Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Horizons Update...

A New Horizons LEGO® toy.

Just thought I'd end 2013 by posting this link supporting the effort to get a miniature New Horizons model made by LEGO®. LEGO will consider making this collectible once the petition reaches 10,000 supporters. Speaking of supporters, visit this other petition to get the New Horizons Message Initiative approved by NASA. The first 10,000 signers will get their names transmitted along with this digital time capsule to the spacecraft in 2016 (after all of the data from the previous year's Pluto flyby has been sent back to Earth). And to make you even more excited about this deep space mission, Pluto encounter operations will begin about a year from now...in January of 2015! Can't wait.

A New Horizons Message Initiative poster.

A New Horizons Message Initiative poster in Spanish.

A New Horizons Message Initiative poster in Russian.

A New Horizons Message Initiative poster in German.

A New Horizons Message Initiative poster in Hebrew.

A New Horizons Message Initiative poster in Arabic.

A New Horizons Message Initiative poster in Japanese.

A New Horizons Message Initiative poster in Afrikaan.

A New Horizons Message Initiative poster in Chinese.

NEW HORIZONS Blog Entries Archive:

September 26, 2005
December 19, 2005
January 7, 2006
January 17, 2006
January 19, 2006
April 12, 2006
June 15, 2006
February 27, 2007
October 22, 2007
June 8, 2008
October 23, 2008
March 18, 2011
January 20, 2012
July 13, 2012
January 19, 2013
October 31, 2013
December 31, 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

A baby squirrel and its new best friend.

For all of you animal lovers out there, just thought I'd post these pics that were included in a feel-good article about a guy who found a sick baby squirrel out in the cold...and made it a new member of his family after nursing the squirrel back to health. You'd have to click on the aforementioned link to get that nice cuddly feeling seeing this little guy recover—and make some new furry friends in the process. Don't worry, I'll be back to blogging about space exploration, the USS Iowa, the Freedom Tower and other stuff in no time. Happy Holidays, y'all!

This baby squirrel was rescued after being found freezing out in the cold.

The baby squirrel and its two new best friends.

The story of the baby squirrel has went viral on the Web.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Photo of the Day...

Despite my utter disdain for China (hey, I AM Filipino), just thought I'd share this cool image of the Yutu rover that was taken by the Chang'e 3 lander after the joint spacecraft touched down on the Moon's surface yesterday. Had Beijing allowed the public (Chinese and otherwise) to submit names to be flown aboard the probes a la Japan with the Kaguya mission in 2007 and NASA with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2009, I probably wouldn't feel as much contempt for China as I do now. But that's not the case...so up yours, Beijing. But congrats on this latest accomplishment!

An image of China's Yutu rover that was taken by the country's Chang'e 3 lander after the joint spacecraft touched down on the Moon's surface on December 14, 2013.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

(About Europa...) Hubble Does It Again!

An artist's concept of a plume of water vapor ejecting from the surface of Europa, one of Jupiter's moons.
NASA / ESA / K. Retherford / SWRI

Hubble Space Telescope Sees Evidence of Water Vapor Venting off Jovian Moon (Press Release)

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has observed water vapor above the frigid south polar region of Jupiter's moon Europa, providing the first strong evidence of water plumes erupting off the moon's surface.

Previous scientific findings from other sources already point to the existence of an ocean located under Europa's icy crust. Researchers are not yet certain whether the detected water vapor is generated by water plumes erupting on the surface, but they are confident this is the most likely explanation.

Should further observations support the finding, it would make Europa the second moon in the solar system known to have water vapor plumes. The findings were published in the Thursday, Dec. 12, online issue of Science Express, and reported at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

"By far the simplest explanation for this water vapor is that it erupted from plumes on the surface of Europa," said lead author Lorenz Roth of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "If those plumes are connected with the subsurface water ocean we are confident exists under Europa's crust, then this means that future investigations can directly investigate the chemical makeup of Europa's potentially habitable environment without drilling through layers of ice. And that is tremendously exciting,"

In 2005, NASA's Cassini orbiter detected jets of water vapor and dust spewing off the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus. Although ice and dust particles subsequently have been found in the Enceladus plumes, only water vapor gases have been measured at Europa so far.

