The possibility of life on Mars has been a tantalizing possibility for years, and recent discoveries have only increased excitement about whether we’ll find life on the red planet. Now, a new study in Nature Geoscience posits that it’s possible that Mars may have enough oxygen to harbor life under its surface.
The team was led by Vlada Stamenković from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and their findings stemmed from two different discoveries. We know there’s a possibility that there are subsurface lakes of briny water on Mars; one in particular may be located under the Martian polar ice cap. This means there’s a lot of potential for oxygen within these lakes, if they exist.
Back in 2016, the Mars Curiosity rover discovered that Mars may once have had an oxygen-rich atmosphere, but the loss of its magnetic field meant that the bulk of its surface oxygen escaped. However, there is still oxygen within the planet’s rocks which means that it may be present underneath the surface of the planet.
Given both these discoveries, the JPL-led team took a look at how much oxygen could exist in these subsurface briny lakes, and whether it would be enough to support life. The team found that it was indeed possible, especially in the polar regions because the lower temperatures in these regions means that it’s easier for oxygen to enter these briny lakes.
There are a lot of caveats and unknowns with this research — after all, the existence of these briny subsurface lakes hasn’t yet been proven. But it’s the next step forward in showing how life could exist on the red planet, given what we think we know about Mars. What’s more, it also shows us how life could exists on other planets without photosynthesis.
The former International Space Station commander said the risk of death was simply too high.
“We could send people to Mars decades ago,” Hadfield told Business Insider.
“The technology that took us to the moon and back when I was just a kid — that technology can take us to Mars.”
Hadfield was referring to the famous Apollo 11 mission: it was the spaceflight that landed the first two people on the moon.
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the moon on July 20, 1969 – and Hadfield is convinced that same spaceship technology could put us on Mars.
The problem, according to Hadfield, is that those classic space shuttles would simply take too long to get to Mars.
This poses loads of risks, particularly illnesses caused by the tough environments in space.
“The majority of the astronauts that we send on those missions wouldn’t make it,” he explained. “They’d die.”
The astronaut added: “Mars is further away than most people think.”
Hadfield isn’t wrong: there’s an immense distance between Earth and Mars, with the red planet being roughly 600 times further away from us than the moon.
The situation is made more complicated by the fact that the distance is constantly changing as the two planets rotate around the sun.
The closest that Earth and Mars can ever be is a distance of 33.9 million miles — or 9,800 times longer than the trip from London and New York.
A more useful distance is the average gap, which is even bigger at 140 million miles.
Launching shuttles to Mars have, so far, taken huge lengths of time – anywhere from 128 to 333 days.
That’s an incredible length of time to be aboard a cramped shuttle, particularly one so far from Earth — where the opportunity to launch rescue missions is near-impossible.
Astronauts who spend a long time in space face significant risks.
One is the threat from deep-space radiation, which can cause cancer due to prolonged exposure.
And a 2016 study published in the Nature journal found that astronauts who spend a long time in space have a much greater risk of deadly heart disease.
Hadfield compared the feat of putting humans on Mars to Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who famously circumnavigated the world between 1519 and 1522.
“Magellan, when he launched in 1519, they launched with five ships and 250 people to try and just go around the world once and almost everybody died,” Hadfield explained.
“They only came back with like 15 or 18 people and one out of the five ships.”
He said current space travel mechanisms of “burning chemical rockets” is the “equivalent of using a sailboat or a pedal boat to try and travel around the world.”
There are lots of space-faring firms claiming to offer Mars travel in the near future, but Hadfield is skeptical that using them to put people on Mars is a good idea.
They include NASA’s Space Launch System, SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket (masterminded by tech billionaire Elon Musk) and Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket (funded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.)
“My guess is we will never go to Mars with the engines that exist on any of those three rockets unless we truly have to,” he explained.
“I don’t think those are a practical way to send people to Mars because they’re dangerous and it takes too long and it, therefore, exposes us to a risk for a long time.”
“Someone has to invent something we haven’t thought of yet,” Hadfield said.
When NASA’s Dawn spacecraft approached dwarf planet Ceres in 2015, everyone from astronomers to UFO enthusiasts got excited about some strange bright spots seen in the craft’s images. Dawn is now closer than ever to Occator Crater, the source of some of those intriguing spots, and NASA has released a fresh look at what’s inside.
Dawn reached its newest and lowest orbit around Ceres on June 6. It skimmed within just 22 miles (35 kilometers) of the surface and zoomed in on a large deposit near the crater’s center named Cerealia Facula.
Dawn caught this view of a landslide on the crater rim on June 16.
