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NASA disappoints ET seekers: Aliens not among ‘surprising’ findings on Jupiter moon (VIDEOS, PHOTOS)
Video: 4th time is the charm: NASA’s contractor Orbital finally launches spacecraft with supplies...
Clinical efficacy of Manasamitra Vataka (an Ayurveda medication) on generalized anxiety disorder with comorbid...
A computer systems hiccup has left the Mars rover Curiosity out of action after the probe detected the first chemical evidence of possible alien life. The rover was sidelined earlier this month following a first bout of technical troubles.
Scientists had previously said that operations would be resumed on Monday after a problem with the Rover’s computer memory caused the mission to be put on hold two weeks ago.
However, the latest technical upset that arose on Sunday forced engineers to extend the unexpected break in the mission.
"This is not something that is rare or even uncommon," John Grotzinger, lead scientist at the California Institute of Technology assured press at a news conference during the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston. He added that the setback is likely to delay the latest science results from the rover for the next couple of days.
The latest hiccup occurred during an information transmission to Earth on Sunday night.
The problems have arisen at a crucial time in the rover’s mission, just after the mission uncovered the first ever telltale signs that there was once life on the red planet.
Chemical analysis of a sample obtained by NASA’s curiosity last month revealed traces of a benevolent environment capable of supporting life. The analysis also unearthed a life-sustaining chemical footprint comprised of sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and simple carbon.
The rover’s camera and Russian-manufactured probe are currently located in Mars’ Yellowknife Bay region, where more evidence of water has been discovered than anywhere else on the planet.
"I see the difference between Yellowknife and the area which is just before Yellowknife ... showing the different distribution of water. This is a significant variation," Maksim Litvak of the Space Research Institute in Moscow told reporters.
The rover mission, which was extended indefinitely in December of last year, seeks to ascertain whether Mars’ Gale Crater was able to support microbial life at some point in its history. The groundbreaking discoveries made by NASA’s mission are expected to pave the way for possible habitability studies during future exploration missions.
“We have found a habitable environment that is so benign and supportive of life that probably if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it,” said Grotzinger.
Thousands of wells have been dug in the extremely arid region. (Reuters / Ali Jarekji)
The Middle East is headed towards a water shortage crisis, as NASA satellites show that reserves the size of the Dead Sea have been depleted in just seven years, largely due to well-drilling.
Newly-obtained results show that 144 cubic kilometres of freshwater – a volume nearly equivalent to that of the Dead Sea or Lake Tahoe – had been removed from the ground in the area that encompasses Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria between 2003 and 2009.
"That's enough water to meet the needs of tens of millions to more than a hundred million people in the region each year, depending on regional water use standards and availability," said Jay Famiglietti, the UC Irvine professor who led the team who made the findings, which are due to be published on Friday in Water Resources Reasearch magazine.
While 40 percent of the decline is in the soil and surface water, the decrease in groundwater, caused by human actions, is responsible for 90 cubic kilometers of the shortfall.
"Satellite data shows an alarming rate of decrease in total water storage in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which currently have the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India," said Famiglietti.
The study was made possible by the US space agency’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites. The two identical vessels measure miniscule changes in the planet’s gravity through the variations in distance between them as they circle the Earth; postions influenced by the varying mass of the water reserves.
The research team said the depletion was caused by poor water management, combined with unfavorable climate conditions.
A devastating 2007 drought in the area not only caused depletions of surface water, which have still not been compensated, but also forced Iraqi authorities to order the drilling of more than 1,000 water wells. The actual number of wells drilled is likely to be much higher, as official statistics in the region are often patchy.
"That decline in stream flow put a lot of pressure on northern Iraq," said Kate Voss, another study author, "Both the UN and anecdotal reports from area residents note that once stream flow declined, this northern region of Iraq had to switch to groundwater.”
At the time, the country was at the height of a deadly sectarian conflict.
“In an already fragile social, economic and political environment, this did not help the situation," said Voss.
Last year’s authoritative Global Water Security report, produced by US intelligence agencies, marked the Middle East, naturally the driest region in the world alongside North Africa, as the area most vulnerable to water shortages, saying the situation was exacerbated by a lack of legal agreements and political instability.
"They just do not have that much water to begin with, and they're in a part of the world that will be experiencing less rainfall with climate change," Famiglietti said. "Those dry areas are getting dryer. Demand for freshwater continues to rise, and the region does not coordinate its water management because of different interpretations of international laws.”
Turkey, whose territory houses the headwaters of the region’s two major rivers, Tigris and Euphrates, enjoys a strained relationship with Syria and Iraq, the countries further downstream, and has systematically diverted water for its irrigation, which is frequently inefficient (throughout the Middle East).
Meanwhile, the World Bank predicts that water demand in the region will rise by 60 percent by 2045.
Groundwater has made up the shortage so far but it is being extracted at much faster rates than it is replaced.
"Groundwater is like your savings account," said Matt Rodell, another study author, "It's okay to draw it down when you need it, but if it's not replenished, eventually it will be gone."
A digital version of the Mona Lisa has been beamed to space using lasers. (Image courtesy: Xiaoli Sun, NASA Goddard)
A new experiment by NASA proving the effectiveness of laser communications has raised the prospect that beam technology could one day replace radio. That’s after NASA scientists successfully beamed an image of the Mona Lisa to the moon.
