Category Archives: Space

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Just Found Water in Martian Soil

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NASA’s Curiosity Rover Just Found Water in Martian Soil

Just when you thought ol’ Curiosity was digging in for the winter, the little discovery machine came up with a doozy: It discovered water in Martian soil. NASA scientists just published five papers in Science detailing the experiments that led to the discovery. That’s right. There’s water on Mars.

Impressive as it is, though, the discovery comes with some caveats. It’s not like Curiosity stumbled on a lost lake under a mountain or a stream trickling across the landscape. Rather, it found water molecules bound to other minerals in Martian soil. There’s kind of a lot of it, too. Researchers say that every cubic foot of Martian soil contains about two pints of liquid water. All things told, about two percent of the Martian soil is made of up water.

“We tend to think of Mars as this dry place—to find water fairly easy to get out of the soil at the surface was exciting to me,” Laurie Leshin, dean of science at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, told The Guardian. She also explained how the discovery was made. Curiosity picked up and sieved a scoop of soil from the surface before dropping it into an on-board oven. “We heat [the soil] up to 835C and drive off all the volatiles and measure them,” she said. “We have a very sensitive way to sniff those and we can detect the water and other things that are released.”

Of course, this isn’t the first sign of water on the red planet. Back in June, Curiosity scooped up a rock specimen that contained a type of clay only be formed in neutral water telling scientists that Mars was once home to running water. And of course, scientists have long suspected water once existed on the planet due to various formations across the Martian landscape. In fact, it’s widely believed that water existed in abundance on Mars, perhaps just as prominently as it does on Earth.

The discovery is important for a number of reasons, but especially exciting because of what this means for future missions to Mars. “We now know there should be abundant, easily accessible water on Mars,” says Leshin. “When we send people, they could scoop up the soil anywhere on the surface, heat it just a bit, and obtain water.” She makes it life on Mars sound so easy; now we just have to figure out how to get around that the quantity of deadly radiation we’ll encounter on the trip over. [Science via The Guardian]

Update (5pm): We reached out to Dean Leshin to ask what the discovery of water meant for the larger question of life on Mars, and she replied with a shade of optimism:

Although we found water bound up in the soil particles, it’s still pretty dry. Also, we didn’t find evidence of organic molecules in the soil. So, this doesn’t have a very big bearing on the life on Mars discussion. However, we now know that our instruments are working beautifully, and our next step is to drill into rocks that may have been better places to preserve evidence or organics and of wet environments that could be suitable for life.

Photographer Captures Detailed Photos of the Sun From His Backyard

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Photographer Captures Detailed Photos of the Sun From His Backyard

  • Michael Zhang · Feb 13, 2013

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Alan Friedman of Buffalo, New York is an amateur astrophotography enthusiast who captures amazing photographs of the Sun through a telescope in his backyard. His highly detailed photographs show the sun in ways you never see with your naked eye. Using special filters that allow the photos to be captured without destroying his camera or his eyes, Friedman creates images of our life-giving star that look more like something you might see under a microscope.

In his artist statement for the work, Friedman writes,

My photographs comprise a solar diary, portraits of a moment in the life of our local star. Most are captured from my backyard in Buffalo, NY. Using a small telescope and narrow band filters I can capture details in high resolution and record movements in the solar atmosphere that change over hours and sometimes minutes.

The raw material for my work is black and white and often blurry. As I prepare the pictures, color is applied and tonality is adjusted to better render the features. It is photojournalism of a sort. The portraits are real, not painted. Aesthetic decisions are made with respect for accuracy as well as for the power of the image.

Friedman says that the filter (called a Hydrogen Alpha filter) he uses blocks everything but a very narrow slice of the deep red end of the visible spectrum. After attaching the filter to the front of his 3 1/2-inch telescope (the equivalent of a 450mm f/5 telephoto lens), he uses an industrial webcam to capture the photos. The camera can capture images at 15fps to 120fps.

Our atmosphere is a formidable obstacle to capturing sharp photos of a distant object. Streaming many frames in a short period of time allows me to temper the blurring effects of air turbulence. Each photo is made from many thousands of frames. Most frames are unusable, distorted by the heat currents rising from rooftops and asphalt driveways. But a few will be sharp. I review the video frame by frame for these moments of “good seeing.” The high quality frames are selected and then averaged to form the raw material for my photographs.

Without further ado, here’s a small gallery of some of Friedman’s finest work:

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Zooming in a little closer, we get to see the details of the ejections:

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Here’s the telescope Friedman for the images. He calls it Little Big Man:

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If you’re at all interested in this work, be sure to watch this TED Talk Friedman gave last year regarding it:

Bye bye Hubble

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Bye bye Hubble

19 May 2009 / /

Het klussen aan Hubble zit erop. De ruimtetelescoop heeft voor de laatste keer een grote beurt gekregen en begint nu aan de laatste jaren van zijn leven. Ergens na 2020 zal de NASA het gevaarte in de oceaan laten neerplonzen. De enige telescoop in een baan om de Aarde is dan nog de Herschel van ESA. Fotos: NASA