Billionaire entrepreneur and SpaceX owner Elon Musk has today announced his ambitious plans to put humans on Mars by 2024.
The plans call for two cargo craft to be dispatched to the Red Planet by 2022. These ships would ferry power units, mining rigs, and life support systems to be used by Mars pioneers arriving later in manned flights.
Musk’s visionary plan involves the development and construction of a brand new rocket, dubbed the BFR. Officially, BFR stands for Big Falcon Rocket, though SpaceX staff knows it by a more colourful name.
The BFR craft would carry one hundred passengers accomodated across 40 private cabins all the way to Mars. Ideally, the BFR would be a reusable craft, to reduce costs.
Thus Musk spoke at the International Astronautical Congress in Australia, though his words, while brave and inspirational, must perhaps be taken with a certain degree of skepticism.
SpaceX’s track record is peppered with both great successes and well publicized failures, and Musk himself is known for issuing ambitious deadlines that have come and gone without delivering on their intentions.
Nevertheless, the race to the Red Planet is well and truly underway.
Speaking at the same event was a representative from Lockheed Martin, who said that the company is working on a ‘Mars Base Camp’, a sort of mini space colony being developed for NASA. The components for the camp may be developed in the new Deep Space Gateway, the brand new spaceport intended to be put into the Moon’s orbit in the near future.
The Cassini craft no longer exists, after taking a final dive into Saturn’s atmosphere.
Its instruments maintained contact with Earth until the last seconds of the probe’s remarkable journey across the Solar System, sending data back to Earth in almost real time.
The craft travelled nearly 5 million miles since its launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida back in 1997. During this time, Cassini beamed home over 250 million images, uncovering amazing facts about Saturn, its moons, and other celestial bodies in the Solar System.
The nuclear-propelled craft had almost exhausted its fuel, a point after which it would have become uncontrollable. To avoid a random collision with one of Saturn’s moons or Saturn itself (which could have led to contamination of the soil by Earth bacteria), engineers decided to put Cassini in a terminal dive through Saturn’s atmosphere, to ensure it burned completely.
Cassini’s grand finale took place earlier today. Ground control confirmed it lost contact with the probe at exactly 11.55am GMT.
The Cassini mission will make its last transmission ever in less than 48 hours, after a journey of nearly 5 billion miles across space.
Cassini’s grand finale will come on September 15, when the craft plunges down Saturn’s atmosphere, destroying itself in the process.
The probe was launched on October 15, 1997, and completed a series of flybys of Venus and Jupiter before setting course to Saturn, the planet where it spent most of its mission time.
In April this year, Cassini was set on a collision course with Saturn. The probe’s final destination saw it fly 22 times between the planet and its rings, sending never-before-seen close-up images of such enigmatic celestial body.
Cassini’s swan song will be the transmission of scientifically valuable data during its terminal dive into Saturn, for as long as the craft’s thrusters can keep its antenna pointed towards Earth.
Astronomers now have strong evidence about the presence of a supermassive black hole near the very center of the Milky Way.
The invisible monster is a superdense area of space with a mass equivalent to about 100,000 suns. It is hiding inside a cloud of toxic gases drifting near the center of our galaxy.
A black hole is an anomaly created when a celestial body, usually a star, runs out of fuel and collapses unto itself under the force of gravity. Over time, gargantuan amounts of matter are compressed into a relatively small area of space, creating a super-dense region with such colossal gravitational pull that not even light can escape. It is because of this trait that black holes are only revealed through special equipment and by observing the behavior of nearby space bodies.
In this case, the presence of the black hole was given away by the unusually fast-moving gases surrounding it. Astronomers in Japan observed that the elements wafting around this particular cloud formation, which is a gigantic gas behemoth 150 trillion kms. wide and is located about 200 light years from the heart of the Milky Way, were moving way quicker and at totally different speeds that those in similar clouds elsewhere in space. The researchers ran computer models based on the data gathered, and the most likely result was that the gases were being subjected to enormous gravitational forces exerted by an unseen object.
Further proof of the presence of a black hole was obtained when radio waves that typically originate inside these galactic anomalies were picked up.
This is the second largest known black hole present in the Milky Way, after Sagittarius A, a cosmic monster lurking at the very heart of the galaxy, 26,000 light years away from us.
Terraforming Mars may have to wait yet a while longer.
The Martian surface is covered in UV-activated chemicals that inhibit the development of any lifeforms, as recent tests of the topsoil have shown.
ESA’s Exomars rover will now begin digging under Mars’ toxic surface, searching for any proof of current or past life on the planet.
Recent tests conducted on Martial soil have confirmed that oxidant compounds known as perchlorates permeate the the Red Planet’s surface.
Perchlorates are highly oxidized forms of chlorine, a chemical commonly used in household cleaning products and also as a disinfectant in swimming pools. The downside of it is that at high concentrations, chlorine is extremely toxic. It was weaponised and used as a chemical warfare agent during the First World War, for example.
Perchlorates were first thought to be present on the Martian soil as far back as 1976, when the Viking probes landed there. The compounds were detected again by the Curiosity rover, which is still marauding around Mars today.
The bad news is that when perchlorates are hit by UV radiation, which occurs on Mars pretty much all the time, the compounds become activated and turn into a particularly effective bactericide, killing off most microbial life.
