March 31, 2014
Powerful Jets From Mars-Bound Comet Spied by Hubble
After lurking in the outer reaches of the solar system for the past one million years, a comet is heading for a close encounter with Mars. The Hubble Space Telescope is keeping tabs on the icy interloper, seen in just-released images.
Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring), which now lies some 353 million miles (568 million kilometers) from Earth, was discovered by Australia’s Robert McNaught, a prolific comet and asteroid hunter, more than a year ago. NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California, has been refining the comet’s exact trajectory ever since.
While researchers have ruled out a direct collision with Mars, the dusty coma of the comet (which is nearly as large as the entire Earth) will sweep directly across the red planet. The comet core, or nucleus, is expected make its closest approach to the red planet on October 19 at 2:28 p.m. ET. It will pass within 85,600 miles (137,760 kilometers) of Mars—less than half the distance from the Earth to the moon.
March 20, 2014
We Need Three Planets to Keep the Human Race Alive, NASA Scientist Says
It’s no secret that uncurbed climate change and population growth are going to (and already have) put stress on the planet. But the situation is getting so bad that one prominent NASA scientist says we have to start thinking about terraforming Mars and that, in order for the human race to survive at current levels, we will eventually “need at least three planets.”
“The entire ecosystem is crashing,” Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist of NASA’s Langley Research Center said Thursday. “Essentially, there’s too many of us. We’ve been far too successful as the human animal. People allege we’re short 40-50 percent of a planet now. As the Asians and their billions come up to our living systems, we’re going to need three more planets.”
Bushnell was discussing the release of The Millennium Project’s “State of the Future,” an annual report that looks at global challenges and how they might be solved. He said that Mars is a good start, but we’d soon need even more space to live.
“If NASA terraforms Mars, that’ll take about 120 years, and that’s only one planet,” he said. “We’d need more shortly.”
March 28, 2013
Why a Mars Comet Impact Would be Awesome
When Jupiter’s tides ripped Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 to shreds, only for the icy chunks to succumb to the intense Jovian gravity, ultimately slamming into the gas giant’s atmosphere, mankind was treated to a rare cosmic spectacle (in human timescales at least). That was the first time in modern history that we saw a comet do battle with a planet… and lose.
But next year, astronomers think there’s a chance — albeit a small one — of a neighboring planet getting punched by an icy interplanetary interloper. However, this planet doesn’t have a generously thick atmosphere to soften the blow. Rather than causing bruises in a dense, molecular hydrogen atmosphere, this comet will pass through the atmosphere like it wasn’t even there and hit the planetary surface like a cosmic pile-driver, ripping into the crust.
What’s more, we’d have robotic eyes on the ground and in orbit should the worst happen.
February 28, 2013
Comet impact could make Red Planet inhabitable
RT (Russia Today)
A comet near Mars may strike it in a powerful impact, potentially making the planet much warmer. The Red Planet is luring many entrepreneurs, including billionaire Dennis Tito, who aims to beat other nations by sending a man and a woman to Mars.
The make-or-break window for this possible game-changer is October 2014. At that time, an Oort cloud comet called C/2013 A1, first discovered last month, will approach Mars, missing it by about 35,000 km, which is quite close.
However the comet’s trajectory is still uncertain, which leaves a small chance it could impact the planet, said Russian astronomer Leonid Elenin, who worked on calculating the course of the celestial body. The comet will be travelling at a speed of 56 kilometers per second relative to Mars when it passes; if they do collide, the resulting explosion would be equal to a 20,000-gigaton bomb blast – powerful enough to leave a 50-kilometer crater on the planetary surface
The event would trigger a major change of the Martian climate, Australian space scientist Robert Matson explained. The impact would evaporate large amounts of water and carbon dioxide ice from the comet, spread across a planetary scale, making the climate on Mars much warmer due to the greenhouse effect.
August 12, 2012
Sci-Fi Short Terraform: A Different Kind of Mars Landing
Mars turns from dusty dead zone to Earth-like paradise in Terraform, a striking sci-fi short created by five recent graduates of French visual-effects school ArtFx.
