If we think untangling Earth’s complex geological history is difficult, think of the challenge involved in doing the same for Mars. At such a great distance, we rely on a few orbiters, a handful of rovers and landers, and our powerful telescopes to gather evidence. But unlike Earth, Mars is, for the most part, geologically inactive. Much of the evidence for Mars’ long history is still visible on the surface.
That helped scientists identify the source of one of our most well-known meteorites.
Have you heard of LU Camelopardalis, QZ Serpentis, V1007 Herculis and BK Lyncis? No, they’re not members of a boy band in ancient Rome. They’re Cataclysmic Variables, binary stars that are so close together one star draws material from its sibling. This causes the pair to vary wildly in brightness.
Can planets exist in this chaotic environment? Can we spot them? A new study answers yes to both.
The JWST is grabbing headlines and eyeballs as its mission gains momentum. The telescope recently imaged M74 (NGC 628) with its Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI.) Judy Schmidt, a well-known amateur astronomy image processor, has worked on the image to bring out more detail.
NASA is reviewing its mission to visit the asteroid 16 Psyche. The Administration has convened a 15-member review board to examine the mission and its failure to meet the scheduled 2022 launch. The review began on July 19, and the board will present their findings to NASA and JPL in late September.
The future can arrive in sudden bursts. What seems a long way off can suddenly jump into view, especially when technology is involved. That might be true of self-replicating machines. Will we combine 3D printing with in-situ resource utilization to build self-replicating space probes?
One aerospace engineer with expertise in space robotics thinks it could happen sooner rather than later. And that has implications for SETI.
Humanity seems destined to expand into the Solar System. What exactly that looks like, and how difficult and tumultuous the endeavour might be, is wide open to speculation. But there are some undeniable facts attached to the prospect.
We need materials to build infrastructure, and getting it all into space from Earth is not realistic. (Be quiet, space elevator people.)
Will we discover simple life somewhere? Maybe on Enceladus or Europa in our Solar System, or further away on an exoplanet? As we get more proficient at exploring our Solar System and studying exoplanets, the prospect of finding some simple life is moving out of the creative realm of science fiction and into concrete mission planning.
As the hopeful day of discovery draws nearer, it’s a good time to ask: what might this potential life look like?
When Galileo pointed his telescope at Jupiter 400 years ago, he saw three blobs of light around the giant planet, which he at first thought were fixed stars. He kept looking, and eventually, he spotted a fourth blob and noticed the blobs were moving. Galileo’s discovery of objects orbiting something other than Earth—which we call the Galilean moons in his honour—struck a blow to the Ptolemaic (geocentric) worldview of the time.
Galileo couldn’t have foreseen the age of space exploration that we’re living in now. Fast forward 400 years, and here we are. We know the Earth doesn’t occupy any central point. We’ve discovered thousands of other planets, and many of them will have their own moons. Galileo would be amazed at this.
What would he think about robotic missions to explore one of the blobs of light he spotted?
Stars form inside massive clouds of gas and dust called molecular clouds. The Nebular Hypothesis explains how that happens. According to that hypothesis, dense cores inside those clouds of hydrogen collapse due to instability and form stars. The Nebular Hypothesis is much more detailed than that short version, but that’s the basic idea.
The problem is that it only explains how single stars form. But about half of the Milky Way’s stars are binary pairs or multiple stars. The Nebular Hypothesis doesn’t clearly explain how those stars form.
When NASA sent the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to the red planet in 2006, the spacecraft took an instrument with it called CRISM—Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars. CRISM’s job is to produce maps of Mars’ surface mineralogy. It’s been an enormous success, but unfortunately, the loss of its last cryocooler in 2017 means the spectrometer can only undertake limited observations.
But CRISM is going out with a bang, creating one final image of the surface of Mars that NASA will release in batches over the next six months.