Astroengine.com Roundup and Opinion

It’s been a while since I last posted as I’ve been flying from the US to the UK and have only just gotten my office up and running. That’s not to say I haven’t been writing. On the Universe Today, I’ve posted quite a few articles ranging from quite an elaborate April Fools story (but not quite as elaborate as Virgin and Google’s Virgle prank), to a black hole hiding in the middle of Omega Centauri, to rocks rolling around on Mars… here’s a round up of the most interesting…
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Daily Roundup: The Mars Curse and the Biggest Explosion in the Universe!

The largest ever gamma ray burst observed. Image credit: NASA

This week has been an exciting week for astronomers. The largest explosion ever seen in the Universe was observed on Wednesday. This gamma ray burst, produced when a star collapses in on itself to create a black hole, is a record breaker. Not only is it the biggest explosion mankind has seen since records began, it is also the furthest and oldest “thing” we have ever observed…
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Daily Roundup: Astrium Spacecraft Mass Production, Saturn’s Rings and Quantum Communications

Astriums new concept for space tourism. Image credit: Astrium/Marc Newson. Source: BBC

It looks like things are really beginning to develop for the space tourism era. European rocket manufacturer Astrium has announced plans to develop the next generation of small space planes capable of sending 5 people into space. This design is different from the rest as it will take-off and land conventionally and will use jets for atmospheric flight but blast into space with a powerful oxygen-methane rocket. The promo video is also pretty exciting, documenting the two hour flight by means of a simulation…
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Could Mars Quakes, Seasonal Temperature Changes or a Chance Meteorite Impact Cause Mars Avalanches?

Detailed view of one of the avalanches observed by the HiRISE instrument in the Mars North Pole region. Image credit: NASA/JPL/UA

It doesn’t get much better than this. A robotic orbiter snaps a photo hundreds of miles above the surface of an alien planet, capturing a geological event as it happens. Yes, we’ve seen Io’s immense volcanoes erupt, and we’ve seen huge storms rage on Jupiter, but often these large-scale planetary events are too massive for us to put into context and so we file them under “astronomy”. But, when we see an event like an avalanche on Mars, we can relate it with events on Earth, we have a “feel” for what this means. Suddenly an avalanche on Mars holds a special meaning to us; we instantly have a connection with other planets in our Solar System.

And now for the question… what caused the four near-simultaneous avalanches recently observed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter?
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Daily Roundup: “It Ain’t Water On Mars” and Some Want UK Astronauts, But Others Don’t

Simulations of dry debris flow and water flow when compared with HiRISE observations. Figure credit: Jon Pelletier, University of Arizona

There has been much debate surrounding observations by the artificial satellites orbiting Mars, but with one discovery, the debate was… non-debatable. Liquid water was flowing (albeit quickly) across the Martian surface intermittently, creating river-like channels flowing down crater sides. But that was until a group of University of Arizona scientists tackled the situation. To their surprise it wasn’t water that was flowing, it was something entirely different…
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Snippet: Can Pieces of Mercury be Found on Earth?

A meteorite on the surface of Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL

This is an interesting thought. We know that rocks from space can fall through the atmosphere and hit the ground as meteorites. But where do these rocks come from? Some come from old remnants of the early solar system, floating through space until they are captured by the Earth’s gravitational pull. Other meteorites come from other planets, ejected pieces of the planet crust (caused itself by a meteorite impact), escaping from the planets gravity by achieving “escape velocity”. We have found samples known to come from the Moon and Mars, but what about the other planets? Venus’ atmosphere is too thick to allow pieces of its surface to fly into space, but what about the first planet from the Sun, Mercury? Can bits of Mercury travel through space and land on Earth?
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Protecting Future Mars Colonies From Solar Radiation: An Early Warning System

A solar flare during the storms of 2003. Image taken by the EIT instrument on SOHO. Image credit: NASA/EIT

We all know that space can be a dangerous place. Many safety measures are put in place by space agency scientists so astronaut’s lives are protected and mission success can be assured. Generally, some degree of certainty can be insured in near Earth orbit, protecting astronauts onboard the International Space Station and Shuttle missions, as most activities go on within the Earth’s protective magnetosphere. But in the future, when we establish a colony on the Moon and Mars, how will human life be protected from the ravages of solar radiation? In the case of Mars, this will be of special interest as should something go wrong, colonists will be by themselves…
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Snippet: Will the Earth be Safe From Solar Expansion? The Outlook Isn’t Great…

As the Sun runs out of fuel, it will swell… but will it swell enough to swallow the Earth? Image credit: Mark Garlick/HELAS. Source: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=exoplanet-red-giant-space-astronomy-stars

In 7 billion years time, the Sun will run out of fuel. As it dies, it will swell so big that many predict that it will reach as far as Earth’s orbit. Naturally, the likelihood of the Earth still harbouring life may be debatable (after all 7 billion years is a long, long time), but should the human race still be around, and evolved into something totally unrecognizable, what will we see?
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