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WATER on the RED PLANET: NASA rover cooker bakes ‘high percentage’

NASA scientists have reached a milestone in their quest to find life on the Red Planet after discovering significant traces of water in the Martian soil.

The Mars Curiosity Rover discovered water when investigating the very first scoop of soil it took from the surface of Mars.

The extraterrestial explorer analysed the dusty sample in its belly and found that about one part in every 50 of Mars’ soil is made up of H2O. Boffins said this could help future missions to Mars, as astronauts would (in theory) simply have to heat the Martian topsoil in order to produce drinkable water.

“One of the most exciting results from this very first solid sample ingested by Curiosity is the high percentage of water in the soil,” said Laurie Leshin, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Dean of Science and author of a report on the findings. “About 2 per cent of the soil on the surface of Mars is made up of water, which is a great resource, and interesting scientifically.”

Curiosity touched down in Gale Crater on August 6 last year and immediately set about trying to find life on the red planet. It is the first rover to have the ability to analyze rock and soil samples and is armed with a chromatograph, a mass spectrometer and a tunable laser spectrometer, which can be used to identify chemical compounds and work out which key element isotopes are present in a sample.  Read More

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Best Video Applications for a One-Way Trip to Mars

Mars picture - illustration of a human settlement on Mars

An illustration of a human settlement on Mars.

Daniac and more than 100,000 other eager applicants have signed up for theMars One project, a plan to send humans to Mars—on a one-way trip—starting in 2022. (Related: “Ancient Mars Was Snowy, New Model Suggests.”)

The Mars One team plans to pick 40 astronauts from the more than 100,000 applications received from people worldwide. The crew will spend eight years undergoing specialized training in an isolated location to learn skills like dental work and electrical maintenance. In 2022, four of them will be launched into space on a one-way trip to Mars—with more astronauts slated for future missions. (See: “Mars Gets Its Close-Up.”)

To help the team winnow down the applicant field, we watched dozens of videos from the Mars One website, deciding who had the skills and the fortitude to take a giant leap into space. Below are several of our favorites:  See Them

NASA Hosts Social Media Events Across Seven Agency Field Centers

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — NASA’s social media followers at seven field centers around the nation will virtually come together at a NASA Social on Friday, Aug. 3, to preview the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory’s (MSL) Curiosity rover on Aug. 6 EDT (Aug. 5 PDT).

 NASA Socials are in-person meetings with people who engage with the agency through Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other social networks. Events will be held simultaneously at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.; Glenn Research Center in Cleveland; Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.; Johnson Space Center in Houston; Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Kennedy will be celebrating its 50th anniversary during its NASA Social.

From 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. EDT, every center will be connected with JPL, which manages the MSL mission for NASA, via a multi-center NASA Television simulcast. NASA Social participants at each center will have the opportunity to ask questions of the JPL science and engineering teams during the simulcast. More than 150 social media followers also will tour their respective host NASA center.

You can view the social online during the day Friday by visiting a NASA dashboard at: http://www.nasa.gov/social . To get an inside view during the simulcast with all the centers participating, view the new NASA superchannel and select webcam views at http://www.ustream.tv/nasa . The NASA Social speaker program and news conferences also will be carried on http://ustream.tv/NASAJPL with live moderated Web chat.  Read More

SpaceX replaces faulty rocket valve for space station flight

Image: SpaceX NASA launch aborted

Erik S. Lesser  /  EPA

The engines are seen firing moments before the SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft launch was aborted.
By Clara Moskowitz

SpaceX engineers have replaced a faulty engine valve on a private rocket carrying the first commercial space capsule bound for the International Space Station following the last-second abort during an attempted liftoff Saturday.

The valve replacement came after SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which will loft the firm’s unmanned Dragon capsule toward the station, aborted its launch attempt a half-second before liftoff from a pad here at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Technicians investigating the glitch discovered a faulty check valve was to blame for the high engine pressure that forced the booster’s engines to unexpectedly shut down.

SpaceX engineers replaced the balky valve late Saturday, and are now inspecting the Falcon 9 rocket in preparation for a possible second launch attempt early Tuesday.

