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NASA Curiosity rover may have solved Mars methane mystery – CNET

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NASA’s Curiosity rover snapped this selfie in 2020.


NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Methane. On Earth, it’s the stuff of cow farts and burps. On Mars, it’s the stuff of mysteries. Scientists have been puzzling over methane readings from Mars, and NASA may be a step closer to figuring out what’s going on with the gas on the red planet. It turns out the time of day has a big impact on methane detections.

Methane is particularly intriguing because it can be a byproduct of living things, including microbes. Researchers are trying to work out if Mars once hosted microbial life, or if microbes might possibly survive there now. But don’t get too hyped; methane can also have a geologic origin.

What’s weird about methane on the red planet is that NASA’s Curiosity rover has detected the gas near the surface in the Gale Crater, but the European Space Agency’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter spacecraft isn’t seeing methane higher up in the atmosphere. So what’s going on?

Curiosity’s Tunable Laser Spectrometer instrument is part of its Sample Analysis at Mars system, essentially a portable chemistry lab. Usually, TLS detects a small amount of methane NASA describes as “equivalent to about a pinch of salt diluted in an Olympic-size swimming pool.” In 2019, TLS notably detected a considerable spike in methane levels.

The ExoMars orbiter, which arrived at Mars in 2016, hasn’t been seeing what Curiosity sees. “But when the European team announced that it saw no methane, I was definitely shocked,” TLS instrument lead Chris Webster said in a NASA statement on Tuesday.

The discrepancy may come down to the times of day when the orbiter and rover work. The power-hungry TLS on the rover operates at night so it doesn’t conflict with other instruments. The orbiter makes its detections during the day when it has sunlight to help it. What may be happening is that methane pools near the surface during calm nights and dissipates during the day, making it invisible to the spacecraft.

The Curiosity team tested this idea by taking daytime methane measurements, and indeed the gas disappeared during the day. The researchers published their findings today in the Astronomy and Astrophysics journal (PDF link).

While one methane mystery may have an explanation, another gassy conundrum lingers. NASA is still trying to sort out the “global methane puzzle at Mars.” Methane released from Mars craters should remain stable enough — and accumulate in the atmosphere enough — for detection by the Trace Gas Orbiter. 

Scientists are now looking into what might be destroying the methane. “We need to determine whether there’s a faster destruction mechanism than normal to fully reconcile the data sets from the rover and the orbiter,” said Webster. Until then, Mars methane will remain an enigma.

Follow CNET’s 2021 Space Calendar to stay up to date with all the latest space news this year. You can even add it to your own Google Calendar.   

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Buck Moon rises over Oshawa harbour – insauga.com

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July’s orange- or yellow-tinted full moon – known as a Buck Moon – arrived at 10:36 p.m. Friday night.

It’s called the Buck Moon because the antlers of male deer are in full-growth mode at this time.

Indigenous people of Canada have several other names for the phenomenon, including Berry Moon (Anishinabe), Feather Moulting Moon (Cree), Salmon Moon, (Tlingit) and Raspberry Moon (Algonquin, Ojibwe).

The full moon can be viewed in all its glory until tomorrow night.

Photo: Colin Ryan

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NASA clears Boeing Starliner for July 30th test flight to ISS – Yahoo Movies Canada

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More than 18 months after its failed first attempt to make it to the International Space Station, Boeing’s Starliner is ready for a second shot. Following a flight readiness review, NASA is moving forward with the craft’s upcoming July 30th uncrewed orbital flight test. Unless there’s an unforeseen delay, the capsule will launch from the Space Force’s Cape Canaveral Station mounted on an Atlas V rocket at 2:53PM ET. Should NASA postpone the flight, it will again attempt to carry out the test on August 3rd at the earliest.

The purpose of the flight is for NASA to conduct an end-to-end test of Starliner’s capabilities. It wants to know if the capsule can handle every aspect of a trip to the ISS, including launch, docking as well as atmospheric re-entry. “[Orbital Flight Test-2] will provide valuable data that will help NASA certify Boeing’s crew transportation system to carry astronauts to and from the space station,” the agency said.

If the flight is a success, NASA will move forward with a crewed test of the Starliner. Steve Stich, commercial crew program manager at NASA, said that could happen “as soon as later this year.” Both Boeing and NASA have a lot invested in the viability of Starliner. For the aerospace company, its decision not to conduct an end-to-end test of the craft before its failed 2019 flight left the agency “surprised,” leading to questions about the project. Meanwhile, NASA is keen to have two capsules that can ferry its astronauts to the ISS. Right now, it’s limited to just SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. “It’s very important for the commercial crew program to have two space transportation systems,” Stich told reporters.

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SpaceX lands NASA launch contract for mission to Jupiter's moon Europa – Euronews

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By Steve Gorman

LOSANGELES – Elon Musk’s private rocket company SpaceX was awarded a $178 million launch services contract for NASA‘s first mission focusing on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa and whether it may host conditions suitable for life, the space agency said on Friday.

The Europa Clipper mission is due for blastoff in October 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket owned by Musk’s company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp, from NASA‘s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA said in a statement posted online.

The contract marked NASA‘s latest vote of confidence in the Hawthorne, California-based company, which has carried several cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in recent years.

In April, SpaceX was awarded a $2.9 billion contract to build the lunar lander spacecraft for the planned Artemis program that would carry NASA astronauts back to the moon for the first time since 1972.

But that contract was suspended after two rival space companies, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics Inc, protested against the SpaceX selection.

The company’s partly reusable 23-story Falcon Heavy, currently the most powerful operational space launch vehicle in the world, flew its first commercial payload into orbit in 2019.

NASA did not say what other companies may have bid on the Europa Clipper launch contract.

The probe is to conduct a detailed survey of the ice-covered Jovian satellite, which is a bit smaller than Earth’s moon and is a leading candidate in the search for life elsewhere in the solar system.

A bend in Europa’s magnetic field observed by NASA‘s Galileo spacecraft in 1997 appeared to have been caused by a geyser gushing through the moon’s frozen crust from a vast subsurface ocean, researchers concluded in 2018. Those findings supported other evidence of Europa plumes.

Among the Clipper mission’s objectives are to produce high-resolution images of Europa’s surface, determine its composition, look for signs of geologic activity, measure the thickness of its icy shell and determine the depth and salinity of its ocean, NASA said.

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