Plop plop fizz fizz

Titan as viewed by Cassini. Darker patches are lake regions. Image credit: NASA/JPL

Titan as viewed by Cassini. Darker patches are lake regions. Image credit: NASA/JPL

Good morning, Earthlings!

Titan, Saturn's largest moon, has very interesting lake regions near the poles. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and the Arkansas Space Center are working hard to figure out something extraordinary about these frozen lakes- these lakes are "alive" with bubbles!

These lake bubbles are actually pockets of nitrogen within a methane slurry of other compounds that would burst and fizz once exposed to the lake's surface! Some questions are still to be determined:

1- how big are the bubbles? (this is ongoing currently as the laboratories are suspecting nano to millimeter sized bubbles building up

2- how deep do the bubbles form?

3- how viscous are the lakes to make the bubbles travel?

4- and are the bubbles influenced by the seasons? (yes, Titan experiences lake-effect seasons!)

Here's a really cool video from the JPL Titan Group!

Guess the laboratories have a lot to look forward to!

Thank you for reading and come back next week for a look at some beautiful RSLs!

Is Terraforming Possible for Mars?

Artist illustration of Mars' blasted upper atmosphere from solar radiation and strong solar winds. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.

Artist illustration of Mars' blasted upper atmosphere from solar radiation and strong solar winds. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.

Simple answer- no.

But this does NOT mean the same thing as "habitat-living", which is possible for Mars!

Let's take a look: "Terraforming" means to take a planet (Mars) to be the same as Earth. Running liquid water, growing trees, wildlife, atmosphere- the whole caboodle! 

It's not that easy. In fact, for Mars, it would be quite impossible. For Mars to be just like Earth, there's a few key elements missing from the equation: Atmosphere, magnetic field, and water. And there's one MAJOR THING Mars does not have compared to Earth- a rapidly-moving inner core.

That's right! Our iron core provides our magnetic field, which in turn helps sustain our atmosphere, which regulates our temperature and climate! Mars does have a core, but something in its dynamic past has since slowed it- wiping away its magnetic field and ultimately losing the atmosphere. Without a core system, even an induced magnetic field by astronauts would only be temporary. 

And without a magnetic field and an atmosphere- you get LOTS of radiation! Almost to the point of having nearly 10 X-ray scans of your body PER DAY! And with that amount of radiation, the water is not going to remain a liquid on the surface- it's too cold and irradiated at the same time. 

Terraforming is not the way to go for Mars, but building dome-like structures for habitats would be! Complete synthesized micro-environments. This could be our future for the Red Planet.

Comparison of magnetic fields on Earth (left) and Mars (right). Image credit: NASA

Comparison of magnetic fields on Earth (left) and Mars (right). Image credit: NASA

Thank you for reading and next week- a look at bubbles on Titan!

Planet Hop at TRAPPIST-1

TRAPPIST-1 system illustration. Credit: NASA

TRAPPIST-1 system illustration. Credit: NASA

The recent discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 system is still buzzing around with extraordinary mysteries and questions anxious to be answered!

The TRAPPIST-1 system was first dissevered in 2015 with only three tiny planets orbiting the dim, cool dwarf star using the TRAPPIST instrument, thus naming it TRAPPIST-1 system. 

TRAPPIST is the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope at the La Silla Observatory, Chile. By using transit photometry, more planets around the TRAPPIST-1 star were found- counting up to seven as of 2017!

The TRAPPIST star is approximately 11% the size of the sun and less than 10% the mass. The proximity of the planets, for any chance of habitability, must be placed really close to its parent star for heat and water liquidity. 

The planets themselves are not well known…yet. We do know by the movement that these are terrestrial type planets. The sizes are mostly all Earth-sized. Three orbit within the potential Habitable Zone (meaning liquid water is possible!!!) 

"Planet-hopping" has been coined for astrobiological phenomena to hop from planet to planet as the planets in this system are very close, almost as close as our Moon. 

More exciting information should come about with the new James Webb Telescope!

Thank you for reading and next week- a look at Terraforming!

So many "planets"!

Montage of "Not-planets" that would be considered "planets" under a geophysical definition. Image credit: Montage by Emily Lakdawalla. The Moon: Gari Arrillaga. Other data: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/SwRI/UCLA/MPS/IDA. Processing by Ted Stryk, Gordan Ugarkovic, Emily Lakdawalla, and Jason Perry.

