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Monday, 11 May 2009

Water on Titan and Mars and space tourism on the go

Today:

  1. Liquid saltwater is likely present on Mars, new analysis shows
  2. Subterranean oceans on Saturn's moon Titan
  3. Giant ice flows bolster case for volcanoes on Titan
  4. Subsurface ice on Mars exposed by recent impacts
Short stories (not commented):
  1. Test flights for SpaceShipTwo mothership
  2. Space tourism to take flight in 2012
  3. Indian scientists discover new bacteria in Stratosphere
  4. Norway joins EU's Galileo satnav project
As I promised I changed the interface a little :) So, the main stories are the first 4 and they are all so FASCINATING! They are all about Titan and Mars and the existence of water on them. Enjoy!

Liquid saltwater is likely present on Mars, new analysis shows

March 17th, 2009
(PhysOrg.com) -- Salty, liquid water has been detected on a leg of the Mars Phoenix Lander and therefore could be present at other locations on the planet, according to analysis by a group of mission scientists led by a University of Michigan professor. This is the first time liquid water has been detected and photographed outside the Earth.

"A large number of independent physical and thermodynamical evidence shows that saline water may actually be common on ," said Nilton Renno, a professor in the U-M Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences and a co-investigator on the mission.

Previously, scientists believed that water existed on Mars only as ice or water vapor because of the planet's low temperature and .

This analysis shows how that assumption may be incorrect. Temperature fluctuation in the arctic region of Mars where Phoenix landed and salts in the soil could create pockets of water too salty to freeze in the climate of the landing site, Renno says.

Photos of one of the lander's legs show droplets that grew during the polar summer. Based on the temperature of the leg and the presence of large amounts of "perchlorate" salts detected in the soil, scientists believe the droplets were most likely water and mud that splashed on the spacecraft when it touched down. The lander was guided down by rockets whose exhaust melted the top layer of ice below a thin sheet of soil.

Some of the mud droplets that splashed on the lander's leg appear to have grown by absorbing water from the atmosphere, Renno says. Images suggest that some of the droplets darkened, then moved and merged—physical evidence that they were liquid.

Certain bacteria on Earth can exist in extremely salty and cold conditions. source

My comment:Or, Phoenix could have melted the water when it landed. This isn't that unbelievable. But anyway, keep in mind we're talking about Mars Poles. What could happen in other parts of the planet? I know this is an old info, but still, I find it pretty exciting! I really think we have to go to Mars. It's not a stupid NASA project. We can learn so much about other planets there. Not only to look for life, but learn more about life. Because currently, we really don't know how humans could survive so isolated from home. Oh, I'm sure we can survive. As long as there are some essential ingredients, we'll be fine. But we have to learn it. And this is a wonderful opportunity. This and the larger ISS.

Subterranean oceans on Saturn's moon Titan

April 6th, 2009 BY LOUIS BERGERON

(PhysOrg.com) -- Saturn's largest moon, Titan, may have a subterranean ocean of hydrocarbons and some topsy-turvy topography in which the summits of its mountains lie lower than its average surface elevation, according to new research.

Titan is also more squashed in its overall shape—like a rubber ball pressed down by a foot—than researchers had expected, said Howard Zebker, a Stanford geophysicist and electrical engineer involved in the work. The new findings may help explain the presence of large lakes of hydrocarbons at both of Titan's poles, which have been puzzling researchers since being discovered in 2007.

"Since the poles are squished in with respect to the equator, if there is a 'water table' that is more or less spherical in shape, then the poles would be closer down to that water table and depressions at the poles would fill up with liquid," Zebker said. The shape of the water table would be controlled by the of , which is still not fully understood.

Hydrocarbons are the only materials on Titan's that would remain liquid at minus180 degrees Celsius, the of the moon's surface. Any water would be frozen, making it plausible that instead of groundwater, Titan would have the equivalent in hydrocarbons.

Zebker, the lead author, and a group of colleagues have been making radar measurements of Titan's surface over the last four years using an instrument aboard the , which is orbiting Saturn.

Zebker said that there were theoretical reasons to expect that Titan was not a perfect sphere, but instead probably slightly oblate, or flattened, due to the centrifugal force from its rotation while orbiting Saturn. But the degree to which Titan is flattened exceeds what would be expected, based upon how close it is to Saturn and its roughly 16-day orbit.