The bright deposits are made of sodium carbonate and are the largest observed outside of Earth. Scientists are wondering how they got there, suggesting they are “either from a shallow, sub-surface reservoir of mineral-laden water, or from a deeper source of brines (liquid water enriched in salts) percolating upward through fractures.”
The Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research also released an image showing landslide activity on the northern rim of Occator Crater. NASA says Cere’s landslides resemble ones seen on Earth.
“There are clear signs that material has been recently moving down the slopes; some of it remains stuck halfway,” the institute notes.
NASA hopes data and close-up images collected by Dawn in its new orbit will shed some light on the fascinating formations.
Dawn’s chief engineer Marc Rayman of NASA waxed poetic about the spacecraft’s latest achievements, saying, “Dawn is like a master artist, adding rich details to the otherworldly beauty in its intimate portrait of Ceres.”
Are you ready for a luxury hotel in space? We all knew it was coming, even though it seems impossibly futuristic. But this time it’s not just science fiction; somebody actually has a plan.
The space hotel will be called “Aurora Station” and the company behind it is Orion Span, a Silicon Valley and Houston-based firm. Orion Span aims to deliver the astronaut experience to people, by delivering the people into space. The catch?
“We developed Aurora Station to provide a turnkey destination in space. Upon launch, Aurora Station goes into service immediately, bringing travelers into space quicker and at a lower price point than ever seen before, while still providing an unforgettable experience” – Frank Bunger, CEO and founder of Orion Span.
First of all, a 12 day stay aboard Aurora Station for two people will cost $19 million US, or $9.5 million per person. Even so, you can’t just buy a ticket and hop on board. Guests must also sign up for three months of Orion Span Astronaut Certification (OSAC). Then they’ll be trained at a facility in Houston, Texas.
So once their cheque has cleared, and once they’re trained, what awaits guests on Aurora Station?
Aurora Station will orbit Earth at 320 km (200 m) and will make the trip around Earth every 90 minutes. If you do the math, that’s 16 sunrises and sunsets each day, and guests will enjoy this slideshow for 12 days. Other than this compressed schedule of 96 sunsets and 96 sunrises during their 12 day stay, guests will also be treated to stunning views of the Earth rolling by underneath them, thanks to the unprecedented number of windows Aurora Station will have.
Aurora Station is the brain-child of Orion Span’s CEO, Frank Bunger. “We developed Aurora Station to provide a turnkey destination in space. Upon launch, Aurora Station goes into service immediately, bringing travelers into space quicker and at a lower price point than ever seen before, while still providing an unforgettable experience,” said Bunger.
Guests won’t be alone on the station, of course. The space hotel will have room for 6 people in total, meaning 4 guests and 2 crew. (You didn’t think you’d be alone up there, did you?) Each pair of guests will still have some alone time though, in what Orion Span calls luxurious private suites for two.
There’s no doubt that staying on a space hotel for 12 days will be the experience of a lifetime, but still, 12 days is a long time. The space station itself will be 5600 square feet, with two suites that can be configured to four. Each suite will be about the size of a small bedroom. Once you’ve gotten used to seeing Earth below you, and you’re used to your suite, what will you do?
Well, there’ll be Wi-Fi of course. So if you’re the type of person who gets bored of orbiting the only planet that we know of that hosts life, and the only planet on which every human civilization has lived and died on, you can always surf the web or watch videos. Aurora Station will also have a virtual-reality holodeck, the cherry-on-top for this science-fiction-come-to- life space resort.
But apparently, boredom won’t be a problem. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Orion Span CEO Frank Bunger said, ““We talked to previous space tourists, they said 10 days aboard the space station was not enough.” Maybe the extra 2 days in space that Aurora Station guests will enjoy will be just the right amount.
As far as getting guests to the station, that will be up to other private space companies like SpaceX. SpaceX has plans to send tourists on trips around the Moon, and they have experience docking with the International Space Station, so they should be able to transport guests to and from a space hotel.
It doesn’t seem like there’s any shortage of customers. Aurora Station was introduced on April 5th 2018, and the first four months of reservations sold out within 72 hours, with each guest paying a deposit of $80,000 US.
There’s another side to Aurora Station, though. Other than just a nice get-away for people who can afford it, there’s a research aspect to it. Orion Span will offer Aurora Station as a platform for micro-gravity research on a pay-as-you-go basis. It will also lease capacity for in-situ manufacturing and 3D printing research.
But Aurora Station would hardly be in the news if it was only a research endeavour. What’s got people excited is the ability to visit space. And maybe to own some real estate there.
Orion Span is designing Aurora Station to be expandable. They can attach more stations to the original without disrupting anything. And this leads us to Orion Span’s next goal: space condos.