Montage of "Not-planets" that would be considered "planets" under a geophysical definition. Image credit: Montage by Emily Lakdawalla. The Moon: Gari Arrillaga. Other data: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/SwRI/UCLA/MPS/IDA. Processing by Ted Stryk, Gordan Ugarkovic, Emily Lakdawalla, and Jason Perry.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) defines a planet under these circumstances:

1-A "planet" is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

2-A "dwarf planet" is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape , (c) has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite.

3-All other objects , except satellites, orbiting the sun shall be referred to collectively as "small solar-system bodies"

Because of these conditions, Pluto and Ceres, among other planetary bodies, have been deemed "dwarf planets", Trans-Neptunian Objects, or Kuiper Belt Objects. The reason for this definition change of "planets" derived from the discovery of too many small icy bodies outside of Pluto's orbit. No one should have to memorize over 100 planets!

Montage of the "major" dwarf planets! Image credit: Montage by Emily Lakdawalla/NASA.

Montage of the "major" dwarf planets! Image credit: Montage by Emily Lakdawalla/NASA.

However, the definition change is still buzzing around in the planetary community! Mainly due to the fact that the IAU definition change was completed by astronomers, not specifically planetary scientists. The definitions, as stated above, are only concerned by the orbital mechanics of the planetary body, not the building blocks of the planet itself. 

Earlier this year, planetary scientists banded together and formed a new concept of the planetary definition - defining planets by the geophysical sense! This would be inclusive to the definition of "exo-planets" or rogue planets off-set from their course. 

The suggested definition by planetary scientists: A planet is a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion and that has sufficient self-gravitation to assume spheroidal shape adequately…regardless of orbital parameters."

However, this definition would define moons, such as Ganymede or the Moon or Europa to be considered planets! The debate continues on...

Thank you for reading and next week- a look at the TRAPPIST-1 system!

The Heart of Pluto

Convective nitrogen cells on Sputnik Planitia. Darker material is thought to be irradiated methane and older ices. Image credit: New Horizons/NASA/SwRI. 

Convective nitrogen cells on Sputnik Planitia. Darker material is thought to be irradiated methane and older ices. Image credit: New Horizons/NASA/SwRI. 

Sputnik Planum/Planitia, named after the significant Soviet Union artificial satellite from 1957, is the prominent heart-shaped lobe on the front of Pluto's icy surface. This mysterious basin still has plenty of questions for years to come, but what we do know at this time is quite spectacular! Here are some facts about Pluto's "beating heart":

1-The surrounding geology (North, South, East, West) areas are all different! The North part has graben scars, West has the dark, reddish-brown are known as Cthulhu Regio, South has possible volcanics, and East has an array of sublimation pits. 

2-There are no craters in this region, indicating an age less than 10 million years!

3-There are possible dark wind streaks, which is a tell-tale sign of sublimation by seasonal and mechanical weathering processes. 

4-Most of the surface has large polygonal-shaped areas, currently thought to be convection cells rising and falling very slowly, showing us the youth and behavior of young nitrogen ice in-fill within this basin. 

5-This is not the original spot. Geophysicists believe that a large impact created the basin in the northern part of Pluto at just the right angle and strength to tilt Pluto to an equilibrium, or calmer spin, to where we see it now.  More on this here: https://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2016/pdf/2348.pdf

Convective cells and sublimation pitting patterns and interactions. Image credit: New Horizons/NASA/SwRI. 

Convective cells and sublimation pitting patterns and interactions. Image credit: New Horizons/NASA/SwRI. 

Thank you for reading and we Plutonians are excited for discovering more with our dwarf planet! Come back next week for a look at Planet (re?)-classification!

So long and thanks for all the bits

Cassini beginning the Grand Finale stage- taking many pictures of the rings! Image credit: NASA Cassini

Cassini beginning the Grand Finale stage- taking many pictures of the rings! Image credit: NASA Cassini

The Cassini spacecraft has long since been THE SATURN SPACECRAFT. All those beautiful pictures of rings, unknown and tiny moons, and of course, Titan and Enceladus galore!

Alas, the Cassini spacecraft is at its Grand Finale- thrusters are going to push it into the atmosphere of Saturn- giving us our first (and hopefully not the last) look at Saturnian cloud structures and chemistry. In September 2017, it will make its plunge. 

So let's take a look at the fantastic feats of Cassini through the years!