But the bulge of Titan is also asymmetrical. The longest axis is oriented so that it points toward Saturn, a result of tidal forces from the planet. The shortest axis runs through the poles. And the other axis, oriented in the direction in which Titan orbits Saturn, is intermediate in length.

There are several possible explanations for Titan's deformity. It might be that when the shape of the moon was determined, it was in an orbit closer to Saturn. "Another is that there are active geophysical processes occurring inside Titan that further distort the shape," Zebker said.

Active geophysical processes might help account for another of Titan's oddities.

Zebker said that if you look at images of the surface of Titan, you see surface features that look every bit like mountains on Earth but don't have the high elevations compared to the plains stretching out around them.

"One of the really surprising finds that we have from this, is that the largest apparent continent is lower than the average elevation on Titan, as opposed to higher than the average elevation, as we have on the Earth," Zebker said.

"My favorite explanation is that the material that forms the mountains is simply more dense than the material surrounding them," he said. That would result in the mountains pushing down the surrounding crust, effectively putting the mountains in a basin of their own creation.

On Earth, the situation is the reverse: The crust that lies under the oceans is denser than the material that makes up the continental crust, where mountain ranges are built up.

"The things that we would expect to exist on the surface of Titan would either be solid hydrocarbon materials, essentially frozen ethane and methane, and that is fairly light, and then frozen water ice, which is denser," Zebker said. "If the mountains are composed of water ice and the plain features in between are composed of these solid hydrocarbons, that could lead to this kind of a situation." source

My comment: Ok, that's awesome. I mean seriously-he's actually hinting of MOUNTAINS of WATER! I don't know why, the whole story of Titan remembers me of the story of the The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the planet production sites. I know this brings some unwanted refences and creationists ideas, but if you think about it, an advanced civilisation could eventually create a planet or its satellites. So, why not? Anyway, this is very very interesting! I wanna go there!

Giant ice flows bolster case for volcanoes on Titan

SLUSHY water from a hidden ocean may be pooling onto the icy surface of Saturn's moon Titan.

Titan's exterior, where the temperature is around -180 °C, is thought to be mostly water-ice, but it may be a different story deep down. Variations in the moon's rate of rotation suggest an ocean could lurk belowMovie Camera.

An area of Titan called Hotei Arcus appears to fluctuate in brightness on timescales of several months, and in 2005 Robert Nelson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and colleagues, suggested this might be the result of "cryovolcanic" eruptions of water from below. Others argued that the flickers were caused by the moon's hazy atmosphere.

The cryovolcanism idea was bolstered in 2008, when observations of Hotei Arcus by a radar instrument aboard NASA's Cassini probe revealed structures that resembled lava flows.

Now radar images from Cassini have allowed scientists led by Randolph Kirk of the US Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona, to create a 3D view of the area. It turns out that the sinuous structures tower 200 metres above their surroundings. They say that this is consistent with the structures having formed when slushy water and ammonia squirted onto the surface and froze - but that they could not have been produced by a flood of liquid methane depositing sediment.

If slush volcanoes have been erupting recently, Titan would join a select group of solar system objects - Earth and Io - known to be volcanic at present.

The idea of any life surviving in the erupted water is "pretty much out of the question", Kirk says, as it would freeze. As for the ocean below: "Who knows?" he says. "It's conceivable life could be going on down there."

Jeff Moore of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, says it's still not obvious that the structures flowed.source

My comment: Yep, that article completes the previous quite nicely. If you remember, there is a hint of volcanism in it too-a way to explain the curious shape of Titan. And now this...I think there's much more to be learnt about Titan and I can't wait to see what the new missions would find out.

Subsurface ice on Mars exposed by recent impacts

Impacts are the most ubiquitous geologic features in our solar system. Roughly 1600 named craters (and countless lesser pits) scar the Moon's ancient surfaces. On Earth, where wind and water continually wear down the land, the census of confirmed impact craters stands at just 176.

These days, the HiRISE camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) can pick out objects only 0.3 metres in size; the High Resolution Stereo Camera on the European Space Agency's Mars Express is no slouch either, with a ground resolution of 2 metres.

So HiRISE researchers were elated, but not particularly surprised, to discover some small, freshly gouged craters in images taken in 2008. Seen at five sites over a latitude range of 43° to 56° north, the excavations are typically 3 to 6 metres across and a third to two-thirds of a metre deep.