This effect is a double edge sword. While the chemicals present on the Martial soil will destroy any microbe brought from Earth, thus preventing the contamination of Mars with exogenous bacteria, it also means that life on the surface is all but impossible at this point in time.
Scientists will now have to dig deep into the Martian subsoil to try and find any trace of life, past or present.
The Cassini spacecraft has captured spectacular footage of gigantic methane clouds swirling over Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.
Cassini is on the final stage of its 20-year long spacefaring mission to the farther reaches of the Solar System. The probe captured the footage during its final orbit of Saturn and Titan.
Saturn’s largest moon is an inhospitable world, about 50% larger than Earth’s own satellite, and the second largest in the Solar System. It orbits Saturn once every 15 days and 22 hours. Scientists believe that Titan holds massive amounts of liquid hydrocarbons, amounting to more than the known oil and natural gas reserves here on Earth. During an earlier fly-by in 2013, Cassini beamed data back to Earth that enabled astronomers to elucidate that Titan’s deep canyons were carved by liquid methane.
Titan and Earth are similar in many ways, in fact. Both worlds have seas and rivers, and a rain-producing atmosphere. The major difference is that while liquid water flows through our planet’s river systems, Titan’s are filled with a dark fluid that scientists believe to be liquid methane.
Cassini’s final journey will take place on September 15 this year. The craft will fly straight into Saturn’s atmosphere, where it will burn up in a blaze of glory. By then, Cassini will have completed an epic voyage of some 2.2bn miles across known space.
The Cassini probe has accomplished an historic feat in space exploration today, after becoming the first man-made object to successfully fly between Saturn’s rings and the planet itself.
Cassini executed a perfect dive through the 1,500 miles-wide gap earlier today, causing great excitement inside Mission Control back on Earth.
The manouever was not without its risks, as controllers feared the probe may collide with unseen debris orbiting the planet. However, their daring gamble paid off, and Cassini flew through the gap unscathed. Today’s was the first of a further 22 planned gap-runs at speeds of nearly 80,000 mph.
Today’s flyover took Cassini to within 2,000 miles of Saturn’s upper cloudy surface. The next runs will take about 7 days to complete, and the craft is expected to gather invaluable scientific data during this period.
Cassini is nearing the end of its 20-year long mission to Saturn. After orbiting the planet for 13 years, controllers have set the probe on a ballistic course, which will end on September 15 at 9:45 a.m. GMT (6:45 a.m. ET), when it burns up in Saturn’s atmosphere.
Little was known about Saturn before Cassini began its mission. Back in 2004, the probe beamed data that proved key to charting the planet and its moons.
Deep-space researchers have located a world which they say has the potential to harbor alien life.
Named LHS1140b, the exoplanet is in the Cetus constellation, 40 light-years away from Earth. It has its own sun in the form of a red dwarf (LHS1140), which the planet circles once every 25 days. Researchers calculate the planet’s age at around 5bn years, and believe that its mass and density and much larger than Earth’s, suggesting a rocky composition with a super-dense iron core.
The most striking feature is that LHS1140b’s orbit places it right in the middle of the planetary system. In other words, the world would receive just the right amount of heat and light to sustain life, just like Earth.
LHS1140b is the latest in a series of newly discovered worlds that could possibly host alien life. In summer 2016, scientists spotted Proxima b, a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the star that is closest to Earth (4.2 light years away). Proxima b also lies in that optimal zone where it would be neither too hot nor too cold for life to exist.
In the future, researchers hope to avail of better equipment to analyze these planets’ atmosphere and surface to determine whether or not life as we know is possible.
The Cassini spacecraft has revealed some interesting data about Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons.
Enceladus, which takes its name from a Giant in Greek mythology, features an icy surface beneath which a vast ocean of liquid water is thought to exist.
More interestingly, gigantic plumes of gas rise out of the moon. These plumes contain hydrogen, which indicates the presence of chemical reactions similar to those that happen at the bottom of the oceans here on Earth.
On our planet, these vents teem with microbial life, which raises the possibility that similar lifeforms may exist elsewhere in the Universe.
Earthside, microbes feed on hydrogen venting out from the planet’s crust, so the same process may be taking place in Saturn.
Cassini has been performing flybys around Saturn for 13 years. The probe will soon enter its final cycle of 22 more orbits before crashing into the planet’s atmosphere around September next.
Our Universe is full of weird and wonderful things.
A number of incredibly strong radio signals detected by Earth’s telescopes have baffled astronomers and researchers for some time.
Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are powerful radio blasts lasting for a few milliseconds only, first noticed when reviewing long-range telemetry data from 2001. Since then, twelve more such signals have been picked up.
The peculiarity of FRBs is that they appear to be one-off events, originating in a single location. The vast energy of these events equals to roughly that of five hundred million suns.
One thing that astronomers do know is that the signals come from outer space, as far as 5.5 billion light years out. Local interference has been categorically ruled out. This is significant, as previously thought ‘alien messages’ turned out to be interference caused by a site’s microwave oven, for instance.
But so far, researchers have been unable to agree on the source of such signals. An existing theory is that they are emitted when super-dense objects like black holes or neutron stars collide.
Another, far more interesting theory, is that the signals are artificial and the energy released is being used to power gigantic alien space craft. This theory gains traction given the fact that FRBs are arranged in a very peculiar pattern that does not conform to current understandings of astrophysics.
Telescope equipment is now been fine-tuned to look further into the FRB phenomenon, as astronomers are keen to pinpoint its origin.