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Mars will be invaded by 2020 – A race to find life

Space powers compete to find evidence of life on Mars in the year 2020.
Mars will be invaded by 2020 - want to find life
Mars. Credit: NASA

This year, for a few weeks, Mars and Earth will be aligned. The distance between the two will be the smallest – only 54 million kilometers – something that will not happen again until 2022. So by 2020 there will be an unprecedented fact since the end of the Cold War: the launch of four robotic missions to this planet. , three of them led by leading space powers, the US, Europe and China, which aim to successfully land their own exploration vehicles with the intention of being the first to find evidence of life.

Ken Farley says, chief scientific officer of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission says:

This is something never seen. The above-mentioned projects need to add India’s recently launched orbit vehicle and the “growing enthusiasm” of private companies like Space X to reach this planet.

Mars is a huge graveyard of crashed ships. One in two space missions that try to reach failure. Landing on Mars requires a complicated maneuver to brake from the 21,000 kilometers per hour the ship reaches zero in just seven minutes, largely without the help of the much finer-than-earth Martian atmosphere and at the mercy of the time of the world. day on this inhospitable planet where it is not uncommon to reach temperatures of 100 degrees below zero.

An engineer works on NASA’s Mars 2020 vehicle. NASA

In 2016, the ExoMars ship was hit by a violent gust of wind in altitude. The ship moved like a huge pendulum as it was still attached to the parachute and its altitude sensors suddenly aimed at the horizon instead of the surface. The on-board computer interpreted that the ship had landed, shut down the backstop early, and ExoMars crashed into the icy Martian soil.

This mission was a demonstration of the landing technology that is now to be used by ExoMars 2020, the mission of its counterpart European Space Agency. Those responsible for the European mission do not see the accident as a failure and think they have learned and solved the problem.

The three missions mentioned, in addition to the fourth, the United Arab Emirates Hope orbit module, developed thanks to the collaboration of US scientists, have very similar launch windows that start in mid-July and end in mid-August. It will take seven months to arrive on the red planet, so landings are scheduled for February 2021.

“Our main goal is to look for life traces on Mars over 3.5 billion years old, when liquid water covered much of the planet,” says Ken Farley. NASA’s mission will land at the bottom of an ancient lake several hundred meters deep called the Jezero crater. “In a place like this, microbes like Earth’s could have lived without problems,” says the California Institute of Technology geochemistry expert.

Another US goal is to set the stage for sending astronauts to the red planet. At this point, Spain plays an important role as it leads the MEDA instrument, the weather station aboard the exploration vehicle that measures temperature, wind, dust particles and radiation and will be used to estimate the planet’s habitability for future astronauts. Another instrument is an oxygen detector, an essential element for making Martian air breathable and for fueling rockets that will take off from Martian soil to Earth in the future.

“The most innovative of the US and European missions is that they bring a new generation of Raman spectrometers because they can detect biomarkers at a distance,” says Jorge Pla-García, an astrophysicist at the Madrid Center for Astrobiology, who is part of the northern mission. They are chemical compounds that can exist by the presence of current and past life. At this point, Europe may be at an advantage, says Pla-García. The European vehicle is the only one carrying a drill that penetrates up to two meters into Martian soil. “This is the most feasible place for anything to live, as everything on the surface is burned not only by radiation but by the abundance of chlorine salts, which is the material we use to kill microbes on Earth,” the researcher says.

China, the third Martian passenger, had never been able to travel there. The communist country’s space progress was impressive and demonstrated its ability to accomplish things it had never done before, such as landing a Rover on the moon’s hidden side. Its mission to Mars Huoxing-1 includes an orbital module, a landing module and a small Rover whose the main asset is a powerful radar that can penetrate the Martian subsoil to reveal its composition and which, on the moon, allowed to discover an ancient ocean of lava. “If it were any other country, I would think they weren’t capable, but from China I believe in anything. Just think that in 2019, for the second year in a row, it is the country that has made the most space launches in the world, ”says Pla-García.

