Buried lakes of liquid water discovered on Mars

Buried lakes of liquid water discovered on Mars. By Paul Rincon via BBC News

The findings come from data collected by Esa’s Mars Express spacecraft

Three new underground lakes have been detected near the south pole of Mars.

Scientists also confirmed the existence of a fourth lake – the presence of which was hinted at in 2018.

Liquid water is vital for biology, so the finding will be of interest to researchers studying the potential for life elsewhere in the Solar System.

But the lakes are also thought to be extremely salty, which could pose challenges to the survival of any microbial life forms.

Billions of years ago, water flowed in rivers and pooled in lakes on the Martian surface. But Mars has since lost much of its atmosphere, which means water can’t stay liquid for long on the surface today.

However, it’s a different matter underground.

Referring to the sub-surface lakes, co-author Dr Roberto Orosei, from Italy’s National Institute of Astrophysics in Bologna, told BBC News: “It’s even more likely that these bodies of water existed in the past.

“Of course, the implication of this is that you would have a habitat or something that resembles a habitat… that lasted throughout the history of the planet,”

“As Mars was undergoing its climatic catastrophe and turning from a relatively warm planet – though it’s not clear how warm – to a frozen waste, there was a place where life could adapt and survive.”

The latest discovery was made using data from a radar instrument on the European Space Agency’s (Esa) Mars Express spacecraft, which has been orbiting the Red Planet since December 2003.

The main lake (centre) is surrounded by at least three smaller bodies of water

In 2018, researchers used data from the Marsis radar to report signs of a 20km-wide subsurface lake located 1.5km under Mars’ south polar layered deposits, a thick polar cap formed by layers of ice and dust.

However, that finding was based on 29 observations collected by Marsis between 2012 and 2015. Now, a team including many of the same scientists from the 2018 study have analysed a much bigger dataset of 134 radar profiles gathered between 2010 and 2019.

“Not only did we confirm the position, extent and strength of the reflector from our 2018 study, but we found three new bright areas,” said co-author Elena Pettinelli from Roma Tre University in Italy.

“The main lake is surrounded by smaller bodies of liquid water, but because of the technical characteristics of the radar, and of its distance from the Martian surface, we cannot conclusively determine whether they are interconnected.”

‘Extended pools’

The team borrowed a technique commonly used in radar sounder investigations of sub-glacial lakes in Antarctica, Canada and Greenland, adapting the method to analyse the data from Marsis.

“The interpretation that best reconciles all the available evidence is that the high intensity reflections (from Mars) are coming from extended pools of liquid water,” said co-author Sebastian Lauro, also from Roma Tre University.

There’s not enough heat at these depths to melt the ice, so scientists believe the liquid water must contain high concentrations of dissolved salts. These chemical salts (different to the stuff we sprinkle on our chips) can significantly lower water’s freezing point.

In fact, recent experiments have shown that water with dissolved salts of magnesium and calcium perchlorate (a chemical compound containing chlorine bound to four oxygens) can remain liquid at temperatures of -123C.

The proposed bodies of liquid water were discovered under the south polar cap of Mars

“These experiments have demonstrated that brines can persist for geologically significant periods of time even at the temperatures typical of the Martian polar regions (considerably below the freezing temperature of pure water),” said co-author Graziella Caprarelli, from the University of Southern Queensland, Australia.

Some hypersaline lakes on Earth can reach salt concentrations of 40%. Just how saline the lakes are on Mars isn’t something that’s known precisely.

“This is a difficult question to answer,” Dr Orosei, who is the principal investigator on the Marsis experiment, told me. “We do not know the thermodynamical conditions down there and we do not know the kinds of salts that are dissolved in the water if they are down there.

“We expect that water would be close to the saturation point (the stage at which no more salt can be dissolved), because as water stands there, it leaches through rocks and tends to dissolve every salt it meets… we’re talking about several tens of percent [of salt content in the lakes].”

Mars is a freezing desert today, but billions of years ago, water flowed on the surface

The lakes’ salinity is of particular relevance to the life question. Terrestrial microbes that thrive in very salty conditions are known as halophiles. But studies have shown that bugs can tolerate more extreme salinities when temperatures are higher, and colder temperatures when salinity is lower.

The range of conditions micro-organisms can withstand is more limited when environments are both very saline and very cold, because of a double whammy effect.

There is ongoing research into whether life could survive in conditions like those in the lakes on Mars. Dr Orosei said: “Salt in very high concentrations is not very friendly to life.” Life, he added, “is still a possibility, but there’s much more work to do”.

