AI and the Mars Curiosity Rover:
For the sake of educational progress, for a while now, astronomers have lamented over the need for humans on Mars’ surface. The rovers, as mechanically superior as they are, still lack man’s intelligence…but until we can transport humans up to the Red Planet, maybe Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the answer. Well, we’ll soon find out because NASA installed AEGIS, a new AI system, into their Martian Curiosity rover. The program will work side by wide with ChemCam, the rover’s laser system, and will allow the rover to collect and analyze data autonomously.
Beneath the Surface of Ceres:
Thanks to NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, we now have general idea of Ceres’ internal make-up. Scientists tracked small changes in Dawn’s motion, and for the first time, have created a map of the dwarf planet’s gravity. This map allowed scientists to theorize that Ceres has a feeble interior, and that “water and other light materials partially separated from rock during a heating phase early in its history.” Also, because of its weak interior, it was determined that the shape of the celestial body is due to its rotation, a quality called, “hydrostatic equilibrium.”
The Black Hole Scenario:
I am fascinated by black holes. I think many of us are. There are so many mysteries yet to uncover about these elusive celestial bodies, that we’ve created fantasies and science fiction sagas, centering around the deadly effects of them. Well, maybe those weren’t just stories. Maybe we’ve always been fascinated by black holes because they can in fact kill us, indirectly, through Gamma ray bursts (GRBs). Gamma rays are very energetic, so much so that they can tear apart DNA and separate electrons from their atoms…meaning that if one happened to reach Earth, it would torch whichever side got in its way. Half of our planet would be destroyed by black hole “throw-up,” traveling at the speed of light. But scientists don’t want you to worry. Not only does the black hole need to be in our galaxy, the GRB would have to be traveling in our direction…and considering the vastness of space, we all know how challenging THAT would be.
The Biography of an Exploding Star:
Supernova 1987A, is pretty famous. 30 years ago, it was the brightest supernovae ever seen by humans…but what was the star like before it exploded? Most studies on the supernovae have viewed the star in its last chapter as a blue supergiant. But recently, using Australia’s Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), a team of radio astronomers from the University of Sydney, were able to look "back in time" to the supernovae’s red supergiant phase. They observed low-frequency radio waves and “it was found that the red supergiant lost matter at a slower rate and created slower stellar winds than was previously thought.” If you’re curious, there’s a video of the supernovae’s different phases via the link above!
How Hard Is Orbiting A Comet?
Have you ever wanted to know how hard it is to orbit a comet? Well now you can! If you click on the link above, you will see video of Rosetta, the European Space Agency’s comet orbiting spacecraft, attempt to fall into the orbit of Comet 67P. As you can see, it sure wasn’t easy! The spacecraft passes the comet several times, often erratically, before finding the right angle to catch the orbit.
Human-Animal Hybrids Are Back In Business:
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recently lifted a year-long ban on animal-human chimeras. As a reference to the mythical Chimera, the “modern chimera is not so physically striking, being a hybrid organism with organs or tissues from multiple species.” So basically, scientists can once again start asking for money to fund the experimentation of combining human and non-human DNA. Ok, before you start freaking out, the NIH originally banned the funding because of ethical concerns about the research. Boundaries have been set and rules have been put in place. And it’s not like researchers are trying to create a real life centaur for the general public’s viewing pleasure…they’re trying to grow replacement organs, organs that could save thousands of lives.
Io’s Distinct Atmosphere:
Io is the biggest, and most geologically active of the four Galilean moons (Jupiter’s largest moons, discovered by Galileo around 1610). Now, we might be able to say it has the most distinctive atmosphere, too. A group of scientists, using the Texas Echelon Cross Echelle Spectrograph (TEXES) and the Gemini North telescope, "found that Io’s thin atmosphere, which is mostly sulfur dioxide gas vented from volcanoes, collapses and freezes onto the surface when shaded by Jupiter.”
It’s Raining Perseid Meteors!
MARK YOUR CALENDARS! Every year, in the middle of August, the Perseid meteor shower brightens the pre-dawn sky. The “streaks of light” from this particular meteor shower are dust particles from comet 109P Swift/Tuttle. On a typical year, a sky gazer can see about 100 “shooting stars” per hour, but this year, because Jupiter nudged the space debris a little closer to Earth, we can expect to see about 150!! HOT DAMN!
Orphan-less in the Milky Way:
Billions of stars live in our mesmerizing spiral galaxy, and understanding the distribution of those stars is important to deciphering just how the Milky Way was formed and evolved. A team of researchers from South Africa, Italy, and Japan, have discovered something interesting toward the center of our galaxy. Typically, the center is barely visible, clouded by space dust and debris. However, the international team was able to see through it and was surprised to discover a surprising lack of “juvenile stars”.
Surviving the Destruction of Earth:
All you major science fiction fans should already have heard about Neal Stephenson’s new novel, Seveneves. It’s currently nominated for Hugo Award, the creme-de-la-creme of awards for the sci-fi genre. The book explores humanity’s ability to survive after the total destruction of planet Earth…so naturally it’s a perfect catalyst for a scientific discussion on what could actually destroy our home planet. Click the link above to watch a short video from PBS Space Time covering just that!
We’ve hit another milestone of Juno’s journey. On the 31st, the crown jewel of NASA’s arsenal reached the orbital “apojove,” the farthest point from Jupiter. The spacecraft is now being pulled back toward the gas giant, meaning…IT’S ALMOST TIME TO TEST THE EQUIPMENT. Apologies for the “all caps” but this is really REALLY nerve wracking. It took five years for Juno to reach its intended target, Jupiter’s orbit, and if the equipment doesn’t work, well, all that money, all that TIME, was for naught. We’ll find out, for sure, on August 27th…Fingers crossed, everyone!!
The Universe’s First Signs of Life?
Mankind is OBSESSED with the hunt for extraterrestrial life…which makes this new theory all the more interesting. We guess that the galaxy is almost 14 billion years old and that Earth is less than 5 billion years old. Big stars have shorter lifespans. They burn hot and fast. Stars about a tenth the size of the Sun (in mass), burn for trillions of years, meaning life has more time to develop on their orbiting planets. These stars’ life expectancy exponentially increases their probably for hosting habitable planets…meaning that life developing on our planet not only happened prematurely, but was extremely rare. Cooooool.
Varicose Veins on Mars?
Last week, it was determined that Martian “gullies” were NOT formed by water. This week, the topological history of the Red Planet is once again in the news. A recent discovery points to the ancient presence of fluids in the Gale Crater. “By examining the minerals in the Martian veins (different from gullies), it was determined they were the pathways for groundwater.”
Who Wants to Go to the Moon?
Not, that isn’t a hypothetical question. Thanks to the US Government’s recent approval to allow private spacecraft company, Moon Express, to touch down on the Moon, NOW YOU CAN. Well, you’ll still need to wait a few years considering the company doesn’t even have the right spacecraft built. BUT STILL. This confirmation from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), means we’re once step closer to commercial space travel.
Sources: Science News, Wired, Astronomy Magazine