In the minds of the three countries is the idea of ​​bringing a piece of Mars to Earth. The US Rover carries an instrument that can encapsulate the most interesting samples and preserve them so that a future mission yet to be organized can pick them up and bring them back to Earth. Both the US and China want to try to accomplish this before the end of the decade, and Europe and the US are already collaborating on such a mission to be launched in 2026, says Ken Farley. Everyone is aware that in these samples the first known Martians can travel.



A giant explosion recorded on the star Betelgeuse

Betelgeuse is considered a doomed star, and its explosion is only a matter of time. Observations from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope show that the sudden darkening of the supergiant star Betelgeuse was most likely caused by the enormous amount of hot matter ejected into space, forming a dust cloud that blocked the starlight emanating from Betelgeuse’s surface.

The researchers speculate that the dust cloud was formed when superhot plasma released from the upward flow of a large convection cell on the star’s surface passed through the hot atmosphere into the colder outer layers, where it cooled down and formed dust particles. The resulting dust cloud has blocked light from about a quarter of the star’s surface since late 2019. By April 2020, the star has returned to normal brightness.

Betelgeuse is an aging red supergiant star that has grown in size due to complex evolutionary changes in its fusion furnace at its core. The star is now so huge that if it replaced the Sun at the center of our solar system, its outer surface would extend beyond Jupiter’s orbit.

Betelgeuse’s unprecedented strong blackout phenomenon, visible even to the naked eye, began in October 2019. By mid-February 2020, the monster star has lost more than two-thirds of its brilliance.

This sudden blackout has puzzled astronomers, who have tried to develop several theories of abrupt change. 

Hubble recorded traces of dense, heated matter moving through the star’s atmosphere in September, October, and November 2019. Then, in December, several ground-based telescopes observed a decrease in the star’s brightness in the southern hemisphere.

“With the Hubble Telescope, we see material leaving the visible surface of the star and moving through the atmosphere before the dust was formed, which made the star appear dim,” said Dupree. “We could see the effect of a dense hot region moving in the southeastern part of the star.

“This material was two to four times brighter than the normal brightness of the star. And then, about a month later, the southern part of Betelgeuse became noticeably dimmer as the star became fainter. We think that it is possible that the dark cloud came from an explosion discovered by Hubble “.

The article was published August 13 in the Astrophysical Journal.

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Massive sunspot facing Earth could be bad news as we enter a new 25 solar cycle

A massive sunspot has formed on the Sun, which will be turned towards our planet, which can lead to large and very strong flares aimed at the Earth

The sunspot AR2770, which was recorded earlier this week, will increase in size. This particular sunspot has already emitted several minor flares, which have caused nothing serious, except for “small waves of ionization running through the upper atmosphere of the Earth.”

However, this sunspot, which can be up to 50,000 kilometers in diameter, can release enormous amounts of energy, which in turn can lead to solar flares. 

This phenomenon is called coronal mass ejections (CMEs). These outbreaks can have a serious impact on radio communications, global positioning systems (GPS) communications, power grids and satellites.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), CMEs can “oscillate electrical currents in space and excite electrons and protons trapped in Earth’s changing magnetic field.” Solar flares caused by these CMEs can also cause intense light in the sky called auroras.

On the Sun, the active zone was transformed into an ideal number 2

What is a sunspot?

A spot is a dark area in the sun that appears dark on the surface and is relatively cooler than other parts. These sunspots contain electrically charged gases that create areas of powerful magnetic forces. Gases on our Sun are constantly moving, which causes irregularities in this “magnetic field”. This activity is also called “solar activity”. The levels of solar activity do not remain the same and differ from one solar cycle to the next.

What is a solar flare?

Solar flares are the result of changes in the magnetic fields at sunspots that cause a huge explosion. These solar flares are often thrown into space. The energy of the explosion of solar flares can be equivalent to a trillion atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Is a new 25 cycle starting?

