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Space Sciences

Orbiting Carbon Observatory
Fall 2014

Mission accomplished

It was 2 a.m. on February 24, 2009, and six years of George Mount’s work had just launched toward space.

Mount, then a physicist in the WSU Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, had been part of a team led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO), a sophisticated instrument to measure carbon dioxide from space.

It looked like a picture-perfect launch. The researchers had boarded buses from the launch site and were riding back to their hotel when they learned the news: The rocket carrying their satellite had failed to reach orbit. Instead, the … » More …

Illustration of Titan's atmosphere
Fall 2012

Looking for life’s origins in the clouds of a moon

On the eleventh floor of the Webster Physical Sciences Building, Carol Turse watches over an array of glass tubes, flasks, and electrodes buzzing with 45,000 volts of electricity. Looking out the window, she takes in one of the better views of Pullman and the Palouse hills; looking inside the glasswork of her lab, she sees the atmosphere of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, and if all goes right, elements of life in the making.

With clouds and a thick, planet-like atmosphere, Titan is unique among the moons in our solar system. It might also be conducive to creating amino acids, the building blocks of life, which … » More …

Fall 2010

We Are Not Alone


Dirk Schulze-Makuch and David Darling
Oneworld Publications, 2010

From Percival Lowell’s maps of Mars to 1938’s ill-fated “War of the Worlds” broadcast, claims of life in outer space have been tinged with whimsy and sensationalism. But in recent decades, more rigorous thinking and evidence-based science have been able to elbow their way into the discussion. As WSU astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch and author David Darling note, we now “have real data to work with.”

Using the … » More …

Summer 2007

Questioning the questions

A few years ago, when an academic publisher approached Dirk Schulze-Makuch about writing a book on the search for extraterrestrial life, the astrobiologist couldn’t resist.

“You’re not often getting asked to write a book about life in the universe,” he recalls. “It was just too tempting.”

Life in the Universe: Expectations and Constraints was published shortly before Schulze-Makuch joined Washington State University’s Department of Geology in 2005. Coauthored by Louis Irwin of the University of Texas-El Paso, the book takes a close look at what’s really necessary for life-not life as we know it here, but life as it might be on other worlds.

“We’re … » More …

Winter 2002

Don't panic yet

An asteroid may be heading for a collision with earth, reports a group of researchers including Washington State University’s Scott Hudson. Fortunately, the actual probability of a collision is only one-third of one percent, and we have 878 years to prepare.

In an article in the April 5 Science, scientists predict that Asteroid 1950 DA, about one kilometer in diameter, could hit earth in March 2880. Typically, it is very difficult to predict asteroid collisions this far into the future. However, by obtaining radar imagery of the asteroid, the researchers were able to model in detail the evolution of its orbit for the next several … » More …

Spring 2009

Space Chronicles

Working on her doctorate at Washington State University, Jennifer Ross-Nazzal ’04 was drawn to public history–a field that combines academic history with non-traditional methods of collecting and presenting historical information. The program has been in effect at WSU since 1979 and has produced historians who now work for public archives, historical sites, and museums around the country.

Ross-Nazzal’s studies at WSU led to a focus on women’s history and an internship at a museum. “Though that was a good experience, I wanted to do another internship,” she says. Craving a very different experience, she found an offer at Johnson Space Center of the National Aeronautics … » More …