THE COSMIC DIARY NETWORK
Calling Exogeophysicists to Solve the Mystery of Super-Earths
There is a mystery in our galaxy, and astronomers around the world are working to solve it. The NASA Kepler mission revealed that planetary systems are common, and that on average, each star has two planets in orbit around it. This is great news for SETI researchers, since it means that there are a lot of worlds out there to explore. Many of them may have liquid water, meaning that there is the possibility that life could exist elsewhere in our galaxy. However, there is something unusual about some recently discovered planetary systems—half of those with a sun-like star have one or more so-called “super-Earths,” planets with a mass larger than that of our planet, but less than that of icy giant planets like Uranus or Neptune. What are they? We don’t really know. An artist concept of 55 Cancri e in contrast with our familiar Earth.... read more ❯
Old dunes and new dunes
On Earth, really old windblown dunes don't usually survive long enough to become part of the geologic rock record. Dunes are made of unconsolidated sand, which is easily eroded by just about anything, so it takes special circumstances to keep dunes around. Most of the dunes preserved in Earth's geological layers are just the bottom fraction of the dunes - the tops were cut off (quite often by other dunes!). That same process has happened on Mars too. But in a few locations, something special has happened: entire dunes have been preserved. That must mean that the dunes formed and then were lithified quickly enough that they weren't eroded away. More than that, they may have been buried at some point, like any other rock surface. In a few locations, those dunes can be seen almost in their entirety. From orbit. It's almost like looking at an aerial photo of a bit... read more ❯
Unistellar is hiring - Communication and Community Management Internship
Something unusual for my blog, but why not... Unistellar is hiring a Communication and Community Manager in Marseille, France. If you like astronomy, want to work on the south of France for a high-tech startup and share your love for science, this is a job for you! We are looking for this motivated person to start ASAP. Below the ad: Communication and Community Management Internship Our Company Unistellar is a high-tech start-up based in Marseille, France, and in California. We are developing the eVscope, a unique connected consumer telescope. Our patented light-amplification system will revolutionize astronomy by making its practice as popular as using consumer drones. You’ll join a dynamic team within an ambitious company. At Unistellar, you’ll practice communication on a global scale, and will enjoy a lot of versatility and autonomy. Mission The telescope developed by Unistellar is generating strong interest worldwide. Our pre-sales are 80% outside France and 50% in North America. Unistellar... read more ❯
Why does Lori study dunes on Mars?
When I look for something to blog about, I usually go to the HiRISE catalog to see if there are any new pictures that I find interesting. Today this lovely dune field caught my eye: HiRISE images are about 6 km (3.7 mi) across, so that dune field is about 4 km (2.5 mi) wide and 7 km (4.3 mi) long. If you look carefully you'll see that it's a little bit weird. The entire dune field is surrounded by a crisp-edged area of sand that isn't shaped into dunes (I call it an apron). That's pretty unusual - compare it, for example, to the pretty little dune field in Noachis Terra that I blogged about a couple of months ago. Why the difference? Well the dune field I'm showing you today is located at a latitude of 63.2º S. That's technically in the southern midlatitudes,... read more ❯
Wind at the Mars InSight landing site
InSight landed in Elysium Planitia on 26 November, 2018, about a month ago as of this writing. Pictures show that it's a flat place, with small scattered rocks lying around. Unlike in Gale crater, where Curiosity is slowly working its way up the side of a 5 km mountain with a spectacular view of the crater rim, InSight's landing spot is a little boring. InSight's view in Elysium Planitia Curiosity's view in Gale crater Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS In a way, though, that's interesting, if simply for the contrast between the two sites. Despite this big difference in relief, there is one thing the sites have in common: the big global-scale wind patterns. In Gale crater that big wind pattern is a bit muted, and the local topography can create its own winds, which can in turn either work to augment or cancel out the big global wind patterns. But nothing changes the fact that Mars'... read more ❯
Welcome Insight lander, you are on Mars!
