Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Posts Tagged ‘Mars

Through Thick and Thin

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Another week gone by. Two more days to the last and final debate between Romney and Obama. Both sides are pulling out all the stops. I’m more bored by the day. What’s this, the tenth election in a row billed as “the most important election ever?” I don’t think so. Might be the most screwed up election ever. Now that “both sides” have convinced their base that the only thing that matters is their narrow ideological stand on a  handful of of social  issues, there is zero chance that any of the real issues facing this country will be addressed. Climate change? What’s that? Our endless overseas wars? Don’t go there. Our every expanding security state? Fracking? GMOs? Forget about it. Nope, just legions of people who thinking they are saving babies or saving women by their respective vote for a dyed-in-the-wool agent of the 1%. Like in the previous election, I’m hoping that the Republican wins, because it might breath new life into the antiwar left, which Obama has effectively driven into a lobotomized coma. Yes, Obama has succeeded where Nixon and his generation only dreamed, he destroyed the antiwar movement. In any event, a few random notes on recent events, in no particular order:

A huge US led anti-mine drill in the Persian Gulf was a disaster. It was called the single largest naval drill in history, with more than 30 nations participating. Twenty nine simulated mines had been planted, the whole point of the exercise was to demonstrate the West’s effectiveness to find mines and keep the Straight of Hormuz open. Reportedly the drill was an abject failure, with less than half of the simulated mines being found. Not exactly sure what this signifies. I can’t see why the US would lie about something like this, maybe they want to encourage the Iranians to do something rash? Seems like sowing international doubt about our ability to keep the straight open wouldn’t be worth the damage it would do to the US’s credibility and efforts to prevent diplomacy with Iran. It’s certainly possible that we’re just that bad, a huge amount of military spending the past few decades has been about enriching the arms manufacturers, with limited attention paid to whether equipment will actually work under real world conditions. Who knows, curious though.

An interesting poll was just taken in Egypt. Apparently there is a trend towards support for Iran and Egypt acquiring nuclear weapons. And the military is still the most trusted institution in the country. Interesting for a number of reasons. I think it’s a good thing that Egyptians are turning away from the USA and the west and more interested in hewing their own path. It’s painfully clear at this point that the USA doesn’t give as rat’s a** about the people of the Middle East, and is only trying to maintain western and Israeli hegemony in the region. And it’s also painfully clear that the nuclear powers, declared and undeclared (cough Israel cough) have no intention of giving up nuclear weapons and are perfectly happy to have the current situation perpetuated forever. It was also interesting some of the reaction to the poll in the west. They saw it as a sign of the rise of extremism in Egypt. Yerp, people deciding they know what’s best for their countries and not wanting to be a satrap of the USA is extremism. The US and Israel keep reaping what they sow, and there seems like no end in sight.

Scientists have decided to send a paddle boat into space. Those crazy scientists, what will they think of next? OK, not space exactly, they want to send a paddle boat to Titan, a moon of Saturn. It’s actually a good idea, it will get to sample both the lakes and the atmosphere of Titan, and move around a bit to get more varied data. The plan is for it to last for six months to a year. The last Titan lander lasted 90 minutes. Considering it’s nearly 300F below zero that’s a tall order. I’m assuming it will be nuclear powered. In other space news someone stitched together the above panorama from shots taken by the new Curiosity rover on Mars. I love pics like this, really shows it  as the surface of a planet; add a few juniper bushes and it could have been taken in Nevada.

I have a number of dedicated posts I have been chipping away on. Hopefully I will get some of them out in the next week. Another week where I have a lot of work. that’s good, the wolves have been pushed back out the door at least. I hope everyone had a good weekend!

(The above image is public Domain under US copyright law. Credit and copyright: NASA. For the readers of coarser tastes so to speak, a stone penis was also recently discovered on Mars. I don’t think it’s going to give the Face on Mars a run for its money.)

Written by unitedcats

October 21, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Paradigm Shift? Plate Tectonics on Mars!