There had been criticisms of the 2018 paper, with some researchers proposing that the main lake could be the result of an exceptional situation, such as the presence of a volcano under the polar cap heating ice from below.

“By finding more of these bodies of water, this means it’s something different – it’s not a unique phenomenon, it’s not a unicorn. It’s something that must be occurring rather naturally,” said Dr Orosei.

He said the fact such lakes could have persisted for much of Martian history meant “they could still retain traces of any life forms that could have evolved when Mars had a dense atmosphere, a milder climate and the presence of liquid water on the surface, similar to the early Earth”.

The team isn’t finished yet, however, and plans to keep gathering data “as long as Mars Express lasts”, according to Roberto Orosei.

The findings have been published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Follow Paul on Twitter.

First operational Crew Dragon launch slips to Halloween

First operational Crew Dragon launch slips to Halloween by Stephen Clark

The Crew-1 mission will include mission specialist Shannon Walker, vehicle pilot Victor Glover, commander Mike Hopkins and mission specialist Soichi Noguchi. Credit: NASA

NASA announced Monday that the launch of the first operational crew rotation mission to the International Space Station on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is set for the predawn hours of Halloween, eight days later than previously planned.

The Crew Dragon spaceship is scheduled to blast off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at around 2:40 a.m. EDT (0640 GMT) on Oct. 31, the space agency said.

If the mission takes off as scheduled, the crew capsule will dock with the International Space Station around a day later, either late on Oct. 31 or early Nov. 1.

Commander Michael Hopkins will lead the four-person crew. He will be joined by pilot Victor Glover and mission specialists Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi to kick off a six-month expedition on the space station.

The mission, known as Crew-1, was previously scheduled for launch Oct. 23. NASA said the delay to Oct. 31 will “deconflict” the Crew 1 launch and docking with the scheduled arrival Oct. 14 of a three-person Soyuz crew at the space station, and the departure and landing of an outgoing station crew Oct. 21.

“This additional time is needed to ensure closure of all open work, both on the ground and aboard the station, ahead of the Crew-1 arrival,” NASA said.

The delay will also give engineers more time to conduct additional testing to isolate a small air leak inside the space station’s pressurized cabin. Greg Dorth, NASA’s manager of the space station external integration office, said Monday that the leak is “very, very small.”

“The leak is not a safety of crew nor a safety of station issue,” Dorth said Monday. It’s a very, very small leak. It’s an impact to our consumables, but we have planned for that. We can address the leak as we continue the investigation.”

The space station’s three residents spent three days isolated in the Russian segment of the complex in August, and the crew spent another weekend in the Russian section of the station last weekend in a bid to help ground teams isolate the location of the leak.

“As of this morning, there was no clear indication of where the leak is,” Dorth said Monday. “The teams are still looking at the data and evaluating it, and we will continue to search for this very, very small leak.”

NASA said SpaceX “continues to make progress on preparations of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, and the adjusted date allows the teams additional time for completing open work ahead of launch.”

Hopkins and his crewmates finished training on Crew Dragon systems last week at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. “We’ve got our license to fly!” Glover tweeted.

The Crew-1 mission follows a successful test flight known as Demo-2, in which NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken flew to the space station on a two-month mission to wring out the human-rated capsule before officials clear it for regular missions.

Hurley and Behnken launched May 30 and returned to Earth on Aug. 2.

Beginning with Crew-1, SpaceX plans to launch multiple Crew Dragon missions per year with NASA astronauts, international crew members, and fare-paying private passengers. NASA is in the final stages of formally certifying the Crew Dragon for operational missions.

Noguchi also tweeted last week that the Crew-1 astronauts had completed their final underwater spacewalk training at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Astronauts train in a giant pool to mimic the weightless conditions in orbit.

NASA plans to host a series of press conferences Tuesday to preview the Crew-1 mission.

The four-person crew set for launch Oct. 31 will remain aboard the space station until around April 2021, when another Crew Dragon spacecraft is set to dock with a fresh four-person team of astronauts. Hopkins and his crewmates will then depart in their Crew Dragon capsule to head for a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is one of two new U.S. spaceships designed to ferry astronauts to and from the space station. Developed under a multibillion-dollar contract with NASA, the commercial Crew Dragon capsule is also configured to carry private astronauts into low Earth orbit, beginning with a 10-day mission next October that is expected to include actor Tom Cruise.

Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule is designed the same types of missions as the Crew Dragon. But the Starliner program has run into delays, an an unpiloted test flight of a Starliner spacecraft in December 2019 prematurely ended after a software error prevented it from docking with the space station.

NASA and Boeing have agreed to launch a second Starliner test flight without astronauts to ensure the software issues are resolved before the first Starliner demonstration mission with crew members.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft are seen on pad 39A on May 27 ahead of the launch of the Demo-2 mission. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The second unpiloted Starliner test flight is currently scheduled for launch in January aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. If it goes well, Boeing could be ready to fly another Starliner to the space station with Boeing test pilot Chris Ferguson and NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann no earlier than June 2021.

Then NASA could approve Boeing’s Starliner to begin regular trips to and from the space station. NASA’s contracts with Boeing and SpaceX each include provisions for six crew rotation missions to the space station through 2024.

While the new U.S. vehicles are coming online, Russian Soyuz missions will continue transporting space station crews in the coming years. Russian technicians at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan are readying the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft for launch at 1:45 a.m. EDT (0545 GMT) Oct. 14 with Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov, Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins for their own six-month stint on the space station.

Ryzhikov, Kud-Sverchkov and Rubins will dock with the space station around three hours after liftoff, joining station commander Chris Cassidy and his Russian crewmates Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner have been on the space station since April. They are due to depart the station and return to Earth in their Soyuz MS-16 capsule Oct. 21.

10 Life Lessons From Buddha

10 Life Lessons From Buddha. Gautama Buddha was a philosopher, meditator, spiritual teacher, and religious leader who is credited as the founder of Buddhism. So with that in mind, here are 10 important lessons that we can learn from Gautama Buddha

1. Practice the Middle Way

2. Adopt the right view

3. Create good karma

4. Live everyday like it is your last

5. Great things are the results of small good habits

6. Show your wisdom in silence

7. If in a conflict, choose compassion

8. Choose friends for quality over quantity

9. Be generous

10. You can be a Buddha too

Geomagnetic storm to bring possible aurora borealis sightings to western Washington

Geomagnetic storm to bring possible aurora borealis sightings to western Washington written by Kristin Clark, KOMO Meteorologist

Aurora Borealis in Britain

A Geomagnetic Storm Watch has been issued for western Washington by the National Weather Service which means there is a greater likelihood of seeing the northern lights in our region over the next few nights.

While our local weather may be entering a quiet period, the weather on the surface of the sun is showing signs of becoming quite active. Geomagnetic storms will be increasingly more likely in the days to come, especially on Monday, which will only help to enhance our viewing of the aurora borealis.

The good news is, cloudy skies and rain are expected to stay away for most of the week giving us a clear few of the northern lights. For the best chance of seeing the aurora borealis, looking towards the north Monday night.

The Magicians – Under Pressure (S3 E9)

For those that haven’t caught The Magicians, All that Josh (S3 E9)… It’s hard to beat the ending song sung by the whole group, Under Pressure.

Because, you know, regardless of what is going horribly in your life, others are having a hard day too. Likely under the same kind of pressure as yourself, probably without you even realizing it.

Asteroid or space junk? Approaching object might become Earth’s mini-moon

Asteroid or space junk? Approaching object might become Earth’s mini-moon Posted by Eddie Irizarry and Deborah Byrd in SPACE

A newly discovered “asteroid” may become a new mini-moon for Earth. Instead of an ordinary asteroid, it might be a lost rocket from the Surveyor 2 mission, launched from Earth more than 50 years ago.

Asteroid or space junk? Strange space object 2020 SO was discovered on September 17, 2020 on approach to Earth. It’ll likely be captured by Earth, briefly becoming a mini-moon. In this image, the Earth is the blue dot in the center. The moon’s orbit is the white circle. Image via Tony Dunn (@tony873004 on Twitter).

An approaching space object – labeled 2020 SO – is about to briefly become a new “mini-moon” for Earth, captured by our planet’s more powerful gravity. Orbit models show that both the low speed and trajectory of the approaching object indicate Earth will capture it, temporarily, from October 2020 perhaps until around May 2021. It won’t be the first time Earth has captured a mini-moon, but this object is unusual and perhaps no ordinary asteroid. It might be a lost rocket, originally launched from Earth more than 50 years ago.

