As the old saying goes, life can move pretty fast, but this is especially true in space, where the difference in orbital velocities between two different objects can literally be faster than a speeding bullet. Last month, British astronaut Tim Peake posted a photograph of a 7 mm (1/4 inch) impact chip in one of the International Space Station’s Cupola windows, suspected to have been caused by a miniscule piece of debris no bigger than a few thousandths of a millimeter across.
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Following the recent unveiling of evidence that there is an object in the outer reaches of the solar system large enough to affect the orbits of known planetoids, researchers have started looking for more clues as to where the elusive Planet Nine might be found. One of these new investigations was conducted by Matthew J. Holman and Matthew J. Payne of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, using data on the position of the Cassini space probe orbiting Saturn. They used that positioning data to look for purbutations in the probe’s orbit to look for the potential influence of an unaccounted-for large gravitational body.
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While life was once thought to just be a happy accident by mainstream science, the building blocks of DNA and RNA are proving to be not only tenacious, these organic molecules also appear to be able to form in the most unlikely of places, including in deep space on the surface of comets.

In 2014, the Philae lander touched down on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and during it’s investigation of the comet’s chemical makeup, it detected the presence of 16 types of organic compounds. These findings prompted the development of an organics detector for the lander, which led to experiments that simulated the chemical makeup and environmental conditions of the comet to determine what could be found there.
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The study of planets found outside our solar system has been booming over the past few decades, with over two-thousand of these fascinating exoplanets having been cataloged. One of the next obvious steps for researchers is to attempt to detect signs of life on them, although the technology to directly determine if anything is living that far away has yet to be developed. In the meantime, studies are underway to help determine the best candidates to focus on, using what we know about life on Earth, and what information we can currently gather from the exoplanets themselves.
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