“Terraform is a short film mixing live-action footage and CGI,” wrote team member Thomas Nivet in an e-mail to Wired. “It tells the story of the planet Mars, being terraformed.”
The six-minute short (above) flows like a folk tale being read to a child in a far-distant future. “One day, the fire birds tore the sky apart,” says the voiceover, just before a wave of terraforming machines blaze through the Martian atmosphere and land on the rocky red planet. Splendid shots of spaceships and other machinery follow.
September 19, 2011
‘The Mars Underground’ Documentary Updated and on DVD
The Mars Society is pleased to announce that ‘The Mars Underground’, a documentary film that became an instant classic among space enthusiasts, has been updated and revised by the director and released on DVD.
Leading aerospace engineer and Mars Society President Dr. Robert Zubrin has a dream. He wants to get humans to the planet Mars in the next ten years. Now, with the advent of a revolutionary plan, Mars Direct, Dr. Zubrin shows how we can use present day technology and natural resources on Mars to make human settlement possible. But can he win over the skeptics at NASA and the wider world?
‘The Mars Underground’ is a landmark documentary that follows Dr. Zubrin and his team as they try to bring this incredible dream to life. Through spellbinding animation, the film takes us on a daring first journey to the Red Planet and envisions a future Mars teeming with life and terraformed into a blue world. A must-see experience for anyone concerned for our global future and the triumph of the human spirit.
August 22, 2011
Synthetic Life Could Help Colonize Mars, Biologist Says
Synthetic organisms engineered to use carbon dioxide as a raw material could help humans settle Mars one day, a prominent biologist says.
Man-made, CO2-munching lifeforms are already in the works, geneticist Craig Venter told a crowd here during an event called TEDxNASA@SiliconValley Wednesday night (Aug. 17). Venter and his team, who made headlines last year by creating the world's first synthetic organism, are trying to design cells that can use atmospheric carbon dioxide to make food, fuel, plastics and other products.
This ability would obviously have huge implications here on Earth, but it could also help make Mars — whose thin atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide — a more livable place, Venter said.
August 4, 2011
NASA Spacecraft Data Suggest Water Flowing on Mars
Observations from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed possible flowing water during the warmest months on Mars.
"NASA's Mars Exploration Program keeps bringing us closer to determining whether the Red Planet could harbor life in some form,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, “and it reaffirms Mars as an important future destination for human exploration."
Dark, finger-like features appear and extend down some Martian slopes during late spring through summer, fade in winter, and return during the next spring. Repeated observations have tracked the seasonal changes in these recurring features on several steep slopes in the middle latitudes of Mars' southern hemisphere.
"The best explanation for these observations so far is the flow of briny water," said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson. McEwen is the principal investigator for the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) and lead author of a report about the recurring flows published in Thursday's edition of the journal Science.
July 18, 2011
Teen inventor combats kudzu menace
He spends his days battling kudzu, an invasive plant that has overrun millions of acres of land throughout the Southeastern United States. For his sixth grade science project, Schindler -- now 17 years old -- came up with the idea of planting kudzu on Mars.
"We breathe in oxygen, we breathe out CO2, and plants breathe in CO2 and breathe out oxygen. I started asking what would make it impossible to grow kudzu on Mars," he said.
Experimenting with different gasses led him to find that helium killed the kudzu but without harming the other plants around it.
September 14, 2010
Why Don't We Terraform Mars With Comets?
The Atlantic Wire
The big question from theoretical physicist and occasional blogger Dr. Michio Kaku isn't "Can we terraform Mars for human habitation by bombarding it with comets and asteroids" but "Why haven't we started yet?" After appearing on the Sci Fi channel to explain his idea, Kaku took to his blog to answer reader questions about what, exactly, he was talking about. He begins by dismissing the idea of terraforming Mars with nuclear power plants as the reckless insanity it obviously is, going on to explain his much more modest idea of shooting asteroids at the red planet's surface. Kaku goes on to set up a timeline for terraforming Mars. He predicts the first astronauts will arrive "mid-century," the first human colonies will be built "later in the 21st century," and terraforming will happen in the "mid 22nd century." Just to give a sense of scale, 2250 is 240 years from now; the date 240 years ago was 1770. So, according to Kaku, the distance between the American Revolution and today is roughly equivalent to the distance between today and the terraforming of Mars.
