A satellite navigation system now in its design phase, SafeRail, from the European Space Agency, will allow train operators to track their location in real time and send a signal that triggers a stoplight or lowers a traffic gate at a train crossing. Existing systems “have very complex risk models” but tend to discount human error, says project manager Rob Postema. The data can even be linked to in-car GPS units to alert drivers. 

4 Ways to Make Our Trains Safer

A team of astrophysicists at the SETI Institute and NASA’s Ames Research Center has just reached a major milestone in the search for life-supporting planets outside our solar system. For the first time, they have discovered an Earth-sized planet nestled in the temperate, liquid-water supporting distance from its star—the so-called habitable zone. "This is a historic discovery," says Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley who was not involved in the research, "it’s the best case for a habitable planet yet found." 

First Earth-Sized, Potentially Habitable Exoplanet Found

With all due respect to Mars, the most interesting places in the solar system aren’t planets at all. It rains hydrocarbons on Titan, which has great lakes near its north pole. Europa has water ice on the surface and may have an ocean underneath. New evidence has backed up the existence of an ocean on Enceladus feeding the geysers spraying from its south pole. Io has active volcanoes. Mimas looks like the Death Star. All of this to say: While astronomers have found hundreds of new exoplanets over the last 20 years, maybe we should be more excited about the possibility of an exomoon. 


Prepare Yourself for the Exomoons

With all due respect to Mars, the most interesting places in the solar system aren’t planets at all. It rains hydrocarbons on Titan, which has great lakes near its north pole. Europa has water ice on the surface and may have an ocean underneath. New evidence has backed up the existence of an ocean on Enceladus feeding the geysers spraying from its south pole. Io has active volcanoes. Mimas looks like the Death StarAll of this to say: While astronomers have found hundreds of new exoplanets over the last 20 years, maybe we should be more excited about the possibility of an exomoon. 

Prepare Yourself for the Exomoons

Now that the productive Kepler telescope is down for the count, astronomers are dreaming up new techniques and missions to help them find even more planets around alien stars.

8 New Ways to Search for Even More Planets

In 2005, the Cassini orbiter discovered huge, 125-mile-high geysers spraying from the south pole of Enceladus, a small and icy moon that orbits Saturn. Since then, scientists have speculated where the geysers draw from—and whether that water source might be home to some form of life. The most intriguing idea was that the geysers indicated the presence of a subsurface ocean. Later, the discovery that the plumes contain water vapor, nitrogen, methane, carbon dioxide and other chemicals associated with life made the geysers even more exciting. 

Now, new data has confirmed that Enceladus does indeed have an ocean, and it’s buried beneath 25 miles of ice at the south pole. The ocean appears to be about six miles deep and may be as large or larger than Lake Superior.

Saturn’s Moon Enceladus Has an Ocean, And It Could Be Habitable

The Cold War revival is putting a chill on space-based cooperation. NASA associate administrator Michael F. O’Brien issued a statement this morning saying: “Given Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, until further notice, the U.S. Government has determined that all NASA contacts with Russian Government representatives are suspended, unless the activity has been specifically excepted.”


The U.S. Suspends (Most) NASA Agreements With Russia Over Ukraine

The Cold War revival is putting a chill on space-based cooperation. NASA associate administrator Michael F. O’Brien issued a statement this morning saying: “Given Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, until further notice, the U.S. Government has determined that all NASA contacts with Russian Government representatives are suspended, unless the activity has been specifically excepted.”

The U.S. Suspends (Most) NASA Agreements With Russia Over Ukraine

Back in 2002, John Moore, an anthropologist at the University of Florida, calculated that a starship could leave Earth with 150 passengers on a 2000-year pilgrimage to another solar system, and upon arrival, the descendants of the original crew could colonize a new world there—as long as everyone was careful not to inbreed along the way. 

It was a valiant attempt to solve a thorny question about the future of humans in space. The nearest star systems—such as our nearest neighbor,Proxima Centauri, which is 4.2 light-years from home—are so far that reaching them would require a generational starship. Entire generations of people would be born, live, and die before the ship reached its destination. This brings up the question of how many people you need to send on a hypothetical interstellar mission to sustain sufficient genetic diversity. And a new study sets the bar much higher than Moore’s 150 people. 

How Many People Does It Take to Colonize Another Star System?

Timeline: The Next Generation of Space-Exploring Robots

A fleet of private and government-sponsored spacecraft is storming the solar system in the coming years.

In the Fleming Division’s craziest upset so far, top-seeded Nebula NGC 5189 suffered a crushing first-round defeat to Galaxy M74. Look for more insanity tonight as the Pillar in Carina is set to take on Gas Jet HH 110 in what promises to be a tightly contested matchup. 

It’s Hubble Madness 2014, where space nerds break out hot wings and beer to watch the Hubble telescope’s most stunning images compete in an elaborate bracket. Throughout March, Hubble will behosting the competition on its Facebook page and live tweeting from #HubbleMadness. 

Hubble Madness: Bracketology Goes to Outer Space

Beyond Pluto there is a vast number of objects still waiting to be discovered—even new (dwarf) planets. Today, researchers from the Carnegie Institute in Washington D.C. and the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii announced they had found a new small world called 2012 VP113, a distant potential dwarf planet twice as far away from the sun as Pluto. And it could be just a taste of what else is out there. 

Meet Biden, the Newest Dwarf Planet