This Spacespiracy Moment

October 4, 2016

 

Devon Island and Why It’s Important

Devon Island. It is the biggest, uninhabited island on Earth. It’s remote (it’s located in north eastern Canada, in Buffin Bay) and the conditions are harsh (rocky, cold, dry), making it the perfect setting for simulating life on Mars. For 20 years, scientists have been testing all sorts of equipment, in an environment that would be similar to the environment on the red planet, before it’s fit for the gen pop. If this sort of thing really excites you, there’s a documentary you should check out. It’s called called, “Passage to Mars.” If you click the link above, you can check out a quick, 3-min trailer.

 

Did Methane Keep the Ancient Earth Warm?

When the Earth was first formed, the sun was much dimmer, and cooler, than it is today. So how did Earth stay warm? Scientists have theorized that it was the presence of methane. Lots and lots of methane. But a team of scientists at University of California Riverside campus believes otherwise. After running a simulation, they noticed large amounts of sulfate and very small amounts of oxygen were present. A combination that prevents an overabundance of methane. Huh. So...then how did the Earth stay warm?!

 

The Economics of Living on the Moon

The astronomical world is abuzz after Elon Musk’s recently revealed plans to colonize Mars. People are starting to think about interplanetary travel in real terms: anticipated timelines  and total expected costs. So why not do the same for the Moon? Wendover Productions has created a short, nine minute video talking about the logistics of living on the moon, and what the cost would be. Click the link above to watch!  

 

Elon Musk: The World’s Most Ambitious Explorer

Last week, Elon Musk revealed his plans to colonize Mars. It was a speech that everyone was waiting for...and boy oh boy, did he deliver.  He described, in great detail, how SpaceX plans to build ships that can take 100 people to Mars at a time, for a measly $200,000. I’m talking about launching, refueling, landing, re-launching, and re-landing. WHAT?! Starting in 2018, a Dragon 2 capsule will be sent to Mars to perform all of the above (Musk has been boasting this plan for months), and then every time the Earth and Mars are at their closest distance to each other (about 27 months or so), another Dragon 2 will make the trek to the red planet, dumping 2-3 tons of material on each trip. If they’re able to raise enough money (this venture is crazy expensive, obviously) AND everything goes according to plan, Musk claims that people will be traveling to Mars in as little as 10 years. Think that’s crazy? He also thinks a city with a population of a million is possible in 40-100 years…

 

The Cocoon That's Stellar

Space is full of surprises. No one knows that better than the Japanese scientists that discovered the first “stellar cocoon” outside our galaxy. They examined data from ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array), the world’s largest array of radio telescopes, and found a “dwarf satellite galaxy gravitationally bound to the Milky Way.” The galaxy is considered a stellar cocoon because it has a very unique molecular composition...making it an excellent source of study. The better we understand how different galaxies form, the better we can predict whether or not there’s any life within.

 

 

Europa’s Getting Feisty Again

Europa, the smallest of Jupiter’s Galilean moons, has been caught acting up again....2014 data from Hubble once again shows the moon ejecting ice into space (it was also seen in 2012). Some are calling it “active ice volcanism” (https://www.wired.com/2016/09/europa-ice-plumes-maybe-work-like-earths-volcanoes/), but whatever the physical mechanics of these plumes, it supports a theory that oceans are hiding below its surface. The plumes also suggest that the water isn’t that deep...meaning it will be easier to access, and explore. Extraterrestrial life, anyone?

 

 

Living in One of the Milky Way’s Spiral Arms

Have you ever stared up at the sky, in the middle of nowhere, in the dead of night? Well if you have, you’ve probably noticed a long, somewhat straight area where the stars appear more concentrated. If you didn’t know this already, you were staring toward the center of our galaxy. The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy, categorized by its winding arms. For decades, astronomers have thought the galaxy had two main arms, Perseus and Sagittarius, and that our solar system lived in Orion, a tiny arm connecting the two bigger arms. Now, however, we have evidence that suggests Orion is just as large as the other two arms.