1-Cassini launched its side-partner probe, Huygens, on a fantastic dive into Titan's atmosphere and land on the surface. The funny part is that we didn't know what Titan's surface was made out of- so we built the underside of Huygens like a boat- smooth and rounded- just in case it landed on liquid. Unfortunately it missed the lakes, but it did give us a close up on the blocky ice and methane-rich surface of Titan!

2-The Cassini spacecraft has several instruments, including one for monitoring radio wave emissions from the planet and rings. The sounds out of Saturn are very eerie and even small lightning storms on Saturn have made an appearance! Here's the link to listen to some of Cassini's sound bits: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/multimedia/pia07966.html

3-The very small moons, Atlas and Pan, (which are only 16-20 miles big) were first imaged by Cassini. What we saw were incredibly distorted and squished "ravioli-like" moons! 

4-Shepherd moons and their chaotic nature in between the rings have caused quite a stir with physicists! These tiny moons will keep scientific modeling busy for a while!

5-And finally, Enceladus and the continuous vapor plumes of the southern pole! These images from Cassini have given us so much data for modeling the plumes and possible hydro-thermal venting underneath the mysterious icy crust!

Pan- the "ravioli moon" of Saturn imaged in April 2017! Image credit: NASA Cassini.

Pan- the "ravioli moon" of Saturn imaged in April 2017! Image credit: NASA Cassini.

Thank you for reading and read along next week at Sputnik Planum of Pluto- mysteries up close!

Cube-what? Cubewano!

Makemake- the largest Cubewano! Image: Wikipedia.

Makemake- the largest Cubewano! Image: Wikipedia.

Happy May!

Today, we'll look at what in the world is a cubewano! Pronounced que-bee-one-oh!

Actually, the very first of its kind was named QB1-o, and the category is rather a nickname. These objects are "classical Kuiper Belt Objects" which orbits outside of Neptune, but have no resonance with Neptune (orbital resonance means having a gravitational balance in rotation). 

Orbits of some cubewanos in respect to Neptune's orbit (blue) and Pluto's orbit (pink). Image: Wikipedia

Orbits of some cubewanos in respect to Neptune's orbit (blue) and Pluto's orbit (pink). Image: Wikipedia

For example, Haumea was considered to be a cubewano in 2006, but further studies found it to be in resonance with Neptune. Now it's a dwarf planet. 

Makemake is a dwarf planet AND the largest cubewano!

Cubewano orbits are very inclined, just like Pluto. Which means, the ice surfaces would have extreme sublimation changes and most certainly cratered. Low inclinations are considered the "cold" population whereas the higher inclinations are the "hot" population (they can get closer to the Sun as near as Neptune can!)

As of 2014, there are 473 objects considered to be cubewanos!

Thank you for reading and come back next week on some amazing feats of Cassini!

Ticks on Venus!

Example of a small tick volcano on Venus. Image credit: Magellan. 

Example of a small tick volcano on Venus. Image credit: Magellan. 

Happy Monday, Earthlings!

If you live near the woods, you would be no stranger to ticks. Ticks are creepy little blood-sucking insects, for those who don't know. 

Venus has many volcanoes of different sizes and shapes. There is a particular kind of volcano with a large dome and fractures extending out of the sides, making it look like a giant tick-like bug! These volcanoes are roughly 40 miles across and surrounded by radial fractures. These fractures are not lava flows, however. So what could they be? Still unknown!

There are two theories about these strange "tick-legs" from the dome. One could be avalanche ridge scars, outlining once uplifting ridges subsided and eroded. The second theory is that these are dikes, or rather intrusions of lava-like material. However, we are still not sure as to how the shapes of these scars come about and how quickly after eruption and formation. 

Big, beautiful tick-volcano on Venus. Black box is "no data". Size of this tick is about 41 miles across! Image credit: Magellan. 

Big, beautiful tick-volcano on Venus. Black box is "no data". Size of this tick is about 41 miles across! Image credit: Magellan. 

Thank you for reading and come back next week for Cubewanos!

A very blustery Monday!

That fuzzy bright thing is a growing dust devil caught by the HiRISE camera orbiting Mars! Image credit: HiRISE/ASU.

That fuzzy bright thing is a growing dust devil caught by the HiRISE camera orbiting Mars! Image credit: HiRISE/ASU.

Good morning, Earthlings!

