A European orbiter has confirmed Monday that there has been increased production of methane – a gas that is typically produced by living organisms on Earth – in Mars and raised the possibility that living organisms could have produced them in another planet.
The possibility of an alien life form in Mars has been a subject of multiple operations by the different space programs around the world. In Nature Geoscience on Monday, scientists working with the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter reported that in the summer of 2013, the spacecraft detected methane within Gale Crater, a 96-mile-wide depression near the Martian equator.
“Our finding constitutes the first independent confirmation of a methane detection,” said Marco Giuranna, a scientist at the National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy, in an email. Dr. Giuranna is the principal investigator for the Mars Express instrument that made the measurements.
According to researchers, the methane gas in the Martian atmosphere is most likely to have been created recently because gas decays quickly and have relatively low half lives. Calculations indicate that sunlight and other chemical reaction in the thin Martian atmosphere would break up the molecules within a few hundred years.
The researchers suggest that methane gas in Mars could have been created by a geological process called “serpentinization.” Or it could be a by-product of life – specifically methanogens. Methanogens are microbes that release methane as waste and thrive in places with low oxygen, such as underground rocks and digestive tracks of animals.
The hopeful scientists argue that even if the methane were not produced by life, the hydrothermal systems in a geologic process that created the methane emissions would still be a prime location to search for signs of life.
Interestingly, the data confirmed by ESA coincided by the data reported by NASA’s Curiosity rover that has been exploring that region since 2011. NASA has noted a significant rise of methane in the air in the summer of 2013, too, that lasted for about two months.
“It reaffirms the hypothesis that Mars is presently active,” said Sushil Atreya, a planetary scientist at the University of Michigan and a member of the Curiosity science team.
Only recently, a new European Mars spacecraft, the Trace Gas Orbiter, with a more sophisticated methane detector has been in orbit since 2017, but no results have been reported by far.
The search for life in Mars had also seen a fresh hope when a group of scientist also discovered what they thought is micro-organism in Mars. A group of researchers has published in the Journal of Astrobiology and Space Science Reviews a paper saying that they may have found evidence of life currently living in Mars.
The researchers argue that a fungus-like ‘growth’ found on Mars is indicative of a microbial life that could have been existing in the planet. The paper cites their observations of the photos taken by the retired Opportunity Rover. The left panoramic camera captured the image below on Sol 37 (37th Martian day), showing lobes that may be lichen growing on Mars.
According to the co-author of the paper, Dr. Regina Dass of the Department of Microbiology, School of Life Sciences in India, the suspected microorganism has spores on the surrounding surface. “There are no geological or other abiogenic forces on Earth which can produce sedimentary structures, by the hundreds, which have mushroom shapes, stems, stalks, and shed what looks like spores on the surrounding surface,” she said.
The authors of the paper offer the varying amount of methane in Mars as additional proof to their discovery. They said that the fact that there are measurable differences in the amount of methane in the atmosphere based on the season adds credibility to the claims of microbial life’s existence on Mars.
They explained: “On Earth, 90% of methane is produced biologically by living and decaying organisms and released as a waste product by prokaryotes certain species of fungi. Terrestrial atmospheric methane levels also vary with the seasons and are directly attributed to biological activity.”
The researchers hypothesized that this phenomenon is like “breathing” for the planet. It exhales methane when things warm up, and the supposed life wakes up; and when it gets cold in the fall/winter, life ‘goes to sleep’ or is otherwise less active, resulting in lower methane. Nonetheless, the researchers admit that their study was inconclusive and more discoveries should be made to confirm their hypothesis.
Artemis Mission To Send First American Woman To The Moon
On Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary, NASA announces that they will be sending the first woman to the moon in their upcoming come back to space in 2024. And like every historic event, it needs a name which NASA coined as Artemis.
Coincidentally, Apollo has a twin named Artemis and, more appropriately, she’s known as the Goddess of the Moon, among others according to Greek Mythology. So sending a female astronaut in this mission to the moon is a no-brainer at best.
“It turns out that Apollo had a twin sister, Artemis. She happens to be the goddess of the Moon. Our astronaut office is very diverse and highly qualified. I think it is very beautiful that 50 years after Apollo, the Artemis program will carry the next man — and the first woman — to the Moon,” said Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator.
Artemis, the feminine name, is a refreshing change in space exploration since all the names related to which are filled by men throughout history. Although the first moon landing was highly contributed by women, it’s high time that they get the attention and recognition of making NASA’s return all about the woman instead of the man.
Bridenstine notes that NASA’s Artemis mission is for the future generations and said that “I have an 11-year-old daughter, and I want her to be able to see herself in the same way that our current very diverse astronaut corps sees itself.”
