Ever since it landed in the Jezero Crater on Feb. 18th, 2021, the Perseverance rover has been prepping its scientific instruments to begin searching for signs of past life on the Red Planet. These include spectrometers that will scan Martian rocks for organics and minerals that form in the presence of water and a caching system that will store samples of Martian soil and rock for retrieval by a future mission.
These telltale indicators could be signs of past life, which would most likely take the form of fossilized microbes. In the near future, a similar instrument could be used to search for present-day extraterrestrial life. It’s known as the Wireline Analysis Tool for the Subsurface Observation of Northern ice sheets (WATSON), and could be used to find evidence of life inside “ocean worlds” like Europa, Enceladus, and Titan.
Continue reading “The Same Technology Could Search for Microbes in Mars Rocks or Under the ice on Europa”
In 1915, Einstein put the finishing touches on his Theory of General Relativity (GR), a revolutionary new hypothesis that described gravity as a geometric property of space and time. This theory remains the accepted description of gravitation in modern physics and predicts that massive objects (like galaxies and galaxy clusters) bend the very fabric of spacetime.
As result, massive objects (like galaxies and galaxy clusters) can act as a lens that will deflect and magnify light coming from more distant objects. This effect is known as “gravitational lensing,” and can result in all kinds of visual phenomena – not the least of which is known as an “Einstein Cross.” Using data from the ESA’s Gaia Observatory, a team of researchers announced the discovery of 12 new Einstein Crosses.
Continue reading “Gaia Finds 12 Examples of Einstein Crosses; Galaxies Being Gravitationally Lensed so we see Them Repeated 4 Times”
On February 18th, 2021, the Perseverance rover landed in the Jezero crater on Mars. Shortly thereafter, it powered up some of the scientific instruments it will use to conduct science operations and search for potential evidence of past life. One such instrument is the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA), which turned on for 30 minutes and issued the rover’s first weather report from Mars.
The forecast? Bitter Cold! Basically, the temperature was lower than what you’d expect on a harsh and windy winter’s night here on Earth! According to the data the rover sent back, which was received by mission controllers at 05:25 P.M. EST (08:25 P.M. PST), the local temperature around the Octavia E. Bulter landing in the Jezero crater was -20 °C (- 4 °F) when MEDA started recording, then dropped to -25.6 °C (-14 °F) within 30 minutes.
Continue reading “How’s the Weather in Jezero Crater? According to Perseverance: Cold”
On April 3rd, the Mars Ingenuity helicopter was removed from its carbon-fiber shield on the Perseverance rover’s belly. On Sunday, April 11th, it will make its first attempt at a powered, controlled flight, becoming the first aircraft to operate on another planet. In the meantime, Ingenuity accomplished another major milestone as it survived its first full night on the Martian surface.
Continue reading “Mars Helicopter Survives its First Night on Mars is Getting Ready to Fly”
When NASA sends astronauts back to the Moon as part of the Artemis Program, they will be taking the long view. Rather than being another “footprints and flags” program, the goal is to create a lasting infrastructure that will ensure a “sustained program of lunar exploration.” A major element in this plan is the Lunar Gateway, an orbital habitat that astronauts will use to venture to and from the surface.
The first step in establishing the Gateway is the deployment of two critical modules – the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) and the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE). According to a recent update, NASA (along with Maxar Technologies and Busek Co.) recently completed a hot-fire test of the PPE propulsion subsystem – the first of many that will ensure that the PPE and HALO will be ready for launch by 2024.
Continue reading “Lunar Gateway Will Maintain its Orbit With a 6 kW ion Engine”
All across the Martian surface, there are preserved features that tell the story of what Mars once looked like. These include channels that were carved by flowing water, delta fans where water deposited sediment over time, and lakebeds where clay and hydrated minerals are found. In addition to telling us more about Mars’ past, the study of these features can tell us about how Mars made the transition to what it is today.
According to new research led by Brown Ph.D. student Ben Boatwright, an unnamed Martian crater in Mars southern highlands showed features that indicate the presence of water, but there is no indication of how it got there. Along with Brown professor Jim Head (his advisor), they concluded that the crater’s features are likely the result of runoff from a Martian glacier that once occupied the area.
Continue reading “A Lake in a Martian Crater was Once Filled by Glacial Runoff”
It is no exaggeration to say that the study of extrasolar planets has exploded in recent decades. To date, 4,375 exoplanets have been confirmed in 3,247 systems, with another 5,856 candidates awaiting confirmation. In recent years, exoplanet studies have started to transition from the process of discovery to one of characterization. This process is expected to accelerate once next-generation telescopes become operational.
As a result, astrobiologists are working to create comprehensive lists of potential “biosignatures,” which refers to chemical compounds and processes that are associated with life (oxygen, carbon dioxide, water, etc.) But according to new research by a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), another potential biosignature we should be on the lookout for is a hydrocarbon called isoprene (C5H8).
Continue reading “If Astronomers see Isoprene in the Atmosphere of an Alien World, There’s a Good Chance There’s Life There”
Roughly 4 billion years ago, Mars looked a lot different than it does today. For starters, its atmosphere was thicker and warmer, and liquid water flowed across its surface. This included rivers, standing lakes, and even a deep ocean that covered much of the northern hemisphere. Evidence of this warm, watery past has been preserved all over the planet in the form of lakebeds, river valleys, and river deltas.
For some time, scientists have been trying to answer a simple question: where did all that water go? Did it escape into space after Mars lost its atmosphere, or retreat somewhere? According to new research from Caltech and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), between 30% and 90% of Mars’ water went underground. These findings contradict the widely-accepted theory that Mars lost its water to space over the course of eons.
Continue reading “Maybe Mars Didn’t Lose its Water After All. It’s Still Trapped on the Planet”
Space exploration sure is hard, huh? Luckily, it’s an iterative process, where engineers test and test and test again to work out all the bugs in advance. At least, that’s what we remind ourselves when the prototype goes “kaboom!” Earlier today, the SN11 joins its predecessors by being the fourth Starship prototype to conduct a successful flight test and then explode while attempting to make a landing (or shortly thereafter).
Continue reading “Latest Starship Prototype SN11 Explodes in mid-air, Raining Debris on the Launch Site”
When NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) is fully integrated, assembled, and finished with testing, it will be the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V that carried the Apollo astronauts to the Moon. To get it there, NASA has been conducting a testing campaign known as the Green Run, an 8-step assessment that culminates in a test-firing of all four of the Core’s RS-25 engines (aka. a “Hot Fire” test).
On January 16th, NASA made its first attempt at a Green Run Hot Fire test at the Stennis Space Center’s B-2 Test Stand in Mississippi, which only lasted for about one minute. Another attempt was made on Thursday, March 18th, where all four engines fired for 8 minutes and 19 seconds. This successful fire test is a crucial milestone for the SLS and brings it one step closer to sending astronauts back to the Moon.
Continue reading “This Time NASA’s SLS Hotfire Goes the Full 8 Minutes”