Mission to Europa

Water vapor plumes on Jupiter's moon Europa (artist's impression).

Water vapor plumes on Jupiter’s moon Europa (artist’s impression).

Where this is water there is life. At least that’s what most in the scientist community believe. Without it, life as we know it is simply not possible. Because of this necessary condition it has been thought (except for the occasional science fiction film) that life in our solar system was limited to our blue planet. That is because only Earth resides in what is known as the Goldilocks zone. This is where our planet orbits the sun.  If you are on a planet that is orbiting just inside this zone (Venus) or just outside the zone (Mars) you are out of luck.

However and this is where science gets really cool. There is at least the possibility of some sort of life to exist on Europa which is one of Jupiter’s moons. But how is this even possible.

Although Europa is far too cold for surface water, there is strong evidence of a liquid ocean locked beneath the moon’s icy surface. And where there is water as I said at the start of this article there may be life.

NASA earlier this month actually put out a call for proposals for help in getting to, and exploring Europa.

 “This solicitation will select instruments which may provide a big leap in our search to answer the question: are we alone in the universe?” NASA associate administrator for science John Grunsfeld said in a press release.

A review panel will mull the proposals, which are due Oct. 17, and in April 2015 select about 20 for preliminary studies.

Ultimately, about eight instruments would be chosen to fly on a satellite that would either put itself into orbit around Europa or make multiple flybys. The mission, which NASA hopes to do for less than $1 billion plus the cost of a rocket ride, would launch sometime in the 2020s.

Top science objectives for the mission are to:

  • Characterize the extent of the ocean and its relation to the deeper interior;
  • Characterize the ice shell and any subsurface water, including their heterogeneity, and the nature of surface-ice-ocean exchange;
  • Determine global surface, compositions and chemistry, especially as related to habitability;
  • Understand the formation of surface features, including sites of recent or current activity, identify and characterize candidate sites for future detailed exploration; and
  • Understand Europa’s space environment and interaction with the magnetosphere.
Europa, as viewed from NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. Visible are plains of bright ice, cracks that run to the horizon, and dark patches that likely contain both ice and dirt.

Europa, as viewed from NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. Visible are plains of bright ice, cracks that run to the horizon, and dark patches that likely contain both ice and dirt.

 

Europa has become one the most intriguing places in our solar system for man reasons but of course the discovery of ice and more then likely a deep ocean (under the ice) has the science community very excited.

In this hypothetical hunting scene, alien predators finish off one of the large grazers with poison strikes. The series took three years to develop. (Courtesy the Discovery Channel)

In this hypothetical hunting scene, alien predators finish off one of the large grazers with poison strikes. The series took three years to develop. (Courtesy the Discovery Channel)

 

Is Life Really Possible on Europa?

Astronomers have known for some time that Jupiter’s moon Europa is icy, and now scientists are trying to understand just what form that ice takes by using some of the coldest places on Earth as analogues. Huge ice spikes, known as penitentes, found on Earth could form on Europa, they said.

“It’s a pretty obscure geological feature on the Earth,” Dan Hobley, an astronomer at the University of Virginia, told SPACE.com after he presented his findings at the 44th annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

The 3.3 to 16.4 foot (1 to 5 meter) spikes of ice only grow in certain parts of the Andes mountains on Earth, but those areas of the world serve as good proxies for what Europa’s geology might be like, Hobley said.

It takes a very specific set of circumstances for penitentes to form, Hobley said. The angle of the sun has to hit the ice in just the right way to keep the spikes of ice standing on end and buried deep into the ground. The blades grow in very dry conditions and can thrive in dirt-filled or clean circumstances.

As far as scientists can tell right now, all of those environments exist along Europa’s equator, Hobley said.

Also Professor Stephen Hawking has said that most alien life is likely to consist of small animals or microbes in planets, stars or floating in space.

But in one scene, shoals of fluorescent animals are depicted living under thick ice on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, while flying yellow predators prey on two-legged herbivores in another (pictured above).

All of this is very exciting and  with any luck we will be exploring Eurpoa in the coming decades. If life is found there, of any kind our view of humanity will more then likely experience an evolutionary change.

