Thursday, 7 June 2018

Complex Organics and Heli-Drones on Mars

Some time ago, a noise arose from the depths of the internet, telling us that octopi were probably alien creatures introduced via panspermia , thus delighting fans of the Cthulhu mythos...but wait ! Hold that mocking laughter - the Curiosity explorer has just discovered complex carbon molecules in an ancient lakebed on Mars.
Whilst not proof of direct organic lifeforms, it would certainly be evidence of foodstuffs for putative organic lifeforms
As I write, NASA are planning a press conference to make public the exciting discovery which has already been leaked to the voracious denizens of the internet.
This is NOT evidence of life, but it certainly adds a great deal of potential to the upcoming Mars missions, especially the ESA Exo Mars rover, which will deploy a drill allowing subsurface exploration to a depth of two metres, where fossil evidence may be found, safe from the degenerative radiation of the depleted Mars atmosphere.
The upcoming NASA mission to Mars will include a drone - except that it is being called a helicopter,but it won't have a, a drone, then...

Artist impression of  Mars Helicopter/ Drone  / Flying Box                NASA/JPL

With the pending rendezvous with Bennu in December, and New Horizons encounter with MU69 on Jan 1 2019, it's quite a hectic time in space - I just hope the planned protest by the cruelly neglected movement 'SeaHorses Are Alien, Too ,You Know !' - finally gets the recognition they deserve !

Are Seahorses Aliens ?

This teeny little blog will probably update, so  - be prepared for further ramblings...

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Mars Quakes, Clippers And Alien Krill

Gullied wall on Mars    NASA  HI -Rez image processed  byKevinMGill 
Today saw the launch of the Atlas-V rocket from Vandenburg, carrying the NASA Insight lander on its journey to Mars, touching down in six months, and sending us new subsurface data of 'Marsquakes' to enable us to build a clear picture of the seismic internal workings of both Mars, and ultimately, our own planet .

Insight follows on from Viking 2 and Phoenix               image NASA  / JPL

 Let's hope that it proves fruitful, as it appears that NASA have nixed the idea of human journeys to Mars due to costs. In the greater scheme of things, the commercial field is burgeoning, and I'm surre that bookings are healthy for Mars 'trips'
Lets not forget the space hotel, Orion span, which is due in 2021,

Personally I don't think that Mars even has the best resources available for fruitful exploration, ( no atmosphere, precious little water, major terraforming necessary) - although, if there are any cheap smallholdings available, let me know ; I'll pack the factor 2000 Suncream

I am excited about the proposed Europa Clipper, although it has huge considerable problems ahead - funding, the feasibility of a rocket big enough for the 60 tonne probe, successful navigation of the complex gravitational fields of Jupiter and its many moons, etcetera. The potential pay-off , however, could be (pardon the pun) astronomical - alien krill !
Okay, so that was a lame joke that downplays the potential of such a historic voyage - but if I've learned one thing about space exploration, it's not to get over - excited (as I was about the huge sodium deposits of Ceres, and the fiery fate* of Cassini)
The launch of Europa Clipper is currently set at 2022 , and should take about three years to reach the icy Jovian moon
 Although it has already done the viral thing online, I am still hugely impressed by this gif collated by Twitter user Landru 79...using many pictures taken by the errant lander Philae: Landru intends to remake the gif in full colour, no less !
The sheer fact that it shows imagery from the surface of a comet hurtling through space leaves me overawed and humbled. It may be a cliché , but what a time to be alive !

* I think this may have had more to do with the Absinthe I drank in commemoration)

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Eyes on Exoworlds, Microbes in Clouds, and Hopping Robots on Asteroids

T.E.S.S. final picture before being prepped for launch
The Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Surveyor will be launched on Monday 16th April (Tomorrow as I write this, but who's counting ?)
Launching from Cape Canaveral, it will add to the search for Earth-like exoplanets currently being scoped by Hubble and Keppler.
It will bridge the (ever-increasing) gap between now and the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope

I find it both commendable but also a good deal of why?
Exoplanets are already bountiful, but the hopes of ever reaching one are painfully slim.
I suppose it helps to identify chemical composition, and make comparisons with our own backwater world. In that respect, it may further our ability to i.d. various chemical signatures in the atmosphere of impossibly distant worlds.
Recently though, Proxima B, a strong exoworld contender, has apparently been subjected to a potentially lethal dose of radiation from its parent star.

