M Thomas Apple Author Page

Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

The 2022 Year of Space Exploration

January 2, 2023
MThomas

Lots and lots and lots of space stories occurred in 2022.

From DART to Landsat, Sagittarius A* black hole to CAPSTONE, the Korean Pathfinder to SpaceX, and to the ISS, Moon, and Mars, here’s a summary of major space exploration projects last year.

Looking forward to 2023 and beyond!

Why do all the planets orbit the sun in the same direction?

December 11, 2022
MThomas

Note: not to scale (duh). Thanks, Getty. Uh, is this really the best way to show the solar system? (There…are…NINE..planets!)

Think of pizza dough flattening into an enlarging disk as it’s tossed. Because the cloud had an initial rotation, this same direction of spin has persisted…

https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/solar-system/a39729213/why-do-all-the-planets-orbit-in-the-same-direction/

So basically the answer is simply that that’s the way they all started out.

Some moons, however, do have retrograde orbits. I.e., they orbit in the opposite direction around their respective planets. Some small asteroids and comets also have retrograde orbits due to their small mass being easily affected by larger cosmic objects.

But I bet now you’re all thinking of pizza… 🍕

Volcanos, Venus, and Earth 🌋 Hellscape unveiled

November 25, 2022
MThomas

A new study shows that massive volcanic eruptions over an extended period of time may be responsible for changing the planet into what it is today. If there was simple life on ancient Venus, volcanism was its doom. The study also shows how powerful volcanic activity has played a role in shaping Earth’s habitability and how Earth only narrowly avoided the same fate as Venus.

https://www.universetoday.com/158696/volcanoes-are-the-worst-theyve-caused-extinctions-on-earth-and-probably-killed-venus/#more-158696

Venus is hot enough to melt lead, which is why no spaceship has ever survived to land on the surface.

And, no, there is nothing alive floating around in its toxic atmosphere.

But this is a neat article. Three future missions are planned for Venus (two by NASA – VERITAS and DAVINCI – and one by ESA – EnVision, which sounds more like a song and dance competition than a scientific probe).

Venus or bust!

Plants can grow in lunar soil (barely)

May 16, 2022
MThomas

Doesn’t look too terribly attractive…

The samples were extremely hydrophobic, and repelled water as if it were the most disgusting thing ever invented. Researchers labored to get the lunar soil to gradually soak up water. They also added a nutrient solution.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2022/05/12/plants-grow-in-lunar-soil/

Turns out that it is possible to grow plants on the Moon…

…although you might want to wear gloves while farming, since the “soil” contains tiny pieces of glass from constant bombardment.

Continue Reading

When planets align! Eh. Again.

April 24, 2022
MThomas

https://www.nj.com/news/2022/04/parade-of-planets-4-planets-to-line-up-in-sky-this-weekend-joined-by-moon-next-week.html

(Note: You won’t be able to see the planets actually looking like these photoshopped images…unless you happen to have a really powerful telescope in your backyard.)

Not sure why I first got this info from a site based in New Jersey. The info about what time of day and in what part of the sky is only relevant to people living in the NJ_NYC area.

Still, it’s an interesting phenomenon that occurs once every few years…

2005. 2016. 2020. And 2022. Not exactly a regular pattern, it seems.

And, no, there is no “spiritual significance” to a planetary alignment. It’s an illusion, an imaginary lining up of the solar system that doesn’t affect you personally. Sorry.

But it’s still fun to watch. Er, if you enjoy getting up before dawn (I don’t).

According to nj.com, “The planetary parade of sorts will occur when Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Saturn all appear to be lined up in a row above the horizon during the pre-dawn hours — starting Saturday morning, April 23. The alignment will also be visible during the next few mornings, and April’s crescent moon will soon join the parade, according to experts from LiveScience and AccuWeather.”

Yeah, lots of web sites are covering this. At least the one I linked above doesn’t have automated videos, flashing ad gifs, and other random pop-ups that drain your smartphone battery.

Click here for more info about the next great alignment (not as impressive as the so-called “Great Conjunction” a couple years ago, but we’ll see more planets in June and July): https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2022/04/17/planets-align-april-venus-mars-jupiter-saturn/7351117001/

Largest comet ever seen barreling through the solar system

April 18, 2022
MThomas

C/2014 UN271 on the far right has a nucleus 50 larger than the average comet.

“Its size, which NASA noted is larger than the state of Rhode Island, is an estimation because the comet is still too far away for Hubble to tell for certain.”

https://www.businessinsider.com/largest-comet-ever-seen-barreling-toward-inner-solar-system-nasa-2022-4

Note that the original title was “…toward the Inner Solar System”…and yet the article goes on to explain that it won’t come any closer than a billion miles from the Sun, “‘slightly farther than the distance of the planet Saturn,’ NASA said in a statement.

Uh. The inner solar system is *no where near* Saturn. Try again, fear-mongers.

Sigh.

Anyway, it really is the proverbial “tip of the iceberg,” since this was seen with Hubble, and we have yet to see just what the new James Webb telescope can do. The Oort Cloud is a big place. There must be millions upon millions comets just waiting to be discovered.

Purple rocks on Mars

February 5, 2022
MThomas

SuperCam showed that the coatings are enriched in hydrogen and sometimes magnesium. In addition, images from Mastcam-Z suggest that they also contain iron oxides. Both the hydrogen and iron oxides point to past water being involved in the formation of the coatings. That shouldn’t be too surprising, perhaps, since this area in Jezero Crater used to be a lake a few billion years ago.

https://earthsky.org/space/purple-rocks-mars-perseverance-rover-desert-varnish/

The rocks resemble so-called desert varnish, which protect microbes from the sun’s radiation. It’d be interesting to find out whether cyanobacteria that once existed on Mars did this…but the four billion year old question is, how did those bacteria get there in the first place?

The Death Star has an inner ocean

January 22, 2022
MThomas

New analysis of one of Saturn’s moons suggests that it may harbor a liquid ocean. No, not the usual suspects – the new culprit is Mimas, the little moon with a big crater, which gives it more than a passing resemblance to the ‘Death Star’ from Star Wars.

https://www.sciencealert.com/evidence-for-a-liquid-ocean-has-been-uncovered-in-saturn-s-death-star-moon

Add Mimas to Europa and Enceladus as possible moons harboring ET.

Like, IWOW —-

Should Pluto and Ceres be “planets”?

January 3, 2022
MThomas

Demoted by the IAU in 2006, the Once and Future “9th planet”

…a study announced in December from a team of researchers in the journal Icarus now claims the IAU’s definition was based on astrology — a type of folklore, not science — and that it’s harming both scientific research and the popular understanding of the solar system.

I’m not sure I agree that moons of Jupiter and Saturn should be classified as “planets,” but frankly I see little difference between “dwarf planets” and “planets.”

Plus it wrecks the song I learned to remember the order…

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/pluto-planet-debate-rages-rcna8848

Trace Gas Orbiter finds traces of hydrogen underground in the Valles Marineris

December 16, 2021
MThomas

A.k.a., the “Great Canyon of Mars”

The original article title?

“Astronomers Detect Secret Water Reserves in The Largest Canyon in The Solar System”

Science isn’t quite as catchy. The hydrogen may indicate water in the form of permafrost 3 feet and more under the surface.

The high-hydrogen region is about the size of the Netherlands, and overlaps with Candor Chasma, one of the largest canyons in the Valles Marineris system.

Looks like there may be some competition for who gets to land near here first…

https://www.sciencealert.com/hidden-water-has-been-found-in-the-soil-of-mars-grand-canyon

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