NASA seeks volunteers for Mars isolation study

Volunteers will help researchers observe the effects of isolation in tight quarters for the months-long trip to Mars.

In conjunction with its goal of sending humans to the Moon and Mars, NASA is looking for US citizen volunteers to take part in an eight-month isolation study simulating life on a long spacecraft mission.

Selected participants will spend eight months in a spacecraft simulation in Moscow, Russia. Their environment will be much like that on a spacecraft heading to Mars, involving scientific research, use of virtual reality, and conducting robotic operations, much like astronauts would on the way to the Moon or Mars.

The goal of the experiment is to better understand the physiological and psychological effects of long-term isolation and confinement of a crew in a very small space. Data from the study will be used to address the challenges astronauts on future missions will face.

A spacecraft transporting astronauts to the Moon or Mars will be much smaller than the International Space Station (ISS), which consists of several modules and a recreation area.

Participants must be healthy US citizens between ages 30 and 55 who are proficient in both English and Russian. They must have an MS, PhD, or MD, or have completed military officer training. Those with Bachelors degrees will be considered if they have additional relevant educational, professional, or military training.

Varying amounts of compensation will be offered depending on whether participants are NASA employees, contractors, or otherwise associated with the space agency.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, those selected for the experiment will be required to quarantine for two weeks prior to the mission’s start to make sure they are not coming down with the virus or getting sick, much like ISS astronauts do.

The study is a followup to a similar four-month isolation experiment NASA conducted last year.

Anyone who meets mission requirements and wants to contribute to space exploration should visit the application site.

Alien civilizations may be trying to contact us

Some scientists are reporting “fast radio bursts” that might be alien civilizations trying to communicate.

Some scientists are reporting “fast radio bursts” that might be alien civilizations trying to communicate.

“Fast radio bursts” are brief and intense pulses of radio waves that are picked up from outer space. Experts are almost certain that there is no way that these radio waves could have originated from Earth but are completely uncertain of what their cause is. A renaissance in radio astronomy has occurred since the discovery of the fast radio burst phenomenon. Some of the bursts have certain scientists speculating that the FRB’s are signals being transmitted by distant alien civilizations.

An international team of astronomers recently uncovered the brightest fast radio burst to date. Their detection was named FRB 150807 because of its discovery date. It was a radio wave that lasted less than half a millisecond, which is .1 percent of the amount of time it takes a human being to blink its eyes.

Their findings were published in a study in Science called “The magnetic field and turbulence of the cosmic web measured using a brilliant fast radio burst” and involved over a dozen scientists. The astronomers reported in the study that they had pinpointed the origin of the FRB to an area smaller than any other study before it. Their study was published only days after another study , “Discovery of a transient gamma ray counterpart to FRB 131104”, reported having seen gamma rays, or highly energetic electromagnetic radiation, closely associated with their fast radio burst.

Organics on Ceres are likely native

Distribution of organic materials is inconsistent with delivery by comets or asteroids.

Organic materials found on dwarf planet Ceres by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft are likely native to the small world, according to research by scientists at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas.

The researchers specifically focused on a localized region of organic-rich material near Ernutet Crater, a 32-mile- (52-km-) wide opening on Ceres’ northern hemisphere.

Two origins are theorized for these organic materials or carbon-based compounds. They could have been brought to Ceres by impacting asteroids or comets after the dwarf planet formed 4.5 billion years ago, or they could have been synthesized through an internal process on the dwarf planet.

Located at the boundary of the solar system’s rocky planets and gas giants, Ceres is composed of clays and both sodium- and ammonium-carbonates, all of which indicate the small planet underwent complex chemical evolution.

“Earlier research that focused on the geology of the organic-rich region on Ceres were inconclusive about their origin,” explained Simone Marchi, an SwRI principal investigator who presented the findings Wednesday at a press conference held at the American Astronomical Society’s 49th Division for Planetary Sciences Meeting in Provo, Utah.

“Recently, we more fully investigated the viability of organics arriving via an asteroid or comet impact.”

Through computer simulations, scientists considered a range of variables, including the sizes and velocities of impacting objects.

The simulations indicated comet-like objects that hit Ceres at very high velocities would have had their organic materials destroyed by a mechanism known as shock compression, in which total pressure is lost.

Impacting asteroids, which would have lower velocities, would hold onto between 20 and 30 percent of their organic materials, depending on the angle at which they hit.

However, the localized distribution of organic materials on Ceres is not consistent with what would be seen if those organics had been delivered by small asteroids from the belt between Mars and Jupiter.

While researchers admit they still do not have all the pieces of the puzzle when it comes to Ceres’ organics, “These findings indicate that the organics are likely to be native to Ceres,” Marchi said.

Ceres is geologically differentiated, with a rocky core and icy mantle, and may harbor a subsurface ocean that could possibly be home to microbial life.

