Happy Monday Science News Lovers!
I just wanted to take a moment to let you all know that I'm changing the format on this a little bit...instead of covering every article I think is relatable to science fiction, I'm only going to cover the top 10.
Also, I'm adding a new website, Space.com, to my list of references.
Without further interruption, I present This Spacespiracy Moment!
Is the Mars Lander Failure an Omen?
ExoMars made headlines this week. The mission, funded by both the ESA and Roscosmos, had big plans when it arrived at Mars, its final destination. (The journey took seven months, btw.) Schiaparelli, the mission’s lander, separated from the spacecraft on Oct. 19th and was supposed to float down gracefully to the red planet’s surface that same day. The lander, which only had enough power to to last a few days on Mars, was supposed to test the tech the ESA and Roscosmos need for their very own Martian rover. But something went wrong. Mission scientists lost contact with the lander right before it touched down, and they haven’t heard from it since.
While it’s most likely that the lander suffered a crash landing, the spacecraft’s other component, the Trace Gas Orbiter, appears to have successfully entered the Martian orbit. It will monitor and collect data about the trace gases in the planet’s atmosphere as well as eventually act as a “communication hub” for the rover that’s scheduled to arrive in 2021.
So what happened to the Schiaparelli? The lander is believed to have successfully made it into the Martian atmosphere (a radio signal was detected by the Giant Meterwave Radio Telescope in India as well as the Trace Gas Orbiter)...but that’s where things get a little fuzzy. There were a few additional radio signals that may have indicated the lander’s parachute deployed, but until scientists were able to read data recorded by the orbiter (not received until the next day, Oct. 20th), they really had no idea what happened to the orbiter or what went wrong. (They’re still sifting through that data, so they don’t really know.) They believe the retrorocket, designed to slow the lander down during its descent, fired, but for a shorter amount of time than programmed.
On Friday, Oct. 21st, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), might have found the little guy. It took a few pictures of the Martian surface and compared them to pictures taken back in May. It is clear that there was a disturbance, in the shape of the lander, on the surface. The images will be analyzed further by MRO’s highest resolution camera, HiRISE, but current researchers theorize that the “Schiaparelli dropped from a height of between two and four kilometers and impacted at a speed faster than 300 km/h, or 186.4 mph. It is also possible that Schiaparelli exploded on impact because of the propellant tanks still being full.”
Saturn, We’ve got a Problem
Just how old are Saturn’s rings? That very question has been the topic of many a good debate, with one corner arguing they’re 4.6 billion years old, as old as the universe itself, and the other arguing that the rings are a relatively new planetary addition, forming a short 100 million years ago. Apparently, it all comes down to the mass of the rings. The more massive they are, the older they are presumed to be. To date, data collected from the Cassini spacecraft, in orbit around Saturn since 2004, hasn’t been enough to prove either theory. But next year, at the end of Cassini’s 18 year long mission (it took the little guy over six years just to reach the planet), it will collect data about the rings as it dives “between the planet and the rings several times, skimming Saturn’s atmosphere.” Maybe then this age old argument will finally be put to rest.
Juno’s Now In Safe Mode, Everyone
Juno, the spacecraft orbiting Jupiter, has been making waves this week. It was sent to the gas giant to learn more about the planet’s infamous cloud cover and made its first dive into Jupiter’s atmosphere on August 27th. Scientists have analyzed data from the spacecraft and have discovered that the “multi colored bands that wrap around the planet reach hundreds of kilometers down into the atmosphere,” at least 200-250 miles (350-400 kilometers).
On October 19th, the scheduled date for Juno’s second dive, the ship put itself into safe mode insead. Something is wrong with the engines, specifically a misbehaving valve in the fuel system...but don’t worry. Keeping Juno at its current orbit until its next scheduled dive in December doesn’t really change anything. Data will get back to Earth a little bit slower...but if it means keeping the spacecraft safe, it’s worth it.
Growing Mouse Eggs from Skin Cells
Eggs have been grown in a petri dish, ladies and gentlemen. Japanese scientists have taken “skin-producing cells called fibroblasts” from the tip of a mouse’s tail, and reprogrammed them to create eggs. After being fertilized, six healthy mice were were born. The process wasn’t easy. In order the get the process to work, they needed to incorporate ovary cells because they support egg growth, and then needed to create artificial ovaries to incubate the eggs. This new discovery may lead to solutions to infertility...but don’t expect the human trials any time soon.
