Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Heat Wave Level - Maximum

I'm not sure how the weather is for the rest of you guys, but here in Colorado, it's been relatively warm for being the end of November. Now i'm not going to go into an argument about climate change, global warming, or any of that stuff, but something a little more, shall I say, uncontroversial.

Solar Cycles

It has been show by NASA that the sun goes through cycles, reaching "Solar Minimums" and "Solar Maximums" and right now we're on the brink of a maximum.
This picture from NASA shows the sun as it reaches a maximum.
The amount of "sun spots" visible are very good indicators to the position in the cycle of the sun, which last around 11 years. The spots are dark blemishes on the sun's surface (which there's plenty of in the picture on the right, but I thought it looked hotter maybe because of all those big flares coming off, but that's just me). The most recent minimum was some time in 2008, so this current cycle may be a little shy of the normal time, but either way, I would expect a little more of this...
That's one hot dog.
And a little less of this...

In the upcoming year.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Prosthetics... Lighter, Stronger, Better!

Since I just got knee surgery, I am stuck on the couch with a giant brace on my knee. I thought about how I could relate this to space exploration. I found an article from ANI  describes how the Europeans on the International Space Station discovered much more than expected with their Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. The purpose of this device is to study matter and anti-matter in space.
Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer from the ISS

What they also discovered was a carbon fiber material with multiple functions. Since the spectrometer was the largest experiment ever on the space station, it needed to be made of lightweight material. The carbon fiber used is now common in prosthetic limbs. Recently in the news headlines was South African sprinter, Oscar Pistorius, who gained world recognition for being the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics.
Hopefully research in space exploration will continue to improve life here on Earth as well. With technology like carbon fiber being multifunctional, it would only be fitting for space exploration research to also be multifunctional.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Earth's Crazy New Space Fence

Is Earth afraid of space monsters throwing asteroids at us? Apparently! According to Space Mart, Lockheed Martin is in the final stages of launching a new Space Fence around the Earth.

Wilson always behind his fence
The purpose of the fence is to track objects that are headed towards Earth as well as track asteroids or other small things headed for satellites or the space station. There are hundreds of thousands of small objects orbiting the Earth all the time and they have the ability to mess with our plans. Using the new space fence, we can time our spacecraft take off times or satellite launches so we don't hit anything.

Lockheed Martin's Space Fence
Hopefully with the addition of the new fence, neighboring planets don't hit their asteroid baseballs over it and destroy our awesome planet!

The fence should help us stop this!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mars had an atmosphere?

Everybody knows that Mars is that dusty old planet uninhabited save by the thoughts and dreams of science fiction writers. But the Mars of yesteryear may have been quite different.
Picture of Mars courtesy of the Curiosity rover 
In recent studies by the mars rover Curiosity, it has come to light that Mars may have been a water-filled utopia with a thick atmosphere, much like Earth is today.  Now, it is a rocky waste very similar to the lava fields in Hawaii. How did this happen you ask? Well over time, the upper atmosphere of Mars was slowly "eroded" away into space, and the water and water vapor presumably went with it.

This would be a terrible fate to befall the Earth, but our atmosphere has been holding strong for millions of years. Our atmosphere is characterized by gasses that are much harder to drift off into space, so I wouldn't start worrying and buying canned air just yet.

Delicious Perri-Air
-Colin Downs

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Future of Mars Exploration - MAVEN

For those of you who have seen the original Total Recall, you might remember the scene near the end of the movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger on the surface of Mars without a space suit on, eyes and tongue bulging (click here for a pic, as it may be a little disgusting to view for some readers).

The director probably decided this was the best way to show what would happen if a human was put on Mars with no protection, in an atmosphere not suitable to support our oxygen and air pressure requirements, but do scientists really know what the atmosphere is like on Mars? Or perhaps the director was just making guesses...
This may very well be a picture of the director of Total Recall.
NASA is planning on launching the MAVEN satellite in 2013, which will answer all of our questions about the Mars atmosphere, ionosphere, and even interactions with the sun and solar winds! According to NASA, scientists will use the data collected from MAVEN to give an insight into the history of Mar's atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability by determining the loss of compounds like carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and water from the atmosphere to space.

Here's a really cool video clip from NASA showing what MAVEN will possibly look like orbiting Mars.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Mars Needs Moms

Curiosity may have stumbled onto something crazy on Mars recently in the form of organic compounds...LIFE!! (Or at least something that used to be alive)

Awesome Disney movie

If there was life on Mars, the organic compounds are the key to figuring out what it was and Curiosity is on the hunt. In an article found here, a guy named Dr. Levin thinks there is something there. He thinks that Curiosity will find some sort of microbial metabolisms in the soil that would link to former life on the planet. It seems that the more Curiosity searches, the curiouser (if that's a word?) we become about its findings. In short, Mars may have needed some Moms back in the day...but it doesn't look like any motherless martians are roaming around out there today. To close, here is a picture of what funny or die says is the reason Mars is red...Gingers!

Creepy Gingers make Mars Red