Archive for the ‘Environment and Climate’ Category

Global Martian Dust Storm   14 comments

The View from Insight! ūüôā

It’s pretty packed here on the Mars Insight Probe and there’s nothing much to see outside right now… so we’ve been watching live streams of the dust storm taking over Mars to pass the time…Not very impressed with the view there right now either! ūüėČ

BoardingPass_MyNameOnInSight

The Martian dust storm that has been engulfing the red planet for the last two weeks or so has now ballooned into full-blown global dust event magnitudes (officially known as a “planet-encircling” dust event.) as of 20th June. The atmospheric dust-haze now surrounding Mars and blocking out the sunlight as it covers the sky, is in the region of six to eight times greater than its seasonally normal density. In the absence of sunlight dusty red Mars has taken on a weirdly spooky-shadowless appearance.

Mars 2Poor little ‚ÄúOppy‚ÄĚ (NASA‚Äôs Opportunity rover)¬†has been somewhat swamped, being in the wrong place at the wrong time and the Martian dust storm has diminished the sunlight it relies on for power, to such an extent (like completely obliterated it) that ‚ÄúOppy‚ÄĚ has been compelled to postpone all of its science activities until further notice. Without enough available power from its solar panels Oppy could not even ‚Äúcall home,‚ÄĚ and NASA and Oppy lost contact altogether on 12th June 2018.

Mars 3Over on a different part of the planet at the infamous Gale Crater, Curiosity (NASA‚Äôs Curiosity rover), which has been hard at work studying the Martian soil in the region, has fared considerably better and it isn‚Äôt anticipated to be unduly bothered by the dust. Despite the antics of the Martian dust storm diminishing both sunlight and visibility in Gale Crater, Curiosity, who arrived on Mars five years after the last Martian dust storm of this nature, in 2007, has the edge over ‚ÄúOppy‚ÄĚ because it sports a nuclear-powered battery running 24/7 and doesn‚Äôt therefore have power issues to sweat over, unlike ‚ÄúOppy‚ÄĚ.

MarsThe offending dusty haze floating around the Martian atmosphere, resulting from the storm which is blocking out the sunlight, is known as “tau.” This tau level is at an all-time high rising tau level 8.0 at Curiosity‚Äôs location in Gale Crater. No higher tau has ever been recorded by the mission. The area close to Oppy‚Äôs location last measured a tau of almost level 11, and at such a high dust intensity it rendered impossible the job of Oppy – the longest working Mars rover, to provide any kind of precise measurements. ¬†

Of course we experience dust storms of our own here on Earth. They occur  in the desert regions of, for example, the Middle East, North Africa and some southwest regions of the USA . However, thanks to our thicker atmosphere and its structural design along with the stronger gravity of Earth than on Mars, the dust is compelled to settle rather than floating around the atmosphere, as on Mars.  Our planet also benefits from the presence of land-growing vegetation.

Mars 4Usually dust storms occurring on Mars are confined locally.  This current storm is distinctive in that it covers an area the equivalent of the combination of Earth’s N America and Russia.  On a positive note it is a great opportunity to gain a more advanced knowledge of the way in which these Martian storms occur, progress and ultimately influence the red planet.

In the meantime Wolfie is passing the time chomping through stray pieces of liver cake floating past, posing for selfies and eyeing up the strange Manor-like building drifting randomly past the windows…. ūüôā

Sources:

www.nasa.gov

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

www.space.com

www.astronomy.com

What if There was Life on Other Worlds?   19 comments

The UN Outer Space Treaty and Planetary Protection

What is Planetary Protection?

Planetary protection refers to¬†‚Äėinterplanetary contamination‚Äô¬†– protecting¬†solar system bodies (i.e., planets, moons, comets, and asteroids) from¬†‚Äėbiological contamination‚Äô¬†by Earth¬†organisms, (Forward contamination –¬†the transfer of‚ÄĮ‚Äėviable‚ÄĮorganisms‚Äô¬†from¬†Earth to another¬†interplanetary¬†body),¬†and protecting Earth from the¬†transmission¬†of‚ÄĮalien‚ÄĮorganisms, to Earth’s‚ÄĮbiosphere¬†e.g.¬†as a result of ‚Äėextra-terrestrial¬†sample-return missions.‚Äô¬†(Back contamination)

 

The Outer Space Treaty

Why is Planetary Protection Important?

