MARS Updates Including The Curiosity Rover, The Flow of Liquid Water and Possible Manned Missions
Michio Kaku is a futurist, popularizer of science, and theoretical physicist, as well as a bestselling author and the host of two radio programs. He is the co-founder of string field theory (a branch of string theory), and continues Einstein’s search to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into one unified theory. He holds the Henry Semat Chair and Professorship in theoretical physics and a joint appointment at City College of New York and the Graduate Center of C.U.N.Y. He is also a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.
Kaku launched his Big Think blog, "Dr. Kaku's Universe," in March 2010.
For decades, Mars has been the focus of intense interest and here are some of those updates that have recently transpired.
NASA is preparing to launch its latest Mars probe, Curiosity (or the Mars Science Laboratory) sometime after Thanksgiving. It is loaded with the latest scientific equipment, and may help to solve some of the mysteries concerning the red planet. Every two years, NASA has a small "window of opportunity" to shoot a space probe to Mars and the upcoming launch just so happens to coincide with that window. That launch window is between November 25th and December 18th, 2011 with the actual launch taking place on Nov. 25, 2011 at 7:21 a.m. PST (10:21 a.m. EST).
Below is an archived webcast of NASA scientists and engineers building the Curiosity Rover that was recorded directly from the clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The LIVE Curiosity Cam will be back up and running sometime within the next month or so.
Some additional facts about the new Curiosity Rover are as follows:
Additional Fact Sheets are as Follows:
Curiosity will join the much smaller Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity (MES) which has been setting records left and right. The rover mission was supposed to last 3 months, but instead has been working furiously since 2004. In its latest journey, which took 3 years, it climbed up the Endeavor crater which is about 14 miles across. This rover can almost be compared to the Everyready bunny rabbit that just keeps on going and going. Its new mission is to examine the clay in the crater, since that clay may be remnants of an ancient lake in that crater. These gigantic craters in many ways are like time machines, since they are billions of years old and reveal ancient underground layers of rock.
Sadly, Opportunities twin, the Spirit rover, became stuck in an area of soft soil and couldn't quite break free in late 2009. Spirit's last communication with Earth was sent on March 22, 2010 and now the rover will remain stuck and will slowly be deteriorated by the windy and rough elements of the planet. The Spirit rover however will go down in history as taking the first and highest resolution image taken from the surface of another planet. The image below (a small portion) originally had a full size resolution of 4,000 by 3,000 pixels, which isn't much higher than an 8M digital camera found on most phones and takes photos with a resolution of around 3,264 x 1,952 pixels. Since this very first image was snapped, the Spirit cameras have been quite trigger happy and NASA has provided a gallery of those 128,224 Raw Images and can be viewed here.
Another update about the red planet seems to be puzzling planetary scientists and is the recent discovery of streaks found at the rim of large craters on Mars, which may represent the flow of liquid water. These streaks were photographed by orbiting space craft and can be seen in the image below. This assumption that these streaks directly represent that of liquid water although they are still controversial. We know that salt water freezes at a lower temperature than ordinary water, so it is conceivable that even on the frozen surface of Mars, liquid water (in the form of salt water or brine) may flow freely during some months of the year. But this is still speculation although not being dismissed by any means. For the most part, Mars is a frozen desert so any forms of life, probably microbial, might be found underground, perhaps living in hot springs under the surface. Only time and further examination will provide us the facts that we are looking for.
For quite some time, there has been talk about the possibility for a manned mission to the red planet and Hollywood has always provided us glorified versions of that. This possibility gained quite a bit more traction in the news when President Obama recently insisted that NASA needed to focus on new frontiers and leap into the future.
It wasn't long ago that President Obama called on NASA scientists and engineers to launch a manned mission to Mars within three decades. President Obama made several remarks on the subject including "By the mid-2030's, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth with a landing on Mars to shortly follow." He also stated that "We're still using the same models for space travel that we used with the Apollo program 30, 40 years ago. And so what we've said is, rather than keep on doing the same thing, let's invest in basic research around new technologies that can get us places faster, allow human space flight to last longer." Many people stated that those very remarks were quite reminiscent to the 1962 speech at Rice Stadium by President Kennedy in '62 when he stated "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth."
President Obama's plans for such a mission are far from new as he mentioned all of this last year when he stated that humans would most likely set foot on an asteroid just prior to the long-dreamed-of expedition to Mars.
The very earliest date for a possible manned mission to Mars is 2035, but that of course depends on many factors (economical, political & technological). At present, there is talk of building a new booster rocket capable of going to Mars, but at the moment there are no funds or concrete plans for such a booster. Until then, it appears that everything is on hold and may be for quite some time. Even if a manned Mars mission is approved, it might only reach the moons of Mars (making a return trip back to Earth more feasible). But with all of the recent budget cuts combined with a bad economy, there certainly isn't much progress in this direction not to mention that a manned mission to Mars isn't likely to be at the top of the list.
More updates to follow...
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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