Something that is quite unique to this planet of yours is the weather! You have different types of storms related by temperature changes, seasons, and landscapes. Now, other planetary bodies with Earth does have something in common- winds!

Even with barely an atmosphere, it is still possible to have some form of gust! How? An energy source is needed to drive these winds! Winds are solar powered in that warmer air rises and interacts with the cooler air (just like Earth!) 

So here's a list of planets and their windy forecasts!

1-Venus: these winds are very odd. Polar and equatorial winds move separately and move powerfully, moving in just a matter of days for once around the planet! Winds can go up to 233 mph! 

2-Mars: there are two classes of winds for Mars: local and global. Global dust storms are extreme temperature changes that lifts particles and completely engulfs the entire planet for months at a time. Local dust storms we have evidence for with dune migration and dust devils. But no worries, winds top out around 60-70 mph. 

3-Jupiter's Red Spot: The strongest hurricanes on Earth can max out at nearly 200 mph. Jupiter's Great Red Spot ranges at 270 mph inward to 425 mph!!!

4-Titan: the climate on Titan is very similar to that of Earth. Winds are more powerful at higher altitudes, reaching to nearly 270 mph at over 70 miles above the surface, then decreases wind speed near surface. We do see wind-formed features, such as dunes!

5-Neptune: THE STRONGEST WINDS IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM AS HIGH AS 1,300 MPH! Need I say more?

Neptune's "Great Dark Spot"- a large storm! Image credit: NASA Hubble

Neptune's "Great Dark Spot"- a large storm! Image credit: NASA Hubble

Thank you for reading! Next week- ticks on Venus?

Lunar rocks rock!

Landing site of the Apollo 11 in the Sea of Tranquility. Credit: NASA

Landing site of the Apollo 11 in the Sea of Tranquility. Credit: NASA

Good morning, Earthlings!

I was reading through the transcripts of the Apollo 11 mission over the weekend and found some lovely notes on the astronauts' descriptions of the lunar surface and rocks to relay back to Houston Mission Control in July, 1969. One of the main purposes for the astronauts was not only to collect rock samples for return studies, but also give a first-hand look at the surroundings. Needless to say, the astronauts had to go through extensive geology field and sample training- how to describe rocks, the handling of samples, and preservation. 629 pages of these transcripts were provided by Johnson Space Center.

Here are some quotes from the Apollo 11 crew as they explore the lunar surface and collect rock samples! 629 pages is a lot, so here are only a few general quotes on the Sea of Tranquility Landing Site!

1-Relatively level plain crated with a fairly large number of craters of the five to fifty foot radii…and I would guess literally thousands of little one and two foot craters around the area.

2- I’m at the foot of the ladder. The (Lunar Module) foot pads are only depressed in the surface about 1 or 2 inches. Although the surface appears to be very, very fine grained, as you get close to it. It’s almost like a powder.

3- It has a stark beauty all its own.

4-The hard rock samples have what appear to be vesicles in the surface…some sort of phenocryst.

5- I say the thing that would most like it on earth is the powdered graphite.

Apollo 11 sample shown with vesicles caused by basaltic air bubble release. Credit: NASA

Apollo 11 sample shown with vesicles caused by basaltic air bubble release. Credit: NASA

Some more exciting stuff coming up! Next week- winds on planets! 

Lab update and MAVEN

MAVEN spacecraft with instruments. Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

MAVEN spacecraft with instruments. Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Hello Earthlings!

My apologies for not getting this posted on Monday- our planetary simulation lab is getting some new toys and "all hands on deck" for the past few days! One of the Mars chambers is finally getting to work after being down for maintenance, the other Mars chamber is getting a new refrigeration system, the Titan and Pluto chambers are getting a Raman spectrometer up and running soon. Never a dull moment!

So let's chat about MAVEN...

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft from NASA specifically studies the behavior of the atmosphere, magnetic field, and plasma interactions of Mars. It has 8 small instruments for collecting data, each with its own purpose for atmospheric or magnetic properties. 

Launched in November 2013, it entered into Martian atmosphere September 2014. What it recently discovered shocked the MAVEN team members...the Martian atmosphere was "lost" to space. That is, the amount of solar radiation and wind was too much over time for an already weak atmosphere. What may have been a warmer and organism-rich planet is now a colder desert wasteland. 

