Posts Tagged ‘Mars’

Growing Crops on Mars

June 27, 2016

We may have already a taken a step towards the colonization of Mars. Any colony on Mars whether a permanent settlement or a long-term scientific research expedition will have to be largely self-sufficient because of the long travel time from Earth. At the very least, humans living on Mars for any great length of time will have to be able to get food and water on Mars, if possible. Obviously, given Mars’s thin atmosphere, it will not be possible to plant fields of crops out in the open, but it may be possible to create domed habitations in which vegetables can be grown. This would be a lot easier if Martian soil could be used or modified since bringing soil from Earth, or hydroponic equipment would likely be prohibitively expensive.

Mars

It is not clear whether terrestrial plants can grow in Martian soil, given the lack of organic matter and different chemical composition. There is some encouraging news from The Netherlands in this article in phys.org.

Dutch scientists said Thursday crops of four vegetables and cereals grown on soil similar to that on Mars have been found safe to eat, amid plans for the first manned mission to the planet.

Abundant harvests of radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes all grown on the soil were found to contain “no dangerous levels” of heavy metals, said the team from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

“These remarkable results are very promising,” said senior ecologist Wieger Wamelink.

“We can actually eat the radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes, and I am very curious what they will taste like.”

Future Mars settlers will have to take food supplies with them and then plant crops in order to survive.

So using soil developed by NASA to resemble that of the red planet, the university has been experimenting since 2013 and has managed to raise 10 crops.

But uncertainty remains about whether they would absorb the high levels of heavy metals such cadmium, copper and lead, present in Mars soil.

Further tests are now needed on the remaining six crops, including potatoes, in research which is being backed by a crowd-funding campaign.

NASA plans a manned trip to Mars within the next 10 to 15 years or so, and similar projects are also being pursued by US billionaire Elon Musk and the Dutch company Mars One, tentatively aiming to set up human colonies on the Red Planet.

The Mars One project has backed the Wageningen experiments and is currently undertaking a third selection to whittle down the remaining 100 candidates hoping to be among their astronauts to 40.

“It’s important to test as many crops as possible, to make sure that settlers on Mars have access to a broad variety of different food sources,” said Wamelink.

When I read the headline, I thought that they had grown the vegetables and grains in actual Martian soil samples and I was a little disappointed to learn that the soil used was Earth soil made to simulate Martian soil. It does show that it is at least possible to use Martian soil, though I think it would be better to obtain actual Martian soil to be sure. No matter how well designed our probes are, there is always a possibility that we have overlooked something that could be only be discovered by human beings in laboratories on Earth.

If the members of a Martian expedition do grow their own food, they will need to bring along bacteria from Earth to add the necessary organic components to make the soil more Earth-like. Such bacteria could be genetically modified to flourish in Martian conditions. No form of terrestrial life can survive on the surface of Mars, at present, the thin atmosphere cannot shield the surface from deadly ultraviolet radiation, but there is no reason Terran life couldn’t survive underground. Conditions wouldn’t that much worse than in Antarctica. This bacteria, adapted for Mars could be the first step in terraforming Mars for human habitation.

So, when can I leave for Mars?

One of these days, I'd like to look out my window and see this.

One of these days, I’d like to look out my window and see this.

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The Martian

September 30, 2015

I have just finished reading the most amazing book, The Martian by Andy Weir. Perhaps you have seen the advertisements for the forth-coming movie starring Matt Damon as the Martian of the title. The movie is not out yet, and it is unlikely that I will watch it before it comes out on DVD, but I did read the book to see what all the hype was about. I d not know how they will adapt this book to the movie, such adaptations are always a chancy business and I am rarely satisfied with the result, but if the movie is at all faithful to the plot of the book, it will be well worth watching.

The_Martian_2014

The Martian is not, as the title would suggest, a science fiction novel about a person from the planet Mars. Instead it is the story of astronaut Mark Watney who is one of a crew of six astronauts on a mission to explore Mars. A dust storm causes NASA to abort the mission after only six days on the surface of Mars and Watney is seemingly killed while the crew is trying to get to the Mars Ascent Vehicle which is designed to return the crew to their orbiting space craft Hermes which will take them home to Earth. However, Watney is not dead but has been left behind, all alone on Mars with no way to return to Earth or even to communicate with NASA. The rest of the novel is concerned with Mark Watney’s efforts to stay alive on Mars until he can be rescued.

