Organic Matter Found on Mars — Two NASA Studies

For many decades, the idea of life outside Earth has intrigued many of us, but most especially scientists, astronomers, and well, sci-fi writers. For them and other Mars enthusiasts (a.k.a. people who eagerly believe that Mars can harbor life), the recent year has shown us great updates. Snow has been discovered in the planet. Soil made to simulate the planet’s conditions has grown earthworms.

Due to updates like these, some organizations are being inspired to plan ahead for life on Mars. MIT designed dome forests that will adapt to the environment there. The UAE is building a Mars-like metropolis as well, in preparation for a future in that planet. And it looks like they are bound to be more inspired as NASA releases the results of two new major studies about the Red Planet in the journal Science.

The first study centers on methane, a simple organic molecule that forms the basis for natural gas. Biological sources produce most of the methane on Earth, so researchers suspected that methane on Mars could point them towards biological sources — life! — on Mars.

Astronomers were already detecting methane in Mars as far back as 2003, but they first confirmed its presence there in 2015. After analyzing years worth of data, they realized that the methane was probably coming from pockets of ice. When these ice pockets melt during “summer” in Mars, methane slips out and methane levels go higher. Scientists say the seasonal presence of methane might clue us in on how there used to be life in the Red Planet, though the current study is still inconclusive about that.

The next study, however, also implies the idea of ancient life, as scientists find evidence of organic matter in soil that came from Mars.

In the second study, [NASA’s Curiosity rover] collected soil samples from two spots in Gale crater estimated to be about three billion years old. When Curiosity heated them up, the researchers recognized several organic molecules commonly found in Earth’s organic-rich sedimentary rock.

The discovery of methane in the Martian atmosphere and organic matter on Martian soil suggests interesting similarities between that planet and ours. Thus, it further spurs the question of life on Mars. And since the Curiosity rover is still roving around and looking for signs, one can only hope its next breakthrough will finally answer that question.

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Lego Collection Pays Tribute To Female Space Heroes

Lego’s transition into bio-plastics is probably one of their greatest achievements to date. Having said that, the company has inspired children (and adults!) to think big for decades. Its most recent collection honors the women of NASA, validating that success doesn’t rely on gender.

“In all realms of science, engineering, and technology, pioneering women have historically been underappreciated for their often groundbreaking work,”[MIT News Deputy Editor and Lecturer Maia Weinstock who proposed the idea] said in a statement.

This is truly a big move, considering how the usual Lego collection depicts fantastical universes like Star Wars or Minecraft. Not only is the company pandering to the interests of young girls now, they are doing so with an inspirational agenda.

The set’s figures include Sally Ride, the first American woman to travel to space, and Margaret Hamilton, who developed software for the Apollo spacecraft. It will also come with miniatures of the Hubble Telescope and Space Shuttle, among other tools. Lego hopes to encourage more girls to explore various branches of science.

[Weinstock added,] “We have also seen that when girls and women are given more encouragement in the STEM fields, they become more likely to pursue careers in these areas.”

Remember, girls — science is, of course, also for you. And forget “nerdy.” Microscopes and bunsen burners are the new “cool.”

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NASA’s Podcast Boasts Real Space Stories

Do you want to hear astronauts themselves talk about the possibility of life on Saturn’s moon, the adventures of planet protection officers against alien microbes, and other real stories that could have come from science fiction books but definitely didn’t? You might want to check out NASA’s official website for their fantastic podcast.

The podcast features plenty of astronauts reliving their greatest accomplishments and talking about their rigorous training. Recent episodes bring you audio from inside the Orion, the capsule that NASA is developing to carry a crew of four astronauts into deep space, and along Scott Tingle’s path from test pilot to astronaut.

NASA’s Johnson Space Center launched “Houston, We Have a Podcast” last July 2017 and has since released more than 40 episodes on its official site. The cleverly-titled podcast is revitalized every week, which means you only have to wait that long to get your new fill of amazing space-related content.