“If we look at the history of Moon landings, it was tested pilots from the 1960s and 1970s, fighter pilots, and there were no opportunities for women back then. This program is going to enable a new generation of young girls like my daughter to see themselves in a way that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise see themselves,” he said at a Q&A after the announcement.
Moreover, according to The Verge, when asked about who gets to first step on the moon and if it gets to be a women, Bridenstine says that “the direction that we have right now is that the next man and the first woman will be Americans and that we will land on the south pole of the Moon in 2024. Beyond that we’ve not made any specific decisions, but I will tell you it’s something that we’re all interested in, and I think there’s a lot of young ladies all across the country, and in fact all around the world, that are wondering who that first woman is going to be.”
The announcement follows after the Artemis mission finally confirmed that the project has official funding from the government at $1.6 billion. However, both the administration and critics know that it would not be enough. That’s where partner commercial companies come in and pitch in a few favors to get that woman on the moon.
On the other hand, according to Bridenstine, there will be an estimate of about 11 launches for the entirety of the mission but most likely, women, more particularly, people won’t be able to lift off to space until the 10th when Artemis 2 will be able to fly a crewed launch that is set to orbit the moon.
Furthermore, Artemis 3 that is set to take the crew on the actual moon will first need the orbiting platform, Gateway developed and a lander to give astronauts the power and thrust to descend and ascend the moon.
The favors commercial companies will be giving to NASA will be in terms of deployment of materials to space and more importantly, developing the design and hardware for the Gateway and the lander.
As of the moment, there are eleven aerospace companies that will share more than $45 million in funds from NASA to design and test prototypes for the Artemis Moon missions. These companies include established names like Space X, Blue Origin, and Boeing among others.
“We’re keen to collect early industry feedback about our human landing system requirements, and the undefinitized contract action will help us do that,” Greg Chavers in a NASA press release. “This new approach doesn’t prescribe a specific design or number of elements for the human landing system. NASA needs the system to get our astronauts on the surface and return them home safely, and we’re leaving a lot of the specifics to our commercial partners.”
Here’s the full list of companies NASA granted to take on the responsibility:
- Aerojet Rocketdyne – Canoga Park, California
- One transfer vehicle study
- Blue Origin – Kent, Washington
- One descent element study, one transfer vehicle study, and one transfer vehicle prototype
- Boeing – Houston
- One descent element study, two descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype, one refueling element study, and one refueling element prototype
- Dynetics – Huntsville, Alabama
- One descent element study and five descent element prototypes
- Lockheed Martin – Littleton, Colorado
- One descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study, and one refueling element study
- Masten Space Systems – Mojave, California
- One descent element prototype
- Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems – Dulles, Virginia
- One descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one refueling element study, and one refueling element prototype
- OrbitBeyond – Edison, New Jersey
- Two refueling element prototypes
- Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colorado and Madison, Wisconsin
- One descent element study, one descent element prototype, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype, and one refueling element study
- SpaceX – Hawthorne, California
- One descent element study
- SSL – Palo Alto, California
- One refueling element study and one refueling element prototype
NASA: We Are Going To The Moon And Beyond
It has been 50 years since NASA has deployed its spacecraft from the American soil out to the moon’s surface due to costly effects of space exploration and shaky political decisions. But NASA announced this week that it has received its nod of approval from the Trump administration and will go full throttle to the moon up to its awaited launch in 2024.
“Our greatest achievements remain ahead of us. And as the chief appropriator for NASA, I will work with the President of the United States, the Vice President and Jim Bridenstine, to make certain NASA has the resources to land the first woman on the Moon and build lasting infrastructure to support missions to Mars and beyond,” Senator Jerry Moran, chairman of the CJS Appropriations Committee in the Senate — that’s the key committee that funds NASA said in a tweet.
Moreover, President Donald Trump also said in Tweet that it is willing to allocate a $1.6 billion budget on NASA’s mission back to Mars in a “BIG WAY.”
However, critics have expressed that with all the plans that NASA has announced so far, $1.6 billion might not be so big after all. Some claim that they need at least $8 billion to proceed.
In an exclusive interview with Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s current administrator, he stated that “[NASA] already [has] SLS, Orion, and the European Service Module well underway. Those are three of the biggest components to getting humans to the Moon, and we’re on the brink of being ready with those programs. When we talk about what we need, we’ve got to get the Gateway developed, and we need to get the landing systems developed.”
Moreover, he goes to explain that commercial partners will also be helping behind NASA’s ambitious mission of space exploration. Enthusiastic in a sense that they’re not only planning to land in the moon but also go farther into space like Mars and beyond.
