More Space Sciencey Stuff

It is the weekend after Xmas…..and it is time for me to do what I always do….give you stuff that is not your everyday posting on the internet…..I am a space geek since the days of Buster Crabbe as Buck Rogers in the Saturday Serials……

First, the space telescope Kepler…….and its newest findings…….

The Kepler spacecraft has had its shares of ups and downs since its 2009 launch. The downs have included a 2013 mechanical failure that left Kepler supposedly “beyond repair”. The ups have included a “resourceful strategy” that made use of pressure from sunlight to allow Kepler to be repurposed for a “K2 mission” announced a little more than a year ago. And that K2 mission has arrived at its first success: the confirmed discovery of an Earth-like planet, the New York Times reports. Kepler’s directive is to seek out new planets by basically staring at stars all day and watching for “transits,” those blips on the screen when a planet passes in front of its parent star. The newly discovered planet, called HIP 116454b, is said to be 2.5 times the size of our planet, 12 times the mass, and about 180 light-years from Earth, Universe Today reports.

“Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Kepler has been reborn and is continuing to make discoveries,” says Andrew Vanderburg, who led the team behind the find. Kepler sighted HIP 116454b during a February test run (the K2 mission officially began in May), and its existence was verified with ground telescopes and Canada’s MOST satellite. Astronomers are calling it a possible “water world or a ‘mini-Neptune,’ with a small core and a billowing gaseous atmosphere,” as per the Times. Because of its close, 9.1-day orbit around its star, the planet would be too hot to be habitable, scientists say. Still, Kepler’s mission continues. “K2 is uniquely positioned to … further define the boundary between rocky worlds like Earth and ice giants like Neptune,” a Kepler/K2 project scientist says in a NASA press release. (Astronomers think they found their first “exomoon” hovering around an exoplanet last year.)

Next is the Martian Rover…..it keeps finding groundbreaking stuff……its newest finding…..Mars is farting!

The Mars rover has delivered what a NASA scientist calls an “oh my gosh moment”—it detected methane on the red planet, reports the New York Times. The discovery is making headlines because the gas had to originate somewhere, and one possibility is that the source is some form of microbial life, reports the Guardian. “That we detect methane in the atmosphere on Mars is not an argument that we have found evidence of life on Mars, but it’s one of the few hypotheses that we can propose that we must consider,” says scientist John Grotzinger of the Curiosity team. The rover picked up spikes in the levels of methane that disappeared in a matter of weeks.

The source, however, could be geological rather than biological, explains National Geographic: “Interactions between water and rock could produce methane, as could sunlight cooking off meteorite debris on the Martian surface.” It’s also possible that even if microbes did create the methane, the bugs are long gone, reports the BBC. The gas could have been trapped underground eons ago, and it surfaces periodically because of thermal disturbances. The best hope for real answers is if Curiosity happens to detect a large amount of the gas that can be properly analyzed. Today’s news is all the more surprising because NASA announced just last year that the rover could find no methane at all.

Every year we expand our knowledge of the universe……and soon we will have confirmation of life beyond our little third rock from the sun…..