The press release for this discovery was on 3/30/2017: https://mars.nasa.gov/news/2017/nasas-maven-reveals-most-of-mars-atmosphere-was-lost-to-space

Approximate timescale of atmospheric loss. Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Approximate timescale of atmospheric loss. Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

More work is being done to combine geologic and mineralogic efforts for finding H2O-rich mineral locations or river-channel-like geologic formations. Studying these areas could support the amount of atmosphere loss overtime and time scales. 

Next time- minerals in lunar rocks!

48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference

One of the rows of people and posters during the Tuesday Poster Night Session. Credit: LPSC

One of the rows of people and posters during the Tuesday Poster Night Session. Credit: LPSC

The 48th Annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference is held at The Woodlands, Texas for one week every year- facilitating over 2,000 planetary scientists from around the world!

The Center for Space and Planetary Science at the University of Arkansas brought 7 students plus 1 summer intern to present our latest research in our lab work and other projects!

Of our 8 students, we had 5 oral presentations and 8 posters. I had authored 2 posters for the Pluto session and co-authored 2 Mars posters with mineralogy work I had done!

This kind of conference, being international and broad with Solar System sciences, allows students, professors, and civil servants to mingle and hopefully collaborate on even more questions to be answered about our Solar System! Jacobs, an industry on engineering and meteorite sampling, brought a moon rock!

Lunar meteorite displayed at LPSC from the Apollo 11 mission! Credit: Caitlin Ahrens

Lunar meteorite displayed at LPSC from the Apollo 11 mission! Credit: Caitlin Ahrens

Attached is the program that you could click through the abstracts!:

http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2017/pdf/program.pdf

One of the posters I co-authored about mineralogy of a surface feature on Mars! Credit: Caitlin Ahrens.

One of the posters I co-authored about mineralogy of a surface feature on Mars! Credit: Caitlin Ahrens.

Needless to say, many ideas have surfaced and will keep us busy until next year's Conference!

Next week- a look at the MAVEN probe!

Enter the Labyrinth if you dare

Titan Labyrinth terrain as seen by Cassini. Image credit: NASA

Titan Labyrinth terrain as seen by Cassini. Image credit: NASA

Good morning and welcome back!

Such as the mythological tales of heroes being sentenced to conquer the winding halls of a labyrinth, Titan also has these mysterious, winding paths on its surface. The mystery- we don't know how they are formed!

Labyrinth terrain was found by Cassini images in the summer 2016. These large, over 50km in size regions have a very weird terrain surrounded by channels and plains. There are a few comparable places on Earth, such as a cross-hatch terrain found on an island in Indonesia. However, the chaotic nature and formation is still being analyzed. 

Recently, a classification system has been made to characterize the shapes of the labyrinthian hallways. It is possible that methane, since methane acts like water, could cross-cut or erode the surrounding ice. Why it forms this type of terrain and only found in certain areas on Titan- that is still to be discovered. 

Malaska, et al. will be presenting this terrain at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. You can read his abstract here:

http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2017/pdf/2406.pdf

Thank you for reading! I'll be attending the 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference! I'll be posting some exciting stuff that happened next time! 

The faintest of rings

Jupiter's faint rings as imaged by Voyager 1. Image credit: NASA

Jupiter's faint rings as imaged by Voyager 1. Image credit: NASA

Greetings, Earthlings!

Let's take a look at the faintest rings in the Solar System- Jupiter! That's right- Jupiter has incredibly faint rings (not as glorious and large as Saturn's)!

Jupiter's rings were discovered by Voyager 1 in 1979 as the probe whipped around the Jupiter system and looked back to take final pictures of Jupiter backlit by the Sun. What it found instead were faint dust particles forming a ring around Jupiter. As more probes looked at these rings, from the Galileo probe and the recent New Horizons probe, these rings are formed very similar to Saturn's. Although instead of forming from a torn-apart planet (supposedly like Saturn's), it has been formed by small asteroids and cometary dust. 

These rings, also like Saturn's. form "regions", or concentrations of the rings with breaks in between. How these regions are formed is still unknown!

The 3 parts of Jupiter's ring system are: Halo Ring (innermost), Main Ring (thickest), and the Gossamer Ring (houses two moons, Amalthea and Thebe).

The cool part is that these rings can be found in the infrared as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope!

Hopefully, the very recent Juno probe (and other future probes) will look more into the ice chemistry and formation of these rings!