Planetary protection is a directive code in the blueprint of an interplanetary assignment, and is critical for several important reasons:  

  • mirrors¬†the unknown nature of the space environment¬†
  • to¬†safeguard¬†our ability to study other worlds¬†in detail,¬†in their natural¬†conditions¬†
  • to¬†prevent¬†contamination that would¬†make it¬†difficult/impossible¬†to find¬†potential¬†life¬†on another world¬†¬†
  • to ensure that we take¬†judicious¬†safety measures¬†to¬†shield¬†Earth‚Äôs biosphere in case it does.¬†¬†

The UN Outer Space Treaty and Planetary Protection

The legal basis for planetary protection is located¬†in Article IX of¬†the United Nations‚ÄĮOuter Space Treaty¬†ratified in 1967¬†by¬†the US, USSR, and UK.

“Article IX: … States Parties to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them¬†so as to¬†avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of¬†extra-terrestrial¬†matter and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose.”

Requirements for Protecting Life on Other Bodies

heres-why-scientists-think-a-tiny-moon-of-jupiter-is-the-most-likely-place-to-find-alien-life

Planetary protection‚ÄĮprerequisites‚ÄĮfor each mission and¬†interplanetary¬†body¬†in focus¬†are¬†ascertained¬†based¬†on the scientific advice of the Space Studies Board,‚ÄĮNASA‚ÄĮor international policy guidelines.

Each mission is‚ÄĮcategorized‚ÄĮaccording to:

  • Type of mission (e.g.¬†flyby, orbiter, or lander)
  • Nature of its destination (e.g. a planet, moon, comet, or asteroid)
  • And the planetary bodies that may be discovered over the course of the mission (e.g.¬†Mars and Europa).

Proposal to Increase Time-Scale for Planetary Protection

In the case of‚ÄĮ Europa,¬†the majority opinion was,¬†that not only should Europa be kept it¬†is¬†not¬†contamination-free¬†during current times of exploration, but that it could well be¬†scientifically¬†important¬†enough to warrant being kept in an un-touched and un-contaminated condition for future¬†generations¬†to benefit from studying too.¬†

“One consequence of this view is that Europa must be protected from contamination for an open-ended period, until it can be demonstrated that no ocean exists or that no organisms are present. Thus, we need to be concerned that over a time scale on the order of 10 million to 100 million years (an approximate age for the surface of Europa), any contaminating material is likely to be carried into the deep ice crust or into the underlying ocean.”¬†

(The minority opinion was that these protection measures are unnecessarily strong.)

But What About the Natives??!!

Europa and Alien Life

It is natural that we should want to explore worlds with the potential for life, and even to exploit them, but what if these worlds, such as Europa, do prove to have natives? There are different views on this subject. For example:

  • If the life is only microbial then there is no cause to worry about it. We should not let microbes interfere with potential colonisation.
  • It has its own¬†ecosystem,¬†and this should be left alone. However, if the long-term aim was to terraform Europa it¬†would change the climate¬†of the¬†moon along¬†with¬†the rest of¬†Europa.

Will we as egotistical humans decide, that despite knowing that this is a world that we have had no hand in creating, none-the-less that we should take measures to change it anyway? Or will we recognise our boundaries and appreciate that we have a unique standing in the cosmos, and therefore put aside our arrogance and leave untouched, a world, and possibly an eco-system, that we have had no hand in creating?

Europa’s Icewolf’s Personal Howl!

