Archive for May, 2014

How advisable is it to make contact with ET? Credit: José Antonio Peñas/SINC

How advisable is it to make contact with ET?
Credit: José Antonio Peñas/SINC

A new study suggests that we Earthlings are not ready for dropping a line to an extraterrestrial civilization.

The study results are published in the journal Acta Astronautica, suggesting that, as a species, humanity is still not ready for trying to actively contact any ETs out there.

This dialogue regarding issues related to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is being prompted by renewed interest to not only search for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence – but also aggressively send messages from Earth, dubbed “Active SETI.”

Astrophysicists, such as Stephen Hawking, have already warned of the risk that this implies for humanity, “since it could favor the arrival of beings with more advanced technology and dubious intentions,” according to a press statement from the Information and Scientific News Service (SINC) in Spain.

Implications

The ethical and sociological implications of this proposal have been analyzed by the neuro-psychologist, Gabriel G. de la Torre, a professor at the University of Cádiz in the province of Cádiz, Andalusia, Spain.

De la Torre wonders: Can such Active SETI decisions be taken on behalf of the whole planet?

What would happen if they are successful and “someone” received our signal?

Indeed, are we prepared for this type of contact?

Questionnaire

To answer these questions, the professor sent a questionnaire to 116 American, Italian and Spanish university students. The survey assessed such items as their knowledge of astronomy, their level of perception of the physical environment, and their opinion on the place that things occupy in the cosmos.

“This pilot study demonstrates that the knowledge of the general public of a certain education level about the cosmos and our place within it is still poor,” De la Torre explains. “Therefore, a cosmic awareness must be further promoted…where our mind is increasingly conscious of the global reality that surrounds us…using the best tool available to us – education,” De la Torre observes. ”In this respect, we need a new Galileo to lead this journey.”

It's a big Universe - anybody out there? Credit: Space Telescope Science Institute

It’s a big Universe – anybody out there?
Credit: Space Telescope Science Institute

SETI monopoly?

De la Torre adds that, regarding our relationship with a possible intelligent life elsewhere, “we should not rely on moral reference points of thought, since they are heavily influenced by religion. Why should some more intelligent beings be ‘good’?”

The professor believes that this matter should not be monopolized by a handful of scientists: “In fact, it is a global matter with a strong ethical component in which we must all participate,” he concludes.

Note: For more information of this research, go to: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S009457651300341X

I can see clearly now... Credit: NASA

I can see clearly now…
Credit: NASA

A new treat for the eye is available via NASA’s High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment. Recently activated, the HD cameras are situated on the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS).

The HDEV experiment yields live streaming video of Earth for viewing online. 

High school students helped design some of the cameras’ components, through the High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) program, and student teams operate the experiment.

Four different commercial high definition cameras are affixed to the European Space Agency’s Columbus External Facility.

The HDEV activity has a primary objective to validate the space-based performance of the cameras in a variety of operating modes.

High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment. Credit: NASA

High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment.
Credit: NASA

More specifically, they are onboard the ISS to exercise and demonstrate the features and longevity of Commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) cameras.

The HDEV visible HD video cameras are a fixed payload camera system that requires no zoom, no pan or tilt mechanisms. The four fixed cameras are positioned to capture imagery of the Earth’s surface and its limb as seen from the ISS.

So have a look by going to:

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/iss-hdev-payload

NOTE: The HDEV experiment was activated April 30, 2014 – and is subject to initial glitches that are being sorted out – so keep a vigil eye on this effort.

Enceladus Credit: NASA/JPL/CICLOPS/Space Science Institute

Enceladus
Credit: NASA/JPL/CICLOPS/Space Science Institute

Off-world Olympic events on Saturn’s sixth moon have gotten an icy look-over by a researcher at The Center for Interdisciplinary Science, University of Leicester in England.

Leicester student, David McDonagh, pondered a future scenario in which Winter Olympics organizers are forced to look beyond the Earth for a suitable location for the games.

The researcher notes that over the last century, increasing costs and political tensions highlight the need for neutral ground if the event is to continue into the future.

According to McDonagh, the viability of Enceladus as a future location for the Winter Olympic Games was based on using the large hill ski jumping event of the Sochi 2014 slope as a case study.

Air time

“Different conditions are found to significantly increase descent and air time, while the lack of a significant atmosphere could lead to interesting developments in the sport,” McDonagh postulates.

“Astro-athletes” bounding about on Enceladus would find ideal conditions, given the possible 100 meter-thick blankets of very fine snow in some regions, McDonagh reports.

In his calculations, McDonagh took into account the surface gravity of Enceladus, roughly 1.15% that of Earth, as well as the moon’s atmospheric density based on Cassini spacecraft data and computational simulations.