As it says on Orion Span’s website, “Like a city rising from the ground, this unique architecture enables us to build up Aurora Station in orbit dynamically – on the fly – and with no impact to the remainder of Aurora Station. As we add capacity, we will design in condos available for purchase.”
I think we all knew this would happen eventually. If you have the money, you can visit space, and even own a condo there.
No word yet on what that will cost.
NASA’s goal of returning to the moon should see a major push in early 2019, when the agency awards its first contract for the lunar “Gateway” program.
The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway is NASA’s planned “staging” area intended for studies of the moon and the deep-space environment. Eventually, it will function as a way station for astronauts traveling to and from Mars .
NASA’s first spending for the platform will be for power and propulsion elements early next year, followed by habitation components, Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier said Thursday at the Space Symposium conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They will probably be launched moonward, in that order, starting in 2022.
The platform should be orbiting the moon in 2025, said Gerstenmaier, a 41-year NASA veteran who oversees human exploration and operations. It will carry a four-astronaut crew on 30-day missions, he said.
The Gateway would also further NASA’s goal of another human landing on the moon and will help determine whether water near the surface could be used to manufacture propellant for deep-space missions. The moon’s gravity could also help a spacecraft reduce the blistering speeds used for six-month voyages back-and-forth to Mars, thus facilitating re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere.
“We want to understand orbital mechanics around the moon” a little better, far from the Earth’s deep gravity well, he said. “Doing things in this region, where gravity isn’t such a big driver … is a different way of operating.”
In November, NASA selected five companies to study a high-power solar-electric propulsion system to use in deep-space missions, including the lunar platform. Future human missions will require a power system that has triple the capability of current designs.
Trips to the “gateway” will be aboard the Orion, a spacecraft being assembled by Lockheed Martin Corp., with the service module being supplied by the European Space Agency. The Orion’s first flight, without crew, is scheduled for next year. The craft will serve as the command deck when it’s docked with the platform.
“Development of the gateway has great momentum, and we are providing our expertise as NASA looks to industry to bring know-how to this important effort,” Lockheed said Thursday in an emailed statement. The lunar platform is based on current NASA budgets and “doesn’t require a huge new influx of funding,” Gernstenmaier said, calling realistic budget planning one of NASA’s strategic principles for how to pioneer deep-space missions.“It’s got fiscal realism, and it’s also adaptable,” he said of the program. “It can adapt to commercial partners. It’s not a rigid program of one mission following another,” an allusion to the Apollo program, which famously required an aggressive schedule of flights that built off each other.“As long as we view the moon as a stepping stone and not an end goal, I think we’re OK,” Gernstenmaier said. NASA is also assessing how to continue the U.S. presence in low-Earth orbit. The Trump administration has proposed ending U.S. funding of the International Space Station in 2024. “We think it’s a great place to do development,” Gerstenmaier said. “To do major development in the vicinity of the moon is really costly.”
After decades of looking to the outer solar system and beyond for signs of extraterrestrial life, an international team of scientists is suggesting that humanity take another look at a planet a little closer to home: Venus.
Although the surface of Venus is much too hot and inhospitable for life as we know it, scientists have long thought that microbes could be comfortably reproducing in the clouds of the Venusian atmosphere. Now, a new study in the journal Astrobiology suggests that dark patches in the atmosphere of Venus could, just possibly, be caused by light-absorbing bacteria. To find out, the study authors want to send a floating aircraft to comb the skies of Venus.
Earth’s sister Venus, the second rock from the sun, is similar in size, mass, and composition to our home planet-but that is generally where the comparisons end. The planet’s atmosphere is 96.5 percent carbon dioxide and almost 3.5 percent nitrogen. The runaway greenhouse climate keeps surface temperatures hovering around 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius), while atmospheric pressures on Venus can be as high as pressures a kilometer deep in the oceans of Earth.
But for all the planet’s seemingly inhospitable traits, “Venus has had plenty of time to evolve life on its own,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison scientist Sanjay Limaye, who led the new study, in a press release. Limaye points to models that suggest Venus could have sustained a habitable climate with liquid water on its surface for as long as 2 billion years. “That’s much longer than is believed to have occurred on Mars,” says Limaye.
American and Soviet probes studying Venus in the 1960s and 70s revealed that the temperature and pressure conditions in the lower and middle portions of the Venusian atmosphere-around 25–27 miles up from the surface-do not necessarily preclude life. In 1967, Carl Sagan co-authored a paper with noted biophysicist Harold Morowitz suggesting that life could exist in the clouds. “While the surface conditions of Venus make the hypothesis of life there implausible, the clouds of Venus are a different story altogether,” Sagan and Morowitz wrote.