Red_Wolf_Creek_Inverted

My personal howl on this subject is that absolutely Europa needs to be protected from Earth contamination! We do not know the consequences of any potential contamination. And precautions should be taken so that accurate observations can be made regarding any life found on Europa. If we find life there, it will have its own ecosystem and we should leave it alone and allow it to be a nature reserve moon. We may even be able to find ways to improve its habitat to help its life to thrive in ways not yet possible for it on icy Europa. It may be possible to ring fence the inhabited areas to reduce human contact, but it seems to me that such action would serve only to damage Europa, and ultimately this moon needs to be left alone! 

As mentioned earlier, backward contamination by micro-organisms (e.g. bacteria, certain algae and fungi) from other worlds are also a risk, when carried back to Earth on probes. which could have catastrophic upshots for Earth dwellers. Our immune systems will not have any resistance to extra-terrestrial micro-organisms. Not only would our bodies be totally unable to fight them it is pretty much guaranteed that we would have no time and no opportunity to research the creation of the necessary vaccine. Therefore, it will be essential to have high-level, cutting-edge systems for filtering and highly advanced procedures in place.

What do YOU think?!!

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Discovering beyond all doubt that alien life does exist would have big impacts on Earth.

  • Inevitably there would be changes to terrestrial science, technology, religion, politics and ecosystems¬†as a result of¬†contact with extra-terrestrial life, whether it be microbial or a technologically advanced civilisation.

Consequences for Society and Cultural Back-Lashes

Nobody will avoid the impact from the¬†culture shock that would occur if we were to discover extra-terrestrial life, whatever form it might take. We would be forced to face the sudden¬†reality that we were not a unique exception in the universe, which could cause a very serious back-lash in society as we know it. A culture shock of this nature could last for decades, possibly centuries. It would not only be ourselves¬†affected in the deepest and most profound of ways but also our children and our¬†children’s¬†children. As we reach out to new, unexplored worlds with no real knowledge of what we might find there, exactly how the potential¬†revelation¬†of¬†extra-terrestrial¬†life and¬†the impact on future generations is an issue that requires our consideration…

…NOW!!¬†¬†

Sources: 

https://planetaryprotection.nasa.gov/overview 

https://www.state.gov/t/isn/5181.htm 

http://www.unoosa.org/pdf/publications/STSPACE11E.pdf   (SpaceTreaty PDF) 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_protection 

www.space.com  (What Finding Alien Life Could Mean for Earth) 

www.wikipedia.com  (Potential Cultural Impact) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join IceWolf’s Holiday in the Sun!   4 comments

ūüėÉSend Your Name to the Sun ūüėÉūüõįūüöÄ

Screenshot_20180310-234059.png

 

 

So! That’s Icewolf’s summer holiday sorted! And a sun tan the like of which has never been seen before!!¬†

Launch Site: NASA’s Kennedy Space Center:¬†¬†July 31 – Aug 19, 2018

Join the Mission – Send Your Name to the Sun

Follow the Mission at Facebook: NASASunScience

Follow the Mission at Twitter: NASASun

Additional Information about the Parker Solar Probe Mission

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Europa’s Icewolf is Going to Mars!   35 comments

Europa’s Icewolf is Going to Mars!!

Mars-InSight Boarding Pass ūüôā

My name is onboard the “passenger list” for the next mission to Mars-InSight!

InSight will launch in May, 2018. It will study the interior of Mars and listen for Marsquakes. 

BoardingPass_MyNameOnInSight

Feel free to join me! I’ve recently completed an Open University course – How to Survive on Mars, so everyone will be fine! All my shiny new followers welcome too ūüôā It will be the perfect time to get to know each other…it takes a while to get to Mars! Look carefully, and you may even see the Black Wolves of Mars ūüėČ

Happy Easter from Europa :)   13 comments

 

 

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New evidence from NASA indicates that the most likely places to find life beyond Earth are Jupiter’s moon Europa or Saturn’s moon Enceladus. They, like Earth, are both ocean worlds and in both therein are some of the key ingredients for life.

A wealth of hydrogen molecules in water plumes soaring from the ruptures in Enceladus’s icy surface, have been detected by the Cassini spacecraft. The vital chemical methane, could also be establishing itself in the ocean beneath the ice.

