Tag Archives: space exploration

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.

Mission Statement – Science

Here is the second part of the blog’s mission statement. And this time, we move into reality. Less geeky, more nerdy.

I have a very long history with science. From the very beginning when I got encyclopedias, I started reading them, especially for the science and geography entries. I also read a lot of dinosaur and astronomy books. In university, I studied physics and astronomy, though I included a couple geology classes and an atmospheric science class. I haven’t stopped reading about science. On this blog, I started the Encyclopedia Entries series, but have changed it to Quick Facts, as they’re designed to be easy to read and you’re able to find facts quickly. I also talk about various current events in science, especially related to astronomy and space exploration.

As for Quick Facts, this is what is currently planned:

Astronomy

I’m currently going through the moons of the solar system in alphabetic order. In the future, I may focus on constellations and major stars.

Space Exploration

I’m going to go through all of the space probes, both successful and unsuccessful, that were sent to study other bodies in the solar system. I’ll do them in chronological order.

Geography

I will be going through all of the countries in alphabetic order, then move on to Canadian provinces and territories, Japanese prefectures, American states, and Australian states. I may do more.

Palaeontology

I’ll be covering all of the dinosaurs in alphabetic order, which may take a long time. After that, I may take a look at pterosaurs, icthyosaurs, mosasaurs, and plesiosaurs. And I may go further back in time, too.

Zoology

I’d like to go through the birds of North America. I was often fascinated by birds, which we now know are modern dinosaurs. So, why not include them?

Beyond these, I will have to see what comes up in the future. Who knows, I may look at geology, volcanoes, or even take a look at history in some way.

One thing I’d like to do with these is have a weekly schedule to post them. It’ll either be once or twice a week. I’ll have to see which is best.

So, what are you most interested in seeing? Let me know in the comments below.

When My Daughter Graduates High School

The year is 2030. My daughter is graduating. She’s eighteen years old.

I’ll be 53 years old.

NASA has already had a manned mission to capture a near-Earth asteroid.

NASA is preparing to go to Mars.

A probe has been sent to Europa. What will we know then?

A probe may be studying Titan. That’s under study now.

New Horizons will have left the Solar System.

India will become the most populous country in the world.

Saudi Arabia will run out of oil.

What else will happen? Hopefully it’ll be a better world. What do you think will happen in 2030?

Space Exploration Novels

I’m a big fan of space exploration, whether it’s the solar system or outside the solar system. The idea of discovering new things is very attractive to me.

I always enjoyed watching Star Trek, and have enjoyed reading discovery-related novels like Ringworld and the Hyperion Cantos where we could see many different worlds. It was very interesting.  Even the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson is filled with exploration.

I’d like to know about science fiction novels that focus on space exploration and discovering new worlds. If you know any, please leave a comment. Let’s make a good list of them.

A Wishlist for Solar System Exploration

Space exploration has been quite exciting in recent years.  Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, and Saturn currently have probes in orbit or on the surface.  There are probes en route to Pluto, Ceres, Mars, and Jupiter.  There are planned probes to Venus, Mars, the Moon, asteroids,  and Jupiter’s moons.  There’s a lot going on.  However, I feel there could be more.

I have six missions in mind that I would like to see happen.  These are currently not planned, but some have been discussed in recent years.

240px-Venus_globeVenus Lander and Flyer

Venus currently has an orbiter, and has had several orbiters and landers in the past.  It has been completely mapped by radar, and the atmosphere is currently being studied.  Although there have been landings in the past by the Soviet space program, those landers succumbed to Venus’ incredibly high temperatures and volatile atmosphere.  I’d like to see a lander built to survive on the surface and provide us with several weeks of data.  I’d also like to see a flyer that can observe both the atmosphere and the landscape.  Maybe it can also see lightning.

Europa-moonEuropa Lander

Galileo studied Europa, and there’s currently a probe on its way to Jupiter to study the planet, as well as the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer planned to launch in 2022, but nothing planned to land on Europa.  This is one of those places in our solar system that may have life.  It has a liquid ocean under its icy crust, and that ocean is covering a silicate mantle.  It’s quite possible that it could be geologically active with hot smokers like in Earth’s oceans, where microbial life may exist.  But we have to be careful not to contaminate the world if we drill through the ice into the ocean.

Titan_natural_colorTitan Lander

Saturn’s largest moon has already been visited by a lander, the Huygens probe, but it only lasted a short time.  Cassini has done a great job seeing through the clouds to study this remarkably Earth-like moon’s hydrocarbon lakes in the polar regions.  Titan needs a dedicated lander that can study the conditions for a much longer time.  Perhaps a flyer would be useful, as well.  I’d love to see some of Titan’s landscapes.

240px-Uranus2Uranus Orbiter

Uranus has only been visited once, by Voyager 2.  This is a fascinating planet that’s sitting on its side.  It has a ring system and plenty of very interesting moons, like Miranda, Titania, Ariel, Umbriel, and Oberon.  This is a system that needs to be studied up close by a dedicated orbiter.  We also need to understand more about the interior of the planet, as it’s most likely very ice.  It’s called an ice giant, not a gas giant.

244px-NeptuneNeptune Orbiter

The other ice giant, Neptune, has also been visited by Voyager 2.  This planet has a more dynamic-looking atmosphere, but most of the moons are quite small.  However, it has a unique moon, Triton, that is likely to be a captured Kuiper Belt object.  It’s also geologically active.  The most distant planet in the solar system needs an orbiter.

Eris_and_dysnomia2Eris Probe

The largest dwarf planet (larger than Pluto) should be explored in the future, as well.  It’s a lot farther away than Pluto, but it could be reachable by a probe within our lifetime, I hope.  Pluto will be explored next year, but I’d love to see what Eris is like, too.  What is a world so far away like?  It would be amazing to see it.

These are the missions I would love to see in my lifetime.  I’m anxious to know about these worlds.  What would you like to see?