 

Mercury's Tectonic Plates Are Still Shifting

New evidence tells us that Mercury’s surface is still moving. Scientists have discovered itty bitty cliffs that they believe were formed a mere 50 million years ago (to give you perspective, other geological structures on the surface they approximate are 3.5 billion years old). So what does that mean? Basically, researchers believe it indicates that the planet still contracts as it heats and then cools. But it will be a while until we can get a closer look. The next spacecraft to visit the rocky little planet is the BepiColumbo, and it isn’t scheduled to get there until 2024.

 

The Robot That Was Inspired By Nature

Let’s face it. No matter how much we talk about colonizing Mars, given current logistical obstacles, right now it just isn’t possible. Even robots would have a hard time on the surface of the red planet. Its terrain is dramatically uneven and it has very low gravity (only 38% of the gravity found on Earth), which makes movement nearly impossible. So, a few scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab decided to turn to good old mother nature for some inspiration....and they sure found it. Lizards can scale just about everything, so they have designed a couple of "ad-ons" inspired by the reptiles: gecko adhesive and microspine grippers!

 

Shock Waves in the Early Universe

When it comes to the space and planetary sciences, simulations are all the rage. How else are we going to theorize about the history of the universe? New simulation data tells us that shock waves happened “less than one ten-thousandth of a second after the Big Bang.” Understanding these shock waves could tell us where magnetic fields came from, or better yet, how matter began to dominate antimatter in the universe.

 

Sunspots Are Really Complicating Things

Sunspots are finicky. They come and go as they please...making it hard for astronomers to find exoplanets. When a sunspot is present, the amount of photons hitting a telescope’s spectrometer (the device used to record and measure data), are affected. This can lead to “finding” exoplanets that aren’t really there. Bummer! Now, scientists have a trick up their sleeves. It’s called the Rossiter-McLaughlin effect (RM effect) and they use it to ”measure the spin-orbit tilt of exoplanets,” something they can do with (or without) those pesky sunspots present.

 

 

This Baby Has Three Parents, Literally

A baby boy was just born...and he has three biological parents. Would you be shocked if I told you he wasn’t the first? Three-parent children have been around since the 1990’s. How does that even work? Mitochondrial DNA. It is found in women’s eggs and carries the mother’s DNA. Someone with a mitochondrial disease, like Leigh Syndrome, is prevented from giving birth to a healthy baby. But what if scientists were able to remove the good, nuclear DNA? Could it be placed into a donor egg? Simply, yes. (It’s called a spindle transfer.) The baby would still share most of it’s DNA with its mother and father, but a very small amount would come from the donor egg (mom number two). While this practice has been around for two decades, on April 6th, the first baby boy was born using a new nuclear transfer technique, performed in Mexico.

 

Tidal Event Disruption Flares

Tidal event disruption flares. Say that three times fast. They are beams of light (energy) emitted by a star that is being swallowed by a black hole. We know they exist...but they’re really rare. Less than two dozen have been recorded, ever. And until recently, we’ve had a really hard seeing them (light can't escape black holes). But our scientists are really smart. They came up with an idea to study the effects the flares have on the dust surrounding the black hole...and it seems to be working.

 

Was Earth Attacked 56 Million Years Ago?

Scientists are always trying to accurately map out the Earth’s history. Now, they may have evidence that can explain how the PETM (Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum) period began. PETM was a period of time when temperatures on the planet rose considerably. For global warming researchers, PETM is the most recent example of what could potentially happen to planet Earth, in the upcoming decades. A recent discovery of debris in North America suggests that a large space rock collided with the earth about 56-million years ago...about the same time that PETM began...Hmm.

 

You Just Missed the Most Recent Black Moon

What is a “Black Moon,” exactly? Our calendar aligns almost perfectly with the lunar cycle, meaning there is typically one full moon, and one new moon, each month. But sometimes, just sometimes, there are two full moons and/or two new moons. The former is called a Blue Moon (you’ve probably heard of it) and the later is called a Black Moon. They aren’t rare, per se, but only happen once every two to three years. The most recent Black Moon occurred on Sept. 30th.

 

Sources: Science News, Wired, Astronomy Magazine

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writer | author | sci-fi storyteller

Lisa Caskey

writer | author | sci-fi storyteller
© 2016 by Lisa Caskey
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