“We will continue to review data on Sunday,” company officials said in a statement Saturday evening. “If things look good, we will be ready to attempt to launch on Tuesday, May 22nd at 3:44 AM Eastern.”

Dragon is set to become the first non-governmental spaceship to rendezvous and berth at the space station during a mission sponsored by NASA’s COTS program (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) aimed at procuring commercial U.S. vehicles capable of filling the gap left by the retired space shuttles.  Read More

4,700 Potentially Hazardous Asteroids Are Lurking Out There

Asteroid-own-zoom

Generally speaking, there’s a collective sigh of relief when any large hulk of space rock flies past Earth — except, perhaps, for the smaller asteroids that scatter precious meteorites over California’s ‘Gold Country’. But when one of the estimated 4,700 potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) glides by, we really should count our lucky stars — those things could kill you.

PHAs are asteroids larger than 100-meters (330-feet) wide that drift close enough to Earth’s orbit to be considered a threat. They come within eight million kilometers (five million miles), or around 20-times the Earth-moon distance, of our planet and should they be on a collision course with Earth, they could survive the atmospheric burn and wipe out a city (or worse). They are an extra-special subset of a larger family of near-Earth asteroids (NEAs), space rocks that give astronomers a reason for pause.

The new estimate of 4,700 (plus or minus 1,500) PHAs comes courtesy of observations by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) — specifically, its near-Earth object-hunting mission: NEOWISE. There’s no real big surprise with this number — it does, after all, fall in line with most previous estimates — but WISE sampled 107 known PHAs to give a more precise idea of the total population of dangerous asteroids in our neighborhood. But here’s the kicker, only 20-30 percent of these asteroids have been discovered thus far.  Read More

NASA Observers See Shifting Sand Dunes on Mars

NASA Mars Exploration Rover Spirit platform_20120215094332_JPG

Vast fields of shifting sand dunes on Mars may be just as dynamic as the ones on Earth, according to NASA’s analysis of high-resolution spacecraft images.

Scientists long debated whether the Red Planet’s dunes were currently active, and many believed the sand hills to be stagnant features because Mars has a much thinner atmosphere than Earth and weaker winds.

But using NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), astronomers observed that movement in the Red Planet’s dunes occurs on a surprisingly large scale, with entire 200-feet-thick dunes moving across the Martian landscape, some at the same pace as dunes in the ice-free valleys of Antarctica.  Read More

A NASA Weather ‘Eye in the Sky’ Marks 10 Years

Global Carbon Dioxide Transport from AIRS Data, July 2009This image was created with data acquired by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder instrument (AIRS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite during July 2009. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

May 03, 2012

For 10 years, it has silently swooped through space in its orbital perch 438 miles (705 kilometers) above Earth, its nearly 2,400 spectral “eyes” peering into Earth’s atmosphere, watching. But there’s nothing alien about NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder, or AIRS, instrument, a “monster” of weather and climate research that celebrates its 10th birthday in orbit May 4.

AIRS, built by BAE Systems, Boston, under the direction of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., is one of six instruments flying on NASA’s Aqua spacecraft as part of NASA’s Earth Observing System. AIRS, along with its partner microwave instrument, the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU-A), has faithfully measured our planet’s atmospheric temperature, water vapor, clouds and greenhouse gases with unprecedented accuracy and stability. Over the past decade, AIRS and AMSU-A have improved our understanding of Earth’s global water and energy cycles, climate change and trends and how Earth’s climate system is responding to increased greenhouse gases.

Studies have shown AIRS has improved global weather prediction more than any other single satellite instrument in the past 10 years. In 2006, a group led by John Le Marshall of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration demonstrated that use of AIRS data in weather forecasting models significantly improved forecast “skill” — the name of the calculation meteorologists use to quantify how close a forecast is to actual observed weather conditions.

“AIRS has performed beyond expectation, exceeding its mission objectives,” said AIRS Project Manager Tom Pagano of JPL. “The knowledge we’ve gained through AIRS has advanced our understanding of weather and climate, and demonstrated an important measurement technology. While the team can be proud of what’s been accomplished, we continue to look forward to new discoveries as we explore the connection between extreme weather and climate change.”  Read More

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