September 9, 2010
How Microbes Could Help Colonize Mars
Tiny rock-eating microbes could mine precious extraterrestrial resources from Mars and pave the way for the first human colonists, but would take much longer to help transform the red planet via terraforming. One of the most promising planetary colonizers comes in the form of cyanobacteria. The ancient bacteria helped create a habitable Earth with oxygen at least 2.5 billion years ago, and have since colonized practically every possible environment while relying upon photosynthesis to convert sunlight into energy.
Cyanobacteria and other rock-dwelling microbes also have proven that they can survive the hard vacuum of space aboard facilities such as Europe's BIOPAN exposure platform and the International Space Station's EXPOSE platform. Only the harsh space radiation in low Earth-orbit presents a life-threatening problem for the hardy organisms.
May 11, 2010
Is terraforming Mars impossible?
The Christian Science Monitor
It looks like humanities hope of turning Mars into a second Earth may never translate into reality thanks in part to the red planet’s lack of a magnetic field. Scientists have discovered that our Sun’s solar radiation may thwart all attempts at increasing the atmospheric pressure of the crimson world, which means we may never get the chance of witnessing a green Mars, let alone a blue one. Although this means that Mars may never become a second eden (unless we can create a global magnetic field), it does not mean that humanity will never settle the planet en mass.
Future colonists will have to adapt to living within specialized biospheres (with portable magnetic shields to protect them from radiation), although doing so is probably much cheaper than terraforming the entire planet.
March 17, 2010
Bad News for Terraformers: Periodic Bursts Of Solar Radiation Destroy The Martian Atmosphere
Unfortunately for anyone looking to terraform Mars, a new study shows that powerful waves of solar wind periodically strip the Red Planet of its atmosphere. Scientists had known for years that Mars has atmosphere troubles, but only by analyzing new data from he Mars Express spacecraft were they able to identify the special double solar waves as the specific cause.
Double solar waves are a rare phenomenon that result when the Sun emits waves of differing speeds. If a fast wave follows a slow wave, the fast wave crashes into the back of the slow one, rolling them both up into a super-charged double wave. Scientists were able to correlate Martian atmosphere loss, as measured by the the Mars Express spacecraft, with records of double radiation waves in 2007 and 2008 taken by the Advanced Composition Explorer spacecraft. According to the study, one third of Martian atmosphere loss occurs during these waves, which are only present 15 percent of the time.
March 15, 2010
Leicester physicists part of team studying impact of solar wind on Mars atmosphere
University of Leicester
Space physicists from the University of Leicester are part of an international team that has identified the impact of the Sun on Mars’ atmosphere.
Writing in the AGU journal Geophysics Research Letters, the scientists report that Mars is constantly losing part of its atmosphere to space.
The new study shows that pressure from solar wind pulses is a significant contributor to Mars's atmospheric escape.
The researchers analysed solar wind data and satellite observations that track the flux of heavy ions leaving Mars's atmosphere. The authors found that Mars's atmosphere does not drift away at a steady pace; instead, atmospheric escape occurs in bursts.
The researchers related those bursts of atmospheric loss to solar events known as corotating interaction regions (CIRs). CIRs form when regions of fast solar wind encounter slower solar wind, creating a high-pressure pulse. When these CIR pulses pass by Mars, they can drive away particles from Mars's atmosphere.
January 25, 2010
Making Mars the New Earth
What would it take to green the red planet? For starters, a massive amount of global warming.
Could we “terraform” Mars—that is, transform its frozen, thin-aired surface into something more friendly and Earthlike? Should we? The first question has a clear answer: Yes, we probably could. Spacecraft, including the ones now exploring Mars, have found evidence that it was warm in its youth, with rivers draining into vast seas. And right here on Earth, we’ve learned how to warm a planet: just add greenhouse gases to its atmosphere. Much of the carbon dioxide that once warmed Mars is probably still there, in frozen dirt and polar ice caps, and so is the water. All the planet needs to recapture its salad days is a gardener with a big budget.
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