Mission Duration: At least one Mars year (about 687 Earth days)
Main Job: The Perseverance rover will seek signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples for possible return to Earth.
As someone who watched the television non-stop in 1969 to see man’s remarkable achievement, NASA has been an organisation of considerable interest all my life.
At 10:56 p.m. EDT Armstrong is ready to plant the first human foot on another world. With more than half a billion people watching on television, he climbs down the ladder and proclaims: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.“
This just in … a new super-cool composite from Curiosity on Mars. The panorama contains more than 1,000 images taken last Thanksgiving and assembled over the past few months … 1.8 billion new pixels of Martian landscape!
Yesterday (March 4, 2020) NASA released a panoramic image of the Martian surface captured by the Curiosity rover. It’s the highest-resolution panorama yet of the planet’s surface.
Composed of more than 1,000 images taken during the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday and carefully assembled over the ensuing months, the composite contains 1.8 billion pixels of Martian landscape. The rover’s Mast Camera, or Mastcam, used its telephoto lens to produce the panorama; meanwhile, it relied on its medium-angle lens to produce a lower-resolution, nearly 650-million-pixel panorama that includes the rover’s deck and robotic arm.
The panorama showcases Glen Torridon, a region on the side of Mount Sharp that Curiosity is exploring. They were taken between November 24 and December 1, 2019, when the mission team was out for the Thanksgiving holiday. NASA said:
Sitting still with few tasks to do while awaiting the team to return and provide its next commands, the rover had a rare chance to image its surroundings from the same vantage point several days in a row.
It required more than 6 1/2 hours over the four days for Curiosity to capture the individual shots. Mastcam operators programmed the complex task list, which included pointing the rover’s mast and making sure the images were in focus. To ensure consistent lighting, they confined imaging to between noon and 2 p.m. local Mars time each day.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.
When one stops and reflects one can’t hide the scale of progress that humans have achieved. It is incredible!
It is also a struggle to take the situation so expertly spoken about by George Monbiot in yesterday’s post and square it with the achievement covered in today’s post.
Posted by Deborah Byrd in ASTRONOMY ESSENTIALS | TODAY’S IMAGE June 23, 2019
It was the closest conjunction of 2 planets in 2019, between Mercury and Mars. It happened low in the evening twilight – and was best seen from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere. Check out these photos from EarthSky Community members.
Bottom line: Photos from the night of and around the June 18, 2019, conjunction of Mercury and Mars, closest conjunction of two planets this year.
I hope a few of you enjoyed today’s Picture Parade.
I noticed the other day a series of photographs of the moon and Venus that were included in an item on EarthSky News. All I am going to do is to republish a selection of the photographs so if you would like to read the full item, including all the photographs, then here is the link.
In the above image, Mars may only be seen by viewing a bigger image here.
Won’t add any more thoughts from me because each and every one of you will have your own feelings and responses to these photographs. Don’t want my ideas to get in the way of your own thoughts.
Just all of you have a wonderful and peaceful weekend.
The second, and last, episode of the BBC Clouds Lab programme offers an intriguing message.
On Monday, I published a post under the title of The clouds above us. The second episode demonstrated that even in atmospheric conditions of near vacuum, intense cold and very low humidity, conditions that would kill a human in seconds, there was microscopic bacteriological material to be found.
Exploring the troposphere
The troposphere is a turbulent layer of air that begins at the Earth’s surface and ranges from 23,000-65,000 feet above sea level, depending on the latitude, season and the time of day. Its name originates from the Greek word tropos, meaning change. It’s now known that bacteria actually exists in clouds and scientists believe that it plays a significant part in the creation of rain but little is known about life higher up. Microbiologist Dr Chris Van Tulleken has discovered that living bacteria can exist well above 10,000ft in a hostile environment with low pressure, increased UV radiation, freezing temperatures, high winds and no oxygen or water.
What I took away from watching the programme was that the minimum conditions necessary for living bacteria were far more harsh than one might expect. In other words, finding living bacteria in other solar systems might not be such a science-fiction idea.
With that in mind, I’m republishing an essay that Patrice Ayme wrote in 2013. I’m grateful for his permission to so do.
40 Billion Earths? Yes & No.
Up to twenty years ago, a reasonable opinion among scientists was that there might be just one solar system. Ours. Scientists like to project gravitas; having little green men all over didn’t look serious.
However, studying delicately the lights of stars, how they vary, how they doppler-shift, more than 1,000 planets have been found. Solar systems seem ubiquitous. Astronomers reported in 2013 that there could be as many as 40 billion habitable Earth-size planets in the galaxy. However, consider this:
Yes, that’s the center of a galaxy, and it has experienced a galactic size explosion from its central black hole.
One out of every five sun-like stars in our galaxy has a planet the size of Earth circling it in the Goldilocks zone, it seems — not too hot, not too cold — with surface temperatures compatible with liquid water. Yet, we have a monster black hole at the center of our giant galaxy, just like the one exploding above.
We are talking here about explosions potentially stronger than the strongest supernova by many orders of magnitude (depending upon the size of what’s falling into Sagittarius. By the way, a cloud is just heading that way).