NASA preparing to try and touch the Sun

NASA is gearing up to send its Parker Solar Probe on a bold mission to touch the Sun.

NASA is preparing to launch the Parker Solar Probe on a bold mission to touch the Sun. The mission will take place no earlier than August 8, 2018, and will consist of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy carrying the car-sized spacecraft closer to the Sun than any man-made object ever has.

“We’ve been studying the Sun for decades, and now we’re finally going to go where the action is,” said Alex Young, associate director for science in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“The Sun’s energy is always flowing past our world,” said Nicky Fox, Parker Solar Probe’s project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland. “And even though the solar wind is invisible, we can see it encircling the poles as the aurora, which are beautiful—but reveal the enormous amount of energy and particles that cascade into our atmosphere. We don’t have a strong understanding of the mechanisms that drive that wind toward us, and that’s what we’re heading out to discover.”

One of the breakthroughs that will allow the Parker Solar Probe to embark on this mission is its cutting-edge heat shield.

“The Thermal Protection System (the heat shield) is one of the spacecraft’s mission-enabling technologies,” said Andy Driesman, Parker Solar Probe project manager at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. “It allows the spacecraft to operate at about room temperature.”

Why embark on such a crazy journey? To further our understanding of the universe.

“By studying our star, we can learn not only more about the Sun,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA HQ. “We can also learn more about all the other stars throughout the galaxy, the universe and even life’s beginnings.”

Buzz Aldrin reveals what it’s like to go to the moon

Buzz Aldrin recently spoke on the “magnificent desolation” of the moon for the 25th anniversary of the mission.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin recently recalled what it was like to go to the moon a quarter-century after the moon landing. He began by revealing the words that entered his mind when he first got a close look at the lunar surface.

“Magnificent desolation,” he said to CBC’s Midday on the 25th anniversary of the historic mission, which saw humans step foot on the moon for the first time in history.

Aldrin claims that the phrase expressed the contrast between “the magnificence of our achievement and our accomplishment… and the utter desolation of the surface that we were on.”

Neil Armstrong was the first astronaut to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, but Aldrin walked on its surface during the same mission. Both men spent two hours walking along its surface and approximately 20 hours on the moon in total. Their colleague Michael Collins remained in orbit in the command module.

The late Neil Armstrong revealed in a 1970 interview that he believed humans will eventually make bases on the moon.

“Oh, I am quite certain that we will have such bases in our lifetime, somewhat like the Antarctic stations and similar scientific outposts – continually manned,” he said. “Although, certainly there is the problem of the environment, the vacuum, the high and low temperatures of day and night.

“Still, in all, in many ways, it’s more hospitable than Antarctica might be.”

“There are no storms, no snow, no high winds, no unpredictable weather phenomena that we’re yet aware of, and the gravity is a very pleasant kind of place to work in – better than here on earth. I think it would be quite a pleasant place to do scientific work, and quite practical.”

NASA shares chilling image of how much of Earth is on fire

An image from NASA’s Worldview program shows the shocking amount of fires burning across the Earth.

A chilling photo from NASA’s Worldview program shows how much of the Earth is on fire. The fires are detected by thermal bands that mark actively burning fires.

However, NASA claims that not all of these are necessarily wildfires. Regardless, it’s still a powerful image given the many fires we have seen in North America and South America this year. And as the image shows, Africa also contains large fires in the southern parts of the continent.

“This could be due to the fact that these are most likely agricultural fires. The location, widespread nature, and number of fires suggest that these fires were deliberately set to manage land,” a NASA spokesperson said.

“Farmers often use fire to return nutrients to the soil and to clear the ground of unwanted plants. While fire helps enhance crops and grasses for pasture, the fires also produce smoke that degrades air quality.”

Australia is also suffering from wildfires despite experiencing winter at the moment. The reason lies in the fact that the country is experiencing an unusually long drought

“Hotter, drier summers in Australia will mean longer fire seasons – and urban sprawl into bushland is putting more people at risk for when those fires break out,” NASA said.

“For large areas in the north and west, bushfire season has been brought forward a whole two months to August – well into winter, which officially began 1 June,” said researcher Cassandra Mosely. “According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, the January to July period 2018 was the warmest in NSW since 1910.”

Lockheed Martin reveals cylindrical habitat for future deep space missions

Lockheed Martin just revealed a prototype cylindrical habitat that might take astronauts into deep space in the future.

Lockheed Martin just provided a look at the massive cylindrical habitats that might eventually be used to house up to four astronauts on deep space missions. Lockheed is one of six contractors that NASA gave a combined $65 million to create a prototype by the end of the year.

Lockheed’s unique design harnesses the Donatello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, which dates back to the space shuttle era. Although the Donatello never ended up transferring cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) as it was intended, it is now playing a new role in Lockheed’s prototype.

“You think of it as an RV in deep space,” said the program’s manager, Bill Pratt. “When you’re in an RV, your table becomes your bed and things are always moving around, so you have to be really efficient with the space. That’s a lot of what we are testing here.”