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Outlook.com gets better on Android

sign-in-screenI am a big fan of Microsoft’s free email service, Outlook.com (formally Hotmail). Before the transition to Outlook.com I was not a fan of Hotmail and actually used the email provided by my ISP. However I do not reccomend using the email account provided by your ISP (internet service provider). This is because, if you decide to change your internet provider you are then forced to change your email address which is really a pain in the you know what. By using a free service such as Outlook.com or Gmail you can avoid this problem.

Anyway the point of this little article is that Outlook.com continues to improve and in fact a couple mor enice features were recently added to their Android app.

Microsoft has updated its Android app for the Outlook.com email service, adding the ability to sync your entire email history to your device and search for emails in the cloud.

The app’s search feature previously kept track of only the emails downloaded to your phone, but now it can communicate back with the Outlook server to let you look through your whole account. Alternatively, you could take advantage of the unlimited sync option in order to have all your emails available for offline access.

microsoft-outlook-com-android

Other changes to the app include support for Outlook.com aliases, new color themes, vacation replies and the addition of traditional Chinese.

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Outlook’s Automatic Replies

QUICKTOP2One of the best and most useful features in Microsoft Outlook is “Automatic Replies”. This is a great feature for letting people know what your status is if you are going to be out of the office for a few days or more without you needing to take the time to personally respond. However people often tend to overuse this once they learn how to use it. I recommend only using this if you are going to be unavailable for a week or more. After all if you use it too much people will start to think you never work!

Setting up Automatic Replies

To get started with Outlook’s built-in auto responder you will need to set some basic options first. These settings are available in both Outlook 2013 and the Outlook 365 web app (which can come in handy in case you forget to set your replies before you leave the office).

In Outlook 2013, click File > Automatic Replies.

A dialog will open, with the option ‘Do not send automatic replies’ selected. With the exception of editing Rules, every other option will be disabled. Select Send automatic replies to begin setting your options.

outlook 2013 automatic replies
The Automatic Replies dialog lets you set your away message and the length of time you will be away from the office. You can set up your replies before you leave by using the date range controls.

The first option is a check box for turning automatic replies on or off.

The second option is a pair of radio buttons for choosing how to treat recipients of your automatic replies. If you want to reply only to people in your address book, selectMy Contacts only. To reply to anyone who may send you an email, select Anyone outside my organization.

Below the two date fields you will see two tabs in Outlook 2013: ‘Inside My Organization’ and ‘Outside My Organization.’ In the web app, both of the tabs are displayed on one page.

When you’re done, click Apply in Outlook 2013, or Save in the web app.

Note: This feature is also available in Outlook 2010 and Office 365, and the steps are very similar.

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What is Qello?

Windows Phone screenshot.

Windows Phone screenshot.

I probably should be covering this story over at our sister blog, www.mannmusicjourney.com however I wanted to make sure anyone who read this fine blog and enjoys music is aware of Qello. This app has been available on Android and iOS for quite a while and now it also comes to Windows Phone. In addition Qello is also available on Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV.

So what is Qello anyway?

Qello is billed as the Netflix of music concerts and documentaries.

The app offers access to a large collection of full length HD concerts and music documentaries, on demand, and a variety of genres are covered, from rock and country to jazz and blues, indie, metal, hip hop and, of course, pop.

Here is their official description:

“Do you love live music? Qello brings the concert to you – wherever you are, whenever you want it. Qello is the world’s largest collection of full-length HD concerts and music documentaries on demand.

Whether you want to watch Tom Petty, Jethro Tull or Coldplay in concert on your phone or a documentary about The Doors, The Grateful Dead, or JayZ on your tablet, Qello delivers the ultimate music experience – in crystal clear High Definition video. Qello’s library of full-length live concert videos spans the spectrum of musical genres, from the 1920s to days, giving every music lover a feast of entertainment.”

Not only can you enjoy thousands of concerts in HD you can even select specific tracks, within the concert.

Not only can you enjoy thousands of concerts in HD you can even select specific tracks, within the concert.

The documentaries are equally entertaining, providing backstage access and more.

Although the app is free, the service is not. You can sign up for $4.99 a month to get your hands on the full collection, though a free 7-day trial is on offer. I actually checked this out several months ago using the trial and by the end of the day I had signed up. It really is like Netflix for music fans. I actually use this for the most part on my Amazan Fire TV and the concerts and look and sound great on my 60″ TV and home theater.

You can learn more about Qello here.