 

In many ways, The Martian is a hearkening back to the great, old days of science fiction, to a more optimistic time when science fiction was about man’s exploration of the universe and nothing seemed impossible with the application of scientific knowledge and reason, rather than the pessimistic post-apocalyptic dystopias and social justice warrior crap that one sees too much of in the genre these days. The plot is well paced and exciting. Although I knew that Watney will make it off of Mars, this isn’t the sort of story that has him die at the last minute, the question of just how he will manage the next crisis kept me, almost literally, at the edge of my seat and made the book almost impossible to put down. Mark Watney himself is an engaging character, something of a twenty-first century Robinson Crusoe, clever and resourceful enough to find ways to survive. Just as Crusoe was able to salvage his wrecked ship to enable himself to survive on his island, Watney is capable of making use of the equipment left behind on Mars. Much of the story is told by way of the audio log he keeps and his often humorous commentary on the conditions and problems he faces helps to make what might be tedious exposition enjoyable to read. There is no Man Friday on Mars for Watney, but scavenging the Pathfinder lander allows him to regain contact with Earth which surely must be just as momentous as Crusoe’s finding a footprint in the sand and realizing that he no longer has to face his troubles alone.

The story is also told from the point of view of Mark Watney’s crew-mates and the engineers and administrators at NASA who are desperately trying to find a way to bring Watney home, or at least send him supplies to last until the next mission to Mars. They are shown to be competent, loyal and determined and in that respect The Martian reminded me of the movie Apollo 13. The science in the Martian is rock solid and this is one of the hardest, on the scale between hard to soft, science fiction books I have ever read. Andy Weir is the son of a scientist and a student of science himself. All of the technology in the book is based on real life technology we have right now and the mission to Mars is based on real plans that NASA might adopt to send astronauts to Mars. Weir’s portrayal of Martian conditions is based on the very latest information from probes. If a man ever did get stranded on Mars, this is a realistic story of how he might survive.

I can highly recommend The Martian to any reader whether science fiction fan or not. There is just one problem. The Martian actually makes the prospect of living on Mars seem desirable. Ever since I finished it, I have had the most intense desire to hop on a spaceship and go to Mars myself. Where do I sign up?

The red hills of Mars

The red hills of Mars

 

No Muslims on Mars

February 20, 2014
Marvin the Martian

Probably not a Muslim

 

 

As humanity spreads out into space and begins to colonize other planets, it is possible that Muslims will not be among the first wave of space explorers, at least not if they obey a fatwa reportedly issued recently. I read the story in the Telegraph.

 

Muslims have been warned in a Fatwa not to go and live on Mars because it would pose “a real risk to life”, according to a Dubai news organisation.

The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment (GAIAE) in the United Arab Emirates said that anyone making such a “hazardous trip” is likely to die for “no righteous reason”.

They would therefore be liable to a “punishment similar to that of suicide in the Hereafter”, the Khaleej Times reported.

The Fatwa was apparently issued in response to the proposal from the Dutch company Mars One last year to send four people on a one-way journey to the red planet in 2022.

“Such a one-way journey poses a real risk to life, and that can never be justified in Islam,” the committee said. “There is a possibility that an individual who travels to planet Mars may not be able to remain alive there, and is more vulnerable to death.”

“Protecting life against all possible dangers and keeping it safe is an issue agreed upon by all religions and is clearly stipulated in verse 4/29 of the Holy Koran: Do not kill yourselves or one another. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful,” the committee, chaired by Professor Dr Farooq Hamada, said.

Over 200,000 people have applied to be civilian-astronauts on the Mars One mission. Experts have questioned both the financial and practical viability of the mission.

The Mars One website states: “It is Mars One’s goal to establish a human settlement on Mars. Human settlement of Mars is the next giant leap for humankind.

“Exploring the solar system as a united humanity will bring us all closer together. Mars is the stepping stone of the human race on its voyage into the universe.”

 

I wonder what Dr. Farooq Hamada thinks about suicide bombers. I don’t think that risking death to explore space is the same thing as suicide. Space is a dangerous place, but we all have to die sometime and I don’t think I would mind dying while exploring strange new worlds, not that I would ever have that opportunity. I am not sure I would want to live on Mars as part of a four person colony, especially if there were no possibility of returning to Earth. When Mars One first announced their proposal to settle Mars, I thought the first colony would involve hundreds, or at least tens of colonists. I think having just three other people on a whole planet might get old after a time.