Hubble spectroscopic observations provided the evidence for Europa plumes in December 2012. Time sampling of Europa’s aurora emissions measured by Hubble's imaging spectrograph enabled the researchers to distinguish between features created by charged particles from Jupiter's magnetic bubble and plumes from Europa’s surface, and to also rule out more exotic explanations such as serendipitously observing a rare meteorite impact.

The imaging spectrograph detected faint ultraviolet light from an aurora, powered by Jupiter's intense magnetic field, near the moon's south pole. Excited atomic oxygen and hydrogen produce a variable aurora glow and leave a telltale sign that they are products of water molecules being broken apart by electrons along magnetic field lines.

"We pushed Hubble to its limits to see this very faint emission. These could be stealth plumes, because they might be tenuous and difficult to observe in the visible light." said Joachim Saur of the University of Cologne in Germany. Saur, who is principal investigator of the Hubble observation campaign, co-wrote the paper with Roth.

Roth suggested long cracks on Europa's surface, known as lineae, might be venting water vapor into space. Cassini has seen similar fissures that host Enceladus' jets.

Also like Enceladus, the Hubble team found the intensity of the plumes varies with Europa's orbital position. Active jets have been seen only when Europa is farthest from Jupiter. But the researchers could not detect any sign of venting when Europa is closer to Jupiter.

One explanation for the variability is these lineae experience more stress as gravitational tidal forces push and pull on the moon and open vents at larger distances from Jupiter. The vents are narrowed or closed when the moon is closest to the gas giant planet.

"The apparent plume variability supports a key prediction that Europa should tidally flex by a significant amount if it has a subsurface ocean," said Kurt Retherford, also of Southwest Research Institute.

Europa's and Enceladus' plumes have remarkably similar abundances of water vapor. Because Europa has roughly 12 times more gravitational pull than Enceladus, the vapor, whose temperature is measured at minus 40 degrees Celsius, does not escape into space as it does at Enceladus. Instead, it falls back onto the surface after reaching an altitude of 125 miles, according to the Hubble measurements. This could leave bright surface features near the moon's south polar region, the researchers hypothesize.

"If confirmed, this new observation once again shows the power of the Hubble Space Telescope to explore and opens a new chapter in our search for potentially habitable environments in our solar system" said John Grunsfeld, an astronaut who participated in Hubble servicing missions and now serves as NASA's associate administrator for science in Washington. "The effort and risk we took to upgrade and repair Hubble becomes all the more worthwhile when we learn about exciting discoveries like this one from Europa."

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) conducts Hubble science operations. The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc. in Washington operates STScI for NASA.

Source: NASA.Gov


This image shows the location of water vapor detected over the south pole of Europa in observations taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope...in December of 2012.
NASA / ESA / L. Roth / SWRI / University of Cologne

Monday, December 09, 2013

Cool News From The Red Planet...

An illustration depicting the concept of a possible ancient lake inside Gale Crater on Mars.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS

NASA Curiosity: First Mars Age Measurement and Human Exploration Help (Press Release)

NASA's Curiosity rover is providing vital insight about Mars' past and current environments that will aid plans for future robotic and human missions.

In a little more than a year on the Red Planet, the mobile Mars Science Laboratory has determined the age of a Martian rock, found evidence the planet could have sustained microbial life, taken the first readings of radiation on the surface, and shown how natural erosion could reveal the building blocks of life. Curiosity team members presented these results and more from Curiosity in six papers published online today by Science Express and in talks at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

The Age of 'Cumberland'

The second rock Curiosity drilled for a sample on Mars, which scientists nicknamed "Cumberland," is the first ever to be dated from an analysis of its mineral ingredients while it sits on another planet. A report by Kenneth Farley of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and co-authors, estimates the age of Cumberland at 3.86 billion to 4.56 billion years old. This is in the range of earlier estimates for rocks in Gale Crater, where Curiosity is working.

"The age is not surprising, but what is surprising is that this method worked using measurements performed on Mars," said Farley. "When you're confirming a new methodology, you don't want the first result to be something unexpected. Our understanding of the antiquity of the Martian surface seems to be right."