The show overflows with the voices of the engineers, researchers and mission control flight directors who develop and test NASA’s most complex technology and protect astronauts during their flights. There’s historical information on pioneering missions and space explorers, too.

While on the way home from work, shopping at the grocery, or making dinner, you might want to relive your childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut. Thanks to the podcast form, it has never been this contemporary and accessible.

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Independent Space Nation Launches Satellite

While NASA is busy trying to ward off aliens, Russian scientist Dr. Igor Ashurbeyli is considering other options. The rocket scientist is behind Asgardia, the world’s first space community which has launched its first satellite into orbit late last year.

[The nanosat] contains 0.5 TB of data belonging to 18,000 of Asgardia’s citizens, such as family photographs, as well as digital representations of the space nation’s flag, coat of arms and constitution.

Talk about getting serious! Asgardia may not be NASA’s brainchild, but the agency is on board as a partner. Currently, 114,000 people are cleared for citizenship in the independent space nation. Asgardia’s physical platforms will hover close to Earth in low orbits, and will be home to its first inhabitants in just eight years. While the UN remains skeptical about the space nation, as they should, Ashurbeyli is more than optimistic.

“We have to be like a normal country. All countries have problems, and soon we will have the same problems,” he says. “But we will have more than normal countries because we are not on earth.”
I myself have doubts, but with the many technological breakthroughs by humans that were previously thought of as impossible, I am assured that at least, a person can dream. And pursue that dream scientifically. It may be a long ways away for Dr. Ashurbeyli, but if I’m still around by the time he successfully puts Asgardia up in the air, I might just look into applying as a citizen.
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Satellites Capture Massive Penguin Colony

Penguins are adorable, and that isn’t ever up for debate. Even political bodies such as the Chilean government would agree. Ultimately, they did snub a billion-dollar mining project to save the flightless birds. However, populations are on the rocky side — or so we thought. Cruising over the Antarctic Peninsula, NASA satellites captured a 1.5 million fleet of penguins.

“The sheer size of what we were looking at took our breath away,” [said] co-author Heather Lynch, Ph.D… “We thought, ‘Wow! If what we’re seeing is true, these are going to be some of the largest Adélie penguin colonies in the world, and it’s going to be well worth our while sending in an expedition to count them properly.”

Drones captured roughly 751,527 pairs of Adélie penguins, which isn’t even the most NASA has ever tallied. It’s only the third or fourth. In the last 60 years, sea ice levels and concentrations caused population drops. Apparently, the feisty fledglings are adapting.

“The size of these colonies makes them regionally important and makes the case for expanding the proposed Weddell Sea Marine Protected Area to include the Danger Islands,” [said] co-author Michael Polito, Ph.D.

What’s that I hear? A lot of happy feet stomping on cool ice up in Antarctica!

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NASA Debuts Anti-Flat Metal Spring Tire

With a slew of electric vehicles hitting the market, manufacturers are scrambling to follow up with high-tech tires. So far, the likes of Harvard and Michelin have come up with airless and self-healing wheels. While both aren’t yet commercially available, NASA is already lifting the bar with its titanium tire.

Instead of atoms deforming as the spring is moved, they instead re-arrange themselves as the tire is stressed. It’s known as a “shape memory alloy,” and means that the tire can be deformed virtually limitlessly, and still snap back to its original shape.

In short, the tire can never get a flat. As NASA’s brainchild, the tire mainly adheres to space explorations. Still, it could hypothetically exist on regular vehicles with some tweaks.

You can’t exactly use a metal wheel on the highway and expect much grip, but a metal frame could… be coated with a higher-friction material to give a tire that’s grippy and deformable for off-roading.

With NASA, I don’t imagine anything comes as a steal — but if it saves me a tire change, I’ll take it.

