Search This Blog

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Lots of news from Mars, more strangeness from Pluto, and a new kind of volcano on the Moon...

If you've enjoyed this please share it on facebook, twitter, or whatever your favourite social media is.

Jason Wright's post on the 'Alien structure' story he's being mentioned in:

Jason Wrights name has been mentioned a lot this week, and the reason for this is his connection to the 'Alien Megastructure ' story.  Unfortunately, despite what a lot of news outlets are saying, we're still a very long way from being able to say that we've found a huge alien solar power farm orbiting a star. What is true is that we've found something, odd - a star seemingly orbited by lots of objects that don't look and act like anything we'd normally expect to see orbiting a star. It's also true that artificial structures of some kind is there in the running as an explanation - albeit an odds-very-much-against explanation (see my earlier post).

Above: A visualisation of a Dyson swarm, one possible kind of energy collecting mega structure. Courtesy of wikipedia commons.
Reputation counts for a lot in research, and some of the more sensational headlines out there might be damaging to Jason Wright's, so here's the post from his own blog (title link) dealing with the subject. For those of you wondering how he got involved in this, he has already written a paper on the idea of  'alien megastructures',  and part of the reason he has a good reputation for these things (and part of the reason he gets asked to investigate cool stuff like these mysterious objects) is his habit not assuming everything is caused by aliens.

Curiosity rover busy learning about the lake that once filled Gale crater

In this paper, published in Science magazine, the Curiosity team describes the lake that put down the sediments that fill the crater which Curiosity has made its new home. One thing that is clear is that, despite the fact that most climate models predict that Mars would have been a desert world even during its wettestt period, the lake must have persisted over thousands of years, fed by many tributaries.

Above: A CGI recreation of Gale crater lake, courtesy of Craig Covault
In a second paper (link here) evidence from the Curiosity rover gives a fairly clear picture of Gale crater lake as a habitable environment -unlike the very rare seeps of  ultra salty water thought to occasionally occur on Mars today the waters at gale support a chemistry hospitable to lie

Opportunity working  through Marathon valley before winter hits

The seemingly indestructible Opportunity Mars rover is working it's way through its science tasks at marathon valley - which has gotten its name because Opportunity had to travel almost exactly the distance of a marathon to reach it. That this little robot is still exploring Mars is fairly incredible, and right now its team are working to get their science investigations - searching for clay minerals related to water of a PH suitable fore life - done before the winter months arrive, and sunlight for the rovers solar panels becomes scarce.

Above: Marathon Valley, as seen by Opportunity rover. Courtesy of NASA/JPL

Massive flash floods on Mars

In one last piece of news, Mars has also seen far less friendly occurrences of water than gale crater: the European Mars Express orbiter has sent home images suggesting that volcanic activity may have melted ground ice, causing massive flash flooding - flooding that may well have continued from the time the majority of the planet froze up until geologically recent time.

Above: A deep channel carves through the landscape along the bottom edge of the image, its inner walls displaying layers, terraces and streamlined islands eroded by the outflowing water. Courtesy of ESA.

One-of-a-kind volcano identified on the Moon:

Th Moon may once have been home to a type of volcano never identified before, according to Daniel Moriarty and Carle Pieters of the University of Brown. They've been studying an 800 meter tall mound, slap bang in the middle of a gigantic impact crater, and have found that the mound may well be a kind of volcano, triggered by the enormous South Pole-Aitken impact itself.
Daniel Moriaty said: “This unusual structure at the very centre of the basin begs the question: What is this thing, and might it be related to the basin formation process?”

A topographic view of the South Pole-Aitken Basin. Reds are high; blues are low. The mound, (the reddish area in the centre) stands 800 meters above the surrounding surface.

NASA picks launch providers for miniature satellites, a growing area:

In news from closer to home and more modern times, NASA has picked three new launch providers, who will specialise in transporting small and ultra small spacecraft into orbit.

 Above: NASA announcement of the new launch providers. Courtesy of NASA.

The move highlights the growing importance of miniaturising space craft for modern space use and exploration, a trend that has been growing over the last decade and has opened space access to many groups that could not otherwise afford it. Nor is NASA alone in looking to a future with smallsats:
China is also developing a smallsat launcher, and as for Europe the Arianespace CEO has reportedly said this: "We may need micro-launcher for growing 50-300kg smallsat market. No formal proposal yet, but need consider it."

The launch providers chosen by NASA were Rocketlabs USA, Firefly, and Virgin Galactic. Virgin Galactic, which suffered a major setback in its manned sub orbital spacecraft program after a fatal accident, has been developing the Launcher 1 rocket for unmanned orbital payloads. Launcher 1 has a nice video explanation here:

 Above: A bit of PR from Virgin galactic on it's Launcher 1 rocket - but it's an interesting bit of PR, and reflects the way a lot of launch providers seem to be thinking

Staying with Virgin Galactic for a moment, the company has reported good progress with design changes to its manned Space Ship 2 but critics have claimed that the design changes may have been bigger and more serious than suggested. Meanwhile, SpaceX is also preparing to re-launch it's Falcon 9 rocket, after one carrying cargo for the International Space Station exploded less than three minutes after liftoff from Florida on June 28.

More images from Pluto that have everyone scratching their heads:

Above: Artists impression of the glacier sea of Pluto.
New Horizon's flyby of Pluto has turned up plenty of surprises, but a few images recently returned seem to show some especially bizarre details: They are close ups of the 'Glacier sea' that seems to occupy a huge area of the surface. The sea is divided into 'cells' which are themselves a bit of a mystery, and the surface of the cells is pitted in some regions:

Above: The 'cells' on the glacier sea of Pluto, separated from each other by mounds of unknown material, and troughs with central ridges. Courtesy of NASA/JPL
Close ups of the pits have shown them clustering together in rows, almost resembling a gigantic fingerprint:

Above: Close up of the pitting on one of the cells. Courtesy of NASA/ JPL
...and an even closer view reveals that whatever is forming the pits is doing so in pairs or linear groups, something that defies explanation by any of the likely mechanisms for pit formation under the conditions on Pluto's surface:

Zoomed version of the above close up.

Whatever the explanation for all this it seems pretty sure Pluto will keep us scratching our heads for a long time to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment