This week in Science Friday, we have more news coming in from NASA’s Phoenix lander, refrigerators in space, solving the mysteries of the Norhtern Lights, a lunar GPS system for future astronauts, and exploring possible cloud cities on Venus. All this plus our gadget of the week: Light Emitting T-Shirts by Phillips.
Phoenix Update: NASA’s Lander Sends Back 3D Views of Mars
NASA’s Phoenix Mars Mission has released stereo images of the Martian surface near the Phoenix lander. The images in the new 3-D Gallery combine views from the left and right “eyes” of the lander’s Surface Stereo Imager (SSI) so that they appear three-dimensional when viewed through red-blue glasses. See more 3D Mars images here.
Stereo 3D images of Mars!
Descending Space Junk
Almost exactly one year ago, on July 23, 2007, International Space Station astronauts threw an obsolete, refrigerator-sized ammonia reservoir overboard. The 1400-lb piece of space junk has been circling Earth ever since and now, in July 2008, its orbit has decayed so much that it has become an easy naked-eye target for backyard sky watchers. The “Early Ammonia Servicer” (EAS for short) is almost as bright as the stars of the Big Dipper and growing brighter as it descends. Check SpaceWeather.com’s Simple Satellite Tracker to find out when to watch. Europeans are favored with flybys this week, North Americans next week.
Plasma Bullets Trigger Northern Lights
That’s the conclusion of researchers studying data from NASA’s five THEMIS spacecraft. The gigantic plasma bullets, clouds of protons and electrons, are launched by explosions 1/3rd of the way to the Moon and when they hit Earth, the impacts spark colorful outbursts of Northern Lights called “substorms.” See the THEMIS website for more.
Simulated GPS To Help Astronauts Map Surface of the Moon
When NASA returns to the moon — the space agency has set a target date of 2020 — astronauts won’t be able to use a global positioning system to find their way around, as our planet’s natural satellite doesn’t have any satellites of its own to send and receive GPS signals. So NASA has awarded $1.2 million to develop a navigation system that will feel a lot like GPS to the astronauts that use it, but will rely on signals from a set of sensors including lunar beacons, stereo cameras, and orbital imaging sensors.
Lost in Space? Not anymore with Lunar GPS!
Stratos City on Venus?
I know what you’re thinking. Venus? Surface temperature of 914 degrees Fahrenheit (490 degrees Celsius) with about 92 times the atmospheric pressure of Earth’s surface? Doesn’t sound very hospitable. In a recent interview, Geoffrey Landis — a science fiction writer in his spare time — suggested building a city in the clouds about 31 miles (50 km) above the surface. At that altitude, the atmosphere of Venus is at its most Earth-like. The atmosphere has an air pressure of about one bar and the temperature ranges in the 32-122 degrees Fahrenheit range (0-50 degrees Celsius). You’d need breathing apparatus, but probably not a space suit.
Stratos City from Star Trek Remastered episode The Cloud Minders
Gadget of the Week: Light Emitting Shirts
Here’s a warp-speed look at science tid-bits that didn’t quite make the cut, but nonetheless merit mention.
- “SnoMotes” Rove Antarctica
- Unique underground microbes
- Faster clicking with custom computer interfaces
- 70-million-year-old dinosaur found
- Apollo 14 astronaut says aliens are real