Sunday, November 27, 2011

Curiosity - life on Mars?

We all wish luck to the Mars Science Lab (MSL) nicknamed Curiosity on its way to the Red Planet. Because a central goal of this scientific space mission is the search for signs of microbial life it is also of exceptional theological interest.

Nov. 26, 2011: NASA began a historic voyage to Mars with the Nov. 26 launch of the Mars Science Laboratory, which carries a car-sized rover named Curiosity. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard an Atlas V rocket occurred at 10:02 a.m. EST (7:02 a.m. PST).

"We are very excited about sending the world's most advanced scientific laboratory to Mars," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "MSL will tell us critical things we need to know about Mars, and while it advances science, we'll be working on the capabilities for a human mission to the Red Planet and to other destinations where we've never been."
Quoted from NASA science page

The estimated landing of the rover on Mars is 6 August 2012 - after eight and half months of 10 km/second flight in our Solar system.

For an overview of the mission I recommend a well-written news article by BBC Science Journalist Jonathan Amos.

Gale Crater
The 2.500.000.000 dollar mission uses the latest technologies and scientific instruments in a car-sized one tonne vehicle. The research concentrates on a geological paradise, the Grand Canyon of Mars, called the 154 km in diameter Gale crater named after the Australian banker Walter Frederick Gale (1865-1945). He is the man who looked at the Red Planet and suggested that there are canals on the surface of Mars and thus intelligent life, Martians.

Picture from NASA

Gale crater is a deep scar on the surface of Mars assumed to be over two billion years old. The crater allows the examination of very deep layers of clay minerals and sulphite salts observed at the bottom. Scientists have assumed that these deposits were possibly formed as sediments in an ancient body of water. Nobody is sure - until Curiosity brings us some hard facts from the hot spot!

Interior of Mars

Earliest evidence of life on Earth has been found in pre-Cambrian granite that formed some two-three billion years when the surface of our planet was cooling and God created the lithosphere. 

Apparently Mars has no granite or basalt sphere at all. In the picture is one recent model (2003) taken from a nice description of recent theories of the inner structure of Mars by Courtney Seligman.

Astrobiologist's wet dream
The fundamental assumption of Astrobiology is that where there is water there is possibly also life as we know it. So examining 2-3 billion year old sediments formed in another planet of our Solar system... an astrobiologist's wet dream come true.

Out of the way, Cassini-Huygens and those dead frozen surfaces of Titan!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How Milky Way might look from space

Hubble Space telescope image of NGC 3370 
NASA Astronomy picture of day October 29, 2011 

Click on the APOD link to see this fabulous Hubble telescope image of Spiral Galaxy NGC3370 in all its glory and majesty. It is in the constellation of Leo about 98 million light years from us. 

One of the many paradoxes in scientific terminology is that the most luminous part at the center of this beautiful galaxy may be a black hole!  

Modern astronomy suggest that our Solar system is located in the Orion-Cygnus spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy. From outer space the view of Milky Way could resemble NGC 3370. (In fact, a bit humbler looking galaxy NGC 1365 may be a more accurate match to our Milky Way.)

"The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy 100,000 light years in diameter containing 200–400 billion stars. Depending on its structure the entire galaxy has a rotational rate of 1 per 15 to 50 million years. The galaxy is also moving at a rate of 552 to 630 km per second depending on the relative frame of reference. It is estimated to be about 13.2 billion years old, nearly as old as the Universe. The Milky Way is part of the Local Group of galaxies."

We are spinning!
Can you feel the movement of these carousels?

Our planet Earth spins around 500 meters per second.

Our Earth revolves around Sun at the speed of 30 kilometers per second.

Our Sun rotates in the Milky Way about 250 km per second.

Milky Way rotates slowly - once in perhaps fifteen or fifty million years

But our solar system is speeding with the huge structure of the Milky Way through space at the speed of 630 km/s and the speed is apparently accelerating. There are no breaks in this vehicle.

Can you feel the majestic movements of these carousels?

Thank God for gravity that keeps us down to Earth!