A chance encounter convinced Limaye to give the planet another look. Talking with co-author of the new paper Grzegorz Słowik of Poland’s University of Zielona Góra, Limaye learned about bacteria on Earth with light-absorbing properties. With a group of researchers, they noted similarities between the bacteria and a mystery within the atmosphere of Venus: dark spots in the atmosphere.
NASA has studied “an unknown UV absorber” embedded within the Venusian clouds. In presentation slides, the agency says that “the unknown UV absorber has been a subject of intense scrutiny since the dawn of the space age.” At the moment, the only probes which have observed this phenomenon have lacked the technical capability to distinguish between materials of an organic or inorganic nature. This unknown absorber, Limaye’s team suggests, could be alien bacteria in the clouds of Venus.
“On Earth, we know that life can thrive in very acidic conditions, can feed on carbon dioxide, and produce sulfuric acid,” says Rakesh Mogul, a professor of biological chemistry at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and a co-author on the new paper. Similarly harsh conditions might be able to sustain life amongst the clouds of Venus, something the team suggests could be similar to algae in lakes on Earth-except floating in the clouds.
There are many unknowns surrounding the new hypothesis, including when exactly Venus’s water supply evaporated. Limaye and his colleagues have an idea for how to get find the answers: the Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform, better known as VAMP. A hypothetical aircraft proposed by Northrop Grumman, the VAMP would steer like a plane and float like a blimp through the skies of Venus, taking samples of the Venusian atmosphere. This craft would carry instruments capable of identifying living microorganisms.
“To really know, we need to go there and sample the clouds,” says Mogul. “Venus could be an exciting new chapter in astrobiology exploration.”
Virgin Galactic is resuming powered tests of its spaceplane after a tragic accident with its test vehicle SpaceShipTwo resulted in the death of co-pilot Michael Alsbury in 2014. The news comes via Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, who shared the news speaking to Bloomberg.
After current glide-only tests wrap up, powered tests will begin at a pace of one every three weeks, reaching higher altitudes until eventually climbing to the edge of space by November or December of this year. If all goes well, Branson himself is set to be among the first tourists to space in 2018 around mid-year, and then by the end of 2018 he hopes to begin offering full commercial flights for paying passengers.
This is the most we’ve heard about the progress of Virgin Galactic’s commercial passenger jet plan since the accident happened in 2014, and Branson tells Bloomberg that despite delays and the advent of new competitors in the space, including Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, they’ll still “never be able to build enough spaceships” to satisfy demand.
Virgin Galactic now includes Virgin Orbit, a small satellite launch and logistics business, and its most recent unpowered tests of its VSS Unity aircraft was a success, paving the way for flights with fuel on board, and then eventually powered flights as well.
By Alex Stuckey
By Mike Wehner, BGR
We live in a three-dimensional reality. Because of that, it’s pretty hard to imagine what a four-dimensional reality might be like, but that isn’t stopping physicists from trying to figure it out. A pair of new research papers were just published in the journal Nature that explore the possibilities of a fourth dimension and, as difficult as any of this may be to comprehend, it seems the scientists are on to something.
The papers, which focused on two very differentexperimental approaches to detecting a fourth dimension, arrived as similar conclusions. But before we dive in to what the experiments attempted to prove, you have to have at least a vague understanding of what the research team was looking for. Buckle up, this is going to get weird.
Imagine a transparent cube, like the kind you used to scribble in your math notebook when you were bored in high school. Any one line of that cube exists in a single dimension. You can go back and forth and that’s it. Once it reaches a corner and connects to a second line, that’s the second dimension. Now you can go back and forth and up and down, which is exponentially more freedom than you had previously. When that line reaches another corner that exists perpendicular to it — giving the object what we think of as depth — now you’re playing with three spatial dimensions.
Our world exists in three spatial dimensions (as well as the dimension of time, but that’s not something you can see). What these newest studies are looking for is the effects of a fourth spatial dimension that can be detected within our three-dimensional world. We’d have no idea what it looks like or what kind of a reality a fourth dimension would offer, but if it does exist in the hidden background of our three-dimensional existence, science might be able to prove it’s there.
In one of the experiments, scientists studied the behavior of light particles moving through specially made glass that bounces light back and forth between its edges. By simulating the effects of an electrical charge via physical input, the team observed how the light behaved, watching for irregularities that could only be made possible if a fourth dimension was working behind the scenes.
The other experiment used supercooled atoms held in place on a grid made of lasers. Scientists call this setup a “charge pump” and they use it test the flow of an electrical charge while monitoring how the atoms respond.
Both of the experiments yielded results that suggest that a fourth dimension really is all around us, even if we can’t see it. Science isn’t any closer to tapping into this hidden dimension, but know that it’s there is an important towards painting a more complete picture of physics and you can bet these won’t be the last experiments that toy with the idea.