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Facebook’s Messenger is Here, Really

If you have not downloaded Facebook’s Messenger yet you better get the move on if you want to chat on your smartphone with your Facebook friends.

That is because During the next few days, Facebook will stop allowing messaging in its main iPhone and Android apps, and force all its users around the world to download its standalone Messenger app. Facebook first started forcing users in a few countries in Europe to use Messenger in April, but after seeing “positive results” in terms of engagement, it is rolling out the plan to the everyone.messenger

Facebook suggests that Messenger is about 20% faster and I have been using it for about a Month of so and must say it works fine.

It should be easy to find if you have not downloaded it yet. If you pay attention you will notice Facebook will prompt you to download Messengere upon first launching it’s app.

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Cleaning Windows

ccleaner157From time to time your computer will probably start acting sluggish. One of my favorite applications to run when working on a poorly performing PC is CCleaner. If the PC is badly infected with a virus or malware this does not always work but in some cases CCleaner alone can really help you get back up and running.

Maintaining a healthy computer is not restricted to only keeping malicious software away; it is also a matter of troubleshooting a variety of operating system issues as well, including those related to Windows Registry, junk files and other types of redundant OS information. This is exactly CCleaner’s mission. 

CCleaner has a free version which is enough for most users and it has just been updated.

In the new version, you shall notice a new Repair option has been added to Uninstall tool. Instead of just remove a software from your system (like you usually do) when you encounter problems using it, you can try to “repair” the software first. See if it helps. If it doesn’t, please proceed with uninstallation.

CCleaner v4.16

Other than that, CCleaner 4.16 improved Chrome 36 and Firefox cleaning, as well as improved support for 64-bit versions of Windows 8 and 7. There is also improvement to startup item tool compatibility.

Full changelog for version 4.16:

  • Improved Google Chrome 36 cleaning and start-up management
  • Improved Firefox browsing cache cleaning
  • Added Repair option to Uninstall tool
  • Improved 64-bit build architecture on Windows 7 and 8
  • Improved Startup Item tool compatibility
  • Added Teamviewer, Microsoft One Drive, Real VNC 5, Tag and Rename and Tango cleaning
  • Minor GUI Improvements
  • Minor bug fixes

CCleaner v4.16 runs flawlessly on Windows 8.1, Windows 8, Windows 7, Vista, and Windows XP operating systems. Also available as portable version.

You can download CCleaner here.

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Facebook’s New Save Feature

facebook-save-featureFacebook this week launched a feature that allows users to save content from their News Feed that they might want to read or watch later. There are other services like this in which you can save online content for viewing later, or if you are off line. My favorite of these is Pocket. Here we find Facebook offering a similar service, but there are limitations, and we will get to them shortly.

Facebook’s new feature is called “Save,” and it is designed help users who may be overwhelmed by links to articles, music clips and videos. To many articles in your news feed can be a challenge to browse through and often good stuff gets lost in the flood of meaningless posts.

“Every day, people find all sorts of interesting items on Facebook that they don’t have time to explore right away,” Jessie Baker, a spokesperson for Facebook, told TechNewsWorld. “Now you can save items that you find on Facebook to check out later when you have more time.”

With Save you can now a save an article or post by choosing the Save option in a dropdown menu in the upper right-hand corner of a post.

save

Saved content is stored by category within a user’s Facebook account. Facebook will reportedly remind users from time to time that they have items waiting to be read or viewed.

A user’s saved items will remain private unless they choose to share particular links with their friends.

The restrictions are that, unlike Pocket you can not save the articles or posts for off-line reading. This results in things you need to know about with Save.

  1. You must have an internet connect to access your saved articles and posts.
  2. You must be signed into Facebook to access your saved information.

This is a step in the right direction, however Facebook should allow the information to be saved and accessed offline and outside of their ecosystem.  But beggars shouldn’t be choosers and hopefully the save feature will be updated with these additional features in the future.

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Remembering Apollo 8

NASA Apollo 8 Spacecraft Launch Pad

Apollo 8 ready for launch on top Saturn V.

This week brought the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11 and our landing on the moon. However for me, Apollo 8 actually holds a much deeper meaning…

NASA history is filled with amazing stories and adventure. For most people the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about NASA is Apollo 11 and landing on the moon or maybe the space shuttle Challenger. However there is so much more to the history of NASA that only being aware of these 2 events is doing yourself a disservice. I have read many books about the history of NASA and there are countless “wow” moments of astonishment and wonder. Perhaps my favorite moment in NASA’s history so far is the adventure of Apollo 8.