The elusive presence of a water plume erupting on the warmest part of Europa’s icy surface, which has a salty liquid ocean beneath it was shown by the Hubble Space Telescope. The ocean itself contains double the amount of water found in the oceans of Earth.

 

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Europa could be the pick of the bunch for life-bearing within our own solar system outside of our homeworld. will launch In the 2020’s the Europa Clipper will be launched, and should arrive at Europa a few years later. It will be the first to explore an alien ocean and will also fly through the plume to collect data.

It will definitely be a first to discover Intergalactic Liver Cake – staple diet of Icewolves, and indeed most domestic canines Earth! The structure of the Liver Cake may differ slightly from much-loved Earthly treat, but the Europan version is just as mouthwatering and tasty to both lupine and canine alike ūüôā And what better time than Easter, the time of ressurection and new life, to discover tantsalising new life hopes on worlds not so very far from home?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Icewolf of course, did not go hunting any down without telling Clowie, the Pyrenean Mountain Dog…she would never dream of such indiscretion ūüėČ …. Never!

Image: Europa’s Icewolf 2017_ Europa’s Icewolf: Jupiter, seen from Europa.

 

Proxima B – Life in the Habitable Zone?   26 comments

Historic Potentially Earth-Like World Proxima B

The historic discovery of potentially Earth- like world Proxima-b was announced 24 August 2016. Orbiting Proxima Centauri, a Red Dwarf star in the habitable zone and the nearest star to our own Sun Proxima-b marks not only the closest alien planet ever found but also with the potential to be habitable.

Proxima b

This artist’s impression shows what the sky might look like on Proxima Centauri b if the planet has a surface. The exoplanet orbits the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, currently the closest star to the solar system at 4.2 light-years. The other two members of the Alpha Centauri triple, Alpha Centauri A and B, would appear in the sky, too.
ESO / M. Kornmesser

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If this proves to be the case, then there is no shortage of time for some form of life to originate based on the fact that red dwarf stars such as Proxima Centauri burn for trillions of years.

From the point of view of the average Earth-based visitor stopping by for a summer vacation, Proxima-b runs the risk of being a rather boring holiday resort. The sun-tan would be awesome, not so much so the destruction of the biological cells exposed to the intensely dodgy UV radiation that is present. Combined with the prospect of heavy duty sun-screen to protect from the sun’s constant bombardment of energy flares bouncing around the planetary surface probably wouldn’t be classed as entirely awesome either. On top of which the Proxima Centauri flares would also banish any hope of using mobile phones, tablets, X-boxes or any other such devices thanks to its electronics-disabling qualities. so no ET calling home and definitely no Skype!

Proxima b _Bustle DarkBAlthough it is a tidally locked planet‚Äď roasting hot on its star- facing side, freezing cold on the other, there is also enough wind around in the atmosphere to circulate the heat, balancing out the extreme temperatures that would otherwise exist. None-the-less a visit to the the planetary darkside, where it is bathed in perpetual night could prove to be the safest, and possibly the only option.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately astronomers are choosing to be particularly pessimistic about this little world following the initial euphoria and have currently decided it is probably a dead, airless rock that will never harbour life due to it’s close proximity sun (20x nearer than Earth to the Sun) creating a risk of it boiling off the water and thereby stripping away the planet’s atmosphere. Researchers its oxygen will be gone in about 10 million years. Life on Earth took billions of years to develop.

Young M Dwarf StarsYoung M dwarf stars can unleash dangerous flares, (‚Äúplanet-frying radiation‚ÄĚ) that strip off atmosphere-forming oxygen spelling doom for closely orbiting planets. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / S. Wiessinger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

proxima bImage: NASA Goddard/Conceptual Image Lab

However hope lives eternal. Theoretically it is possible life could advance to endure the high levels of radiation, by altering the worst of Proxima Centauri‚Äôs emissions into inoffensive visible light. We know this is plausible, because due to a process known as biofluorescence this ‚ÄĒhas already happened on many occasions on Earth.