The team also saved lots of money by reusing Donatello.

“We want to get to the moon and to Mars as quickly as possible, and we feel like we actually have a lot of stuff that we can use to do that,” Pratt said.

The project’s long development time is mostly due to the demands of deep-space spacecraft, as well as the conditions that it will face on its 1000-day mission to Mars. In fact, NASA requires that the Orion crew module is created with absolutely no weld defects, compared to the Apollo mission, which allowed for a specific number of defects per inch.

“This is the infrastructure for sustained human space exploration and so you have to account for every scenario that could come up, that’s why the requirements are so stringent,” said Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin’s commercial civil space division.

NASA spots ‘hydrogen wall’ at edge of our solar system

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has spotted a “hydrogen wall” at the edge of our solar system.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has discovered an ultraviolet glow that appears to stem from the edge of the solar system. Researchers believe that it could be the long-sought “hydrogen wall” that marks the region where the sun’s influence decreases.

“We’re seeing the threshold between being in the solar neighborhood and being in the galaxy,” said Leslie Young of the Southwest Research Institute, co-author of the study.

The sun creates a constant particle stream called solar wind as it makes its way through the galaxy. This wind creates a bubble called the heliosphere that surrounds our solar system.

Beyond the edge of this bubble, approximately 100 times farther from the sun than Earth, uncharged hydrogen atoms located in interstellar space are theorized to slow when they crash with solar wind particles. This build-up of hydrogen should create a unique scatter of ultraviolet light.

“It’s really exciting if these data are able to distinguish the hydrogen wall,” said space scientist David McComas of Princeton University, who was not involved in the study.

There is also the possibility that the origin of the extra light could be a source even further. But this will need to be confirmed by future studies.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will continue making twice-yearly measurements of the ultraviolet light until its mission comes to an end in the next 10 to 15 years. If researchers observe the light dimming, it could mean the hydrogen wall has been passed. But if it doesn’t, it could mean that the source is further afield.

The findings were published in Geophysical Research Letters.

NASA sheds light on icy Greenland’s heated past

A new study uses thermal mapping to examine Greenland’s heated geologic past.

A NASA scientist mapped the heat that is escaping from underneath the Greenland Ice Sheet, shedding light on the dynamics that shape and dominate terrestrial planets.

The study was headed by Yasmina M. Martos, who gathered information on gravity, magnetic fields, and geology that to provide clues to the distribution and amount of heat that lies underneath part of Greenland.

The heat map she created revealed a thermal track underneath Greenland, a portion of the North American continent, and shows its movement throughout history.

“I don’t think there is any other place on Earth where a plume history has been recorded by a piece of continent that hasn’t been affected by it at the surface,” Martos said. “But it’s there, so we can use thermal heat to understand the history of the region.”

By tracking these geodynamics, scientists can better understand the evolution of planets such as Earth. Not only that, the information feeds sea-level-change models on our planet by aiding in the prediction of behavior ice. This is important for land that is buried below ice and difficult to reach. And research suggests that over 80 percent of Greenland is covered by ice.

“We would expect Greenland to have a more uniform signal of geothermal heat flow in its interior, but that’s not the case,” Martos said.

Her modeling tools will help scientists shed light on the effect that below-surface heat exerts on things like breakage or melt at the base of glaciers and ice sheets on Earth. Not only that, it could help in the study of other rocky planets in the Milky Way.

Elon Musk defends plan to terraform Mars following NASA report

Elon Musk is sticking to his goal of sending passengers to Mars by 2024.

After a NASA report claimed that it won’t be possible to terraform Mars by the 2030s and agreement but other researchers, Elon Musk is firing back.

“Science fiction writers have long featured terraforming, the process of creating an Earth-like or habitable environment on another planet, in their stories,” NASA wrote in a statement. “Scientists themselves have proposed terraforming to enable the long-term colonization of Mars.”

But the agency claimed that “transforming the inhospitable Martian environment into a place astronauts could explore without life support is not possible without technology well beyond today’s capabilities.”

Back in 2017, Musk said he wants to land two cargo ships on the Red Planet by 2022 and send passengers to Mars by 2024.

“I feel fairly confident that we can complete the ship and be ready for a launch in about five years. Five years seems like a long time to me,” he said. “Then build up the base, starting with one ship, then multiple ships, then start building out the city, then making the city bigger, and even bigger. And yeah, over time terraforming Mars and making it really a nice place to be.”

And in response to a Discovery Magazine article claiming that there isn’t enough carbon dioxide to terraform Mars, Musk disagreed.

“There’s a massive amount of CO2 on Mars adsorbed into soil that’d be released upon heating,” he said. “With enough energy via artificial or natural (sun) fusion, you can terraform almost any large, rocky body.”

There seems to be lots of science going against Musk, but he’s sticking to his guns.