It occurs to me that Muslims might have another problem with living on another planet, besides the risk traveling there. Muslims are required to pray five times a day while facing toward the holy city of Mecca. Islamic religious authorities have already determined that a Muslim in orbit should pray facing the Earth, but what direction should a Muslim on Mars face? Perhaps they could face the Earth, but what if the Earth is on the other side of the Sun? I suppose they will work out some solution eventually, or just stay behind on Earth.

Whatever happens, I will be looking forward to seeing the colonization of Mars. It is too bad that I am not going to live long enough to see the development of terraforming techniques to make Mars and Venus livable.

 

 

 

 

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Life on Mars

January 21, 2013

I read some interesting news in the Telegraph on the search for extraterrestrial life.

Prof John Parnell, 55, has co-written a theory with Dr Joseph Michalski, a planetary geologist at the Natural History Museum, that suggests they have discovered the best signs of life in the huge McLaughlin Crater on the surface of Mars.

The document, published today in Nature Geoscience journal, describes how they assessed the crater, created by a meteorite which smashed into the surface of Mars, flinging up rocks from miles below.

The rocks appear to be made up of clays and minerals which have been altered by water – the essential element to support life.

Speaking from his laboratory at the University of Aberdeen, geochemist Prof Parnell said: “We could be so close to discovering if there is, or was, life on Mars.

“We know from studies that a substantial proportion of all life on Earth is also in the subsurface and by studying the McLaughlin Crater we can see similar conditions beneath the surface of Mars thanks to observations on the rocks brought up by the meteorite strike.

“There can be no life on the surface of Mars because it is bathed in radiation and it’s completely frozen. However, life in the sub surface would be protected from that.

“And there is no reason why there isn’t bacteria or other microbes that were or still are living in the small cracks well below the surface of Mars.

“One of the other things we have discussed in our paper is that this bacteria could be living off hydrogen, which is exactly the same as what microbes beneath the surface of the Earth are doing too.

“Unfortunately, we won’t find any evidence of animals as the most complex life you might get in the sub surface would be fungi.

“But fungi aren’t even that far removed from plants and animals, so I think you could say that life on Mars could be complex, but small.”

I think that any life on,or in, Mars is likely to be very simple, perhaps similar to bacteria, assuming that there is any at all. We are going to actually go there and look specifically for life. Fortunately, that may be the next step.

Prof Parnell reckons that although the next mission to Mars will have a drill to examine possibilities of life beneath the surface of Mars, he says his new study suggests looking around the edges of craters would be easier and more beneficial.

He said: “What we’re really doing is emphasising that if we are going to explore for life on Mars, we need to go beneath the surface. So we need to find an approach beneath the surface.

“One approach to do that might be to drill and indeed the next European mission to Mars will have a drill on it, but that will only go down about two metres.

“And although drilling two metres on Earth would be a fantastic technological achievement, it’s only really scratching the surface.

I think they meant to write Mars instead of Earth.

“So the alternative is to use what nature has done for us and that’s why we are are particularly interested in the McLaughlin Crater that we have investigated in our paper.

“Because when a meteor lands, it excavates a big hole in the ground and throws rocks from the bottom of the hole outside the crater to where we could conceivably go and sample them.”

And while the craters on Mars may uncover secrets about the planet’s possibility of supporting life, Prof Parnell also revealed the results could show us how life on Earth began.

He said: “It’s very easy to draw parallels between what Mars looks like and what the early Earth might have looked like, because the rocks on Earth that we see now have been recycled a lot in ways that they have not been recycled on Mars.

“Mars has not had things like erosion and shifting of mountain ranges to destroy vital evidence from the past.

“So studying meteorite craters of Mars may well actually give us an indication to how life on Earth began.

“Although we all live on the surface of Earth, life did not originate here, but actually in the sub surface.

“It was only when life had taken hold below the surface that it gradually expanded and came up to the surface.

“In fact, there’s so much life below the surface of our planet that we are actually the unusual ones living above it.”

This sounds a lot like The Deep Hot Biosphere.

 

Mars Time

August 21, 2012

 

 

The Martian day, called a “sol” is 24 hours and 39 minutes, making it 39 minutes longer than an Earth day. In order to properly monitor a Mars rover‘s mission, many of the scientists and engineers involved switch to Mars time, at least for the first three months. A forty minute longer day may not seem like much of an adjustment, but that daily forty minutes adds up and before too long you are out of sync with Earth’s day and night. Here is the story from AP about a whole family that is trying the adjustment out.

