by developing a process to turn it into rocket fuel. Read More
The signs of a healthy industry isn't just growth or innovation, but a tendency to reach out and fill niche markets. A case in point is the small satellite launch company Firefly Space Systems, which recently unveiled its planned Alpha launcher. Aimed at the small satellite launch market, it's designed to launch satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO) at very low cost with an unconventional aerospike engine. It is also the first orbital launcher to use methane as fuel. Read More
Since the first Mariner probes reached the Red Planet in the 1960s, it’s become clear just how very alien Mars is and how hard it is to find parallel examples of possible Martian life on Earth. However, it’s not impossible. Rebecca Mickol, a doctoral student in space and planetary sciences at the University of Arkansas, has discovered that two species of methane-producing bacteria can live in the harsh conditions on Mars, and may aid in the search for life there. Read More
A team of researchers from MIT may have found new evidence to shed light on the cause of the most devastating mass extinction in the history of our planet. The event, estimated to have taken place around 252 million years ago, was responsible for the extinction of roughly 90 percent of all life on Earth. Read More
Most robots are built out of rigid materials, but a DARPA initiative to build soft-bodied robots that can squeeze into hard-to-reach places has led to the development of new types of the mechanical marvels. Harvard's Whitesides Research Group is working on a soft-bodied solution and has produced a squishy three-legged bot that can jump 30 times its height using the power of internal explosions. Read More
Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, says that the missions to Mars by his company will use rockets powered by methane, which can be manufactured on the Red Planet. The announcement came last as the South-African born entrepreneur was giving a lecture in November to the Royal Aeronautical Society in London, where he was presented with the Gold Medal – the society’s highest award. Read More
Some readers might remember the Mr. Fusion unit in Back to the Future that Doc Brown fills with household garbage, including a banana peel and some beer, to power the iconic time-traveling DeLorean. While we're still some way from such direct means of running our cars on table scraps, researchers at Fraunhofer have developed a pilot plant that ferments the waste from wholesale fruit and veg markets, cafeterias and canteens to make methane, which can be used to power vehicles. Read More
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