Friday, October 22News That Matters

Tag: Mars (Planet)

What a Fungus Reveals About the Space Program

Technology
I spend a lot of time lately thinking about a fungus called Pilobolus. It lives on dung, mostly from cows and horses, happily munching away, enriching the soil as it goes, until it starts to run out of dung to eat. Then something magical happens: The fungus stops eating and rearranges itself into a giant stalk with a ball of cells — a sporangium — on top.This apparatus can detect sunlight. Osmosis swells the stalk until, when the pressure rises high enough, it essentially sneezes. The sporangium is launched with a force equivalent to 20,000 times the force of gravity, toward a nearby patch of grass, where another horse or cow is likely to graze.Our fungus astronaut attaches itself to a stalk of grass. Once eaten, the sporangium passes through the animal’s digestive system and is excreted b...
NASA’s Perseverance Rover Stashes First Mars Rock Sample

NASA’s Perseverance Rover Stashes First Mars Rock Sample

Technology
NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars has confirmed the successful collection of its first rock sample.“One down, a lot more to go!” Kenneth A. Farley, professor of geochemistry at the California Institute of Technology and the mission’s project scientist, said in an email.On Monday night, NASA announced that the rover had sealed the tube that contains the rock core, which is slightly thicker than a pencil, and put it away for safekeeping in its belly. That and other collected samples will be dropped to the ground to be collected by another spacecraft. They will eventually be ferried back to Earth, helping scientists study the mysteries of the red planet in much the same way that lunar samples from the Apollo and Soviet missions helped advance understanding of the moon.For decades, planetary g...
NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover Drills Rock Samples Successfully

NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover Drills Rock Samples Successfully

Technology
This time, the rock did not disappear.After a perplexing failure last month, NASA’s latest Mars rover, Perseverance, was able to drill a sample of rock on Wednesday. The rover took pictures of the rock in the tube and sent the images to Earth so that mission managers could be sure they had not come up empty again. Then Perseverance will seal the collection tube and put it away in its belly.The success, visible in images posted online on Thursday, is most likely a relief to scientists working on the mission.“You can see a beautiful rock core,” Kenneth A. Farley, a professor of geochemistry at the California Institute of Technology and the project scientist for Perseverance, said in an email on Thursday morning.One of the key tasks for Perseverance is to collect rocks and soil that will even...
Gilbert V. Levin, Who Said He Found Signs of Life on Mars, Dies at 97

Gilbert V. Levin, Who Said He Found Signs of Life on Mars, Dies at 97

Technology
Dr. Levin met T. Keith Glennan, the first administrator of NASA, at a Christmas party and asked if the space agency, recently established at the time, was interested in looking for life on Mars. He proposed the idea of the labeled release experiment, and NASA began financing its development.After the sale of his consulting company, Dr. Levin worked at Hazelton Laboratories in Vienna, Va. In 1967, he was offered a professorship at Colorado State University, but instead he founded Biospherics Research, which he later renamed Spherix. Tagatose was to be the company’s blockbuster project, but success never arrived.“He lost control of the company when there was a large section of the board of directors that took over the company,” Henry Levin said.Spherix, now known as Alkido Pharma, abandoned ...
Inside Mars, NASA’s InSight Mission Mapped Surprises Down to the Core

Inside Mars, NASA’s InSight Mission Mapped Surprises Down to the Core

Technology
The fate of almost everything on Earth’s surface is determined by infernal engines deep below. Mars is no different. Now, thanks to an intrepid robot parked on the Martian surface by NASA in November 2018, scientists have a map of our neighboring world’s geologic abysses, the first ever made of another planet.NASA’s InSight lander has been listening to marsquakes and tracking their seismic waves as they journey through the planet. A trio of papers published Thursday in the journal Science, using data InSight has collected, reveals the red planet to be something like a colossal candy treat imagined by a ravenous deity. Its crust is split into two or three layers of volcanic chocolate. The mantle below has a surprisingly sizable and rigid toffee-like filling. And the planet’s core is surpris...
U.A.E.’s Mars Orbiter Gets New Views of Red Planet Auroras