Since the landing of NASA’s newest Mars rover, flight director David Oh’s family has taken the unusual step of tagging along as he leaves Earth time behind and syncs his body clock with the red planet.

Every mission to Mars, a small army of scientists and engineers reports to duty on “Mars time” for the first three months. But it’s almost unheard of for an entire family to flip their orderly lives upside down, shifting to what amounts to a time zone change a day.

Intrigued about abiding by extraterrestrial time, Oh’s wife, Bryn, could not pass up the chance to take their kids – 13-year-old Braden, 10-year-old Ashlyn and 8-year-old Devyn – on a Martian adventure from their home near the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory where the Curiosity rover was built.

“We all feel a little sleepy, a little jet-lagged all day long, but everyone is doing great,” Bryn Oh said, two weeks into the experiment.

Days on Mars last a tad longer. Earth rotates on its axis once every 24 hours – the definition of a day. Neighbor Mars spins more lazily. Days there – known as sols – last 39 minutes and 35 seconds longer than on Earth. The difference may not seem like much each day, but it adds up.

To stay in lockstep, nearly 800 people on the $2.5 billion project have surrendered to the Martian cycle of light and dark. In the simplest sense, each day slides forward 40 minutes. That results in wacky work, sleep and eating schedules. Many say it feels like perpetual jet lag.

The Oh family broke in slowly. A sign on their front door warns: “On Mars Time: Flight Director Asleep. Come Back Later.”

Days before Curiosity’s Aug. 5 touchdown, the children stayed up until 11:30 p.m. and slept in until 10 a.m. In the beginning, it wasn’t much different from a typical day on summer vacation. As the days wore on, they stayed up later and later, waking up in the afternoon and evening.

One day last week, the family ate a 3 p.m. breakfast, 8 p.m. lunch, 2:30 a.m. dinner and 5 a.m. dessert before heading off to bed.

To sleep when the sun is out, their bedroom windows are covered with aluminum foil or cloth to keep out any sliver of light. In the hallway, a handmade calendar keeps track of the days and schedules are written on an oversized mirror. A digital clock in the master bedroom is set to Mars time.

The article goes on about the various troubles the family has in essentially rotating their day and nights forward about a time zone every day. I wonder what effect the slightly longer Martian day might have on any colonists. They wouldn’t have the trouble of having to contend with Earthly time cues, such as sunrise and sunset, or with human activities, which on Mars would be in accord with the Martian day. I don’t think the extra forty minutes would be too hard to adjust to, if everyone in the colony were on the same time.

They would have to do something about their clocks. Would they divided a Martian day into 24 slightly longer Martian hours? What about minutes and seconds? The Martian year is about 687 Earth days. Would Martian colonists measure time by Earth years or Mars years? If I lived on Mars, would I be able to get away with saying I am 20 (Martian) years old?

It will be interesting to see how they figure these sorts of things out. I hope I live to see a colony on Mars.

 

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

August 6, 2012

First the good. The rover Curiosity landed safely on Mars. Perhaps that doesn’t seem so big a deal, but each time a Mars probe succeeds in landing safely is a technological miracle. Reaching Mars is easy enough, but landing on a planetary surface is difficult, especially when you have no control over the spacecraft and there is about an eighteen minute delay in communications. Here is more from Foxnews.

 In a show of technological wizardry, the robotic explorer Curiosity blazed through the pink skies of Mars, steering itself to a gentle landing inside a giant crater for the most ambitious dig yet into the red planet’s past.

Cheers and applause echoed through the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory late Sunday after the most high-tech interplanetary rover ever built signaled it had survived a harrowing plunge through the thin Mars atmosphere.

“Touchdown confirmed,” said engineer Allen Chen. “We’re safe on Mars.”

Minutes after the landing signal reached Earth at 10:32 p.m. PDT, Curiosity beamed back the first black-and-white pictures from inside the crater showing its wheel and its shadow, cast by the afternoon sun.

“We landed in a nice flat spot. Beautiful, really beautiful,” said engineer Adam Steltzner, who led the team that devised the tricky landing routine.

It was NASA’s seventh landing on Earth’s neighbor; many other attempts by the U.S. and other countries to zip past, circle or set down on Mars have gone awry.

The arrival was an engineering tour de force, debuting never-before-tried acrobatics packed into “seven minutes of terror” as Curiosity sliced through the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 mph.

President Barack Obama lauded the landing in a statement, calling it “an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future.”

