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Sci-fi pictures from Mars April 13, 2009

Posted by Sarah in geology, science, space.
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Via the Bad Astronomer, some eery pictures from the surface of Mars that look straight out of a sci-fi flick. The images were taken by the HiRise camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Another brilliant recent addition to the HiRise image archive is this one: (more…)

Methane on Mars: The fall-out January 19, 2009

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I mentioned The Sun’s bizarre and, well, inaccurate coverage of the Mars methane story before. Quite a bit has been said and blogged about the way the media dealt with the story and I just wanted to post some links with people’s thoughts on the matter.

Bad Astronomer gives his opinion, points towards the good and the bad.

Dave Mosher calls for better standards in science reporting over on Discovery Space.

The Spacewriter urges caution.

More as and when I spot it.

Things are happening on Mars January 15, 2009

Posted by Sarah in science.
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Martian map showing red methane hotspots in the atmosphere

Earlier today, The Sun reported that evidence of little green men on the Red Planet had finally been spotted. Not so, said the scientists in a briefing this evening – or at least not necessarily, not definitively so. But it looks like we may have come just one small step closer to discovering if life exists on the Red Planet. For the first time, firm evidence has been found that active processes are taking place on Mars, possibly biological in nature, and this is an exciting find.

Using the Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, a team of scientists led by Michael Mumma of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have spotted methane being released into the Martian atmosphere. Remarkably the methane detection was confined to a few “hotspots” without being dissipated uniformly into the atmopshere by the wind, like we see here on Earth. This means that for some reason, the methane has a very short lifetime in the atmosphere, and is possibly being actively destroyed. The observed hotspots were seen in early 2003, during the Northern hemisphere sason on Mars; the following year they had disappeared.


Life on Mars? The Sun weighs in! January 15, 2009

Posted by Sarah in science.
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Methane clouds released at the Martian poles could be the effect of Martian micorbes living under the surface of the planet, The Sun newspaper reports today.

NASA announced a few days ago that a press briefing would take place this afternoon (8 pm CET) to discuss new findings on the Red Planet. No press release has been issued so far.

I don’t really want to comment on the science, of which the details are sketchy in The Sun’s typically sensationalist style. Did The Sun break an embargo here? The Guardian and The Telegraph have also picked up on the story now, albeit in a more nuanced way (although the Guardian’s Roswell-like picture is not particularly helpful) .

I look foward to the press briefing and will most likely post a follow-up here later today or tomorrow.

News from NASA December 4, 2008

Posted by Sarah in science.
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A few interesting news snippets from NASA!

First, A launch date has been set for the Hubble servicing mission. Originally planned for October 2008, NASA’s final trip to upgrade Hubble was delayed due to a failure of the on-board data handling system. The new launch date is 12 May 2009 – so mark your diaries! During the mission, astronauts will install a few new instruments, a UV spectrograph and an optical/UV imager, and carry out some crucial fixes to the on-board hardware to take the telescope into the next decade. I know a few astronomers who are eagerly awaiting the upgrade!

The launch of NASA’s next Mars mission, Mars Science Laboratory, however, is being delayed by 2 years to late 2011. The reason is technical difficulties with this hugely complex rover mission. NASA big boss Mike Griffin in the conference said that already years ago scientists knew “the mission was aggressively pursuing a 2009 launch”; to me this reads thathey knew there would be a good chance the launch would eventually get delayed by a couple of years. The flipside of the delay is that the mission will incur extra costs estimated around $400 million; delays to other planetary missions are likely to be needed to cover those costs.

There was much discussion at the news conference on the budget of missions, why cost overruns occur, and indeed what defines “cost overruns”. More about that in the next post.