Exoplanet transit

Closer to home, we are finding tantalising possibilities of life in our own universe  - the water plumes of Enceladus and the submerged oceans of  Europa to name but two possible contenders; and now there is also the potential of microbes in the clouds of Venus.
The inhospitable surface of Venus has claimed many probes and led to the place being dubbed a hellish world, but the upper atmosphere has potential for further exporation - a floating ' cloud station' has even been mooted. There is also a pending joint America / Russia sortie ( the much delayed Venera -D)

Still remaining in our vicinity - the Japanese explorer Hayabusa 2 is on schedule to collect and return with samples from asteroid Ryugu, having already found and imaged the target - if I'm not mistaken, this is the mission with hopping robots !

Minerva - hopping robot     ISAS

The return of Hayabusa 2 is scheduled for 2020, leaving Osiris- rex lagging behind (it won't get a visual of the target asteroid Bennu until August 2018, and return is scheduled for 2023 ) - but in the spirit of international co-operation, samples will be shared between the two missions.

Apropos of nothing, here is a link to a piece I was going to use as an illustration of spacetime travel, but I ran out of time...


It's not just birds that can ' see' the Earths magnetic field - ESA have Swarm on the case, too

The discovery of a galaxy lacking the elusive ' dark matter' has become a contentious issue...

Sunday, 8 April 2018

When A Fish Is A Rock, Space Pioneers, And Magnetic Birds Eye Views

Todays brief blog comes to you courtesy of my spare 'back-up' spectacles, which, to coin a phrase, are 'bloody useless', so please bear with me -

Artists impression  NASA/ D. Guidice
Today is the anniversary of the launch of Pioneer 11 which became the first craft to fly through the rings of Saturn, testing the journey for possible problems prior to the later arrival of Voyager 1 and 2.
The pioneering Pioneers 10 and 11 also carried the plaques suggested by Carl Sagan as a form of potential greeting to any curious lifeforms...Voyager 1 and 2 went further (literally) , with the inclusion of the 'Golden Disk' containing Earth sounds, music, etc.
The only issue is whether our alien friends exist,* and if so, do they have a record player ?...I presume the next explorer craft will just carry a link to a streaming service....
The Pioneer spacecraft were powered down in 1995 following 22 years of exploration, and are now  far away, drifting towards a distant constellation - no dramatic Cassini - style plunge into a planet for them, just a slow drift into eternity ( unless an alien intercepts them and posts them back to the 3rd planet from Sol...)
The plaque on Pioneers 10 / 11... complete with address details
On the subject of historic launches - Virgin Galactic successfully tested their low- orbit craft a few days ago, (following the tragic attempt in 2014 ) , and are now in the burgeoning field of commercial spaceflight- it's getting busy out ** there, with a space hotel*** promised for 2022, as well as the many satellites being launched
Book now before the view of Earth from space becomes pertmanently obscured !
( know that feeling when you have just one chance to take the perfect shot of a beautiful view, and someone gets in the way ?)
Yeah, that one - so book now !
The day will come when people confess that their photograph of Earth is only clear of debris thanks to the use of Photoshop ™ - (sad emoji)
Birds have no such problems - in  recent news releases it appears that our feathered friends can actually see the Earths magnetic field in some fashion., using a protein known as Cry4...

*Great comic page from ' The Nib', reminding us that (for instance) the chemical signature of a fish could be the same chemical signature as a rock - so let's not be over-excited about exo-worlds 

** I'm never really sure whether it's 'out ' there or 'up' there...hmmm

***Catering in the space hotel may well be using salad crops / vegetables of the kind grown recently in Antarctica by German researchers

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Dark Matter, Majorana, Quipu and Naked Sand

Apparently a galaxy has been found without any dark matter
Normally this would be a cause for concern, but as dark matter has never been empirically proven to exist, I think we'll just have to collectively shake our heads in bewilderment.
'Dark Matter' is possibly a marketing opportunity according to this piece - interesting article, but the overuse of the phrase 'sort of ' makes me sad.
Still, it's a step up from ' kinda '...if you know worra mean...