Jupiter and its rings in the infrared imaged by Hubble. Image credit: NASA

Jupiter and its rings in the infrared imaged by Hubble. Image credit: NASA

Thank you for reading and next week- Titan's mysterious Labyrinths!

And then there were three...

Syrtis region for possible 2020 Mars Rover landing site! Image: ASU-HiRISE.

Syrtis region for possible 2020 Mars Rover landing site! Image: ASU-HiRISE.

Scientific workshops have ranged from being large, more general topics (like "Mars Geology") to more specific topics of discussion (like "Martian dunes").

One particularly recent workshop was to decide the next landing site for the Mars Rover 2020! This was the third workshop, narrowing down from thirty to eight landing sites from the previous workshops, the previous one being in 2015. By the end of the 2017 workshop, we narrowed it down to three. 

The process was simple- gather many Mars scientists to present the pros and cons of specific sites- giving popularity to the top three. Now we have even more detailed work on the top three sites to find the final landing site! Here's what we know so far about the top three:

1-Columbia Hills in Gusev Crater. Sound familiar? We've been here before! This was the landing site for the previous rover, Spirit! Why go back? There is evidence for Gusev Crater to have once been a large lake area. Unfortunately Spirit died in 2010 and did not have the proper equipment at the time. 

2- Jezero Crater. Pronounced yeh-zero, this area is predicted to have once been a highly active river channel that would drain, then fill, then drain continuously. Lakebed sediments may still hold fossilized evidence. Microbial, that is!

3- Northeast Syrtis. This area may be our first direct look into how water played a role in this once-dynamic volcanic area. Very interesting minerals would be found here from such an interaction! 

Take a look at the specific landing site criteria and how this will soon evolve to more specific questions: 

http://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/mission/timeline/prelaunch/landing-site-selection/science-evaluation-criteria/

Thank you for reading and come back next week for a look into Jupiter's faint rings!

Jezero Crater area for possible future landing site! Image: ASU-HiRISE.

Jezero Crater area for possible future landing site! Image: ASU-HiRISE.

Earth as our Space Lab II

Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii resembles Martian volcanics and possible similar minerals found on Mars and the Moon! Image: USGS

Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii resembles Martian volcanics and possible similar minerals found on Mars and the Moon! Image: USGS

Welcome back, people of Earth!

Our planet is a magnificent playground for science! By learning from our planet's dynamics can we figure out other planetary surfaces! Here is Part 2 from a previous blog (July 4, 2016) listing places around the world that act as a natural planetary lab!

1- Haughton Impact, Canada: Located near Devon Island, Canada, resembles dry and cold conditions and has geomorphology in the crater comparable to what we have seen on Mars!

2-Svalbard, Norway:This is a cold-temperature volcanic region where it serves two purposes: isolation studies and volcanic interactions in cold temperatures. The study of lava wit ice is becoming popular and isolation for astronautic training. 

3-Meteor Crater, U.S.: This famous crater impact site in Flagstaff, Arizona is the site of many studies of how impacts evolve, ejecta, and stratigraphy. It has also served as a purpose for training astronauts in geology training. 

4-Kilauea Volcano, U.S.: Volcanoes are popular for analogues. This, along with other Hawaiian volcanoes, have basaltic minerals that we may see on Mars and the Moon, specifically olivine. This volcano is also being studied for extremophiles!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned next week for: Martian Landing Site Decisions!

Through the Martian Looking Glass

Glass (green), olivine (red), and pyroxene (blue) speckle this Alga Crater central peak. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/University of Arizona

Glass (green), olivine (red), and pyroxene (blue) speckle this Alga Crater central peak. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/University of Arizona

Good morning and welcome, Earthlings!

This week, I'd like to talk about the mystery of glass minerals on Mars.

What are glass minerals?

Glass minerals are considered melted silicate minerals through some extreme temperature and pressure that the crystal form has become unstable. An example we have on Earth is obsidian, or volcanic minerals that rapidly cool too fast to form an actual crystal structure! We found pieces of these minerals in Martian meteorites, but often assumed the minerals were melted due to the meteorite's journey through our Earth's atmosphere. And then our Orbiters and Rovers detected some! Surprise!

What does this mean? 

Since these minerals form under some form of extreme change, it would imply active volcanism would be the culprit. Minerals from the subsurface would be subjected into the lava flows and melt. This also means that they could potentially encase and transport microbial life!

What now?

