Courtesy M. Wong and I. de Pater (University of California, Berkeley)New images from the Hubble Telescope show that the Giant Planet has picked up a couple more red spots, smaller but very near to the Great Red Spot.
Images taken earlier this month discovered the third red spot on the planet, which has been nicknamed “Baby spot.” Red Spot, Jr., was discovered in spring 2006. The Great Red Spot, which is a raging storm about the same size as our Earth, has been churning in Jupiter’s atmosphere for 200 to 350 years.
“Baby Spot” had been a white storm prior to taking on its reddish appearance. Scientists believe the red color come from clouds reacting to solar ultraviolet radiation.
Why is Jupiter getting a surge of extra red spots? Researchers think that it has to do with climate changes on the planet. In 2004 a California astronomer predicted that the planet was moving into a phase of warming temperatures that would destabilize its atmosphere.
“Baby Spot” is on a collision course with the Great Red Spot and could be gobbled up by it later this summer or bounced into a different location on the planet.
Would this make you less likely to want to join a space exploration crew on the International Space Station? On its next mission, space shuttle Endeavor will be delivering equipment that NASA has developed that will recycle astronauts' eliminations -- more specifically urine -- into drinking water. With crews of the space station growing from three to six people in the near future, the technology is needed to keep up with the water demands for a larger crew. You can get all the details here from USA Today.
Courtesy NASACheck out the first footage of a gigantic “tsunami” captured plowing through our Sun’s atmosphere. The event was triggered by some sort of explosion on the Sun such as a solar flare or coronal mass ejection (CME). The outward-spreading wave spanned the nearly one million kilometers (600,000 miles) of the solar disk in just half an hour. But it’s the amount of energy released that is truly mind-boggling. According to one of the researchers, these explosions release “about two billion times the annual world energy consumption in just a fraction of a second.”
Google Sky now works in a web browser (without a download). From within a web browser one can navigate the sky in a way similar to using Google Maps. Zoom or drag your way through a universe of stitched together images from telescopes and satellites. Try it out. It is lots of fun.
Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell UniversityThe science gathered so far by the two Martian rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, suggests the Red Planet may have been a bit too inhospitable to support even the toughest forms of life.
Although strong evidence of water (at least in the planet’s past) has been found on Mars, recent assessment of the data shows it contains a much higher salt content than expected and that practically puts the kibosh on hopes of any microbes flourishing there.
Opportunity spent time recently examining strata exposed on the inner wall of Victoria Crater. NASA scientists hoped it would show a record of the ground surface as it existed prior to impact that created the crater. But analysis suggests it to be the top of an underground water table, and after reassessing earlier data, and performing some computer modeling, researchers think the environment may have been too harsh to support life.
"At first, we focused on acidity, because the environment would have been very acidic," said Dr. Andrew Knoll, a Harvard biologist who is a member of the rover science team. "Now, we also appreciate the high salinity of the water when it left behind the minerals Opportunity found. This tightens the noose on the possibility of life."
Knoll spoke at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston.
"Life at the Martian surface would have been very challenging for the last 4 billion years. The best hopes for a story of life on Mars are at environments we haven't studied yet -- older ones, subsurface ones," he said.
Lower, more ancient, geological layers may hold a more hospitable picture of a less briny Martian environment, but the current rover missions aren’t set up to examine that.
"Our next missions, Phoenix and Mars Science Laboratory, mark a transition from water to habitability -- assessing whether sites where there's been water have had conditions suited to life," said Charles Elachi, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Where conditions were habitable, later missions may look for evidence of life."
The Phoenix lander is expected to reach Mars on May 25, 2008 in an area farther north on the planet where it will study the icy subsurface for viable signs of life. The Mars Science Laboratory will launch in the fall of 2009.
Opportunity and Spirit, the two rovers operating presently on opposite sides of the Mars, were sent there with one mission in mind: finding evidence of water. The missions were expected to last a mere three months, but have far surpassed that due to the robots’ high endurance, and problem-solving ingenuity of NASA engineers back on Earth. The robots are now entering their fifth year exploring the Martian surface.
President Bush has ordered the Pentagon to come up with a plan to shoot down with a missile the disabled spy satellite that's predicted to crash to Earth early next month. In making the decision, the president cited need to protect Earthlings from toxic chemicals that could burst loose if the school-bus sized satellite would crash in a populated area. But I also know there were concerns raised when this condition of the satellite was first reported, that national secrets could be compromised if the satellite crashes in enemy territory.
