Back in July of 2005, Google launched Google Moon, a map of the moon similar to their map of the Earth. Of course it doesn’t have roads and such because there aren’t any, and you can’t see things like the remains of the Apollo moon missions for reasons that I outlined in this post — namely the resolution of the lunar satellites and space telescopes don’t have the resolution to pick up the debris objects (yet).
Well, Google has launched a similar service for Mars, called — drum roll — Google Mars. Right now it defaults to a topographical map of the terrain (which is arguably the most interesting view). The resolution isn’t terribly spectacular, but Google plans to update it with the newest imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which entered orbit on March 10 as soon as its available.
[tags]Google, Mars, Google Mars, Google Moon, Google Maps[/tags]
Drudge report has a copy of the press release scheduled to be released today at 2pm.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft may have found evidence of liquid water reservoirs that erupt in Yellowstone-like geysers on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The rare occurrence of liquid water so near the surface raises many new questions about the mysterious moon.
“Other moons in the solar system have liquid-water oceans covered by kilometers of icy crust,” said Andrew Ingersoll, imaging team member and atmospheric scientist at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. “What’s different here is that pockets of liquid water may be no more than tens of meters below the surface.”
Liquid water, of course, is one of the things that most scientists consider necessary for life to potentially develop, which makes this announcement so exciting. While there may be liquid water, my money is on there not being life on Encedalus. Time will tell.
[tags]Enceladus, E.T., alien life, Saturn, NASA[/tags]
Hot on the heels of budget concerns due to priority shifts, NASA has decided to cancel its Dawn asteroid missions citing cost overruns and the mission’s relatively low priority. The Dawn mission was originally supposed to study the two largest main-belt asteroids, Vesta and Ceres, but estimated cost overruns of around 20% and the nation’s shifting focus toward putting a man on Mars had placed the project on the back burner.
The 50% completed spacecraft will largely be used in other missions, with the notable exception of its ion engines.
NASA is looking into using the spacecraft’s hardware for other missions and future efforts to build ion propulsion engines will benefit from the lessons learned by Dawn engineers.
[tags]NuStar, Keck, Dawn, NASA, asteroids[/tags]
Jupiter seems to be growing a second red spot as you can see in the image above. The official name is Oval BA, but Red Jr seems to be a better choice. Red Jr first appeared in the year 2000 when three smaller spots collided and merged. It is the same color as the original red spot which is at least 300 years old and is twice as wide as the Earth. Red Jr. wasn’t always red: (more…)
On February 3, one of the strangest things to make its way into orbit will be released by astronauts aboard the International Space Station. It’s an old Russian spacesuit, nicknamed SuitSat, packed with batteries, a radio transmitter, and internal sensors to measure temperature and battery power. The life support systems will be powered down for the duration of the suit’s orbit.
It’s an experiment to see how well using old spacesuits works as a means of protecting sensitive equipment from the hazards of space: excessive temperatures on both ends of the spectrum, and fragments that a satellite is exposed to as they orbit the Earth. If it’s successful, the space agencies will consider using old suits as vehicles for short-lived satellites.
If you’ve got a ham radio or police scanner capable of tuning into 145.990 MHz FM, you can listen to SuitSat transmit information about its current condition to the ground when it passes over your neck of the woods (under Options -> all passes).
“Point your antenna to the sky during the 5-to-10 minute flyby,” advises Bauer, and this is what you’ll hear:
SuitSat transmits for 30 seconds, pauses for 30 seconds, and then repeats. “This is SuitSat-1, RS0RS,” the transmission begins, followed by a prerecorded greeting in five languages. The greeting contains “special words” in English, French, Japanese, Russian, German and Spanish for students to record and decipher.
Next comes telemetry: temperature, battery power, mission elapsed time. “The telemetry is stated in plain language—in English,” says Bauer. Everyone will be privy to SuitSat’s condition. Bauer adds, “Suitsat ‘talks’ using a voice synthesizer. It’s pretty amazing.”
The transmission ends with a Slow Scan TV picture. Of what? “We’re not telling,” laughs Bauer. “It’s a mystery picture.”
The batteries inside SuitSat are expected to last 2-4 days, and shortly thereafter it will fall into the upper atmosphere where it will burn up like things that fall into the atmosphere at high speed tend to do.
Stardust, the probe launched in 1999 to intersect with Comet Wild 2, landed a little less than a week ago, and the preliminary results since then have been quite promising. There have been both large and small impact craters — some large enough to be seen ten feet away. Eventually images of the aerogel will make their way across the Internet to a computer screen near you in the form of Stardust@home (official site) — though I still think it’s a pretty silly “distributed computing” project.
There may be more than a million particles embedded in the aerogel, and the mission is being deemed a success. It certainly is a success, though the life science geek in me would like to see the evidence for extraterrestrial life embedded in the gel, but I suspect that’s asking a little much.
For those of you who like movies and animations, you can check out the Stardust re-entry video. It’s pretty cool; very surreal looking.
I’d file this particular bit of news under the “I’ll believe it when I see it” section if I had one: the Russian Energia Space Corporation has unveiled plans to open a mine on the moon. Helium-3, a non-radioactive helium isotope, is found in relative abundance on the moon whereas here on Earth, it’s extremely rare. The isotope is the ideal fuel for a fusion reaction because of its clean decay and relatively harmless byproducts.
Because it is rare on Earth, having a mine on the moon might be economically viable if it weren’t for one problem: a viable energy-producing fusion reaction has yet to be developed. Nonetheless, Energia will press on with their mining plans: they plan to establish a permanent lunar base by 2015 or 2020. The idea is that when a reactor capable of using Helium-3 is developed, Energia will have the infrastructure already in place to supply the Earth with it. Due to the nature of E=mc^2, Nikolai Sevastyanov, head of Energia, predicts that one ton of the isotope will produce as much energy as 14 millions tons of oil. While I think that’s being a little overly optimistic, Helium-3 certainly offers more promise than current fossil fuels.
“Ten tons of helium 3 would be enough to meet the yearly energy needs of Russia,” he added. However, Russia is not the only country interested in the technology. American scientists have expressed interest in helium 3, arguing that one shuttle-load of the isotope would be sufficient to meet US electrical energy needs for a year.
Even viewing the figures bandied about with a great deal of skepticism, Helium-3 is certainly a promising theory, if nothing else. Mining in space is an interesting (and old) idea. I can remember discussing how to make space profitable from a private business’s point of view as far back as elementary school. Naturally, we thought in terms of precious metals: gold, platinum, etc. instead of consumable materials, but I think it’s a safe bet that as raw materials become increasingly scarce, it won’t be the relatively useless “precious” metals that humanity comes to value, but rather the consumable raw materials that a nation controls that determines their stability. Gold in Fort Knox? How about Helium-3 buried in a mountain somewhere instead.
[tags]Helium-3, Kliper, Energia, lunar base[/tags]