Space Coffee #2: Happy New Year on Mars, it might be Aliens, and more
Curated space stories from the Internet for your weekend pondering pleasure.
Curated Space from the Internet
Like on Earth, winters are cold and summers are warm on Mars, but the planet’s overall temperature is a lot cooler, it has a yearly average temperature of minus 60 degrees Celsius. The planet experiences different weather phenomena throughout the seasons. A weather phenomenon that reappears every year around the southern spring and summer is the Arsia Mons Elongated Cloud, a cloud of ice crystals that can reach up to 1800 kilometres in length. It repeats for at least 80 sols and then disappears again during the rest of the year.
I went to a conference in Abu Dhabi and a tour guide there was bragging that you can see some of their lights near the oil fields all the way to the moon. I asked one of my colleagues, Ed Turner, wouldn’t it be interesting to figure out how far away we can see artificial lights? We asked how far can the Hubble Space Telescope see a city like Tokyo? Turns out you can see it all the way out to Pluto. The edge of the solar system. So we wrote a paper saying now you can tell if an object — let’s say a spacecraft or some other source of light [similar to] a city like Tokyo — comes into the solar system, we can know that it produces artificial light, that it’s not reflecting sunlight.
The International Space Station will be the largest human-made object ever brought down to Earth, and doing so safely will be a challenging engineering problem. Nobody wants a repeat of the (mostly) uncontrolled reentry in 1979 of the first US space station, Skylab, parts of which ended up hitting a remote region of Australia and resulting in a $400 littering fine to NASA.
There is no doubt that the Russian space programme contracted greatly from the end of the 1980s, when it operated the Mir space station, launched satellites weekly and roamed the solar system with its unmanned space probes. Shock capitalism in the 1990s reduced space budgets by three quarters, a similar proportion quit the workforce, scientists left for foreign countries and the breakup of the former Soviet states wrecked supply chains. Even electricity became intermittent and spacecraft were completed in darkened hangars by candlelight. As a result, missions were grounded, delayed and cancelled, while cosmonauts had to remain in orbit until their return spacecraft were ready. Cyclical maintenance stopped, buildings decayed and even fell in on themselves.
Regolith is made of loose rocks, pebbles and dust, and it covers the entire Moon. It distinguishes itself from sand in a number of ways, besides cohesiveness: Unlike sand, which gets rounded over eons by wind and water, two phenomena that don’t exist on the airless and dry Moon, grains of lunar soil are sharp, pointy and potentially abrasive to space suits and equipment.