Apollo 8 launched on December 21, 1968 and for many this is an incredibly important milestone in the history of mankind, and I am often surprised how few people actually remember much about it. Just think about this. Before this moment in 1968 no human had ever left the influence of low earth orbit, let alone travel to another world. There were many incredible “firsts” involved in this mission and if only one went wrong the 3 astronauts would have been lost and perhaps our dream of exploring the moon ended.

Once launched on the incredible Saturn V rocket the crew found themselves speeding on a course for the moon. The crew looked back and saw their world not as a landscape but as a planet: a vivid, deep-blue ball wrapped in brilliant white clouds. For each crew member this was a unique moment and each was impacted in their own way by it. Bill Anders has said many times that he first found the sight breathtaking and little confusing, at least at first. As a schoolboy Anders prided himself as being something of a geography expert, but the real Earth looked nothing like the schoolroom globe, and as he said years later, it took him several minutes to figure out which part of the world he was looking at. At first, it appeared about the size of a basketball held at arm’s length, but as Apollo 8 sped moonward it dwindled rapidly; 11 hours into the mission it looked no bigger than a baseball.

The crew of Apollo 8 were the first humans to see the Earth from deep space.

The crew of Apollo 8 were the first humans to see the Earth from deep space.

Jim Lovell on the other hand a veteran of two Earth-orbit space missions, the change in perspective was profound. Circling Earth on two prior missions his frame of reference had been continents and oceans; through Apollo 8‘s windows he now saw celestial bodies. Our world was a little ball off in one direction, the brilliant sun was off in another, and near it, all but lost in its glare, was their goal. Barreling along in its orbit at 2,300 miles per hour, the moon was a moving target, some 234,000 miles from Earth at the time of the astronauts’ departure. In an extraordinary feat of marksmanship, they would have to fly just ahead of its leading edge and then, firing the Apollo spacecraft’s rocket engine, go into orbit just 69 miles above its surface. All three men knew there was precious little room for error, and for Frank Borman the most amazing moment of the flight came when Apollo 8 lost radio contact with Earth as it flew behind the moon at the precise time mission control had predicted. Losing radio contact at the predicted time meant they were right on target.

Apollo 8 Orbits the Moon

Apollo 8 Orbits the Moon

Once orbiting the moon and after a perfect engine firing, Borman, Lovell and Anders were looking down at a sight no human eyes had ever seen before: the far side of the moon, a bleached and desolate landscape pockmarked by craters of all sizes. From 69 miles up, looking down at this barren expanse, Borman was reminded of a battlefield; Anders thought of a deserted beach that had been churned by footprints during a volleyball game. Years later, Anders confessed that he had expected a more dramatic scene, thanks mostly to the spectacular moonscapes depicted in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he’d seen before the flight. In comparison, the pummeled terrain he saw through Apollo 8‘s windows was a disappointment.

The famous “Earthrise” image taken by the crew of Apollo 8 as they orbited the Moon. (credit: NASA)

The famous “Earthrise” image taken by the crew of Apollo 8 as they orbited the Moon. (credit: NASA)

However there was nothing disappointing about what the astronauts saw as the spacecraft quietly coasted around from the lunar far side on its fourth orbit. There for the first time was Earth, rising beyond the battered surface of the moon, on the horizon, so tiny that the men could hide it behind an outstretched thumb. The distance, and the contrast with the moon’s lifeless desolation, magnified our planet’s beauty as well as its rareness as an oasis of life in the endless void of space.

On a flight in which every event had been planned to the second and practiced until it was second nature, here was an unveiling the astronauts had never anticipated. Anders, whose photograph of Earthrise (above) would become an icon of the 20th century, found his image a paradox. This is because NASA had sent him and his crew to explore the moon, but the most important thing they had actually discovered was Earth. The “Earthrise” photo came to symbolize the leap humans had taken with the first voyage to another world.

 

If you want to learn more about Apollo 8 check out "Genesis - The Story of Apollo 8".

If you want to learn more about Apollo 8 check out “Genesis – The Story of Apollo 8”.