Perhaps I'm psychic...or a jinx, as no sooner did I mention * the pending launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, than it was put back to 2020.
The JWST has a long history of delays, going way back to 2005, but let's not be negative.
Sadly though, the delay will impact on other projects
Similarly, the Parker Solar Probe hit a couple of delays (it is also the only NASA craft named after a living person) but is now on target for a launch window between May and July 2018 : if you're quick, you can include your own name, sending it to the sun - not sure of the symbolism here - thousands of sun sacrifices at the same time, hmmm

Mayan sacrifices to the sun revisited ?

If you would prefer a hands- on role with NASA, now is the time - I'd apply, but not being a U.S. citizen means no, sadly...

There will be a bout of synchronised satellite flying in 2020, as ESA send proba 3 to record the suns corona closer than ever before.
The proba series of missions were designed to be low cost, small satellite projects-
Long ago, proba 1 was a satellite used for aerial photography, such as this shot of the Giza pyramid complex in Egypt.
Which brings us to the news that algorithms intended to reveal nudity are turning up images of sand dunes...perhaps it is more evidence that the science behind AI is not really fit for purpose; another frustration for Microsoft who are trying to make progress in what they see as a triptych of science offering great potential  - AI, Augmented Reality, and Quantum Computing.
Sand nudes , as they say...
They are currently working with an elusive particle - Majorana Fermion, in an attempt to corner the market in 'quantum supremacy' which is a long shot given that they have yet to produce an actual quantum computer ( D-wave have allegedly already done this, although their computers are very limited in ability).
Majorana Fermion is unique, in that it contains its its own anti-particle , as well as retaining memory of where it's been, and Microsoft hope to use it for braiding - the best analogy I can think of is the use of knots to contain information as practiced in many cultures - particularly the Andean Quipu system which was in use until it was eradicated by the Spanish conquistadors.

Quipu in the Larco Museum collection
Another analogy would be the DNA helix structure which contains the encrypted passcode to everything living... either way, good luck to Microsoft in their quantum endeavours. I'm only surprised that neither Jeff Bezos nor Elon Musk are involved in the race for ' quantum supremacy'...


It appears that the ' alien megastructure star' is at it again , with further dips in luminosity.

As I write this micro-blog post, we await the re-entry of the Chinese space station Tiangong 1 - debris is expected to fall between New Zealand and the U.S. - sometime on Monday 2nd April.
Previous debris falls included the 77 tonne Skylab in 1979...**

**UPDATE- Tiangong 1 burned up harmlessly somewhere overhead,,,

This link contains some stunning processed images of the Gale crater on Mars, thanks to Sean Dorán



Happy April Fools Day, Easter, Eostre !

*23rd March blogpost

Friday, 23 March 2018

Multiverses, Telescopes , Data Mining, and Mars

The much delayed James Webb Telescope   pic Chris Gunn / NASA

The Kepler spacecraft is running low on fuel, 94 million miles away, ending its years of data- gathering. A technical hitch in 2003 led to the previous mission ending, and Kepler being redesignated K2 , with a new mission of scanning the stars for evidence of exo-worlds.
It will be superceded by the James Webb Telescope, which promises to see further out in space (and back in time), than ever before.
Could be a real boon to testing the final theory of Stephen Hawking...

It is now just over a week since Stephen Hawking died, and we hear that his ashes will be interred in  historic Westminster Abbey.
I'm not sure how that sits with his belief that religion is for those who are scared of the dark, but then again, he also believed in multiple universes, which is like hedging your bets...
rather neatly, this brings us to the issue of his last paper, which was co - authored with Thomas Hertog. 
It posits that there was more than one Big Bang, and that a spacecraft equipped with the right sort of probe can conclusively prove the existence of multiple universes from readings in the cosmic microwave background radiation.
If this gets proven, it would change our entire understanding of Professor Hawking was asked by John Oliver on the subject -
" there's a universe where I'm smarter than you ?"
Professor Hawking replied : " Yes - and there's also a universe where you're funny"
The paper is due for publication in a major journal, very soon.
The launch of the James Webb Telescope is currently scheduled for sometime in early/ mid 2019.

