Guest Videos: The Winds of Mars


The hardest part of space exploration, at least for laypeople trying to keep up to date, is getting used to familiar things, like wind, in unfamiliar settings.

Mars is smaller than the Earth, but it has enough wind to support the currently ongoing planetwide dust storm that has shut down Opportunity (hopefully, temporarily). And we have seen its twisters, though they don’t look as powerful as ours.

Martian winds must be pretty powerful, though, right? After all, the planet’s surface looks like it has been scoured in places:




There are some awesome wind-made features on the Red Planet, including yardangs. To really appreciate them, we need to understand just how weak the winds of Mars actually are.

Spoiler: Not quite as strong as they are depicted in The Martian.



Those beautiful Martian dunes and streamlined rocky features must have taken way longer than it took to sculpt similar structures on Earth. But then, according to a new study, Mars may have gotten a hundred-million-year jump on the Earth in terms of this whole solid planetary crust thing.

All told, over billions of years even weak winds can have impressive effects.




Featured image: NASA/JPL.


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Guest Video: The Falcon and Dragon Dance Begins


Update, July 11, 2018: I so enjoy the 21st-century luxury of having spacecraft tweet images from their latest position millions of miles away!

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And here is the “Dragon Palace” in 3D!

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Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft has arrived at Asteroid Ryugu!



Guest Video: Elements Forming in a Dying Star


I found this amazing BBC trailer while looking up something I found while researching arsenic.



That’s just breathtaking!

But if you’ve ever seen the periodic table, you know that there are heavier elements than iron. Arsenic is one of them.

Our Sun is too small to produce any element heavier than oxygen. The larger stars, like Betelgeuse (mentioned in the video and shown by an arrow in the image at the top of this post), are the ones that manufacture elements up to iron.

Beyond that, to make platinum and gold, for example, it takes a supernova.

Please don’t mention this to the BBC–who knows what they would blow up to illustrate that!

Such conditions are too extreme to model in a lab, which is why astronomers got very excited when they found arsenic and selenium in an old star just beyond the edge of the Milky Way galaxy. The data gives them more to work with.



Featured image: Akira Fujii via Wikimedia, public domain.


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Update, 6:38 p.m., June 20, 2018:

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I think this situation with Oppy waiting out a storm has somehow made Mars very real for a lot of people who don’t usually read science news. And that’s a good thing.



Typical. TYPICAL. I go away for a week – up to the beautiful Isle of Skye to take in some museums, castles and white sandy beaches – and after virtually ignoring her for years and years the rest of the world suddenly goes crazy about Opportunity! No-one (ok, almost no-one) has cared about her for […]

via Opportunity and the 2018 Dust Storm — The Road To Endeavour



Read the whole thing. There is some good news. The rover isn’t buried in sand; it just can’t get enough sunlight for power. However, the dust may keep the extreme Martian cold temperatures from falling so low that Oppy can’t power up again. They are taking a wait-and-see attitude. Go! Oppy! And thanks, Spirit, Oppy, and their human builders and operators for this vast trove of solid information about the once-unknown “Barsoom.” (Yeah, I was a Burroughs fan as a kid.)


Reblog on Opportunity Rover and the Mars Dust Storm from The Road To Endeavour

Guest Videos: Sentinel Spots Suspicious Movement of English Village


Not in the village, of the village.

Here’s the village–I don’t know why the bicyclists are driving cars, but that’s Willand in Devonshire they’re driving through:


And this is the Sentinel that has discovered Willand is rising at a rate of almost an inch a year


It’s a total mystery. This is not a tectonically active region, so things like volcanism or plate collisions are unlikely to be involved. The mining boom during the Industrial Age also passed Willand by.

According to this source, whatever is causing it is deep underground, perhaps an aquifer that is filling up.

Willand residents aren’t endangered by the movement, but it will affect major transportation corridors that are planned for the area.


Guest Videos: Space Telescopes


You might be able to view this unusual video. I can’t, but it is getting all the good reviews.

They posted “Fistful of Stars” as a regular video, though it’s designed for virtual reality. Check it out, if you can.

That’s actually just art–part of the Hubble Cantata.

Hubble itself is old, in space terms, and new scopes are on the planning horizon.

The next big one will be the Webb Telescope. NASA recently pushed back its launch date to correct sunshield and cable problems found during a March 2018 test. It’s now expected to go up in 2020.

And, as mentioned in that video, the next “space” telescope after Webb will stay on Earth, in Chile’s Atacama Desert! The Giant Magellan Telescope is due for completion in 2025.

Bumping into new discoveries–I like that!

I think.

As Georges Méliès knew back in 1898, astronomers’ dreams sometimes go awry.


Featured image: NASA Hubble


Guest Video: Sniffing Out Methane on Mars


On April 10, the European Space Agency announced that the trace gas orbiter–Part 1 of its ExoMars mission to the Red Planet–has finished aerobraking:

Here’s why they are so interested in Martian methane.

NASA also has a 2020 mission planned and is hoping to retrieve some rocks. (Uh, guys, you’ve already got some!)


Featured image: ESA/ATG medialab