On September 17, 2020, astronomers sighted the object on approach to Earth, using the 71-inch (1.8-meter) Pan-STARRS1 telescope at Maui, Hawaii. They designated it as asteroid 2020 SO and added it as an Apollo asteroid in the JPL Small-Body Database.

However, 2020 SO has some features that set it apart from ordinary asteroids. According to NASA/JPL calculations, the object will soon pass by Earth’s moon at a speed of 1,880 miles per hour (3,025 km/h) or 0.84 km per second (.5 mi/sec). That is an extremely slow speed for an asteroid.

These calculations also show the apparent “slow asteroid” orbiting the sun every 1.06 years (387 days). The low relative velocity, along with the Earth-like orbit, suggest it can be an artificial object that might have been launched from our planet.

Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object center at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, suggested the object might be the rocket booster of Surveyor 2, a robotic spacecraft that was launched to the moon on September 20, 1966.

The Surveyor 2 mission was meant to send the second lunar lander in the uncrewed American Surveyor program to explore the moon. The Surveyor 2 spacecraft blasted into space atop an Atlas LV-3C Centaur-D rocket from Cape Kennedy, Florida. A mid-course correction failure caused space controllers to lose contact with the craft three days later, after a thruster failed to ignite. The failure caused the spacecraft to tumble and ultimately to crash near the moon’s Copernicus crater.

An Atlas LV-3C Centaur-D launch on June 30, 1964. Image via AstroNautix.

Speed ahead to our time and the strange object designed 2020 SO. The object has an estimated size between 20 and 45 feet (6 to 14 meters), a not-unreasonable match for the dimensions of an Atlas LV-3C Centaur-D (approximately 41 feet or 12 meters).

How could we have lost an entire 41-foot-long rocket? Space archaeologist Alice Gorman of Flinders University in Australia told ScienceAlert that – before our modern era of reuseable rockets – the rockets that launched craft into space were surprisingly easy to lose. She said:

There are so many factors in the space environment, like gravitational factors and other things that affect movement, that it can sometimes be quite unpredictable.

You have to keep tracking these things, or you can just sort of lose sight of them really easily. And if they do something a little bit unpredictable, and you look the wrong way, then you don’t know where it’s gone. It is quite astonishing, the number of things that have gone missing.

Is 2020 SO an ordinary asteroid? Or is it an old earthly rocket returning home? We just don’t know yet.

Scientists hope that further observations and spectroscopic observations of light reflected from the surface of 2020 SO, will allow us to know if it’s in fact a strange, slow space rock, or human-made space debris.

By the way, this isn’t the first time Earth has captured a mini-moon.

As you might have realized by now, space is chock full of small asteroids. Once in a while, one of these space rocks is captured, temporarily, by our planet’s gravity before being cast out back into the solar system at large. Two confirmed mini-moons are 2006 RH120 (in Earth orbit between 2006 and 2007), and 2020 CD3 (in our orbit between 2018 and 2020).

It’s also not the first time we’ve mistaken space junk for an asteroid.

Another small object that was initially thought to be an asteroid was WT1190F, detected in October 2015 on approach to Earth. Its trajectory suggested it was about to penetrate Earth’s atmosphere near Sri Lanka, in the Indian Ocean, an event that happens with ordinary asteroids several times every year.

As WT1190F was disintegrating in our atmosphere on November 13, 2015, scientists analyzed its light via spectroscopy.

This analysis suggested the object might be a spacecraft component or part of a spent rocket, another wandering piece of space junk, returning home.

Object tagged as WT1190F entering Earth’s atmosphere south of Sri Lanka on November 13, 2015. Image via IAC/ UAE/ NASA/ ESA.

Bottom line: A newly discovered “asteroid” might become a new mini-moon for Earth. This object is designated 2020 SO and was entered in JPL’s Small-Body Database. But it might be no ordinary asteroid. It might be a lost rocket from the Surveyor 2 mission, originally launched from Earth more than 50 years ago.

The Giant Black Hole We Imaged For The First Time Now Appears to Be… Glittering

The Giant Black Hole We Imaged For The First Time Now Appears to Be… Glittering by MICHELLE STARR @ ScienceAlert:

Last year, for the first time, the world gazed in collective wonder at an actual direct image of a black hole’s shadow

Now, looking back at earlier, more rudimentary images, scientists have found evidence that the ring around M87* has a wobble that makes it look as though it’s glittering.

Last year’s history-making image was a feat of hard work that pushed our observation technology to the limits. It was the culmination of years of effort and planning – but the final image was put together from only one week’s worth of observations, taken in 2017.