Even before the astronauts had returned to their home world, the impact of that leap was already being felt. The day they spent circling the moon was Christmas Eve, and for many, that added to the wonder of the event, especially when the astronauts read the first 10 verses of Genesis during a live telecast from lunar orbit that night. For the first time in the history of exploration, millions of people witnessed the event as it unfolded. And for NASA, Apollo 8 turned out to be the mission that won the space race with the Soviet Union. Seven months remained before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would eventually walk on its surface and Apollo 8 had cleared the way for that next “giant leap for mankind.

You can find “Genesis – The Story of Apollo 8” here.

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FourSquare Re-brands in Hopes of Surviving

fs

New Logo. Better experience?

There was a time where I was using FourSquare much more then Facebook. The cool thing about FourSquare is that it wants to be a truly social experience. No silly comments or posts about getting up on the wrong side of the bed or not being able to find a parking space.

FourSquare’s mission is to have a place where it’s members can post where they are, get reviews and find where their friends are hanging out. FourSquare does all of this better then Facebook but has struggled to get new users and to keep them. Obviously realizing something had to be done big changes were recently announced regarding FourSquare’s future.

FourSquare is preparing a major redesign of its original mobile app. Recently Foursquare stopped the traditional “check-in” and launched a new, standalone app called Swarm.  The company is giving its existing discovery and location-based recommendation app an entirely new look and feel.

To begin with, Foursquare is re-branding. The new typeface uses a darker shade of blue, while swapping out the iconic check-in logo for a pink ‘F’ emblem.

blog-foursquarelogo

Once opened  you will find a new navigation bar at the bottom, with the options Find a Place, Here, Tips and Profile. The first option has large, photo-centric segments recommending places nearby and businesses that cater to your specific tastes. A search bar is shown prominently at the top and there’s a horizontal carousel underneath for selecting specific destination types, such as Lunch, Brunch, Breakfast, Coffee and Dinner.

If you have the Swarm app installed, Foursquare is promising that the two will “work seamlessly together.” In the screenshots below, you can see the additional option on the right-hand image, just below the green numbered rating. This will only appear to people who have Swarm installed on their device.

If you have the Swarm app installed, Foursquare is promising that the two will “work seamlessly together.” In the screenshots below, you can see the additional option on the right-hand image, just below the green numbered rating. This will only appear to people who have Swarm installed on their device.

blog venuepage caption 730x617 Foursquare reveals a new logo and previews its overhauled discovery app

To that end, Foursquare is shifting all check-ins over to its Swarm app tomorrow. If you’ve managed to ignore Swarm and continue checking in with the Foursquare app up until now, that will no longer be an option.

Foursquare reports that the new app will be available “in a couple of weeks.” This may be the time to try our FourSquare I certainly will be giving it another shot.

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One OS to Control Them All?

windows_logo_lightThis week we find Microsoft publicly reporting their intentions to merge the various versions of Windows operating system into one that is compatible with all of their devices including Windows computers, tablets and smartphones. Today each of these individual OS versions bring different experiences and abilities in how Windows works which has resulted in several challenges both for Microsoft and their users.

This move had already been suggested this past April during Microsoft’s Build developers conference in San Francisco, California, where it announced tools for universal Windows apps. This is good news for developers who will be able to use these tools to create apps compatible with Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox at one time.

Microsoft is aiming at bringing one operating system to control them all to the market with Windows 9 next Spring.

Microsoft is aiming to bring one operating system to control them all to market with Windows 9 next Spring.

 

Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella confirmed Microsoft’s plans to consolidate its operating system and enable the creation of truly universal Windows apps.

“We will streamline the next version of Windows from three operating systems into one single converged operating system for screens of all sizes,” Nadella said.

Creating one operating system for all of their devices also means the what once had individual teams with Microsoft designing and writing applications for three separate platforms will now become one team working on a unified Windows platform.

Microsoft will continue to offer different flavors of its OS, such as Pro and Enterprise editions, but they will be essentially the same with variants bringing differentiating front-end features.

This new universal Windows OS is expected to arrive along with Windows 9 next Spring.

This is a bold and necessary move by Microsoft. A unified platform across all devices will bring more user adoption simply by offering a broader app store for their smartphones and tablets. The lack of apps on their Windows phones especially have been acting like an anchor in respect to itheir market share.

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