The neighborhood’s getting interesting again. Used to be we thought of Pluto as a cold, hard rock way out on the edge of the solar system. Dry, like an asteroid. But last year’s New Horizons probe is producing some shocking reveals as scientists pore through the data it sent back.
Starting with the possibility of running liquid on the surface at some point in the planetoid’s history. Yep, rivers and even lakes. Though not water—it’s still too cold for that. Instead, researchers believe Pluto may have once been home to bodies of liquid nitrogen.
And they suspect that the unexpected presence of hot and cold running nitrogen has something to do with the planetoid’s extreme axial tilt. Earth’s tilt sits at a relatively comfortable 23 degrees. Pluto, on the other hand, is canted over at a vertigo-inducing 120 degrees. And that means that it has large tropical zones. Places where it gets hot enough for nitrogen to thaw.
But it also has big arctic zones. And, in a weird twist, areas where the two zones overlap.
Yesterday, American Scott Kelly and Russian Mikhail Kornienko parachuted their Soyuz capsule back to Earth after 340 days on the International Space Station—a new NASA record. Spending almost a year in space is an early step in NASA’s longer term plan for sending astronauts to Mars. And that trip will take two and half years return—hell of a commute.
While orbiting in his tin can, Kelly experienced more than 10,000 sunrises and sunsets in less than a calendar year. He travelled more than 231 million kilometres.
Meanwhile back on Earth, his identical twin, Mark offered himself as a medical test subject so doctors can compare the effects of zero gravity, radiation, etc. on the two brothers.
Here’s to putting boots on mars in our lifetime!
BTW—apparently NASA is looking for volunteers for more 1 year missions.
1600 km across the frozen wastes of Antarctica—to complete Ernest Shackleton’s failed lost expedition mission, and to raise money for wounded troops. And he almost made it. Just 48 km shy of the end of his trip, Henry Worsley’s body gave out—forcing him to call for help.
After 71 days alone on the ice, pulling his supplies on a sled, and suffering every step of the way, he finally succumbed.
Worlsey was an ancestor of Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton’s ship, The Endurance, had been trying to find a route across the Antarctic through the South Pole, but had been trapped by pack ice. In a desperate bid for survival, Shackleton successfully led his crew across the ice to the safety of a whaling station.
Worsley was attempting to complete that original mission and find a way across the barren continent. Unfortunately, after being airlifted to a hospital in Punta Arenas, Worsley’s body could take no more punishment. He passed away the next day.
Rest in Peace, one of the great explorer’s of our, or any time.
After nine years in space—a trip covering 5 billion kilometres—NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made its closest approach to distant Pluto this morning.
New Horizon’s has already beamed back pictures of Pluto and its five moons. But tonight it will transmit—hopefully—the final all clear signal indicating that it has survived it’s epic journey to the edge of the solar system in fine shape. A journey that took so long that Pluto itself was demoted from full-fledged planet to dwarf status during the voyage.
It cost India less than three-quarters as much to send the probe to the red planet as the US spends to build one stealth fighter—which can only fly 1700 km before needing to gas up. Compare that to India’s econo-craft which made it 670 million km on a single tank. The probe, called Mangalyaan (meaning Mars craft in Hindi) is already taking shots of the Martian surface.
For those of you keeping score, that’s MAVEN and Mangalyaan currently in orbit—with the Curiosity rover on the surface. And it was Curiosity who took to twitter to welcome Mangalyaan with a quick, “Namaste.”
China’s Jade Rabbit Moon Rover may have touched hearts around the world…now the Americans are taking the next step in the space game. The USA’s MAVEN robotic probe may not have the personality that made Jade Rabbit so popular, but its mission is no less important. The probe completed final braking on Sunday to slide into its orbit around the red planet. The plan is for MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution probe) to examine the planet’s upper atmosphere in order to help us understand how the solar wind has been stripping away atoms and molecules for ages.
MAVEN looks to turn back the clock and give us a glimpse into the deep history of our nearest neighbor. Perhaps helping us see what it used to look like and where all its water went…
So the latest out of Chinese state media is that the Jade Rabbit rover which landed on the moon five months ago is still hanging on—barely. The rover captured hearts and minds over the past few months as it struggled to survive the cold lunar nights, died, and then was miraculously re-born. And now, its wheels no longer turn and the solar panels that protect it from the cold have failed. But still it fights on…