Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Opportunity Problems

NASA's Mars rover Opportunity has been losing data due to a computer memory problem.  Engineers have isolated the cause, however, and they think there's a software fix.

Opportunity has been roving Mars for ten years now after its mission was supposed to last 90 days.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Venus And CO2

Carbon dioxide makes up about 96 percent of the atmosphere of Venus, but some researchers say at one time the planet may have had oceans of carbon dioxide fluid.

That would've been supercritical CO2.  In a supercritical state, carbon dioxide can shift between being a gas and being a liquid and back virtually instantaneously.  Venus would have been a really strange place.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Europa's Geysers

Geysers on Jupiter's moon Europa, discovered in December, 2012, are intermittent in nature.  They have not been detected again.

So, gathering samples of Europa's subsurface ocean by flying through geyser plumes may not be so simple.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Lunar Tractors And AI

If the first human outposts on the Moon will be in lava tubes or caves, lunar tractors will need to be developed to carry the elements of the outposts inside, to their new homes.  Also, because the rock above will block radio signals as well as deadly radiation, artificial intelligence programs capable of directing the installation of the outpost on its own may need to be developed.

Such an AI development project could, by itself, spark revolutionary progress across the economy, from manufacturing to healthcare.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Macroweather On Mars

Researchers have found that Mars, like Earth, has macromeather-- a state between daily weather and long term climate.

They think understanding macroweather could help understand all worlds with atmospheres.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


One of the most important photographs yet taken was snapped on Christmas Eve, 1968, as Apollo 8 orbited the Moon.  It shows the Earth in the blackness of space above the lunar surface.

"Earthrise" helped spark both the space advocacy movement and the environmental movement.  Though envinmentalism was around before 1968, the photograph helped drive home the point that Earth is a special place.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Forty Two Years

Forty two years ago, the latest humans stood on the Moon.  That was just before the Watergate scandal broke.

Momentum is now building to return to the Moon, this time to stay permanently.  With luck, in a few years, the scouts of Apollo will be followed by the settlers of a new era.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Life On Ceres?

Ceres, the body that has moved from being the largest asteroid to being a dwarf planet, has huge amounts of water ice, possibly a subsurface ocean of liquid water, heat, and carbon compounds.  It may, therefore, support life.

NASA's Dawn probe will arrive at Ceres in March.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Predator Aliens

One theory has it that species that master interstellar travel will likely be essentially predators because high protein diets are necessary to power brains able enough to challenge the stars.  That probably makes sense.

The theory goes on to postulate such civilizations would be aggressive and warlike.  That might be stretching theory too far.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Year In Space

One American astronaut and one Russian cosmonaut are scheduled to begin a one year stay aboard ISS next spring.

The mission is to pave the way for deep space trips, like journeys to Mars.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Platform Touchdown

SpaceX will attempt to land its Falcon 9 rocket softly on a platform in the Atlantic after its next launch.

That launch is now scheduled for January 6.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Organics On Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover has drilled into a rock on Mars and found organic chemicals-- the building blocks of life.

The discovery doesn't mean life exists or has existed on Mars, but it does further strengthen a case for life.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Glaciers On Mars?

A new study suggests glaciers may have carved at least part of the Mariner Valley, the huge canyon system on Mars.

That would have happened in a colder yet wetter period than today.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Lunar Visions

Science fiction authors have imagined spectacular cities on the lunar plains.  Businesspeople have envisioned resorts in the magnificent crater Copernicus.  Those might exist someday. but the first lunar bases and settlements could well be built underground. perhaps in lava tubes.

Such sites would be protected by the rock overhead against deadly radiation.  They would also not have the extreme temperature shifts the surface endures/

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Water On Earth

Results from Rosetta suggests comets may not have delivered most of Earth's water.  The particular signature of the water on the comet Rosetta is studying differs significantly from that of the water in Earth's oceans.

If that conclusion holds, asteroids would become the prime candidates to be the bringers of water.

Friday, December 12, 2014

An Astronomical First

A ground-based astronomical observatory in the Canary Islands has observed the transit of a super Earth across the disk of its star, a first for a telescope on Earth.

As space probes discover more and more exoplanets, it's important ground-based facilities be able to follow up.  The technology enabling that is arriving.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Life On Titan?

Dr. Christopher McKay speculates we may already have evidence of life on Saturn's moon Titan.

As the Huygens probe was about to land on Titan, he argued methane-based life might consume hydrogen.  In fact, Huygens found plenty of hydrogen in the upper and middle layers of Titan's atmosphere, but a diminished amount in the lower layer, where life would presumably be.

The idea needs more work, as McKay acknowledges, but it's sure provocative.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Titan's Dunes

A new study finds that huge dunes on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan were built not by the prevailing winds but by powerful bursts of wind from the opposite direction.

The bursts seem influenced by the position of the Sun.  It's remarkable that the Sun can still have a direct role in shaping local environments so far away.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Wet Early Mars

The Curiosity rover is gathering evidence-- the particular type of weathering of rocks-- suggesting that the crater it's in was once a lake.

Explorations of Mars continues to build a strong case that, at least once in its history, Mars supported liquid water on its surface.

Monday, December 8, 2014

New Horizons

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft stirred itself into action Saturday, preparing for its encounter with Pluto and subsequent exploration of the Kuiper Belt.

New Horizons will fly by Pluto next July.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Warming Mars

A new study suggests erupting volcanoes-- Mars has several huge ones-- may have warmed early Mars enough, long enough, to allow water to flow on the surface.

Further, this could have happened several times, producing multiple episodes of a temperate Mars.  One researcher compared the process to the magical Scottish village, Brigadoon.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Orion Success

The Orion test flight this morning seems to have been a solid success, from liftoff in Florida to splashdown in the Pacific nearly four and a half hours later.

The U. S. Navy will recover Orion later today.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Orion Test Delayed

The first test flight of the new Orion space capsule was delayed today because of various seemingly small glitches.

NASA will try again tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hayabusa 2

Japan's Hayabusa 2 probe is on its way to bring back samples from a comet.

Japan is one of several nations undertaking deep space robotic missions.  One wonders what could be accomplished if they pooled their resources and talents.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Additive Manufacturing

A 3D-printer aboard ISS recently made its first part in space, opening the era of what's called additive manufacturing-- producing things from raw materials-- beyond Earth.

Such a capability will revolutionize space exploration, and it may also be key to establishing an Earth-Moon economy.

Monday, December 1, 2014


Researchers are experimenting with a so-called Cliffbot, a robot that could climb cliffs and gulley walls on Mars, saving astronauts that risk.

Cliffbot could explore places on Mars that would be most likely to have evidence of life.