U.A.E.’s Mars Orbiter Gets New Views of Red Planet Auroras

Technology
When barrages of charged protons and electrons erupted from the sun head our way, Earth’s magnetic field deftly deflects them around the planet. This buffeting generates shimmering, glowing curtains of color known as the aurora borealis in northern hemisphere’s polar regions, and aurora australis in the south.That same phenomenon happens on Mars, too. But there it is not just the northern lights and southern lights, but also the equatorial lights, mid-latitude lights, eastern lights, western lights — all around the planet.The Hope spacecraft launched by the United Arab Emirates and orbiting the red planet since February, has captured unique images of these dancing atmospheric lights, known as discrete auroras.Mission officials released the pictures on Wednesday.“It will allow new doors of ...
China, Russia Team Up for a Space Race With the U.S.

China, Russia Team Up for a Space Race With the U.S.

Technology
Luna 27 and Chang’e-6, for example, are planned to drill into the surface and return samples to Earth — a feat China already accomplished last December with Chang’e-5 and the Soviet Union did with Luna landers three times in the 1970s. In a second stage, between 2026 and 2030, the Chang’e-8 and Luna 28 missions will land separately with the first building blocks of the new station.The first of Russia’s missions is scheduled for October, though Russia’s space program has a track record of lengthy delays.Ultimately, China hopes the station will demonstrate the ability to develop water, mineral and energy resources that could allow the short-term survival of astronauts and serve as a base for deeper space exploration.“A permanent base has both symbolic and power projection capabilities,” said...
Where the Grass is Greener, Except When It’s ‘Nonfunctional Turf’

Where the Grass is Greener, Except When It’s ‘Nonfunctional Turf’

Technology, World
If you’re looking for a sign of the End Times, here’s one: Las Vegas, the city where seemingly anything and everything is condoned, has made grass — the ornamental kind — illegal.Much of the West is experiencing the worst drought in decades, a “megadrought” that has kindled early wildfires and severe water shortages — and the seasonal heat has hardly begun. “There’s a 100 percent chance that it gets worse before it gets better,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, tells the graphics editor Nadja Popovich in The Times today. “We have the whole long, dry summer to get through.”Lake Mead, which sits on the Colorado River (behind the Hoover Dam) and provides 90 percent of the water supply for Las Vegas and southern Nevada, this week reached its lowes...
China Releases Rover’s First Photos After Mars Landing

China Releases Rover’s First Photos After Mars Landing

Technology
Four days after landing a spacecraft on Mars, China’s space agency released its first photographs from the red planet on Wednesday, announcing that the mission was going as planned.The four-day wait for the images — one in color, one in black and white, as well as a pair of small video clips — had prompted speculation that something might have gone wrong with the landing on Saturday. When China’s space agency issued a statement in response to those concerns on Tuesday, urging patience, the response online was biting.“Can’t you learn from NASA propaganda?” one user wrote beneath the statement, seeming to chide the agency with a comparison to NASA’s live broadcasts of its latest mission on Mars, which began in February.After decades of exploring Mars, NASA has a flotilla of spacecraft in orb...
What We Know About China’s Mars Rover Zhurong Landing

What We Know About China’s Mars Rover Zhurong Landing

Technology
The United States now has company on Mars. A Chinese spacecraft descended through the thin Martian atmosphere and landed safely on a large plain on Saturday morning (it was still Friday night in New York), state media reported, accomplishing a feat that only two other nations have before. The landing follows China’s launch last month of the core module of a new orbiting space station and a successful mission in December that collected nearly four pounds of rocks and soil from the moon and brought them back to Earth. Next month, the country’s space program plans to send three astronauts back to space, inaugurating what could become a regular Chinese presence in Earth’s orbit.Just by arriving at Mars and orbiting the planet in February, China’s space program confirmed its place among the top...