My notoriously fierce objections to the USA getting involved in Footprint Stunts on the moon are well known. But those objections do not extend to the robotic parts of the program! NASA should very much strive for a leading role in robotic lunar exploration and actual, actual science. For example:
“Over the course of 10 Earth days (one lunar day), Lunar-VISE will explore the summit of one of the Gruithuisen Domes. These domes are suspected to have been formed by a sticky magma rich in silica, similar in composition to granite. On Earth, formations like these need oceans of liquid water and plate tectonics to form, but without these key ingredients on the Moon, lunar scientists have been left to wonder how these domes formed and evolved over time.”
This interview about the possibility of life on Mars - and across the universe on KPBS features cogently formulated questions and a fine job of journalistic editing/splicing efficient- informative answers. Veteran reporter Tom Fudge was even able to mine something useful from my garrulously rambling explanations!
The largest comet nucleus ever seen! A newly discovered comet that's on its way in has been estimated at around 140 km or 80 miles wide, that's thousands of times more massive than the pretty consistent average of a few km. (As described with vivid adventure and science in Heart of the Comet!) "It's big and it's blacker than coal," yet already emitting a coma of evaporated volatiles.
"Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein follows a 3-million-year-long elliptical orbit, taking it as far from the Sun as roughly half a light-year. The comet is now less than 2 billion miles from the Sun, falling nearly perpendicular to the plane of our solar system. At that distance temperatures are only about minus 348 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet that's warm enough for carbon monoxide to sublimate off the surface to produce the dusty coma."
Our sun in unprecedented detail! These images were taken when Solar Orbiter was at a distance of roughly 75 million kilometers, half way between our world and its parent star, showing the full Sun in unprecedented detail. Amazing how pertinent appear to be every descriptive element in my novel Sundiver!
Odd Radio Circles (ORCs) are space rings so massive that they measure about a million light-years across – 16 times bigger than our Milky Way galaxy. “Astronomers believe it takes the circles 1 billion years to reach their maximum size, and they are so large that the objects have expanded past other galaxies…. Initially, astronomers thought the circles could be galactic shock waves or even the throats of wormholes, among a whole host of ideas.” Only five radio circles have been found in space so far.
ESA’s Gaia telescope has been among the most productive in all science, measuring position and brightness for millions of stars, vastly expanding parallax metrics and now – combined with a Chinese spectrograph – determining something amazing about the age of the Milky Way galaxy. Apparently stars of the ‘thick disk’ component formed very soon after the Big Bang. The thin disc of stars which holds the Sun, was formed during the subsequent, second phase of the galaxy’s formation. The resulting model of galactic evolution is amazingly detailed. Like the way genetic analysis has let us reconstruct human evolution.
Early life on Earth: Some scientists believe they have found evidence of microbes that were thriving near hydrothermal vents on Earth’s surface just 300m years after the planet formed – the strongest evidence yet that life began far earlier than is widely assumed. And yes, it is a bit of a reach, considering how complex the hematite forms appear. Still, it is amazing what science detectives can reveal.
Does Europa take oxygen (photolytically generated from its surface) and ‘draw it down through the ice roof to the ocean, below? Europa Clipper is the first mission dedicated to Europa. Especially important as we are now pretty sure that almost all of the liquid water in the universe may sit under the ice roofs of Europa-like worlds, vast, numbers of them out there.
== Space tech ==
Is this for real? Spin launch? The video gives no sign HOW it's done. If you watch not just the video but the clips that play after, there's on glimpse of the hurl cone flung from the end of the rotating arm. One might imagine it being useful for a fixed position area defense system for a high-value base. The biggest use is likely pop-up replacement of LEO coms and observation CCC assets. Just being able to do that in a variety of ways could reduce the temptation of rivals to degrade our orbit dependent systems with shotgun pellet denial or EMP.
A University of Georgia team realized that the lesser gravity of Mars means that a lower-quality fuel could nevertheless power rockets into orbit, if it could be made cheaper and easier and store better than methane or hydrogen, and made by a very simple biological ISRU (In Situ Resource Utilization) method relying on cyanobacteria and e.Coli to convert CO2+water+sunlight into LOX and “2,3-butanediol”. A combined process already proved on Earth. A byproduct would be water and oxygen for, well, you know.
Cislunar platforms: Quantum Space announced Feb. 3 it’s starting work on a spacecraft platform that would initially operate at the Earth-moon L-1 Lagrange point and host various payloads. That platform would be serviced by another spacecraft that would deliver and install payloads. The Earth-moon L-1 point, about 60,000 kilometers from the moon in the direction of Earth, offers a “clean sheet” approach compared to working in Earth orbit.
Should we consider a 2-wheel motorcycle for moon astronauts, rather than a 4-wheel buggy?
The Pentagon’s Orbital Prime program is offering seed money to develop technology to gather up the spent rocket parts and dead satellites littering low Earth orbit.
And because the Whole Earth is a planet, after all… John Markoff’s biography of the incredible Stewart Brand. “The definitive biography of iconic serial visionary Stewart Brand, from the Merry Pranksters and the generation-defining Whole Earth Catalog to the marriage of environmental consciousness and hacker capitalism and the rise of a new planetary culture—the story behind so many other stories.”