Friction, slope, angle of attack must be considered for off-world Olympics. Image credit: Wikipedia (modified)

Friction, slope, angle of attack must be considered for off-world Olympics.
Image credit: Wikipedia (modified)

Calmer and safer

How would Olympic athletes need to adapt to compete on this distant moon?

“Aside from the need to wear space suits, differences in gravity and atmospheric density are likely to be the key factors affecting skiing events,” McDonagh explains. His research has found that events such as the ski jumping large hill event would actually be a lot “calmer and safer” than it is here on Earth.

For example, it would take 30 seconds to get to the end of the slope compared to around 5 seconds as seen at Sochi. The time taken for the initial jump as the skier takes off would nearly double on Enceladus.

McDonagh concludes: “The Winter Olympic Games can have a bright future on the brightest moon in the solar system.”

No word yet on whether McDonagh is planning a site visit to confirm his research findings.

Since Enceladus was discovered by Fredrick William Herschel in1789, surely finding the best “Herschel Hill” should be on the check-off list.

Note: You can read the full paper here:

http://www.physics.le.ac.uk/jist/index.php/JIST/article/view/61/39

Eu:CROPIS spacecraft carries two greenhouses.   Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Eu:CROPIS spacecraft carries two greenhouses.
Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

It’s called the Euglena and Combined Regenerative Organic-Food Production in Space) mission – or Eu:CROPIS for short.

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is readying two greenhouses for launch in 2016, both contained within a 250-kilogram lightweight satellite. Once in Earth orbit, the spacecraft is designed to rotate around its longitudinal axis

In doing so, it will replicate lunar gravity, that is 0.16 times Earth’s, or 0.38 times – the gravity on Mars – depending on the rotational speed.

The experiment involves use of bacteria and algae that will convert synthetic urine into fertilizer to promote the growth of tomato plants. Variations in rotational speed around its longitudinal axis will simulate lunar and Martian gravity.

Year-long experiment

The first of the two greenhouses will operate under lunar conditions over the first six months, while the second greenhouse will operate in a Martian environment for the following six.

This project will run for a year, after which the satellite will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere.

Eu:CROPIS carries two other experiments: the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine will use the radiation detector RAMIS (Radiation Measurement in Space) to collect data on long-term exposure to cosmic radiation over the course of the space flight.

The radiation field in space presents a limiting factor for the long-term deployment of astronauts and every other biological system – whether it is plants, animals, or microorganisms.

NASA is contributing an experiment to measure photosynthesis in algae.

Cameras and sensors onboard Eu:CROPIS will observe what is occurring inside the greenhouses during the mission.  Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Cameras and sensors onboard Eu:CROPIS will observe what is occurring inside the greenhouses during the mission.
Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Survival in hostile environments

Numerous cameras and sensors onboard Eu:CROPIS will observe what is occurring inside the greenhouses during the mission.

For example, are the tomatoes growing properly, and is their photosynthesis satisfactory? What is the pH value and oxygen concentration in the water circulating continuously to transport nutrients throughout the entire greenhouse?

“We intend to demonstrate that waste products can be used in reduced gravity environments found on Mars and the Moon, also in long duration missions, in this case to cultivate tomatoes,” explains the mission’s scientific director, Jens Hauslage from the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine.

“The experiments on board Eu:CROPIS will deliver important results to enable humankind to survive in hostile environments…whether it be in space or here on Earth,” Hauslage adds.

Curiosity arm stretches out for drilling sequence. Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam) image for Sol 615 Credit: NASA/JPL

Curiosity arm stretches out for drilling sequence.
Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam) image for Sol 615
Credit: NASA/JPL

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is engaged in new sample-collection drilling. It performed a “mini-drill” operation on April 29, a preparatory step that created a hole about eight-tenths of an inch (2 centimeters) deep.

Word is that the Curiosity team operating the mobile robot plans to proceed in coming days with the third-ever drilling into a rock on Mars to collect a sample for analysis.

Curiosity robot makes its mark on Mars. Credit: Mast Camera (Mastcam) (MSSS-MALIN)

Curiosity robot makes its mark on Mars.
Credit: Mast Camera (Mastcam) (MSSS-MALIN)

The first two Martian rocks drilled and analyzed this way were mudstone slabs neighboring each other in Yellowknife Bay, about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) northeast of the rover’s current location.

Those two rocks yielded evidence last year of an ancient lakebed environment with key chemical elements and a chemical energy source that provided conditions billions of years ago favorable for microbial life.

These remote drilling operations are precursors to how future work on Mars will be carried out – a combination of robotic and human sampling skills.

Humans and robots work together in this futuristic scenario. Credit: NASA

Humans and robots work together in this futuristic scenario.
Credit: NASA