News From The “Final Frontier”

Sunday and the latest spacey stuff news……I always enjoy reading the new stuff about space……and it seems to be a continuing saga…..

For instance…….

Saturn’s moon Titan, which happens to be larger than the planet Mercury, is cold. Very cold. As in -290 degrees Fahrenheit is not out of the ordinary. These super low temps, combined with an atmosphere roughly 1.5 times as dense as Earth’s, have resulted in a few extraordinary bodies of liquid methane and ethane, reports Extreme Tech, and scientists are anxious to explore their depths. (In fact, Titan is the only body aside from Earth to boast liquid lakes on its surface.) So NASA is working up a (very early) model of a submarine drone that could do just that—one that CNET reports will likely be nuclear-powered, weigh a ton, and come equipped with a seafloor camera, sampling system, and other fancy futuristic robotic accoutrements.

But don’t get too excited just yet. First, this is a fully automated mission: “Even if it were possible for humans to go swimming in Titan’s seas,” notes CNET, it “would be something like swimming in a freezing ocean of liquefied natural gas.” Hence, NASA‘s goal of sending the “highly capable science craft” to Titan’s largest sea, Kraken Mare, around the year 2040, in what it calls “an unprecedented planetary exploration mission.” Many details remain to be sorted out, including how to get the craft to Titan (Boeing’s X-37 is a possibility), how to land it (parachute drop), and while there, how to communicate with Earthlings (planar phased-array antenna). (Something else on Titan has been stumping NASA.)

There is always something new about Mars…….

Amateur astronomers have made an unexpected discovery: massive plumes spouting up at least 125 miles from the surface of Mars. Two plumes, up to 620 miles wide, were spotted over the Terra Cimmeria area in the red planet’s Southern Hemisphere by at least 18 people over two 10-day periods in March and April 2012, Discovery News reports. A witness tells the BBC one plume looked like a “projection sticking out of the side of the planet.” They appeared to form during cold mornings and changed “from double blob protrusions to pillars or finger-plume-like morphologies,” according to a study in Nature. As to what’s causing them, “Frankly, I’m puzzled,” says a lead scientist. Clouds made of carbon dioxide and ice crystals have been spotted by the Hubble Space Telescope in the past, but they only reached 62 miles from the planet’s surface, CBS News reports. Clouds of dust reached just 37 miles high.

Scientists have two theories, but “both explanations defy our current understanding of Mars’ upper atmosphere,” they say. The plumes could be caused by “a reflective cloud of water-ice, carbon dioxide-ice, or dust particles,” the study author explains, but clouds shouldn’t be able to form at such altitudes where the atmosphere is so thin. Others note the plumes may be bright auroras “1,000 times stronger than the strongest aurora” on Earth, but that, too, is “highly unrealistic.” Whatever the cause, “this type of feature must be very rare, to have been observed only once out of all of the time that telescopic observers and spacecraft have been observing Mars,” a scientist says. NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft, now in Mars’ orbit, may be able to shed light on the mystery, researchers say.

Then there is the manned mission to Mars…..unfortunately it will most likely be a one way trip……who the Hell would choose to die on Mars?  Right?

From 202,586 to about 1,000 and now winnowed down to 100. That’s how many finalists are left competing for a one-way ticket to Mars in the highly publicized Mars One project. The finalists will now compete for one of 24 crew member spots, with the goal of sending those 24 to Mars to set up a settlement by as early as 2024, NBC News reports; the Dutch nonprofit hopes to make the competition into a reality-TV show. Fifty men and 50 women (hopefuls can check names on the finalists’ list here) have been selected after undergoing personal online interviews with Norbert Kraft, the project’s chief medical officer.

The remaining competitors will next be placed onto teams to see how well they handle group situations. “Being one of the best individual candidates does not automatically make you the greatest team player,” Kraft says, per a Mars One news release. Meanwhile, Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp applauds the elite new group, saying, “The large cut in candidates is an important step towards finding out who has the right stuff to go to Mars.” But is the mission even really going to happen? As NBC notes, a 2014 MIT press release called some of the logistics “overly optimistic.”

There you have it…news from the edge of the cosmos……

Now go and enjoy thew rest of your weekend!