Tag Archives: NASA

Plumes Spotted on Europa

Take a look at this image.

Credits: NASA/ESA/W. Sparks (STScI)/USGS Astrogeology Science Center
Credits: NASA/ESA/W. Sparks (STScI)/USGS Astrogeology Science Center

Just what is this? Well, it’s Europa superimposed on an image of Europa taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. See that white stuff coming from the bottom left? That seems so similar to what we’ve seen from Enceladus. That’s a possible water plume!

So, what does this mean? It means that water is making it to the surface of Europa. This also means that we may have a much easier time accessing the water than we thought. We already have an extremely good idea about the internal structure of Europa, which likely includes a very deep liquid water ocean. Europa is one of the best candidates for life in the solar system, and with upcoming missions to Europa and the other icy moons of Jupiter coming soon, we’ll have an excellent opportunity to know what the composition of this water is. It’s suspected to be salty, but how salty is it? And does it support life?

This is very exciting. What do you think?

NASA’s Big Kepler Announcement: It’s Not Aliens

NASA announced recently that they would be making a big announcement today about a discovery by the Kepler Telescope. Well, the announcement is that 1,284 planets have been discovered. And what’s really big is that there’s a 99% chance that they are planets. Here’s a graph of the planets that have been discovered so far.

keplerplanets
The known planets discovered so far with Kepler. Credit: NASA Ames/W. Stenzel

Of course, before the announcement was made, many people were speculating on what the announcement would be. This includes science groups on Facebook. Groups that I would think would know better. You see, this is what people were saying: NASA is going to announce aliens!!!!

First of all, science groups were saying this. Really? Too many science groups are promoting both junk science and hype.

Secondly, NASA is not going to announce aliens when they said they were talking about a Kepler discovery. Kepler is not designed to detect life. It cannot detect life. Kepler deals with detecting planets that cross in front of their stars. That does not include detecting alien civilisations or even life. Further observation is required to study the atmosphere, and even then, we can’t be certain if there’s life.

However, several of the new planets are fairly close to Earth-sized and in the habitable zone of their stars. That is exciting. Those planets will be studied to pinpoint their sizes and atmospheres.

So, relax. No aliens will be discovered by Kepler. I don’t know why people even thought that.

Science Sunday – A Year in Space

Continuing this ongoing weekly series, I share a major science news story from the past week, but I let the video tell the story.

This week, American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko returned to Earth after spending 340 days on the International Space Station. This mission is especially interesting because Kelly’s twin brother, Mark Kelly, was down here on Earth, and they’re comparing the changes in Scott’s body with his twin. This mission was a year-long experiment to help prepare for the upcoming manned Mars mission. You can read NASA’s story on this mission here.

The video is a bit long, but it shows you the return of Kelly and Kornienko to Earth.

Scott Kelly says that he has mixed feelings about the end of the mission. I can understand that, having mixed feelings about our move to Canada. He’s lived on the station for nearly a year, and it had become his home.

Comments are greatly appreciated! Would you consider spending a year, or even just a month, in space? Let me know in the comments below.

Science Sunday – James Webb Telescope Primary Mirror Installed

The replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope is getting closer to completion, as a very important component has been installed. The massive 6.5 metre diameter mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope has been finished, and this will make it the largest space telescope ever. Take a look at NASA’s video.

The thing that excites me about this telescope is that it’ll see things in unprecedented detail, including the ability to directly image exoplanets. It’s going to be so much better than Hubble.

It is expected to launch in October 2018.

Are you looking forward to what this telescope will discover and see? Let me know in the comments below.

Science Sunday – To Mars In a Few Days

NASA 360 released a video about a week ago talking about new propulsion technology that could propel a robotic space probe to Mars in only a few days. To send a larger manned spacecraft to Mars, it would take about a month. That’s a lot better than the few months it already takes to send a space probe there.

How is it done? Lasers. This video introduces the concept, but you have to go elsewhere to watch the full talk.

Here’s the full talk in Seattle last year. There are several videos that cover different aspects of this topic.

What do you think of this topic? Would you like to see this technology happen? Let me know in the comments below.

Top Ten Space Probes that Need to Happen

Continuing on with an astronomical theme this month, in celebration of the planetary alignment, I bring to you another list involving the Solar System. This list is entirely my opinion. I studied astronomy in university, and my main interest was in planetary sciences. We have made some incredible discoveries over the past few years with numerous space probes visiting several worlds in our Solar System. New Horizons was an amazing success at Pluto, Cassini has provided incredible information from Saturn, Dawn brought us wonderful images and information from Vesta and Ceres, and the small army of probes at Mars continue to surprise us. But there’s still so much more to discover. This is what I would like to see in the future in terms of space probes.

Top Ten Space Probes that Need to Happen

10. Eris flyby

Eris_and_dysnomia2With the success of New Horizons at Pluto, the next largest unexplored world in the Solar System is the dwarf planet Eris. It’s more massive than Pluto, but slightly smaller. With a higher density, what does that mean? Why is a world so much farther from the Sun than Pluto denser? Studying this world could help us understand more about the evolution of the Solar System. It’s completely unknown what Eris may look like, but we can take educated guesses. Pluto completely surprised us, and I suspect that Eris will, too. Unfortunately, it may take around thirty years for a probe to reach Eris, so I’d wait on this until we have better propulsion technology.

