August 1st, 2008

Mars

Astro-Images of the Day: Phoenix Proves Water on Mars!

What an amazing couple of days in space science! Check out this two-image gif: The photos were taken a day apart, of "Snow Queen," the rock beneath the Phoenix Mars Lander. The lander's jets cleared away the surface dust and stuff, so you're looking at bare rock. But the interesting thing is how the rock changes over the course of a day. You can see the ice evaporate and the rock crack as it dries out!

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The sample came from this spot:

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"We have water," said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA. "We've seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks observed by Phoenix last month, but this is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted."
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I'm so excited about this discovery and proud of our little lander. An ocean of water-ice lies frozen in the Martian crust... think of the possibilities.

Chris
Saturn's rings

Astro-Image of the Day 2: Electrical Activity + Hydrocarbons = Life on Titan?

It's just getting more and more exciting Out There, folks! Newly released information from the Cassini mission to Saturn's moon Titan reveals lots of electrical activity. Yesterday, hydrocarbon seas; today, electricity. Tomorrow...?

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Why is this important? "Titan not only has an atmosphere it has hydrocarbon lakes, oceans, sand dunes and now research has just been published proving Saturn's moon is sparkling with electrical activity. Scientists are in general agreement that organic molecules, the precursors to life on Earth, are a consequence of lightning in the atmosphere. Now, using data from the Huygens probe that descended through Titan's atmosphere in 2005 and continued transmitting for 90 minutes after touchdown, Spanish scientists have "unequivocally" proven that Titan has electrical storms too. The presence of electrical activity in the atmosphere is causing much excitement as this could mean that organic compounds may be found in abundance on the Titan surface."

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Yeah, baby! Next discovery: Little critters in the Titanian seas.

Best,
Chris