Over the next two years, Curiosity will drive over to a mountain rising from the crater floor, poke into rocks and scoop up rust-tinted soil to see if the region ever had the right environment for microscopic organisms to thrive. It’s the latest chapter in the long-running quest to find out whether primitive life arose early in the planet’s history.

The voyage to Mars took more than eight months and spanned 352 million miles. The trickiest part of the journey? The landing. Because Curiosity weighs nearly a ton, engineers drummed up a new and more controlled way to set the rover down. The last Mars rovers, twin Spirit and Opportunity, were cocooned in air bags and bounced to a stop in 2004.

Right after that, President Obama reminded the engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that they didn’t build Curiosity all on their own. Someone else made it happen.
This is exciting and the only thing that would have made it perfect would be if it had been a manned mission. I would really like to see a human on Mars in my lifetime.
Now the bad. Yesterday,  a man named Michael Page shot and killed 6 people at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee. The motive is unclear since Page himself was killed by the police. He appears to have been involved with white-supremacist groups.

The children were downstairs, in Sunday school.

The women were in the kitchen nearby, cooking the weekly meal that is free to all.

And the gunman was striding into the wide-open Sikh Temple, bent on killing as many people as he could.

Then came the shots, ripped off, according to a weapons instructor who lives nearby, “as fast as you can pull the trigger.”

By the time the shooter was done, six people lay dead or mortally wounded in what Oak Creek police said was being treated as a domestic terrorist incident – if so, one without precedent in Wisconsin.

Counting the gunman – fatally shot by an Oak Creek police officer – the death count stands at seven.

“This,” a temple leader said later, “is insanity.”

It is also the most deadly U.S. attack on Sikhs – who often have been mistaken for Muslims and targeted in hate crimes – in recent memory.

Within three hours of the mass slaying at the five-year-old temple, built on S. Howell Ave. to accommodate the Milwaukee area’s growing Sikh community, a task force of federal, state and local law enforcement officers was gathering on the scene.

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion, which is, in some ways, a blend of Islamic and Hindu traditions. It was founded by Guru Nanak in the Punjab about 500 years ago. Although Sikhism has spread throughout the world, the majority of Sikhs still live in the Punjab. People in in that region are generally considered to be Caucasians or white, so I am not sure why a white supremacist would target them, unless they weren’t white enough for him. Then again, a lot of those people hate Jews, who look as white as anyone. Maybe he meant to kill Muslims. Sikhs have been targets for hate crimes by the ignorant since 9/11. His motivation will have to remain as something of a mystery since he apparently didn’t leave behind any notes or manifestos.

And now the ugly. As one might expect, much of the ugliness in today’s discourse comes from the tolerant Left, the ones who incessantly lecture the rest of us about civility. I won’t bother to mention some of the vandalism directed at Chick-fil-A, this past week. Here are two stories I read today. First, Anti-hunting mob urges Team USA shooter Corey Cogdell to shoot herself

Corey Cogdell is a Trap Shooter who won a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and competed in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

She also participates in trophy hunting (hunting of wild game animals).

After Cogdell published photos on Facebook of herself posing alongside animals she killed, anti-hunting activists took to Twitter to express their strong displeasure.

Natascha Bracale @TaschaB13

@CoreyCogdell pity the bus didn’t crash. You are a waste of oxygen and an embarassment to the human race.Karma is a bitch.

Konejira @Konejira

@CoreyCogdell please go shoot yourself in the knees. YOU ANIMAL MURDERER!! you’re a disgusting human being.
@pablito_honas

@CoreyCogdell I hope that someone someday shoot your whole familly just practicing.—
Pablo Honney (@pablito_honas) August 02, 2012

Nice people.

Then there is the latest action by the tolerant Atheist community.

26-foot tall cross emblazoned with the message “Jesus Saves” has become the center for more First Amendment debate in Indiana.

The cross stands on a public plot of land in the small Hoosier State community of Dugger, and has Americans United for Separation of Church and State threatening to sue.

“It’s a pretty flagrant display of the government saying ‘this is a Christian town,'” Gregory Lipper, the group’s senior counsel, told FoxNews.com. “Everyone gets freedom of religion …just because Christianity is this country’s religious majority doesn’t mean that they get to put their thumb on the scale and use taxpayer dollars.

“It doesn’t matter what religion the government is endorsing … it’s a clear violation of the Constitution.”