Does Cosmic Background Radiation hold clues to a multiverse ?

 New discoveries in science come from all quarters, these days - many from ' citizen scientists ' , most recently the discovery of aurora named Steve, in Canada
sometimes, though, it can go horribly wrong, and you may find yourself wishing that the Earth would swallow you - for instance, the excitement generated by the apparent 'discovery' of a bright object in the sky. This paper on the discovery is highly technical , but the fact is that someone just re-discovered Mars.
Embarassing, yes - to go public with it, even moreso - but the icing on the cake here is that the discovery was made by a Professor of Astronomy...

I wonder if he'll frame the diploma ?

Just When You Thought Conspiracy Was Dead...

We hear that Cambridge Analyica have been harvesting user data from millions of people for nefarious reasons which are mostly about interfering with elections and keeping corrupt politicians in power.
On the other hand, the article about this comes from the Cambridge University Trustworthy Technologies, so obviously they are the GOOD guys, the important word being ' Trustworthy'.
So that's alright, then.


Saturday, 17 March 2018

Aurora Called Steve, A Rover On Mars, A Map Of Venus, And Farewell, Professor

I think the cosmos has a great sense of synchronicity or something - 'pi' day, which marks the birth anniversary of Einstein, was the day that the great astrophysicist Steven Hawking died.
He was a role model to many, a great thinker and humanitarian, he championed the search for knowledge and refused to be limited by physical or mental restraints.
He said that religion was for people who were scared of the dark.
He also said that there were an infinite number of universes...
I like to think that he is coninuing his work in one of those universes.
"My life goal is simple - to understand the universe - why it is the way it is, and why it exists at all "

 Meanwhile, elsewhere on Earth

This article warns of the effect that human greed is having on the S.E.T.I. project , and the greed of algorithms feeding insatiable databases that is actually hindering the development of A.I : apparently, we should not fear a 'robot singularity' as current technological systems are  subject to random weirdness...

Apparently, the universe is expanding faster than it should be, giving cause for headaches to physicists around the globe.

Having reached the record breaking 5000 sols ( Mars days), NASAs  Opportunity Rover continues to surprise, currently examining Endeavour Valley for what may be evidence of a previously watery environment - speakng of which, it appears that Ceres once had an ocean that covered the surface, and the little dwarf world is still very geologically active with rock falls and ice-flows constantly revealing new material .
Here on Earth, four hundred miles beneath the surface, we find a rare form of water never encountered - until recently, it was only considered possible in outer space - speaking of which, did you ever wonder what Venus would look like if it were terraformed ?
No ?
Venus terraformed - tricky really, as the average surface temperature is 467 C, so presumably the blue oceans would be boiling...

Apparently the asteroid Bennu may strike the Earth in 2135. As I wearily added another pin to my wall map of Endtimes Predictions, I paused , because the name seemed familiar - yes, Bennu is the very asteroid chosen for the Osiris - Rex mission to collect and  return a sample to Earth.
The mission is scheduled to reach Bennu in December 2018. returning with its sample in 2023.
Thank goodness that we are ahead of the game, and will know the precise chemical composition of the asteroid long before it allegedly wipes us out.
So there's that...

As I mentioned briefly, back in April last year, there is a new aurora by the name of Steve. The name was initially a joke, but was given scientific gravitas with the official designation 'Strong Thermal Emissions Venting Enhancement'
Discovered by citizen scientists , the display of green and purple lights is primarily visible in the Calgary skies in Southern Canada.
More data and images can be found at this site.

Meanwhile, back in Blighty - I didn't know we had a National Quantum Technology Hub, but apparently such a thing exists, and from its base in Birmingham, it exports Quantum Gravimeters for the measuring of underground gravitational forces...just the thing for using on the lunar lava tubes...

Please excuse the random nature of this little blog.. I'm trying to dodge unwanted interest from a little smattering of trolls who seem to have ' adopted' my writings, with a view to ripping them off.

Thanks for bearing with me, though !