Comet Siding Spring sprinkles ancient metallic dust onto Mars atmosphere
Space news (November 23, 2014) Comet Siding Spring seeds Mars with ancient metallic dust –
NASA and European space scientists recently observed a large comet flying past a planet for the first time. On October 19, 2014, three spacecraft, two American and one European, observed and gathered data as Comet Siding Spring flew past Mars. You can watch a YouTube video here of the artists rendering of the flyby.
Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring arrived from a very distant region of the solar system called the Oort Cloud. At around 2:27 p.m. EDT, this traveler from the outer regions of the solar system was only about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) from the Red Planet. It was at this time the comet was observed by three spacecraft as it deposited ancient debris on its atmosphere. This is the first direct measurement of dust from an Oort Cloud comet and an opportunity scientists and astronomers have been waiting for.
Oort Cloud comets are thought to be leftover material from the birth of the solar system. Space scientists have an opportunity to test the present theory on the evolution of the solar system and possibly life on Earth. Theories persist that the ingredients of life could have been deposited on Mars in the distant past and then this life traveled to Earth and took root. The data collected during this encounter between Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring and Mars could help determine if this is possible.
Space scientists gathered information on the comet’s nucleus and the effects of the comet’s passage on the Martian atmosphere. The data was collected using NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft, in conjunction with radar instruments on the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Mars Express.
Data collected indicates comet debris containing sodium, iron and magnesium metal ions, along with at least five others, fell on the atmosphere of Mars as the comet flew past the planet. Readings indicate this added a temporary layer of strong metal ions to the ionosphere of Mars. Planetary and atmospheric space scientists are now studying whether this could have resulted in the development of a similar layer in the atmosphere of a primordial Earth. They also want to take a look at the possibility the sprinkling of comet dust in the atmosphere of Mars could have long-term consequences for the planet.
“This historic event allowed us to observe the details of this fast-moving Oort Cloud comet in a way never before possible using our existing Mars missions,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “Observing the effects on Mars of the comet’s dust slamming into the upper atmosphere makes me very happy that we decided to put our spacecraft on the other side of Mars at the peak of the dust tail passage and out of harm’s way.”
NASA and European space scientists will now continue to monitor Mar’s atmosphere after the passage of Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring for continued and additional effects and developments. They also hope to get further opportunities in the future to observe Oort Cloud comets flying past planets within the solar system.
For more information on MAVEN, MRO or any of NASA’s missions to Mars go here.
You can learn more about the Mars Express spacecraft here.
The human journey to the beginning of space and time begins
Astronomers watch the greatest show on Earth every night
Astronomy News ( 2013-10-15) – Walk out to the darkest star viewing spot you can find at dusk and take a seat, “The greatest show on Earth is about to begin!” Lay back on your cold seat and you become lost-in-space as you stare upwards at one of the first sights to greet human consciousness onto the stage upon awakening during the distant past. Close your eyes and let your mind boldly fly off into the night sky in search of new lands of promise warmed by alien suns. Stand upon undreamed landscapes straight out of the Twilight Zone and record ideas and thoughts that could alter the course of human history and open up avenues to undreamed of events. Human beings have looked skyward in wonder and awe for thousands of years and dreamed of voyaging to the lights in the night sky. Today humans dream of traveling to the nearest star in our sky and standing on alien landscapes which will alter human beings as a race and create history unlike anything dreamed of by science fiction writers.
Will human adventures travel across outer space to distant suns in search of answers to questions pondered throughout human history? Will human beings one day journey through the universe seeking the origins of human life or a suitable planet to call home? As Mr. Roddenberry points out, space will be one of the last frontiers of humankind. At the current rate of technological growth, it could be only a matter of time before human beings have the ability to travel across interstellar space looking for non-terrestrial life and the resources humans need to survive and prosper.
Space Exploration will be far more challenging than life on earth
Traveling across the vast stretches of outer space between Earth and a nearby star system will be far more challenging and dangerous to undertake then climbing the tallest mountain or sailing an unexplored ocean. The distances in both space and time involved in such voyages will require human beings to surmount technological and social obstacles unlike any experienced during life on planet Earth. During the past century, humans have designed and engineered mechanized devices capable of launching into outer space and crossed the short stellar distance between Earth and its moon. We have started to become acquainted with life-in-space and the challenges involved in space travel. During the next fifty years, mankind will travel into the solar system and start to develop the technology required to successfully travel to nearby star systems to begin life again under an alien sun.
Does mankind presently have the technology, will power, and resources to journey to a nearby star system? The answer at this point in human history is a realistic and resounding, “No!” Using a reaction engine similar to the liquid oxygen/hydrogen main engine of the space shuttle to travel to the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, would require over 100 years and fuel tanks too big to carry. Nuclear powered propulsion using fusion or fission requires technology and radiation shielding presently unavailable in order for human beings to survive the journey. Doctors also have questions concerning the possible medical problems associated with long-term exposure to acceleration and deep space radiation, and the drag forces involved using this form of propulsion still have to be addressed. The often dreamed of, but at this point unrealized, warp drive will probably never make it off the pages of science fiction books and into the cold of deep space. Instead, it will be replaced by an undreamed of propulsion system allowing us to travel closer to the speed of light, or circumvent the universe’s speed limit using a new idea, yet to be conceived.
If mankind made traveling to the nearest star system the top priority during the years ahead what would be needed to make the journey a success? The answer to this question continues to change as scientists and engineers study the goal more. The closest alien sun to Earth is the Red Dwarf Proxima Centauri, which on average is the short stellar distance of just 4.22 light-years (24.7 trillion miles or 29.9 km) away. Traveling at the estimated speed of Voyager 1, around 37,000 mph, it would take a spaceship over 76,000 years to complete the journey. During this length of time, human beings would have long enough to evolve significantly in the new and alien environment of deep space. Would we recognize our human ancestors after 76,000 years evolving during a trip through outer space?
Proxima Centauri also has no known planets upon which humans could begin life again under an alien sun. This Red Dwarf star is also significantly cooler than our own sun, so the habitability of any existing alien worlds would be questionable at best. Optimistic humans point out that Proxima Centauri is part of a bigger star system, containing other possible candidates which could have habitable planets. This dim star is considered by many to be part of the bigger Alpha Centauri system, which includes the binary stars Alpha Centauri A and B, just 4.4 light-years from Earth. Astronomers and scientists have their doubts about the possibility of other habitable planets in this star system at this point. Instead, they point to star systems further out in deep space, which seem to offer a better possibility of habitable planets.
The stars can’t wait
If humans move to a new home circling an alien sun, we’ll do it in stages, beginning with the exploration of the solar system. The International Space Station will be the staging point for the next phase of the exploration of the solar system. From here we can reach outward into the solar system to see what mysteries and discoveries await us just beyond the visible horizon. We’ll need time to develop the technology required for interstellar space travel and the terraforming of alien worlds. In the meantime, we’ll continue to send out envoys and ambassadors in the form of unmanned spacecraft to nearby star systems within our reach. The first of these envoys of the human race, Voyager 1, has traveled a distance of around 11 billion miles during 35 years of continuous space travel. This puts Voyager 1 still firmly within the boundaries of the known solar system, which reaches some 4.6 trillion miles into cold space and the Oort Cloud on the fringes of our system of planets. Eventually, Voyager 1 will travel beyond the boundaries of the solar system and into interstellar space, and this is when the real human journey to the beginning of space and time begins.
Click this link to watch a YouTube video on the search for earth-like planets.