The land that the cross sits on is valued at about $3,000, and the little 955-person town cannot afford legal fees to save such a small spot of land.

“We’ve given the church 60 days to make a decision,” Dwight Nielsen, Dugger Town Board president, told FoxNews.com. “We may sell the land to a group of [churches].”

The cross was erected two years ago on behalf of the town’s Faith Community Church. The fixture sits on town-owned property near a high school baseball field, but the town approved the build.

“We wanted people to be able to see what the message of the cross represents and get it out to the world in need,” Shawn Farris, head pastor at the Faith Community Church, told FoxNews.com.

Farris does not believe that the town made a religious endorsement by letting the church put up the cross:

“We knew it was okay because when you look at the separation between church and state, it’s just a fact that the government couldn’t tell people how to worship … it would be the same if they allowed a crescent moon to be put up,” he continued.

The town will soon hold a meeting to discuss and finalize the future plans of the cross, officials said.

Religious freedom means they cannot put up a cross? How is anyone hurt by this? Would anyone object if some other religious symbol were erected? Why don’t the people at the Americans United for Separation of Church and State get a life, and stop harassing people?

 

Mars Science Laboratory On its Way

December 1, 2011

To keep from being too depressed by the news, I’ll post something positive. The Mars Science Laboratory launched November 26. This probe includes a rover named Curiosity. Here is the news from NASA.

NASA began a historic voyage to Mars with the Nov. 26 launch of the Mars Science Laboratory, which carries a car-sized rover named Curiosity. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard an Atlas V rocket occurred at 10:02 a.m. EST (7:02 a.m. PST).

“We are very excited about sending the world’s most advanced scientific laboratory to Mars,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “MSL will tell us critical things we need to know about Mars, and while it advances science, we’ll be working on the capabilities for a human mission to the Red Planet and to other destinations where we’ve never been.”

The mission will pioneer precision landing technology and a sky-crane touchdown to place Curiosity near the foot of a mountain inside Gale Crater on Aug. 6, 2012. During a nearly two-year prime mission after landing, the rover will investigate whether the region has ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life.

Curiosity’s ambitious science goals are among the mission’s many differences from earlier Mars rovers. It will use a drill and scoop at the end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover. Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science-instrument payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking the elemental composition of rocks from a distance, and an X-ray diffraction instrument for definitive identification of minerals in powdered samples.

To haul and wield its science payload, Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity. Because of its one-ton mass, Curiosity is too heavy to employ airbags to cushion its landing as previous Mars rovers could. Part of the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft is a rocket-powered descent stage that will lower the rover on tethers as the rocket engines control the speed of descent.

The mission’s landing site offers Curiosity access for driving to layers of the mountain inside Gale Crater. Observations from orbit have identified clay and sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history.

I can hardly wait for the Mars Science Laboratory to reach Mars. Here, on NASA’s website is a countdown to its landing.

 

Worms from Hell

June 6, 2011

Some more interesting news from the world of science. According to this article in the Washington Post, scientists Gaetan Borgonie and Tullis Onstott have found nematodes or roundworms living more than a mile beneath the earth’s surface. They found them in the Beatrix gold mine. It is quite a discovery since no one had thought such complex organisms could live so far underground.

“This is telling us something brand new,” said Onstott, whose pioneering work in South Africa over the past decade has revolutionized the understanding of microbial life known generally as extremophiles, which live in places long believed to be uninhabitable.

“For a relatively complex creature like a nematode to penetrate that deep is simply remarkable,” he said.

An article introducing the subterranean nematodes, one of which was formally named Halicephalobus mephisto after the “Lord of the Underworld,” appears in Wednesday’s edition of the journal Nature. H. mephisto was found in water flowing from a borehole about one mile below the surface in the Beatrix gold mine.

Borgonie said that although nematodes are known to exist on the deep ocean floor, they have generally not been found more than 10 to 20 feet below the surface of the ground or the ocean bed. But he saw no reason they wouldn’t be found farther down. The nematodes he ultimately discovered live in extremely hot water coming from boreholes fed by rock fissures and pools.

 

This is especially promising in the search for extraterrestrial life, since on a planet like Mars, under the surface could be more hospitable for life than the surface.

Most life on earth, that we are familiar with, is dependent on the process of photosynthesis, either directly or indirectly. Obviously this is not an option a mile underground. These nematodes feed on bacteria who gain nourishment from molecules broken up by the heat of radioactive decay.

The world is stranger and more wonderful than we can imagine.


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