Just this year, a commercial company, Space X has successfully launched and landed an American-made and from American soil spacecraft named Dragon to the ISS for the first time since the NASA space shuttles retired.
In retrospect, commercial companies are helping pave the way for NASA to accomplish its mission of returning to space; alongside recent innovations in space travel developed through the years.
The 2024 mission, coined Artemis, will potentially have up to 11 launches that include hardware deployment, testing, and actual human launches in the next five years. Commercial companies will also be playing a large part in doing the deployment and testing of NASA’s hardware and plans.
Primarily, NASA has SLS or the Space Launch System well underway. The SLS is an American space shuttle intended to thrust rockets into space from Americal soil. According to NASA, SLS is set to be the most powerful rocket in existence with a total thrust greater than that of Saturn V.
SLS follows the cancellation of the Constellation Program and is to replace the retired Space Shuttle. The Constellation Program, which included Ares I, for heavy cargo deployment, and Ares V, for crew launches. SLS brings both concepts into one rocket that would carry both payload and crew in a single launch.
Secondly, the SLS will also be carrying a brand new crew capsule called Orion that will be equipped with the European Service Module and will shelter the crew as they lift off from the Earth until the moon’s orbit. Orion is reported to be also well into development.
Based on NASA’s plans, Orion will be able to dock in an orbiting platform called Gateway. It will function as a resting point or a transition platform for NASA crew as they descend into the moon through another lander. Both Gateway and Orion are still set to be developed by partner commercial companies as the mission proceeds in the coming years.
On the topic of Gateway, the orbiting platform which will likely resemble the ISS but rather than orbiting the Earth it will be specifically set to orbit the moon where future landers will be stored to give astronauts the power and thrust needed to descend and ascend the moon. Moreover, it can also be used as a resting point when NASA decides to push farther into deeper space like Mars.
There are a lot of things to look forward as NASA thrusts into space in the next five years but there are also a lot of questions that await answers as we have yet to see how plans turn into eventualities but one thing’s for sure: they are all going to be exciting as how all of this could impact human society.
Space X Launches First 60 Starlink Satellites Tonight
Elon Musk’s ambitious project of providing global Internet is launching off tonight. If weather conditions permit, Space X will launch Falcon 9 to orbit at 7:30 PM PT and 10:30 PM ET over Cape Canaveral, Florida. You can watch along via Space X’s live stream.
The launch was first scheduled to take off Wednesday night, but due to the rough winds in the upper atmosphere, the lift-off was delayed for one day, according to the SpaceX webcast host.
Space X’s Falcon 9 will be carrying the first 60 Starlink satellites that will compose the Starlink constellation which will beam the Internet from space to all the regions of the Earth.
However, 60 satellites wouldn’t be enough to make the idea of global internet an acceptable reality. According to Musk, they will launch a total of 11,940 Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit between now and the mid-2020s as part of Space X’s demonstration of the technology.
To put it into perspective, SpaceX will need “6 more launches of 60” satellites per launch to get “minor coverage” for the internet network, and a dozen launches, or 720 satellites, are needed “for moderate” coverage.” So we could expect about a dozen more launches from now until next year from Space X.
The problem that Space X is facing about their satellite delivery is more on the satellite’s mass rather than its weight. Each Starlink satellite weighs about 500 lbs each adding up to around 30,000 lbs of payload. The Falcon 9 can carry upwards 50,000 lbs but the current design prevents Space X from lugging more satellites at a time.
The satellite design has a “flat-panel design featuring multiple high-throughput antennas and a single solar array,” Musk says. In a tweet by Musk, we can see in the photos attached that the satellites are put in a “tight fit.”
However, the hurdle that the Starlink project needs to overcome is whether or not the production design they have developed for the satellites would show promise as it would greatly affect how Space X will move forward.
Primarily, Musk still needs to see if the deployment mechanisms of their solar panels will work effectively. As a precaution, they have two different sets of deployment mechanisms ready. Moreover, from the previous tests (Tintin a and Tintin B), they also made changes with the thrusters as well as phased array antennas that will await results as they get fully tested in space.
On the other hand, the satellites will also be deployed at a much lower orbit than what the team had expected. Even much lower than their test demonstrations back in February 2018.
Musk himself said in a tweet that a lot could go wrong in the first leg of this technology. There are a lot of things to consider and making tech intended for space is not an affordable venture. Other than, making sure that their satellites will work, they also have to keep investors happy with results. He also said during a teleconference “This is very hard. There is a lot of new technology, so it’s possible that some of these satellites may not work. There’s a small possibility that all of these satellites will not work.”
You can watch the livestream 15 minutes before liftoff here:
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