NASA scientists usually use lasers to track the position of its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) – the robotic spacecraft that creates gravitational maps of the moon. It collects the information then transmits it back to earth at a rate of 50 Mbs.
Then NASA scientists had the bright idea of reversing the flow by beaming an image of the Mona Lisa to the LRO using lasers.
"This is the first time anyone has achieved one-way laser communication at planetary distances," says LOLA's principal investigator, David Smith of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "In the near future, this type of simple laser communication might serve as a backup for the radio communication that satellites use. In the more distant future, it may allow communication at higher data rates than present radio links can provide."
The picture was transmitted to the LRO spacecraft, because it is the only satellite that has a laser receiver.
An image grab taken from a video uploaded on http://www.nasa.gov
Precise timing was the key to transmitting the simplified black and white image, because the laser pulse has to hit a small target a very very long way away.
The first attempt to reassemble the image was not successful, the quality of the picture was significantly degraded. Atmospheric turbulence and a slight pause in transmission caused errors, making the resulting image grainy, distorted and incomplete. The scientists then applied the same kind of data correction methods used for CDs and DVDs, which substantially helped clear up the image.
A data rate of 300 bits per second is woefully slow compared to what is possible with cables or radio, so NASA has come up with a new experimental laser they hope will be capable of transmitting 600 million bits per second. This system will be carried by the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer satellite, which is to be launched in August.
This is just one aspect of NASA’s planned research into laser communications. In 2017 it plans to start a new experiment called Laser Communications Radar Demonstration – a commercial satellite that is going to test beam-based communication systems. Theoretically the speed and volume of information that can the transferred by laser is an order of magnitude greater than the rates attainable with radio waves.
An image grab taken from a video uploaded on http://www.nasa.gov
This NASA photo shows NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and President and founder of Bigelow Aerospace Robert T. Bigelow as they talk while standing next to the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) during a media briefing where it was announced that the BEAM expandable space habitat technology will be tested on the International Space Station on January 16, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (AFP Photo/NASA)
NASA has spotted an evolution in space engineering that could save money for space exploration if privately developed inflatable space dwelling prove to be successful.
A new agreement between NASA and a Nevadan firm to add a privately built module to the International Space Station could evolve into uses of the innovative technology beyond low-Earth orbit, space agency and company officials said on Wednesday.
NASA’s $17.8 million venture with Bigelow Aerospace to build an inflatable module, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), is planned to be tested at the ISS in 2015.
California-based SpaceX company will help BEAM make it to orbit by providing a Falcon 9 rocket. Once in space, the module will be installed on an open dock of the station's Node 3 by uniting the module using a robotic arm.
The Beam weighs around 1,360 kilograms and is about 4 meters long and 3.2 meters wide.
Bigelow Aerospace has so far spent around $250m to develop inflatable space habitation. It has preliminary agreements with seven non-US space and research agencies in the UK, the Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Sweden and the UAE.
NASA has placed high hopes in private industries to develop ways to take its astronauts to and from the space station. That service is now provided by Russia at a cost of more than $60 million per person.
All climate scientists agree that the sun affects Earth’s climate to some extent. They only disagree about whether or not the effect form the sun is minor compared to man-made causes.
We noted in 2011:
This week, scientists from the US Solar Observatory and the US Air Force Research Laboratory have discovered – to their great surprise – that the sun’s activity is declining, and that we might experience the lowest solar output we’ve seen since 1645-1715. The Register describes it in dramatic tones:
What may be the science story of the century is breaking this evening.
Scientists who are convinced that global warming is a serious threat to our planet say that such a reduced solar output would simply buy us more time … delaying the warming trend, but not stopping or reversing it.
On the other hand, scientists who are skeptical about global warming say that the threat is a new mini ice age. (Remember that scientists have been convinced in the past that we would have a new ice age, and even considered pouring soot over the arctic in the 1970s to help melt the ice – in order to prevent another ice age. Obama’s top science advisor was one of those warning of a new ice age in the 1970s. And see this.)
NASA reports this week that we may be on the verge of another Maunder Minimum (a period with an unusually low number of sunspots, leading to colder temperatures):
Much has been made of the probable connection between the Maunder Minimum, a 70-year deficit of sunspots in the late 17th-early 18th century, and the coldest part of the Little Ice Age, during which Europe and North America were subjected to bitterly cold winters. The mechanism for that regional cooling could have been a drop in the sun’s EUV output; this is, however, speculative.
The yearly averaged sunspot number for a period of 400 years (1610-2010). SOURCE: Courtesy of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.
The sun could be on the threshold of a mini-Maunder event right now. Ongoing Solar Cycle 24 is the weakest in more than 50 years. Moreover, there is (controversial) evidence of a long-term weakening trend in the magnetic field strength of sunspots. Matt Penn and William Livingston of the National Solar Observatory predict that by the time Solar Cycle 25 arrives, magnetic fields on the sun will be so weak that few if any sunspots will be formed. Independent lines of research involving helioseismology and surface polar fields tend to support their conclusion.
NASA explains that interactions between the sun, sources of cosmic radiation and the Earth are very complicated, and it takes an interdisciplinary team of heliophysicists, chemists and others to quantify what is really going on. And the Earth’s climate is also affected by cosmic radiation.
So – even if NASA’s prediction of a period of an unusually low amount of sun spots is proven correct – it is hard to know whether that will lead to a large or small reduction in temperature trends.