Here are all the articles covered on the Spaced Out podcast this week!
Pluto, Why You Gotta Be So Cold-Hearted?
Pluto’s “heart” just got a little more interesting. Made of nitrogen-ice, the dwarf planet’s heart-shaped basin, called Sputnik Planitia, is 1000 kilometers (621 miles) long, making it a dominant geological feature. Thanks to NASA’s New Horizons mission, we now have spectacular images of the physical attribute, and data that may help explain why Pluto’s axis is tilted toward its moon, Charon. Scientists now believe that Sputnik Planitia extreme mass is the culprit. Basically, the basin is so heavy that it created a “lopsided weight distribution.” Some researchers believe the basin’s mass is accredited to frozen elements (like nitrogen) on its surface. Others believe there is an enormous, subsurface ocean. Guess we’re gonna have to launch another mission to Pluto to find out…
An Exoplanet Hunting Kickstarter Campaign?
Remember when the group Pale Red Dot discovered an Earth-sized planet was orbiting Proxima Centauri, our nearest neighboring star? That star is actually a part of a three star system. The other two stars, Alpha Centauri A and B, are much larger and, like Proxima Centauri, might have Earth-like planets of their own. Project Blue is a “group of space and research organizations” hoping to make that discovery. They are planning on building a lightweight, inexpensive telescope that will be dedicated to the stars...but they’re short on funds. To help get them there, they’ve created a Kickstarter campaign. The asking price? One million dollars.
The Search for Life on Mars Continues
There are a bunch of funnel-shaped craters on Mars, craters that are eerily similar to craters seen in Greenland and Iceland. On our planet, these geological structures are caused by volcanic eruptions under the ice. Unofficially called “ice-cauldrons,” under the right conditions, these “can release a primordial concoction that promote microbial life.” Could the Martian craters possibly contain life? Scientists from the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics are now trying to find out.
Fighting Wildfires, One Robotic Helicopter at a Time
Last year, the US spent $2 billion dollars fighting wildfires. We also lost six firefighters in the process. As global temperatures continue to rise, we can only assume that these fires are going to get bigger, hotter, and even more dangerous. What’s a firefighter to do? Lockheed Martin, an American global aerospace, security, defense and advanced technologies company, has come up with a solution: self-flying helicopters. There are four different choppers, in fact. On the firefighting front, Indago, a quadcopter, uses cameras, both infrared and visible light, to detect the flames, then communicates to K-MAX, a cargo chopper, which then collects waters and dumps it on the flames. When it comes to rescuing stranded humans, they’ve got that covered too. When Desert Hawk, a hand-launched surveillance drone, sees a human, it sends in SARA, an unmanned helicopter. SARA finds a clear spot to land and then welcomes its “stranded human passenger aboard.” Cool.
Sources: Science News, Wired, Astronomy Magazine, Space.com