23 January 2009

Carnival of Space #87

Posted by Ryan Anderson

Welcome to the Martian Chronicles blog and the 87th Carnival of Space! I’m finishing up this post while sitting in the planning meeting for the Spirit rover (after doing my part, of course!), and would like to point out that this weekend marks Sol 1800 of our 90 sol mission. That’s right, Spirit has lasted 20 times longer than its nominal mission and is still going. Woohoo!

Now without further ado, your carnival of space!

Mars Methane


Last week, a paper published in Science confirmed the detection of methane on Mars. Why such a big stink about such a small molecule? Is it really proof of life on Mars? What the heck is serpentinization? The answers you seek await you in the blogosphere!

Timothy Neale at Tomorrow is Here keeps it short and sweet, but most of us couldn’t help ourselves. I dove in and summarized the paper, and Markus Hammonds over at Supernova Condensate provides an excellent and detailed discussion from an astrochemist’s perspective.

Some bloggers sounded off on the media’s handling of this big news. Chris Lintott pointed out that this paper is not the first detection of methane, as the press release might lead you to believe; that credit goes to the ESA’s Mars Express mission. Carolyn Petersen voiced the collective frustration of science writers and scientists everywhere by calling out all the silly, breathless headlines about “Life on Mars” that this methane business brought about, and urged people to be skeptical of headlines and actually read the articles.

Humans in Space


Not everyone got caught up in the Mars methane maelstrom though! We have a bunch of great posts about the past, present and future of humans in space and the (awesome) technology that we might use.

OrbitalHub has an interesting article about the historic Soyuz 4/5 mission, which successfully carried out the first docking and crew transfer between two spacecraft 40 years ago.

Collectspace has the answer to the age-old question: “What do the first American to command five space missions, the first commander of the ISS and the first satellite repairman have in common?”

Over at the awesomely named Potentia Tenebras Repellendi, Alexander DeClama will tell you all about the very cool Chariot lunar rover which made an appearance in the inaugural parade. It can drive sideways!

lunarroverSpeaking of the Obama administration, Bruce Cordell at 21st Century Waves outlines ten space trends for 2009 and speculates about how the current issues facing the administration will influence the near-future of the space program.

Sometime in the slightly-less-near future, we will be back on the moon, so before you buy your one-way ticket to the moon base, you will want to take a look at Out of the Cradle and Ken Murphy’s review of a new book about the challenges of establishing a lunar outpost. (Hint: Driving the Chariot rover is the easy part)

Given the new administration’s commitment to energy independence and sustainability, the sun may be shining on Space-Based Solar Power. Alex and Ralph at The Discovery Enterprise have a posted their very interesting debate about whether Space-Based Solar Power is really feasible.

Solar power may also be crucial for our return to the moon, but the long lunar night makes it somewhat problematic. To hear about some ideas to work around this problem, check out the summary of a 1989 paper on “Solar Power for the Lunar Night” at Altair VI.

The problem with all these ambitious plans in space is that it’s really hard, and therefore rather pricey, to launch things into orbit (and beyond). That’s why I was happy to read over at Next Big Future that a Cambridge University team is making progress on creating carbon nanotube ribbons, a vital component of that coolest-of-cool ideas, the space elevator.

marsterraformed600kn0Once we have unlimited, cheap access to space, and clean, endless power from space-based solar arrays and are cruising around on the surface of the moon, will we be satisfied? Heck no! We’re going to Mars! And when we get there, we’re going to terraform it! It’s easy! Ethan Siegel over at Starts With a Bang concludes that there are only three things that we would really need to do.

And then, once we have settled Mars and are getting really cocky, we’ll want to start looking for other planets outside our solar system. And after all the work of terraforming, we’ll probably want to just skip that step and look for habitable planets. Luckily, Paul Gilster at Centauri Dreams reports that vegetation on distant planets is detectable!

Black Holes and Holograms and Podcasts, Oh My!

Of course, there’s more to space than Mars and human exploration! If you were wondering where the rest of the universe was, wonder no longer; it’s right here.

newhorizonsatkbobjectI’ll start this section off with the more down-to-earth, less mind-blowing posts and gradually increase the bamboozle factor. First off is this very nice article from Alan Boyle at Cosmic Log about “Pluto’s Pals”: kids who were born the same day that the New Horizons probe launched toward Pluto. They’ll be nine years old when it gets there!

Next up, did you hear that the Higgs boson has been discovered?! By Higgs himself?! Well, if not, you’d better go check out Ian O’Neill’s post about it at AstroEngine.

Ok, after that excitement, you may need to relax for a bit, so head over to Riding with Robots and watch the absolutely fantastic video of the highlights of robotic space exploration in 2008.

Cool wasn’t it? Know what else is cool? the star R Coronae Borealis. I would even go so far as to say that this star is outta sight! Head over to Simostronomy and let Mike Simonsen tell you more about this interesting giant of a star.


Moving beyond our own galaxy, over at Bad Astronomy Phil Plait reports on our latest advance in understanding the mysterious goings-on in the heart of young galaxies.

If the black-hole wind from Phil’s post didn’t blow your mind, I promise this will: Steinn Sigurdsson reports on new results that may imply that our universe is holographic. Did you hear that exploding sound? It was my brain. My holographic brain.

Now, after reading all of these posts, all these big ideas and grand plans give me a hankering for some science fiction, so I’m glad that our last post is from Rob Simpson at Orbiting Frog, promoting a new podcast called “Science or Fiction”. In the podcast, scientists discuss sci-fi shows, not to debunk them but to have interesting discussions about how plausible the ideas in the shows are. Sounds awesome, in fact, I think I’m going to go listen to one right now!

That wraps up our carnival for the week!  Thanks for reading, and thanks to Fraser for letting me host again!