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Well, every geologist knows that Earth is the only planet in the Solar System with plate tectonics. This means that the crust of the Earth is made of interlocking plates, like a jigsaw puzzle covering the surface of the Earth. Over the millennium these plates slide around and rearrange themselves, also known as continental drift. The margins of the plates are where most of the world’s earthquakes and volcanoes occur. Get that all? There will be a test.

Well, until a few days ago it was thought that Earth was the only planet in the Solar System with plate tectonics. There were a few hints Mars might also have crustal plates, but there was also reason to think they didn’t. Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the Solar System for example. For it to have grown so large implies that it was stationary for its entire life, instead of moving over a hot spot on a crustal plate like the Hawaiian Islands. Without plate tectonics there would be just one Hawaiian Island, as large as all of the Hawaiian Islands combined. There were other hints as well, but hints aren’t proof in the world of science. In the world of conspiracy theories, Bigfoot, and UFOs, yes; in the world of science, no.

So have scientists proved Mars has plate tectonics? Well, no. What has happened is that a scientist named An Yin, a planetary geologist at UCLA, has written a paper where he describes the various things he sees in satellite images that are indicative of plate tectonics. And this is a fellow who has spent his scientific career studying plate tectonics on Earth from satellite photographs. He concluded that Mars has a much more “primitive” system of plate tectonics than on Earth, by which he means the plates don’t move nearly as fast as they do on Earth, and there are only two of them, as opposed to Earth’s seven large plates. He thinks the study of plate tectonics on Mars may give insight to how plate tectonics started on Earth, so this is exciting news for planetary geologists and just plain Earth geologists.

Aside from nerd appeal, this also means that the chances of life on Mars may now be greater. Mars plate tectonics means volcanism, especially low level volcanism like hot springs, might be more common on Mars, especially in the past. It also means more chemicals and minerals may have been carried from inside Mars to the crust. Both of these make Mars a more hospitable place for life, either for life seeded by meteorites from Earth, or for life to be created in some warm primordial chemical rich ooze. And in a stunning example of serendipity in science, NASA just landed a nuclear powered lab especially designed to look for life. Woohoo! Now its chances of finding same seem even brighter, I’m certainly betting that it will. Lastly it means that Mars might have more seismic activity than thought, it was not thought to have any really. Marsquakes in other words.

So what now? Now scientists will endeavour to prove or refute the new theory. Just because it “looks like it from orbit” isn’t proof. From orbit Mars looked like it once had flowing water and bodies of water, but science considered the case for water on Mars open until the last two rovers found several lines of unmistakable chemical and geological evidence for same. I suspect it will be the same for plate tectonics on Mars, in fact it’s a good bet now that scientists are thinking about ways to look for proof of Mars plate tectonics with the new Curiosity rover. They will also be scanning satellite images of Mars to see what they think of professor An Yin’s evidence, not to mention looking for geological evidence for past Marsquakes. Lastly, I think it’s safe to say that planetary geologists are now plotting  just how they might get a seismograph to Mars.

Is there a point to this post, other than the nerd appeal? Just a minor one, this is a wonderful example of how science works. A theory is proposed in a  scientific publication, and scientists will now test it vigorously in various ways. By testing it, I mean they will look for other signs that are expected to be seen if Mars does have plate tectonics, as well as looking for signs that it might not. Depending on what they find, the theory will get stronger or be discarded. Stay tuned.

(The above image seems to have been generated from a  Google Mars map. I’m claiming it as Fair Use under US copyright law, it’s not being used for profit, and its use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. And lastly, the burning question that is now haunting some of my gentle readers: What makes Earth and Mars crustal plates move? The scientific answer is: No one knows.)