Courtesy NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of WashingtonJust like that person heading back from the photo shop with a new packet of developed film, NASA is sharing its latest views of the planet closest to our solar system’s center. And what we’re seeing is surprising astronomers.
The images were among 1,2000 collected by the Messenger spacecraft as it passed Mercury two-and-a-half weeks ago. A full series of photos and movies is available through this NASA link.
These new photos have uncovered some new discoveries about Mercury’s geology. Particularly interesting is a formation called “The Spider,” a crater-like depression with more than 100 narrow troughs radiating from it.
Also discovered were a bunch of ancient volcanoes and a very cratered, rocky surface that makes Mercury look a lot like our Moon.
Messenger will pass by the planet a couple more times in the coming years before settling into an orbit around the planet in 2011 to do further study. Among the tasks it will tackle on that part of the journey is to examine the magnetic fields that spur out from the planet. As far as astronomers can tell, Mercury is the only other planet along with Earth that has such strong magnetic fields.
For those of us who remember NASA's moon shots of the 1960s and 70s, here's a blast from the past, kind of, as the Saturn V takes to the skies again. I especially like the fact that the rocket had most recently been the home to raccoons and other vermin.
Courtesy NASAThere are a couple new films out about the Apollo moon program. Well, at least they’re new to me since I haven’t seen them. I really enjoyed IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON when I saw it last fall, but I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff. I thought the Apollo program was the cat’s pajamas, and a high point of the good ol’ USA’s spirit of adventure and exploration. Not to mention our chutzpah for pulling off such an astounding feat in less than a decade from when we declared we were going to do so.
Courtesy NASAThe first of the new films is the most recent. Its title is THE WONDER OF IT ALL and I guess deals with the human aspect of the adventures of the 12 men who walked on the Moon back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The film played last weekend at Kennedy Space Center as a benefit for the US Space Walk of Fame in Titusville, Florida in hopes to drum up funds for a planned memorial there for the Apollo program and the astronauts involved.
According to the producers, the award-winning documentary tells “a humanistic story” through interviews with 7 of the Apollo astronauts, that details their lives and how each was affected by walking on the Moon.
The other film is called MAGNIFICENT DESOLATION and is an IMAX production in 3D. It was released in 2005 under the tutelage of none other than Forrest Gump, …er I mean Tom Hanks, who’s listed as producer, co-writer, and narrator. From what I understand, this film is more of a reenactment that simulates what the astronauts saw and did while on the Moon’s surface. It was shot in 3D on a soundstage, and according to Apollo 16’s Charlie Duke “It felt like you were on the Moon driving a rover with those guys. It brought me right back onto the lunar surface.” Hey, maybe they used the same stage where conspiracy theorists claim the real moon missions were faked (there has been criticism that the film provides fodder to those sorts). No matter. I still want to see it. Perhaps the Science Museum will bring it in for a run, if not for our visitors’ sake, at least for mine.
Courtesy NASAThere’s nothing quite as deflating, figuratively, as a getting a flat tire. And what about if you’re a space rover on Mars, where there’s no shop to go to get your tire fixed?
That’s what NASA’s Spirit Mars rover has been dealing with since its right front tire went bad nearly two years ago. It didn’t go flat, but it’s quit turning forcing NASA to move the rover around in reverse ever since, trailing the stuck wheel behind.
But nearly a year later, that astronomic misfortune has led to an interesting discovery. Ruts carved by the bad wheel last May churned up a bright spot in the rover’s wake.
Rover guiders turned the craft back to the colorful streak for a closer look and discovered that the rock contains high levels of silica. Upon further investigation, however, another nearby rock cracked open that was jam-packed with silica.
You’re wondering what’s the big deal?
Well, on Earth high levels of silica occur only in two places: hot springs or fumaroles, which are environments near volcanoes where acidic steam rises through cracks in the ground. In each of those environments on Earth, water is present and the area is teeming with life forms.
NASA Mars researchers are terming the discovery, made through these very accidental means, as one of the biggest breakthroughs to discovering life forms could have existed on the Red Planet.
By the way, if the bad wheel isn’t enough of a problem for Spirit, it’s also been through a bad dust storm which has coated much of its solar panels with grit. Because of that, it’s only operating at about 30 percent power and rover operators will soon be driving it up a higher altitude for a rest and to have the panels wind-cleaned.