Whether as left-overs from 1976, by creating interactive projects with astronomers, or though handing over the gauntlet to the privatized space industry, NASA has been all over the news this past week. Most of the space and alien news -- though a bit more space than alien, this time -- is pretty standard fare: studies, potential studies, and studying the information from past studies. But the feature of the week is SpaceX, the company set to take over missions to the International Space Station and, hopefully, more.
Privatization is ready to begin: The SpaceX company isn’t news – they’ve been the face of space privatization for years. But now they’re set to really take over NASA’s past functions with the first commercial flight to the International Space Station, which is set to happen on April 30. In just a little over a week, SpaceX is going to launch their Dragon spacecraft, a robotic capsule that will hopefully be capable of sending food and supplies to the ISS.
Let the space games… keep coming?: In a move that begins like quite a few Arthur C. Clarke novels, NASA is launching a mass project to study asteroids and near Earth objects (NEOs). This ‘Target Asteroids!’ project (yes, there’s actually an exclamation point in the title) enlists the help of amateur astronomers to stockpile data about asteroids, which is actually kind of cool, and will culminate in the launching of OSIRIS-REx in 2016. With SETILive and FoldIt, it seems like science sectors are realizing the vast potential that comes with harnessing the time and energy of gamers. But once you consider SETILive and ‘Target Asteroids!’ -- as one disgruntled commenter noted -- it seems a bit like a gimmick for unpaid, if interesting, labor.
Rather than hosting life, asteroids might protect life: In a spin on the usual panspermia theory, in which asteroids replete with microbes that can survive space crash-land on a given surface and lead to that planet having life, scientists think asteroids might just protect already present life from the damage done by the asteroid’s crash-landing. Studying under Chesapeake Bay, one the largest asteroid craters on Earth, scientists discovered microbes still adjusting from the crash 35 million years ago. While everything on the surface might die from heat, potential sun-blocking dust clouds, and everything else that comes from really large asteroids hitting a planet, microbes punched deep into the ground have a shot at survival. And another possibility for potential Martian life is born.
Titan is like… Namibia? While studying the methane, ethane, and propane lakes on Titan, scientists compare the rising and falling liquid levels to salt pans on Earth, where groundwater makes liquid surface levels rise, only for the liquid to be evaporated and then replaced again. And I say ‘liquid,’ because, while were discovering Titan to be more and more Earth-like, that planet is more hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen than hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen – which raises some interesting questions of its own. This article isn’t important just because it’s Titan, which features in the top five of every list of potential Earth-like areas that we could realistically ever reach, but because it’s tying the features of all space bodies to some sort of universal baseline.
There might be Martians again: We just can’t seem to go a year without changing our minds about whether or not there is, once was, or never will be life on Mars. Over the past week, science news sites have been focusing on data collected in 1976, which kind of pointed to life at the time but was summarily dismissed. Scientists now are taking the Viking’s collected data and testing it again; this time, one of the points the data was collected from is showing definite signs of some sort of biological action. This is all hedged in the standard declarations that this concretely proves nothing and it is all just evidence that some unknown something might have happened. Either way, the Martian life debate is on… not that NASA and the United States will really be participating, based on last week’s news.
Have you heard any interesting alien or space news this past that wasn’t mentioned? If so, be sure to leave a comment so we can include it next week!
Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.