Right now, five human spacecrafts study Mars by hanging out near it. Two do it from the Martian surface—the Curiosity rover, which began its mission in 2012, and the more-than-a-decade-old Opportunity rover—and three do it while orbiting around the red planet.
Earlier this month, one of those kinds of spacecraft happened to see the other.
On April 11, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter passed near Aeolis Mons, a mountain near the equator in the planet’s eastern hemisphere. It photographed a hilly region nearby known as the Kimberley, and there it caught a robot that’s been hanging out among the hills for the past few months: the Mars Curiosity Rover.
Read more. [Image: NASA]
Right now, 500 light years away from Earth, there’s a planet that looks a lot like our own. It is bathed in dim orangeish light, which at high noon is only as bright as the golden hour before sunset back home.
NASA scientists are calling the planet Kepler-186f, and it’s unlike anything they’ve found. The big news: Kepler-186f is the closest relative to the Earth that researchers have discovered.
It’s the first Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of another star—the sweet spot between too-hot Mercury-like planets and too-cold Neptunes— and it is likely to give scientists their first real opportunity to seek life elsewhere in the universe. “It’s no longer in the realm of science fiction,” said Elisa Quintana, a researcher at the SETI Institute.
But if there is indeed life on Kepler-186f, it may not look like what we have here. Given the redder wavelengths of light on the planet, vegetation there would sprout in hues of yellow and orange instead of green.
Read more. [Image: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech]
For most daydreamers, predicting the future is a business of missing more than you hit.
For example, we still haven’t eliminated childbirth by inventing designer babies grown in artificial wombs, a prediction the science editor of LIFE magazine made 50 years ago.
But that same editor surmised we’d be able to grow complete human organs from cell tissue in laboratories, and most Americans now agree that this sounds like something that will happen. Eighty-one percent of those polled believe organs will be developed in petri dishes by 2064. (Hey, why not, scientists are already working on lab-grown ears and noses.)
That’s according to a new Pew Research Center study that asked Americans for their feelings and predictions about the next 50 years of science.
But Americans’ optimism was not evenly distributed. If they were confident in the biomedical future, they were pessimistic about space. Only a third of us now believe that we’ll have colonized another planet by 2064. Here are nine other predictions Americans made.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
When we see patterns in the atmosphere from space, they tend to be in the clouds of powerful storms. These all have roughly the same form: they look like a spiral galaxy with arms spinning out from the core.
But meteorologists have detected other organizational principles at work. Like, take the fascinating image above. It shows …. well, I wasn’t sure exactly what it showed. A meteorologist’s blog post described them as “convectively-generated mesospheric airglow waves,” but that did not quite explain how they worked or what they were.
So I got in touch with Steven Miller, senior research scientist and deputy director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA) at Colorado State University. Miller and his colleagues discovered these concentric rings while working with the newish satellite Suomi satellite’s next-generation low-light sensor. (They published a paper on the discovery in PNAS.)
Miller told me I was looking at glowing ripples in the atmosphere itself!
“These are literally ‘ripples of glowing atmosphere’ whose structure is the result of a train of gravity waves that is passing through a thin layer of the atmosphere that produces a very faint veil of light called ‘nightglow,’” he said. “These are not clouds (although they were forced by the thunderstorms below), and they do not occur in the troposphere, where our ‘weather’ is. They are much higher up—at the interface between the mesosphere and the thermosphere—about 90 km [55 miles] above the surface! The glow is revealing important dynamics of our atmosphere that would otherwise be completely invisible to us.”
Read more. [Image: Suomi]
Researchers on April 7 said that they have produced the most accurate measurement to date of how fast the universe was flying apart when it was 3 billion years old. At the rate of 68 km/s, the universe was growing at a rate of 1% every 44 million years at the time, which is actually slower than expected.
On March 14, 2014, in a wildlife preserve near the Denver airport, firefighters started a fire. It was a “controlled burn,” a practice typically made during cooler times of year—meant to prevent the buildup of weeds and other plants that can serve as tinder for wildfires in warmer months.
March 14, 2014 was a weird day, though. The winds over the preserve shifted, suddenly. So suddenly, in fact, that they began sucking the fire’s debris—glowing embers, singed tumbleweeds—into the air. Finally, the fire itself got sucked into the vortex, creating a phenomenon that you cannot help but think of as … a fire tornado.
Or as, more accurately: A FIRE TORNADO.
Read more. [Image: Chris Tangey/Vimeo]
No one in the contiguous United States has ever felt shaking like what’s going on in Chile right now.
Read more. [Image: USGS]
When human space travel made its transition from pipe dream to reality, one of the unknowns humans contended with concerned not just the physics of space, but the psychology of it. How would the human mind react to the final frontier? Would microgravity, combined with the isolation of a spaceship, cause a kind of claustrophobia? Would propulsion outside of Earth’s bounds, in the end, cause astronauts to experience a psychic break? Was there such thing, as science fiction writers had long feared, as “space madness”?
Space, fortunately, does not drive us crazy. But that doesn’t mean we’ve stopped caring about the effects its new environments will have on our psychology. The new version of the old “space madness” question is how time away from our home planet will affect us—in the long term. What could life on Mars do to that that other cosmic mystery: the human emotional state?
NASA is hoping to find out. This week, in partnership with the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the agency launched the latest version of its Mars simulation experiment, the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation mission. On Hawaii’s Big Island, 8,200 feet above sea level, conditions are as Martian as they can be on Earth: Mauna Loa’s volcanic soil is quite similar to the volcanic regolith that can be found on Mars. HI-SEAS in general aims to replicate, as closely as is possible on Earth, what life would be like on Mars—and its latest iteration will put human emotions to the test.
Read more. [Image: NASA/HI-SEAS]
The United Nations’ latest report on climate change contains plenty of dire warnings about the adverse impact “human interference with the climate system” is having on everything from sea levels to crop yields to violent conflicts. But the primary message of the study isn’t, as John Kerry suggested on Sunday, for countries to collectively reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Instead, the subtext appears to be this: Climate change is happening and will continue to happen for the foreseeable future. As a result, we need to adapt to a warming planet—to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits associated with increasing temperatures—rather than focusing solely on curbing warming in the first place. And it’s businesses and local governments, rather than the international community, that can lead the way.
“The really big breakthrough in this report is the new idea of thinking about managing climate change,” Chris Field, the co-chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) study, said this week, adding that governments, companies, and communities are already experimenting with “climate-change adaptation.”
Read more. [Image: Carlos Barria/Reuters]