Such galactic drama has a potential impact on the presence of advanced life. The richer the galaxy gets in various feature the situation looks, the harder it looks to compute the probability of advanced life.
The profusion of habitable planets is all the more remarkable, as the primitive methods used so far require the planet to pass between us and its star.
(The research, started on the ground in Europe, expanded with dedicated satellites, the French Corot and NASA’s Kepler spacecraft.). Sun-like stars are “yellow dwarves”. They live ten billion years.
From that, confusing “habitable” and “inhabitated”, the New York Times deduced: “The known odds of something — or someone — living far, far away from Earth improved beyond astronomers’ boldest dreams on Monday. “
However, it’s not that simple.
Primitive bacterial life is probably frequent. However advanced life (animals) is probably very rare, as many are the potential catastrophes. And one needs billions of years to go from primitive life to animals.
After life forms making oxygen on Earth appeared, the atmosphere went from reducing (full of strong greenhouse methane) to oxidizing (full of oxygen). As methane mostly disappeared, so did the greenhouse. Earth froze, all the way down to the equator:
Yet volcanoes kept on belching CO2 through the ice. That CO2 built up above the ice, caused a strong greenhouse, and the ice melted. Life had survived. Mighty volcanism has saved the Earth, just in time.
That “snowball Earth” catastrophe repeated a few times before the Earth oxygen based system became stable. Catastrophe had been engaged, several times, but the disappearance of oxygen creating life forms had been avoided, just barely.
Many are the other catastrophes we have become aware of, that could wipe out advanced life: proximal supernovas or gamma ray explosions.
Cataclysmic eruption of the central galactic black hole happen frequently. The lobes from the last one are still visible, perpendicularly high off the galactic plane. The radiation is still making the Magellanic Stream simmer, 200,000 light years away. Such explosions have got to have sterilized a good part of the galaxy.
In 2014 when part of the huge gas cloud known as G2 falls into Sagittarius A*, we will learn better how inhospitable the central galaxy is for advanced life.
Many of the star systems revealed out there have surprising feature: heavy planets (“super Jupiters“) grazing their own stars. It’s unlikely those giants were formed where they are. They probably swept their entire systems, destroying all the rocky planets in their giant way. We don’t understand these cataclysmic dynamics, but they seem frequent.
Solar energy received on Earth fluctuated and changed a lot, maybe from one (long ago) to four (now). But, as it turned out just so that Earthly life could survive. Also the inner nuclear reactor with its convective magma and tectonic plates was able to keep the carbon dioxide up in the air, just so.
The Goldilocks zones astronomers presently consider seem to be all too large to allow life to evolve over billions of years. They have to be much narrower and not just with red dwarves (the most frequent and long living stars).
One of our Goldilocks, Mars, started well, but lost its CO2 and became too cold. The other Goldilocks, Venus, suffered the opposite major technical malfunction: a runaway CO2 greenhouse.
Mars’ axis of rotation tilts on the solar system’s plane enormously: by 60 degrees, over millions of years. So Mars experiences considerable climatic variations over the eons, as it goes through slow super winters and super summers (it’s imaginable that, as the poles melt, Mars is much more habitable during super summers; thus life underground, hibernating is also imaginable there).
Earth’s Moon prevents this sort of crazy hyper seasons. While, differently from Venus, Earth rotates at reasonable clip, homogenizing the temperatures. Venus takes 243 days to rotate.
It is startling that, of the four inner and only rocky planets, just one, Earth has a rotation compatible with the long term evolution of advanced life.
Earth has also two striking characteristics: it has a very large moon that store much of the angular momentum of the Earth-Moon system. Without Moon, the Earth would rotate on itself once every 8 hours (after 5 billion years of braking by Solar tides).
The Moon used to hover at least ten times closer than now, when earth’s days were at most 6 hours long.
The tidal force is the difference between gravitational attraction in two closely separated places, so it’s the differential of said attraction (which is proportional to 1/dd; d being the distance). Hence the tidal force is inversely proportional to the cube of the distance.
Thus on early Earth tides a kilometer high were common, washing back and forth every three hours. a hyper super tsunami every three hours, going deep inside the continents. Not exactly conditions you expect all over the universe.
Hence biological material fabricated on the continental margins in shallow pools would get mixed with the oceans readily. That would guarantee accelerated launch of life (and indeed we know life started on Earth very fast).
The theory of formation of the Moon is wobbly (recent detailed computations of the simplest impact theory do not work). All we know for sure, thanks to the Moon rocks from Apollo, is that the Moon is made of Earth mantle materials.
Somehow the two planets split in two. (Fission. Get it? It maybe a hint.)
Another thing we know for sure is that Earth has, at its core, a giant nuclear fission reactor, keeping Earth’s core hotter than the surface of the sun. An unimaginable liquid ocean of liquid iron deep down inside below our feet undergoes iron weather. Hell itself, the old fashion way, pales in comparison.