Congratulations to NASA, JPL, Lockheed Martin and international partners for landing the Insight Lander on Mars a few hours ago. Like millions of people, I watched the NASA Live program from JPL which showed live the landing of the InSight vehicle on the surface of Mars. Beyond the typical sensationalism (the event was nicknamed "7 minutes of terror") of the program,, NASA spent a large amount of time explaining the engineering challenges of the EDL: Entry, Descent, Landing with its thousands of steps; the science InSight will conduct so we can better understand the interior of the Red Planet, and finally the humans involved in the building and designing such a complex mission. NASA announced that the mission has successfully landed on Elysium Planitia, near the equator of Mars... read more ❯
The martian wind is a geologist
Right now, the Fourth Landing Site Workshop for the Mars 2020 rover mission is happening. It's the last one, and in a few hours the scientists attending the workshop will vote on which of four sites they think the rover should land. I love the geology, but mostly I love one little corner of geology: where the rocks meet the atmosphere. I like how studying the rocks can teach us about how the atmosphere, and therefore the climate, has changed over time on Mars. There are signs of windblown things pretty much anywhere you look on Mars, and since none of the landing sites is within range of an actual dune field, I'm not really partial to any of the proposed sites. One of the proposed sites is in Gusev crater, taking us back to where the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit went. That would be great - they obtained a lot of... read more ❯
Pretty little dune field in Noachis Terra
Noachis Terra is an ancient terrain on Mars, located in the mid southern highlands. It's the home of many dune fields, big and small. Here's a fairly small one. You can't see it, but this is the floor of an unnamed crater. If you follow the link to the CTX image, you'll see that there's a much larger dune field to the south, trapped in a pit eroded into the floor of the same crater. If you look carefully, you'll see that the dunes on the east side look a bit like barchans that are migrating southwestward, and on the west side the dunes look a bit like barchans that are migrating southeastward. This dune field is here because those two winds converge at... read more ❯
Lyot crater, Mars
It's a rough day. A tsunami in Indonesia has killed many people, and the pain is so fresh that there's not even a death count yet. A couple of my good friends are going through various personal crises that will affect them for the rest of their lives. And if you're in the US, then one way or another you're probably upset about what's going on with the Supreme Court nomination. I should be working on any number of other things. There are projects to complete, and new projects that need to get sorted out before they begin. But for the moment I need to clear my head, and I'm going to do that by talking about Lyot crater. (BTW, I made most of these screenshots using JMARS, which anybody can download for free and use. All funded by US tax dollars, making NASA's hard-won Mars images available to the world. Take... read more ❯
Being a geomorphologist and reading a landscape is a little bit like being one of the forensic scientists on CSI (or choose your own favorite investigative show). A Mars geomorphologist usually has to do this entirely by remote sensing. So now imagine that forensic scientist trying to piece together a crime scene by peering at images taken by a drone. On Earth, at least, a geologist can head out to the actual field site and take samples and do some honest labwork to figure out how ancient landscapes formed. Planetary scientists aren't often so lucky (although we do use analog sites on Earth to try to learn something about other worlds). Take this scene for example. I've purposefully left it at full resolution (25 cm/pixel, click on it to see), but it's not the whole image. Be sure to follow the link to the HiRISE website if you want to see... read more ❯
The End of Kepler – It’s not over yet but it will happen soon.
The Kepler space telescope, which was launched in March 2009, is the tenth NASA Discovery mission and the first dedicated to searching for and studying exoplanets. It was scheduled to operate for about four years, but is still active almost a decade later and after its scientific objectives changed when it was renamed the K2 mission. Despite these tremendous successes, scientists are now concerned about the health of the spacecraft, and a team of engineers and astronomers are working together in hopes of extending the spacecraft’s data-gathering capabilities for as long as possible. In May 2013, loss of a second reaction wheel should have ended the mission, but Kepler was rebooted, renamed the K2 mission, and given a new goal: use the telescope’s high-photometric precision to observe stars and solar system objects located along the ecliptic. Each cycle of observation, which is known technically as a campaign, lasts about eighty days... read more ❯
Dunes are just so amazingly beautiful. I'll never get over how nature can sculpt such regular patterns into endlessly overlapping structures. Here's a small bit of a dune field trapped up high between mountains in the middle of Coprates Chasma. Here I'm not focusing on their setting, but rather the intricate structures of the dunes themselves. The dunes are formed by wind funneling down a narrow valley, headed towards the floor of the much bigger chasma (to the left, far offstage). Here we are in the midst of a dune field, looking at a rippled sandy surface that piles into dunes. The dunes avalanche downwind, slowly advancing forward (mainly toward the left here), as successive avalanches carry more sand down the slip faces. Ripples cover every surface they can - the wind seems to like to make them. They'll even form on slip faces, only to be erased later by avalanches... read more ❯