In the earlier years of the Event Horizon Telescope project, though, the team took observations of the target – the black hole at the centre of a galaxy called M87, located 55 million light-years away – using prototype telescope arrays.

Those observations, taken between 2009 and 2012, did not collect enough data for an image.

But, when astronomers were seeking to determine how the ring around the black hole changes over time, they found there was enough data to confirm a simulation of how the ring’s brightness fluctuates.

(M. Wielgus, D. Pesce & the EHT Collaboration)

“Last year we saw an image of the shadow of a black hole, consisting of a bright crescent formed by hot plasma swirling around M87*, and a dark central part, where we expect the event horizon of the black hole to be,” explained astronomer Maciek Wielgus of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

“Based on last year’s results we asked the following questions: is this crescent-like morphology consistent with the archival data? Would the archival data indicate a similar size and orientation of the crescent?”

The team used a statistical modelling approach based on the framework used for the analysis of the 2017 data. That data also formed the starting point for their model, and the data obtained from the prototype arrays were used to constrain it.

And they found, as predicted by general relativity, that the black hole shadow – the circle in the middle of the glowing golden ring – was persistent throughout the time period, maintaining the same diameter over years. This is yet further confirmation of the nature of M87*, the researchers said.

While that result was expected, however, another result was not.

When you look at the image of M87*, you can’t fail to notice that part of the ring is much brighter.

That ring is made up of dust and gas that’s swirling around and feeding into the black hole in an accretion disc, and the uneven brightness is another effect predicted by general relativity, called the Doppler effect.

As part of the ring rotates towards us, the viewer, it appears brighter; the part that’s rotating away appears fainter. 

In their reconstruction, the team found that that bright region isn’t fixed in place – it moves around, appearing to glitter or wobble.

The team attributes this movement to turbulence in the flow. And that tells us a lot about the regions around a supermassive black hole, and the impact it has on the material around it.

“Because the flow of matter is turbulent, the crescent appears to wobble with time,” Wielgus said.

“Actually, we see quite a lot of variation there, and not all theoretical models of accretion allow for so much wobbling. What it means is that we can start ruling out some of the models based on the observed source dynamics.”

There could be any number of things causing the turbulence in the flow. The magnitude of the black hole’s spin is one. The magnetic field structure in the accretion disc itself is another.

It could be driven by magnetorotational instability, or a misalignment in the black hole’s spin and the accretion flow.

It could also have a relationship with the formation of relativistic jets. Those are powerful streams of plasma from the inside of the accretion ring that are accelerated around the outside of a black hole’s event horizon and launched into space at relativistic speeds.

We think we know how they form, but we’re not entirely sure, so M87* could help us figure it out.

Because the earlier data are relatively weak, it’s not really possible to draw any conclusions – yet. But the Event Horizon Telescope’s work is far from done. It consists of a network of radio telescopes that span the globe, and every new facility that adds its capabilities to the collaboration only increases its power.

Another telescope was added for observations in 2018 – that data is currently under analysis. More observations with two more telescopes joining the fray will be taking place next year. 

“The enhanced imaging capabilities provided by this extended array will provide a more detailed view on the shadow of the black hole M87* and on the innermost jet of the M87 radio galaxy,” said astronomer Anton Zensus of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany.

We can’t wait to see what they find.

The research has been published in The Astrophysical Journal.

You want to live your life, live it here

You want to live your life, live it here

This line is so significant to me. How many of us live in escapism, dreaming of things that aren’t real, situations that will never exist? Exaggerating reality to make themselves either the hero or victims of their own stories?

Quentin does these things frequently, and it’s almost more depressing than the world itself. Living in a world that isn’t real and that will never come to fruition can be frustrating and sad.

In the scene pictured, Q and Eliot devote themselves entirely to a single task. It’s this task that gives their life meaning, but that isn’t their full life. “You want to live your life, live it here”. It’s in their devotion to this task that allows them to live their life, and it’s freeing in a way. It free’s Q to finally settle down and spend time with his family, to live a real life full of love, devotion, and finally heartbreak.

Many people don’t understand this concept of devotion; the idea that you can find meaning in commitment and discipline. FOMO, depression, anxiety; all of these things stem from an insecurity that the world sucks and beats on you. That you’ll never fit in or be a part of it, that the world exists around you and doesn’t care about you.

Don’t loose your purpose. Keep focus on what is really important to you and be present. It’s shocking what can change in a moment.