 

Written by unitedcats

August 15, 2012 at 8:43 am

GIANT GAMMA RAY EMITTING BUBBLES DISCOVERED NEAR MILKY WAY, SCIENTISTS ARE PUZZLED, OBAMA URGES CALM

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Yes, it’s true, scientists have discovered two huge gamma ray emitting bubbles emerging from the Milky Way. The above image is what they look like … if the viewer is considerably outside the galaxy and can see gamma rays. People can’t see gamma rays, so the above image is “false colour” so to speak. I know some people get upset that so many NASA images are false colour, but when talking about colours that people can’t see, what’s the problem? What’s the deal with these bubbles? Well, no one knows. The current best guess is that they are the remnants of some sort of outburst  from the black hole at the centre of our Galaxy. There are other possibilities, and scientists will be exploring them eagerly. And while this is an exciting discovery in that it gives us new insight into our galaxy, it has no practical bearing on Earth. These bubbles don’t and can’t effect Earth in any way, my histrionic headline notwithstanding.

Yes, there’s a black hole in the centre of our galaxy. It has about as much mass as thirty million Suns. No, it’s not going to swallow the galaxy, any more than the planets are going to get sucked into our Sun. For the lay people, a black hole is a region of space with so much mass that light can’t escape its gravity. So while it can’t be seen directly, this is what a black hole would look like up close and personal:

Well, technically one can’t actually see the black hole, but the astute reader should be able to discern where it is in the above image. The black hole is so dense that it warps and bends light that gets near it. Note that every star in the picture has at least two images, and the entire sky can be seen near the black hole as light from every direction is bent around the black hole. I know, hard to grasp, the original image is here, maybe they explain it better. I’m pretty sure that being this close to a back hole would be fatal, the gravity would be so strong that normal matter would be ripped apart.

Speaking of dark objects in space, the Mars Express recently captured this image of Phobos:

Phobos is the innermost and largest of Mars’ two moons, the other being Deimos. It’s an irregularly shaped lump of ice and rock, averaging about  22 km (14 miles) in diameter, covered with about a meter of dust. It’s the darkest moon in the Solar System, and is believed to be a captured asteroid. It’s also doomed, its orbit is slowly decaying and in the next 50 million years it will be torn apart and crash into Mars. It’s going to be a pretty spectacular sight, and if I’m still around then, I’ll be sure to blog about it.

And while we’re on the topic of Phobos, since it’s not a topic I visit regularly, two minor misconceptions to clear up. Yes, there is indeed a monolith on Phobos:

It’s the bright object with a shadow in the middle right, it’s about the size of a building, whatever that means. One will sometimes actually hear alien aficionados claim that the monolith on Phobos must be artificial and should be visited, apparently confused by the fact that there was a monolith in 2001, a Space Odyssey. The monolith in the fictional movie was made by aliens, the monolith on Phobos is a rock. Yes, it is upon such slender threads that belief in aliens resides.

It gets worse. Both moons of Mars were discovered in 1877. In the 1726 book Gulliver’s Travels there is a description of Mars having two moon very similar to the moons that were discovered more than a century later. Again, some have claimed that this is proof that aliens have visited Earth, or even that the author, Jonathon Swift, may have come from Mars. No, it’s proof that Jonathon Swift was reasonably well read. Astronomers of his day were very much looking for symmetry and order in the Solar System. It was speculated that since Venus had no moons, Earth had one moon, and Jupiter had four moons … might not Mars have two moons? And if Mars had two moons, they would have had to be very small to avoid detection by the telescopes of the day. Which is more likely, that Swift’s fictional moons were based on contemporary astronomical speculation … or personal knowledge gained from alien spacefarers?

No, it’s not a trick question. Have a great weekend everyone!

(The above images are all claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. They are not being used for profit, they are central to illustrating the post, and they are properly attributed. Gamma Ray Bubble image, Credit: NASA/GSFC. Black hole image, Credit & Copyright: Alain Riazuelo. Phobos image, Credit: G. Neukum (FU Berlin) et al., Mars Express, DLR, ESA; Acknowledgement: Peter Masek. Phobos monolith image, Credit: Mars Global Surveyor, NASA. Is there a point to this post. Yes. We are entering the greatest age of exploration ever, the exploration of the Universe around us! I mean, two of these images were taken by cameras orbiting Mars, something that would have been considered a pipe dream by many people in living memory. How cool is that?)