What did astound the team were splashes of white seen in and around a handful of these craterlets. Could it be water ice? Colleagues operating the spacecraft's CRISM instrument soon confirmed, for the one case large enough to yield a spectrum, that it was! Apparently fist-sized impactors had punched into a layer of ice hidden by a topping of dust about a third of a metre deep.

In the months that followed, these snowy splashes gradually faded from view. Water ice isn't stable at the craters' latitudes, so most likely it gradually sublimated, or vaporised, into the atmosphere, leaving behind a veneer of any dust that had been mixed with it.

Byrne announced these findings on Friday at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas. He points out that prior surveys, particularly one done by the neutron spectrometer aboard NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter, show that vast reservoirs of ice lay barely buried across most of the planet's polar and mid-latitude regions.

But scientists are only now realising just how near the surface the ice lies – and how easily it can be reached. When NASA's Phoenix lander dropped onto a northern polar plain last May, its braking engine blew off a few inches of loose dirt and revealed slabs of nearly pure ice. source

My comment: Yes you read correctly! I won't comment-there's simply no need for that. Just enjoy the silence. And the water. On Mars! :)

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Test flights for SpaceShipTwo mothership

The skies over California's Mojave Air and Space Port are serving as the proving ground for the WhiteKnightTwo, the massive mothership being tested to air-launch commercial spaceliners on suborbital flights.

Virgin Galactic aim is to propel public space travel into reality.

Roaring to life via a hybrid rocket motor, SpaceShipTwo will carry two pilots and six passengers on a suborbital trajectory, scooting the rubber-necking "rush hour" commuters to the edge of space and returning them to terra firma at $200,000 a seat.

After successfully completing its initial flight test program, space launch vehicle Virgin Mothership (VMS) Eve is slated to make its "world public debut" there on July 27. source

Space tourism to take flight in 2012

STOCKHOLM (AFP) – Short tourist flights into space are expected to begin launching from Kiruna(northern Sweden) in 2012, one of the companies involved in the project said Wednesday.

The flights will be run by Virgin Galactic, owned by British tycoon Sir Richard Branson, which will first send paying customers around 110 kilometres (70 miles) above the earth from New Mexico in the United States.

Nearly 300 tickets($200 000 each) have already been sold for the short tourist space flights, she said. source

Indian scientists discover new bacteria in Stratosphere

16 Mar 2009, 1909 hrs IST, PTI

BANGALORE: Three new species of bacteria, which are not found on earth and highly resistant to ultra violet radiation, have been discovered in the upper stratosphere by some Indian scientists.

As per the analytical findings, 12 bacterial and six fungal colonies were detected, nine of which, based on '16s RNA gene sequence' showed greater than 98 per cent similarity with reported known species on earth.

Three bacterial colonies named PVAS-1, B3 W22 and B8 W22 were totally new species and had significantly higher UV resistances compared to their nearest plogenetic neighbours, ISRO said.

Of the above, PVAS1 has been named as Janibacter Hoylie, B3W22 as Bacillus Isronensis and B8W22 as Bacillus Arayabhata. source

My comment:You can only imagine what bugs we can find on Europe or Io!

Norway joins EU's Galileo satnav project

April 3rd, 2009
Norway said Friday it will stump up close to 70 million euros in funding for the European Union's satellite navigation project Galileo.

The Norwegian government will give a boost by providing 68.9 million euros (92.5 million dollars) towards the 3.4 billion euro project.

While Norway is not a member of the 27-member bloc, the country's economy and business minister Sylvia Brustad said it was important that Oslo took part in Galileo's development.

The EU has previously struggled to secure financing for , which is expected to be launched in 2013 as a rival to the US (GPS), and had to release unused funds from the bloc's massive agricultural budget.

In September, the European Commission and the , which includes Norway as a member, shortlisted 11 European firms which are bidding for future contracts connected to Galileo.

Two test satellites, Giove-A and Giove-B, were launched in December 2005 and April 2008. source

My comment: Lol, "the bloc's massive agricultural budget". Sad, but true. Anyway, I'm very happy that Norway joined Gallileo, because with the problems with China, I was little worried. And Gallileo is really a very important project but for Europe and for the world. We need healthy competition, right?

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