Could the Moon and the giant nuclear reactor have the same origin? This is my provocative question of the day. The Moon, our life giver, could well have formed from giant nuclear explosions, of another of our life givers, what became the nuke at the core. I can already hear herds of ecologists yelp in the distance. I present the facts, you pseudo-ecologists don’t decide upon them. It’s clear that nuclear fission is not in Drake equation: if nothing else, it’s too politically incorrect.
All the preceding makes this clear:
Many are the inhabitable planets, yet few will be inhabitated by serious denizens.
This means that the cosmos is all for our taking. The only question is how to get there. The closest stars in the Proxima, Beta and Alpha Centauri system are not attainable, for a human crew, with existing technology.
However, if we mastered clean colossal energy production, of the order of the entire present energy production of humanity, we could get a colony there (only presently imaginable technology would be fusion).
Giordano Bruno, professor, astronomer, and priest suggested that there were many other inhabitated systems around the stars. That insult against Islam meant Christianity was punished the hard way: the Vatican, the famous terrorist organization of god crazies, put a device in Giordano’s mouth that pierced his palate, and having made sure that way that he could not tell the truth, the terrorists then burned him alive. After seven years of torture.
The horror of truth was unbearable to theo-plutocrats.
Now we face something even worse: everywhere out there is very primitive life. It is likely gracing 40 billion worlds. But, if one has to duplicate the succession of miracles and improbabilities that made Earth, to earn advanced life, it may be just here that civilization ever rose to contemplate them.
Congratulations to India for launching yesterday a mission to Mars ostensibly to find out if there is life there (by finding CH4; while life is presently unlikely, Mars has much to teach, including whether it started there). That’s the spirit!
The spirit is to have minds go where even imagination itself did not go before.
If we sit back, and look at the universe we have now, from Dark Matter, to Dark Energy, to Sagittarius, to the nuclear reactor below, to billions of Earths, to a strange Higgs, to Non Aristotelian logic, we see a wealth, an opulence of possibilities inconceivable twenty years ago.
Progress is not just about doing better what was done yesterday. It’s also about previously inconceivable blossoms of entirely new mental universes.
A fascinating insight and a reminder, courtesy of Alistair Cooke
Jeannie recently gave me the book Alistair Cooke’s America. The book was published in 1973 and was born out of the scripts that Cooke wrote for the television series America: A Personal History of the United States shown in both countries in 1972. I can’t recall when I first started listening to the BBC Radio programme Letter from America, broadcast by Cooke, but it was a long time ago considering that the 15-minute programme started to be broadcast on the BBC in March 1946, just 18 months after I was born!
Anyway, the motivation to start into the book was born out of a desire to know a lot more about this new country of mine. But quickly there was a fascinating detour.
Early in Chapter One, The New-found Land, Cooke writes of the consequences of the Turks capturing Constantinople:
In 1453, there was a decisive turn in the centuries of warfare between the Christians of Europe and the Moslems of Asia. Their common market, bridge, and gateway was Constantinople, our Istanbul. In 1453, the Turks conquered it, and in so doing shut off the commerce between East and West, the exchange of cloth, leather wines and sword blades of Europe for the silks, jewels, chessmen, and spices of Asia. All things considered, the stoppage was much harder on the court treasuries of Europe that those of Asia and, in one vital item, harder on all Europeans. That item was spice.
Cooke then writes about historic change often being caused by the denial of a simple human need. Shortage of water, total absence of timber for the Egyptians since the time of Solomon, for example.
What I hadn’t realised that for Europeans, spices were regarded as “fundamental to human survival”. That was simply because in the 15th century spices made food edible. Cooke writes,
Even in rich houses, the meals came putrid to the table. (Dysentery, by the way, seems to have been considered through most of the last five centuries a hazard as normal as wind and rain.)
Think about that the next time you reach for the pepper!
That led me to think about the enormous benefit that electricity and therefore domestic refrigeration has had on the health and life expectancies of mankind. It is almost inconceivable to imagine the consequences of a widespread loss of electricity for, say a week, let alone a few months.
Patrice Ayme wrote a guest post for Learning from Dogs that was published on the 26th. In it he wrote,
But then, after an auspicious start, Mars lost most of most of its atmosphere (probably within a billion years or so). Why? Mars is a bit small, its gravitational attraction is weaker than Earth (it’s only 40%). But, mostly, Mars has not enough a magnetic field. During Coronal Mass Ejections, CMEs, the Sun can throw out billions of tons of material at speeds up to and above 3200 kilometers per seconds. It’s mostly electrons and protons, but helium, oxygen and even iron can be in the mix.
The worst CME known happened during the Nineteenth Century, before the rise of the electromagnetic civilization we presently enjoy. Should one such ejection reoccur now, the electromagnetic aspect of our civilization would be wiped out.It goes without saying that we are totally unprepared, and would be very surprised. Among other things, all transformers would blow up, and they take months to rebuild. we would be left with old books in paper, the old fashion way. A CME can rush to Earth in just one day. (Fortunately the Sun seems to be quieting down presently, a bit as it did during the Little Ice Age.)
So let’s just hope and pray that our continued interest in spices remains a flavouring desire and doesn’t return as a critical need for human survival.