Laboratories all over the world are making their own glasses or going out to volcanic fields to collect glass samples and test the mineral signatures. In doing so, this will help current and future remote sensing orbiters to detect the locations of these types of glasses! So far, over 20 have been identified!

You can read more from Sky & Telescope's article from 2015: 

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/the-glint-of-martian-glass-0610201523/

Thank you for reading and next week- Earth as a Space Lab Part II

 

Aerogels!

Sample of aerogel. Image credit: NASA

Sample of aerogel. Image credit: NASA

Invented in the 1930s, this "ghost jello" has been a technological phenomenon in the world of NASA innovation. 

Essentially, it is gelatin. But instead of a liquid structure, the liquid is dried out and replaced with air. The common type of aerogel is the silicate type. But more and more types are being invented, each with its own purpose. 

Here are some fun facts about this weird substance!

1-It is a very porous substance and makes a fantastic insulator. The pores, in fact, are nanoparticle-sized. 

2-Silica-based aerogel tensile strength is stronger than steel. However, the oil from your fingers can potentially disrupt the structure and make it collapse. Always wear gloves!!

3-An application of aerogels is involved with insulating certain instruments on the Mars rovers. 

4-Pellets of aerogel can also be infused in a blanket-type form. This material is used as layering for space suits. 

5-Currently, aerogels are used for protecting payloads as they descend rapidly through the atmosphere. This is done through NASA's Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) project.

6- Future projects will involve the behavior of aerogels on other planetary surfaces and the vacuum of space!

Thank you for reading and next week, we'll take a look at glass on the Martian surface!

Methane swallowed whole

Good morning and welcome back! 

In this corner, weighing at 18.015 grams per mol, the "raining" champ- Water taking on the vaporous underdog, weighing in at 16.04 grams per mol- Methane! Let's turn down the temperature and up the pressure, because this is going to be interesting! Oh wait...what's this? Water has swallowed methane whole?!

Clathrates are water-ice cages- the "host"- trapping some sort of gas inside, usually methane, nitrogen, carbon monoxide, or even argon- which we call the "guests." This intricate lattice work is very delicate in its environment. So if any immediate change in temperature or pressure happens, the guest gas leaks out and the water cage collapses into, well, a puddle of water.

We can find large quantities of methane clathrates on the bottom of the ocean floor and as far north as the Canadian arctic. So what does this mean for other planetary bodies?

Supposedly, we have found evidence for clathrates on Mars- not in their full form- but rather the small, immediate release of methane vapors escaping the ice caps. Icy worlds, such as Europa or even Pluto may have these clathrate structures as well. Unfortunately, not much lab work has been done to find out if these structures can survive extremely low temperatures. If we do find evidence for these crystal-cages, this will give us one more glimpse into the evolution of gas-ice interactions to form our own Solar System!

And the other cool part? You can set them on fire! (with caution, of course...don't try it at home). 

Thank you for reading and next week, we'll take a look at some fun engineering with aerogel!

 

14 years ago today

Today was the first day that I felt that I am truly living in space. I have become a man who lives and works in space. -Ilan Ramon

14 years ago today- the skies were clear and blue over Texas, and Mission Control was excitedly awaiting for the return of their recent shuttle, Columbia. Columbia- the 113th flight of the Shuttle program, gathering experiments to further our knowledge of zero gravity and dusty plasmas and biology mechanics in space, never made it home. 

I would like to take this opportunity to commemorate the anniversary of the Columbia disaster. Let us remember the men and women of this crew and the amazing experiments they performed within their 15 day flight time. 

Commander Husband- among several decorations, he was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and had 3,800 hours of flight time on over 40 different types of aircraft.

Pilot McCool- He had 2,800 hours of flight time and would play "Imagine" by John Lennon during the mission. He was also the youngest crew member.

Mission Specialist Brown- first spaceflight and was an expert on g-force effects on the human body.

Mission Specialist Chawla- first Indian-origin woman in space

Mission Specialist Anderson- was also mission specialist onboard STS-89 Endeavour

Mission Specialist Clark- of the 80 some experiments performed, she conducted the biological-types studies as she is a medical doctor and a U.S. Navy Captain.

Mission Specialist Ramon- first Israeli astronaut for NASA. 37 pages of his diary in space onboard the Columbia survived. 

Thank you, crew of Columbia, for your experimental sciences and knowledge for future astronauts. 

Crew of the STS 107-Columbia.

Crew of the STS 107-Columbia.