Category Archives: Space

The Final Frontier

Scattershot Links

Time for a random smattering of links as I clear some tabs off of Camino:

  1. Scientists penetrate fossil magma chamber beneath ocean crust – drilling more than a mile through the ocean floor, geologists drilled through volcanic rock to reach an ancient magma chamber beneath the ocean’s surface. Remember that movie The Core? I wonder if it was like that?
  2. A survey of open source applications for Mac OS XFink and DarwinPorts, more software than you can shake a stick at. And it’s all free.
  3. Vibramfivefingers – A bootie with toes, it’s supposed to fit the foot like a glove. Looks freaky deaky to me.
  4. US Navy obsolete in War on Terror – Another example of that old aphorism that the military always prepares to fight the last war. The world’s most powerful navy has nobody to fight.
  5. More evidence for Nemesis? – That’s Nemesis, the undiscovered companion star of our Sun. The chief proponent of this theory says that newly discovered Sedna orbits in resonance with previously published orbital data for this undiscovered star.
  6. Nile explorers relate their adventures – Rousing adventure tale on the National Geographic website. Wonder how long before it is featured on the National Geographic Channel?
  7. Citizen Cope – Been listening to this guy a lot lately. Once I get my iBook back from Marianas Electronics I think I’ll pay a visit to the iTunes Music Store.
  8. Itchy ‘N Scratchy – Yeah, I got jafjaf. That reminds me, I need to go take my prescription for this.
  9. Odd man out in a cut-throat world – Now there’s a bookstore I wouldn’t mind working in for a few years.
  10. Kryptos confounds sleuths – because of a typo – The mysterious sculpture Kryptos adorns an atrium on the grounds of the CIA in Langley, Virginia. For sixteen years it has stymied cryptographers attempting to decipher the code encrypted across the undulating surface. Turns out there’s a good reason why: the artist made a typo.
  11. Surprise! Bugs at airport blamed on Yingling – Boy, I didn’t see that coming from a mile off.
  12. Warcraft III – Been thinking about actually buying a video game. Of course, it’s three or four years old, but it still looks cool. And it’s cheap…
  13. Nepalis celebrate – Looks like the king caved in and recalled parliament after several years. Hopefully this calms the situation in Nepal.
  14. The English laugh at our low gasoline prices – They pay $8 a gallon in merry old England for petrol.
  15. CNMI mentioned in Alternet – a look at Jack Abramoff’s dealings with the Northern Marianas and guest workers.
  16. Gas prices spurring ‘moped madness’ – I must admit, I’ve been thinking about buying a motorcycle. The incredible mileage is hard to beat, but frankly it would suck to ride a bike on Guam in August.
  17. Apocalysts now – Finally, how about a screed against George W. Bush’s religious overtones? Nothing like scaring the atheists and riling up the devout.

Wet Mars? Not Recently

Speaking of Mars, there’s been some fascinating developments over the red planet. Looks like a mineralogical report release last week lays out the Martian geological history, and it is a dry and dusty story.

The Mars Express orbiter arrived in orbit around the red planet in late 2003, and mapped the planet’s surface in excruciating detail. The OMEGA instrument created mineral maps that suggest three distinct eras on Mars; an initial warm and wet period, a fiery volcanic interlude, and the long deep freeze that continues today.

The OMEGA team, led by Jean-Pierre Bibring of the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale in France, found about two dozen sites rich in clay minerals, which form in water and in conditions of low acidity. These sites are scattered around the planet in ancient craters and where an overlying layer of volcanic cover or wind-blown sand and dust has been removed.

That suggests the clays formed early in the planet’s history, says Bibring: “The clays may have been formed on a large scale but we only see them where they have been exposed by erosion, outflows, or impacts.”

The spectrometer also found sulphate minerals, such as gypsum and grey haematite, concentrated in a few places. These locations include Valles Marineris – the Red Planet’s “Grand Canyon” – and Meridiani, where NASA’s Opportunity rover landed and also found sulphate-rich rocks. Sulphates require water to form, but some detected by OMEGA must also have been created in acidic conditions.

Finally, OMEGA found minerals rich in ferric oxides that had not been altered by water. These minerals are found over most of the planet and are thought to be caused by the slow weathering of rocks through chemical interactions with the atmosphere.

This mineral evidence ties in with current thinking about the planet’s history. For the first 600 million years, Mars had a warm and wet atmosphere and large bodies of surface water, conditions ripe for the development of life.

Then the eon of supervolcanos began. Massive Olympus Mons and the Tharsis Bulge speak to the size and power of this volcanic era. The volcanism release huge amounts of sulphur into the atmosphere, creating sulphuric acid and covering the surface of Mars in sulphates that require acidic water to form. This lasted for approximately 500 million years.

Finally, the failing heat of the planet’s core shut down the volcanism and the internal dynamo that generated Mars’ magnetic field collapsed. The atmosphere, exposed to the solar wind, bled away into outer space like fog dissipating on a sunny morning. The loss of atmospheric pressure put Mars into a deep freeze, desiccating the planet’s surface for 3.5 billion years.

Scientists are most interested in those early clay layers which formed during the wet and warm period. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will probably focus its big cameras on those regions, looking for evidence of the planet’s brief springtime and the possibility of life.

If liquid water still exists, it lies beneath the ice just like those lakes in Antarctica. The surface of Mars is an inhospitable, dry frozen wasteland, bathed in solar radiation.

Mars, Bringer of War

Our planet is rapidly Approaching Mars, which means the red planet is getting bigger and brighter in the night sky. Closest approach comes in October, when the two planets will only be 69 million kilometers apart.

This conjunction is the best time to launch spacecraft to Mars, and NASA will launch another orbiter in August. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will bring the most powerful camera yet into orbit around the red planet, along with subsurface scanning radar to seek out water deposits beneath the parched surface of the planet.

Novel view of Martian spacecraft

Mars Odyssey As Seen From Mars Global SurveyorFrom the BBC comes this cool little picture. Novel view of Martian spacecraft – The Mars Global Surveyor successfully imaged the Mars Odyssey probe in Martian orbit. It is the first picture of a spacecraft orbiting an alien world, taken by another craft circling the same planet.

The two orbiting satellites occasionally come within 15 kilometers of each other, despite having different orbits around the red planet.

The Mars Global Surveyor also imaged the ESA’s Mars Express satellite in orbit around Mars too.

Dawn Set To Rise

Okay, that’s a pretty bad pun. NASA is set to launch another amazing probe into space next year, the Dawn Mission to Ceres and Vesta, the two largest objects in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. I was excited about the impending New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, but this adventure will be just as exciting. The asteroid belt is one of those great mysteries of the solar system. How did the asteroids form? Why isn’t there a planet there?