9. Pluto orbiter

Nh-pluto-in-true-color_2x_JPEG-edit-frameYou’re probably wondering why I would recommend Pluto so soon after the New Horizons mission. Well, Pluto has turned out to be such an intriguing world, one that is active and unique. It and Charon form a remarkable pair of worlds that need to be studied more. With such a variety of landscapes on one side of each world, what surprises do the other sides have? The possibility of a subsurface water ocean means that Pluto has a chance at supporting life. It appears there may be cryovolcanoes that were active relatively recently, as well. The difficulty with this mission is inserting the probe into orbit. Pluto has such a small mass that the probe can’t be traveling at such a high speed when it approaches the world.

8. Venus lander

240px-Venus_globeVenus has been landed on before by the Soviet Venera series of probes, but they only lasted a few minutes to a bit over an hour due to the hot, acidic, and dense atmosphere. A robust lander would need to be developed, preferably a rover. Venus is described as Earth’s failed twin. It had a runaway greenhouse effect that made the surface uninhabitable. While Magellan has mapped the surface and discovered many Earth-like features, a surface probe may help to answer many questions, such as whether Venus is still geologically active, whether volcanoes still erupt, and so on. It would be fascinating to study the geology of the world. Both NASA and Russia have proposals for landers on Venus.

7. Uranus orbiter

240px-Uranus2It’s been thirty years since Uranus was visited by Voyager 2. The sideways ice giant has only been flown by, so no intense study of the world and its moons has been conducted. Uranus is intriguing because of its nearly ninety degree tilt to the plane of the Solar System. We haven’t been able to study an ice giant up close, and Uranus is the closer of the two. It has an interesting group of moons, as well, four of which are larger and appear to feature scarps and canyons. But Miranda has my interest, as it seems to be a small moon that has been broken apart and reassembled. It has a huge cliff, as well. I want to see more of this moon.

6. Ganymede probe

Ganymede_g1_true-edit1Ganymede is the largest moon in the Solar System, and has the attention of scientists because of its likely subsurface ocean. Larger than Mercury, its surface is a mishmash of various features, including craters and grooved terrain. Galileo studied Ganymede when it was at Jupiter, but a closer look would be warranted. I’d like to suggest a surface lander or rover, but an orbiter may be better. The ice crust is so thick that it’s unlikely that the ocean could be examined from the surface. And besides, the surface of Ganymede is quite old. Thankfully, both may be coming true! ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) will be launched in 2022, and will orbit Ganymede, while a Russian proposal to land on Ganymede could be launched in 2024.

5. Venus aircraft

Venus-real_colorVenus appears twice in this list for a very good reason. While the surface needs to be explored, so does the upper atmosphere. The temperature, air pressure, and chemical composition of this layer of the planet may be able to support life. That alone makes Venus’ atmosphere a very good destination. Already, there’s a NASA proposal called VAMP (Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform) that would be an inflatable aircraft driven by propellers. I guess NASA is already thinking about this.

4. Neptune orbiter and Triton lander

244px-NeptuneWith the Cassini/Huygens pair being successful, why not at Neptune? Neptune is the other ice giant planet, and eighth in the Solar System. It has its own large collection of moons, dynamic atmosphere with large storms, and ring system. I’d like to see an orbiter for the planet that explores it and its moons, while a lander is deployed to the surface of Triton. Triton is very interesting and active. It has geysers, a thin nitrogen atmosphere, and possible subsurface ocean. That needs to be checked out.

3. Enceladus probe

PIA17202_-_Approaching_EnceladusThis little world has proven to be a complete surprise. Although small, it is active due to tidal interactions with Saturn. At the southern pole of the moon, there are ‘tiger stripes,’ which have geysers that have been observed venting water vapour into space and back to the surface as a kind of snow. Further study has shown that Enceladus has a global subsurface ocean of water, which makes this tiny world a very important place to look for life. An orbiter might be difficult with its low gravity, but a surface probe sent to the southern region would be very interesting. Both NASA and ESA are considering missions to Enceladus that would ultimately involve Titan.

2. Titan lander and flier

PIA20016-SaturnMoon-Titan-20151113Titan is a high priority for further studies, in my opinion. It’s so Earth-like in appearance and is the only other world in the Solar System with long-term surface liquids. A lander, preferably a rover, could examine the icy surface, possibly near the seas or riverbeds. A flier would fly through the thick atmosphere observing the land below it and sampling the air. It would be nice if both could be done in the same mission, though unlikely. It’s also a candidate for the study of possible life. There are proposals under consideration by both NASA and ESA for landers, balloons, airplanes, boats, and even a submarine.

1. Europa lander

Europa-moonThis is an obvious choice. Europa has the greatest chance of life, according to many people. It has a subsurface saline ocean that could be examined by a lander that drills through the thick ice crust. The implications of finding life there would have a big effect on many people back on Earth. The good news is that JUICE is going to fly by Europa, and NASA has been directed by Congress to develop a mission to land on Europa and do it soon. They want this mission to happen. So, it looks like we’re going to get it.

What do you think? Which of these missions would you be interested in? Do you have others you’d like to see? Let me know in the comments below. Maybe we can come up with some great ideas we haven’t thought of before.