 

Written by unitedcats

December 16, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Mars or Bust, Scientists Call for Suicide Mission Volunteers!

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Has NASA really put out a call for people who want to volunteer for a one way mission to Mars? Well, not yet, but two scientists did float the idea to test the waters so to speak. And it turns out, which shouldn’t be too surprising, that there are indeed people who would volunteer for a one way mission to Mars. Hell, theres been times in my life when I would have considered it … now is not one of them. So why are space scientists bringing this up? Well, the USA and NASA (not to mention other nations) are starting to think about sending people to Mars and possibly an asteroid or two. These are basically the next logical targets for human exploration. (Venus and Mercury are closer, but there’s nowhere to land on Venus, and Mercury has a variety of nasty complications.) And the bottom line is, unlike 1950s scifi movies, missions to Mars especially are effectively one way missions.

There’s two reasons for this. The first is that getting people back from Mars is a huge problem, much harder than getting them there in the first place. It means sending enormous amounts of fuel on the trip for one thing, and even if that is worked around, it means a huge expensive return vehicle has to be somehow brought along. And secondly, since the mission is going to last for years in any event, and all sorts of things could foul up a return mission, mission planning has to include the possibility that the return ship may not work. And when it comes right down to it, it makes a lot more sense to use your payloads sent to Mars to contain every possible thing to make long term survival possible.

Basically in some very real senses we are getting back into the age of exploration again. When Columbus and his ilk set sail, they knew that they might be gone for years and planned accordingly. And missions to Mars are the same. It will take six months to get there, and once people are there I think it’s a good part of a year or longer before the planets are aligned for a trip back. Might as well plan for the long haul, it will increase the chances of the mission succeeding. Sound crazy? It’s not, bear me out. This is pure speculation on my part how this could happen, colonizing Mars, here’s my plan:

1. Three likely sites on Mars are chosen, two rovers are sent to each site, and two communications/weather satellites are orbited. (All in pairs of two to hopefully avoid the failure of a single item crippling the mission.) The best site is chosen, access to water and a large cave are the main requirements we are looking for. Water for obvious reasons and a cave to shelter from solar radiation and small meteorites.

2. The most likely looking site is chosen. At least one robotic supply ship is landed at the site. To both add to the supply pool when the colonists arrive, and to make sure the robotic supply ships actually work. If possible, robotic ships could also be landed that started to collect water, and possibly even start stockpiling rocket fuel. (With water and solar power, water can be split into oxygen and hydrogen, a fine rocket fuel.)

3. Then the colonists arrive. With proper planning even if somehow they lose all of their equipment in the landing, for example by landing too far away from the chosen colony site, they can still survive if they can get to the pre-supplied colony site.

4. And then they settle in for the long haul. Presumably supply ships from Earth will still periodically arrive, including more colonists if all is going well. Presumably at some point rocket fuel can be manufactured from local water. And sometime down the road, maybe even decades later, ships for those who want to return would be feasible.

Crazy? Not at all, humans have done the same thing all the time throughout history. Risky? Absolutely. The biggest risk is that human biology might be incompatible with living on Mars, the low gravity being the biggest worry. It’s only 38% Earth normal. That might be enough, especially with exercise and maybe even sleeping in high G centrifuges, to avoid the eventually crippling bone loss and weakness that long term exposure to weightlessness brings. Might be. It’s also possible that this plan will result in the Mars colonists getting ever weaker and finally dying despite our best efforts. Well, if we’re gonna colonize other planets, that’s a risk we’re going to have to take. There are plenty of people who would be glad to take it, humans are an amazingly diverse and curious lot.

So, would the gentle reader volunteer for a trip to Mars, knowing that at best it would be ten years or longer before a return was possible, and no guarantee that it would ever be possible?

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s from an episode of a show that truly impressed me as a young lad, for its time it was wonderful creepy scifi. Kudos if anyone recognizes it.)

 

Written by unitedcats

October 25, 2010 at 5:34 am