 

 

 

 

 

Ultimately It is expected that the 2018 launch of The James Webb Space Telescope, will provide answers to the critical question of whether there is any chance at all that Proxima b is capable of supporting life.

Proxima b – Habitable ‘Ocean Planet’??

Another possibility is the Proxima b could be an ocean world whose entire surface consists of a liquid ocean. This may bear a similarity to the Jupiter and Saturn moons that are icy worlds with subsurface oceans.

On the other hand the more optimistic researchers suggest that Proxima b may in fact be habitable after all. So don‚Äôt put the suitcases back in the attic just yet intrepid cosmic holiday makers! If Proxima b had in reality formed further out from it‚Äôs sun than its current position this would also offer a high possibility of there being water. This idea is based on the outer realms of planetary systems being more likely to form ice. If it then moved inwards for a up closer and more personal relationship with its sun then this ice could melt and form seas. Maybe ūüėČ

Sea

Proxima b – A Desert World??

be8a53dc8479400431b0270a3d2ef730But it still seems most likely, according to Victoria Meadows (University of Washington), that this exoplanet is a desert world since the radiation bombarding it would almost certainly have evaporated the majority of the water. This process could have collected the oxygen and hydrogen in the water and created an atmosphere rich in oxygen. Then again it could a 2nd Venus with an atmosphere rich in Carbon Dioxide, or even another Uranus or Neptune.

The Other Closest Habitable-Zone Worlds

If all else fails cosmic holiday makers may wish to try some of the nearbyProxima Wolf 3, potentially habitable exoplanet worlds, for size‚Ķ.: Kapteyn b (13 light-years away) and Wolf 1061 c (14 light-years). Both planets are just over half again as wide as Earth, with minimum masses of 4 to 5 Earths, and both are in their stars‚Äô habitable zones. Wolf 1061 c does not look at all hopeful in terms of habitability. But Kapteyn b looks good. It‚Äôs about 3¬Ĺ times farther from its sun than Proxima b is from its sun so potentially it could be far enough out of reach of its sun‚Äôs rather violent output to provide a half decent holiday resort!

 

References:

www.skyandtelescope.com

www.gizmodo.com

www.space.com

www.scinews.com

www.csmonitor.com

Another Earth? Exoplanet Kelper-452b   32 comments

What Would it Be Like to Live on Earth’s Cousin?

The discovery of Kelper 452b was announced on 23/05/15, and is 1,400 Light years away.

 

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Photo Credit: Kelper 452-b JPL/NASA

An alien experience!

Exoplanet Kelper 452-b is 60% wider than Earth and approximately 5x as massive so much stronger surface gravity.

This provides for a great workout! For the manly among us this essentially means it will make you much stronger ūüôā

For everybody chilling on this Earth cousin, the higher gravity would probably lead to significant body changes long term ‚Äď e.g. becoming stockier built. This is probably not a plus if you‚Äôre already on the stocky side‚Ķyou may become very short and squat‚Ķlike a rotund garden gnome ūüėČ

 

A Familiar Experience

As this world’s sun is roughly the same distance away as on Earth, the light factor would be much the same as on our home-world and Earth plants transported to its cousin-world could photosynthesis the same as on Earth.

 

 

 

 

 

So Kelper 452-b is similar to Earth but not the same. Its sun is 6 billion years old whereas our Sun is only 4.5 billion years old. Kelper 452-b‚Äôs sun is at a far more energetic life-stage therefore it is hotter. And it is about 10% larger and 20% brighter in the sky. Not bad for the sun tan then ūüėČ

Kelper 452-b completes one orbit every 385 days so it’s year is only about 20 days longer than Earth’s. Pretty much home from home.

 

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Photo Credit: Kelper 452-b JPL/NASA

 

‚Äú‚Ķsubstantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.‚ÄĚ

(Jon Jenkins, Kelper data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Centre in Moffat Field, California. (Led team that discovered Kelper 452-b)  )