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NASA To Launch Reused Supply Rocket Into Space

For NASA, 2017 has been bustling, looking to save the planet from a threatening volcano and maybe ward off aliens on the side. Topping off the year with an impressive first, the agency is launching a previously-used Falcon 9 rocket into space.

SpaceX will launch 2.5 tons of supplies to the ISS from pad 40 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral, and it’ll do so with a rocket booster that’s been used before.

Normally, ships discard booster rockets in space, where they float off to… somewhere. Landing boosters back into Earth will potentially save millions on production and labor. That being said, NASA still remains meticulous about safety measures, despite SpaceX’s constant success.

“Some [rocket booster] components are removed and some new components are added,” Gerstenmaier [of the spaceflight committee] said… “There’s a detailed list of what inspections need to be done. They did a detailed test program. They did a detailed plan.”

It’s painstaking, but NASA is committed to running case-by-case checks. True enough, nobody wants a loose rocket hurtling back into the atmosphere.

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Earthworms Born In Artificial Soil Used On Mars

As we should know by now, anything is possible on Mars. After all, we just recently discovered it snows there. In an unusual turn of events, researchers saw the birth of two earthworms living in sterile soil, made to simulate conditions on Mars.

“[Worms] grab organic matter from the top of the soil—eat it, chew it—and when they poo it out, bacteria can break it down further. Otherwise [without worms] you deplete the nutrients in the soil,” [Dutch biologist] Wamelink explains.

Trent Smith, who works on replicating Mars conditions, claims that the simulated soil is relatively accurate. However, the substance still lacks perchlorates, which is probably why the wigglers managed to reproduce.

To both Wamelink and Smith, figuring out a natural process to remove perchlorate from Martian soil remains the largest hurdle in the way of growing a sustainable agricultural system on the planet.

With much to remedy, NASA’s Veggie program has its hands full. But the space magicians never fail to surprise and hope, after worms, to bring in bumblebees.

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NASA Successfully Pings Voyager 1 Antenna In Test

Holding on to its promise of saving the world, NASA has a lot to prove to the public. Now may be a good time to breathe a sigh of relief, as the space agency successfully communicated with a faraway spacecraft. 13 billion miles away, to be exact.

Last week, ground controllers sent commands to fire backup thrusters on Voyager 1, our most distant spacecraft. The thrusters had been idle for 37 years, since Voyager 1 flew past Saturn.

Voyager 1 then pinged a signal back to the Jet Propulsion Lab, received after a 19-hour wait. At 40-years-old, the senior spacecraft is the only one floating outside of our own solar system. A team at NASA conducted a thorough study of its original software, which (obviously) remained mostly intact.

“The mood was one of relief, joy and incredulity after witnessing these well-rested thrusters pick up the baton as if no time had passed at all,” he said in a statement.

If further testing proves successful, the decrepit Voyager 1 may see extra years of potential hovering.

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NASA To Save World From Super Volcano Eruption

If NASA’s planetary protection officer fails to defend the world from aliens, there are two other planets to run to. With the potential of a not-so-friendly E.T. on everyone’s mind, internal threats don’t seem possible. However, NASA now has its eyes set on defusing a Yellowstone super volcano, which could see the end of an entire continent.

An enormous pool of magma sits high in the Earth’s crust. It’s been calculated to contain about 60 billion cubic miles of molten rock.

For scale, if the Yellowstone were to erupt, it would bury much of the United States under a blanket of ash and lava. Not to mention it’d drastically alter the world’s climate for at least a few centuries. Yellowstone isn’t going to erupt anytime soon, but NASA is eager to take some precautionary measures.

NASA scientists propose drilling a 5-mile-deep hole into the hydrothermal water below and to the sides of the magma chamber. These fluids… already drain some 60 to 70 percent of the heat from the magma chamber below.

Yes, NASA’s genius solution is a giant hole and some cold water, which will cost them $3.5 billion. It may sound rudimentary, but if it means we aren’t going to meet an ashy demise, I’m all for it!

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