This Comet is STRESSED
In the next 100 years or so, it is highly likely that comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko will break apart. The comet is known for being oddly shaped and roughly resembles a peanut. In 2014, a large crack was observed in the middle of the comet, commonly referred to as the ‘neck.’ In August of 2015, as the comet was the closest to the Sun, not only had the crack grown by a few hundred meters, new cracks had appeared. As the comet moves through space, it contends with forces that pull the two ends of the comet in opposite directions as it spins. Naturally, this adds stress to the neck, which is now causing it to crack.
Pluto, the New Mars?
This has certainly been Pluto’s year. Data from the New Horizons spacecraft left scientists with a slew of information to analyze...and many findings point to Martian similarities. They both demonstrate atmospheric decline. Whereas Mars’ atmosphere vanished a while ago, Pluto’s is currently disappearing. They also both are home to mysterious clouds and large landmarks (Tombaugh Regio on Pluto and Hellas Basin on Mars), likely a result from something massive striking the planets. Glaciers and mountains also exists on both worlds, as does geological “sculpting,” a phenomena indicative of something flowing across the planets’ surfaces. On Mars, that substance is believed to be liquid water, on Pluto, nitrogen ice.
What Happens When Arctic Permafrost Starts to Melt
As a result of global warming, average temperatures are dropping worldwide...but not as quickly as they’re dropping in the arctic. No one knows this better than the citizens of Norilsk, a small Russian city 180 miles north of the Arctic circle. 60% of their buildings are collapsing and crumbling. Why? The permafrost in the soil is melting, causing building foundations to sink and warp. Since 1900, the temp has raised more than two degrees Celsius, and soil temps in the permafrost regions of Russia raised almost one degree Celsius from 1999 to 2013. This is becoming a real issue. Remember the little Russian boy who died from anthrax poisoning a few months ago? That was a result of the Arctic circle’s permafrost thawing: anthrax bacteria was defrosted and released into the drinking water. Techogenic factors (sewer and building heat, chemical pollution) are also heating things up (Norilsk is the most polluted city in Russia), which is why reducing greenhouse gases is more important than ever.
China’s Wants A Piece of the Moon
If you still think that China is bringing up the rear on the space race, think again. They have plans to build a Moon base and last week, after successfully launching Shenzou-11, a rocket carrying an experimental space lab called Tiangong-2, they are one step closer. Over the next 30-days, the lab will ”conduct experiments, test equipment, practice repairs, try to grow plants, and keep track of how the space environment affects their bodies.” It is China’s longest crewed space station, and its purpose is to prepare for the much larger space station the country plans to launch in the next few years. In addition to the completion of their Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), the world’s largest radio telescope, this latest development in China’s space exploration agenda, really puts the communist country on the map.
Nat Geo’s Mission to Mars
From producer Ron Howard comes Nat Geo’s newest masterpiece, Mars. It’s an episodic that “mixes documentary and speculation to tell the parallel stories of two groups: the fictional future explorers who will make that first journey, and the pioneers of today—scientists, astronauts, and strategists—who are blazing the trail.” You guys, THIS LOOKS AWESOME! Neil deGrasse Tyson is on board too so you know the science will be legit. This article talks about the making of the film...and if you love the idea of humans on Mars as much as I do, I highly recommend it.
Planet Nine is Tilting the Sun
About six months ago, an announcement was made about a possible ninth planet lurking in the outer reaches of our solar system. Since, more and more research has been published about Planet Nine and its effect on the solar system. A recent paper, written by the Caltech team that was the first to publish findings about Planet Nine, all those months ago, claims the planet may be the reason for the Sun’s six degree tilt, something we’ve known about for over 200 years. (Before we continue, it should be explained that the Sun isn’t actually titled, we, along with the rest of the planets in the solar system, are. Because we were all formed on the same planetary flat disc, a basic principle of planetary formation, to us, it looks like the Sun is the object that’s titled. It’s simply a matter of perspective.) Planet Nine is theorized to be about 10 Earth masses, which compared to Jupiter’s 300 Earth masses, is small. So why would it have such a dramatic, tilting effect on the planetary disk? Because of its orbit. “Planet Nine has a really long orbit so it can assert quite a bit of torque on the inner planets without having to apply so much force. Planet Nine has as much angular momentum as the entire solar system combined, because it’s orbit is so big.”
Sources: Science News, Wired, Astronomy Magazine, Space.com