At the moment, there is no complete confidence in the beginning of the 25th solar cycle, which will mark a gradual increase in solar activity. Only one thing is clear – the solar minimum, if suddenly it continues, nothing good for our planet and, accordingly, will not bring us all.

Due to the practically zero activity of the Sun on Earth, record levels of cosmic radiation are recorded. To put it simply, our entire planet is essentially turned into a huge microwave.

But the resumption of solar activity after a long period of calm is also not good, since no one can predict the levels of this activity, and if it is high, this could potentially lead to a powerful super-flash that will cover the Earth.

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What did Mars look like millions of years ago? New theory

At the moment, Mars is considered the most suitable planet for human life. It is in many ways similar to our native Earth: the surface is solid, the day lasts almost the same 24 hours and periodically there is a change of seasons. 

Scientists are sure that millions of years ago between our planet and Mars there were even more similarities, such as the presence of water and living organisms. He has one snag – in time immemorial the sun was much weaker than it is now, and Mars was quite far from it and was not going to approach. It turns out that the planet was cold and there could not be rivers and oceans on it. 

But how, then, can explain the presence of valleys and depressions on its surface, which were clearly formed as a result of the flow of water? Canadian scientists have started looking for an explanation for this mysterious phenomenon. 

In the course of scientific work, they managed to put forward a theory that greatly changes the idea of ​​scientists about the past of the Red Planet. Perhaps Mars looked like a giant snowball.

Millions of years ago, Mars was hardly a warm place

Water on Mars

The essence of the theory was published in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience . According to one of the study’s authors, Anna Grau Galofre , over the past 40 years, the scientific community has believed that irregularities on the surface of Mars were formed by the movement of rivers. 

However, there are distinctive features between valleys and depressions in different regions of the planet. To find out what factors could affect the structure of the irregularities, scientists decided to find a place on Earth, the surface of which is as close as possible to the Martian landscape. However, researchers have long known about the existence of such a place.

Mars on Earth

One of the most Mars-like places on our planet is considered the uninhabited island of Devon, located in northern Canada. Almost all of its surface is a cold and dry desert. If you look at the island from a bird’s eye view or even from a satellite, you will notice that its surface is really very similar to the vastness of the Red Planet. 

It is also full of all kinds of irregularities and scientists are well aware of how they were formed. Since Devon Island is a rather cold place, most of the rivers there flow under a layer of ice. Part of the ice sheet melted over time and the valleys left by the rivers are now clearly visible to us. In their structure, they are very different from the valleys formed by rivers that flow in the open.

The surface of Devon Island is very similar to the Martian landscape

So, scientists became aware of the distinctive features of the two types of valleys. Based on this data, they developed an algorithm that was able to quickly study photographs of 10,000 Martian irregularities. 

Among them, the researchers found many valleys, which clearly formed under a thick layer of ice. Most of them were formed about 3.8 billion years ago. It turns out that once upon a time, although not all, but most of Mars, was covered with ice and snow. But scientists assumed that it was very similar to our blue-green Earth.

Above is the surface of Mars, and below is the surface of Devon Island

Life on Mars

If Mars really was covered with layers of ice, then the probability of the existence of living organisms on it increases markedly. The fact is that microorganisms could well inhabit the waters hidden under the ice sheet. And this shield, in turn, could perfectly protect them from cosmic radiation. 

Indeed, the Red Planet has a very weak magnetic field, which is precisely what serves to protect against harmful radiation. So, despite the changes in the idea of ​​the appearance and conditions of ancient Mars, the probability that at least primitive creatures lived on it remained. Maybe someday their traces will be discovered by devices like InSight and we will gain confidence that life on other planets can exist.

According to the new theory, 3.8 billion years ago Mars looked something like this

The computer algorithm created within the framework of scientific work will not disappear. According to the developers, it can be useful for studying the past of the Earth. 

Technologies existing at the moment allow us to look at history no further than 5 million years, and a new algorithm can reconstruct the history of glaciations on our planet over the past 35 million years. It sounds intriguing, so we can only hope that new discoveries will not be long in coming.

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