The analysis of Cumberland from a sample drilled by Curiosity was a fundamental and unprecedented measurement considered unlikely when the rover landed in 2012. Farley and his co-authors adapted a 60-year-old radiometric method for dating Earth rocks that measures the decay of an isotope of potassium as it slowly changes into argon, an inert gas. Argon escapes when a rock is melted. This dating method measures the amount of argon that accumulates when the rock hardens again.

Before they could measure rocks directly on Mars, scientists estimated their ages by counting and comparing the numbers of impact craters on various areas of the planet. The crater densities are correlated with ages based on comparisons with crater densities on the moon, which were tied to absolute dates after the Apollo lunar missions returned rocks to Earth.

Farley and co-authors also assessed how long Cumberland has been within about an arm's reach of the Martian surface, where cosmic rays that hit atoms in the rock produce gas buildups that Curiosity can measure.

Analyses of three different gases yielded exposure ages in the range of 60 million to 100 million years. This suggests shielding layers above the rock were stripped away relatively recently. Combined with clues of wind erosion Curiosity observed, the exposure-age discovery points to a pattern of windblown sand chewing away at relatively thick layers of rock. The eroding layer forms a retreating vertical face, or scarp.

"The exposure rate is surprisingly fast," Farley said. "The place where you'll find the rocks with the youngest exposure age will be right next to the downwind scarps."

From Rocks to Building Blocks?

Finding rocks with the youngest exposure age is important in the mission's investigations of whether organic chemicals are preserved from ancient environments. Organic chemicals are building blocks for life, although they also can be produced without any biology.

"We're making progress on the path to determining whether there are Martian organics in there," Doug Ming, of NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, said of the Cumberland rock sample. "We detect organics but can't rule out that they might be brought along from Earth." Curiosity detected higher amounts in Cumberland than it did in in either test runs with Martian soil samples or analysis of empty sample cups. Increasing the amount of rock powder in the test cup increased the amount of organic content detected.

Favorable for Life

Ming is the lead author of a new report about a site called "Yellowknife Bay." The team reported 10 months ago that the first rock Curiosity drilled there, nicknamed "John Klein," yielded evidence that met the mission's goal of identifying a Martian environment favorable for microbial life long ago. Yellowknife Bay's clay-rich lakebed habitat offers the key chemical elements for life, plus water not too acidic or salty, and an energy source. The energy source is a type used by many rock-eating microbes on Earth: a mix of sulfur- and iron-containing minerals that are ready acceptors of electrons, and others that are ready electron donors, like the two poles of a battery.

Not only has Curiosity accomplished its primary goal of finding evidence for an ancient environment that could have supported life, but it also has provided evidence habitable conditions existed more recently than expected and likely persisted for millions of years.

Additional new results from Curiosity are providing the first readings of radiation hazards at Mars' surface, which will aid planning of human missions to Mars. Other findings will guide the search for evidence of life on Mars by improving insight about how erosion may expose buried clues of molecular building blocks of life.

New estimates of when habitable conditions existed at Yellowknife Bay and how long they persisted come from details of rocks' composition and layering. It is thought that Mars had enough fresh water to generate clay minerals -- and possibly support life -- more than 4 billion years ago, but that the planet underwent drying that left any remaining liquid water acidic and briny. A key question was whether the clay minerals at Yellowknife Bay formed earlier, upstream on the rim of Gale Crater where the bits of rock originated, or later, downstream where the rock particles were carried by water and deposited.

Scott McLennan of Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, N.Y., and co-authors found that chemical elements in the rocks indicate the particles were carried from their upstream source area to Yellowknife Bay and that most chemical weathering occurred after they were deposited. The loss of elements that leach easily, such as calcium and sodium, would be noticeable if the weathering that turns some volcanic minerals into clay minerals had happened upstream. Scientists did not notice such leaching.

David Vaniman of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., and co-authors found supporting evidence in a separate mineral analysis of sedimentary rocks at Yellowknife Bay. They noticed a lack of olivine and an abundance of magnetite, which suggests the rocks turned to clay after they washed downstream. The presence of smectite tells about conditions where the clay formed.

"Smectite is the typical clay mineral in lake deposits," Vaniman said. "It is commonly called a swelling clay -- the kind that sticks to your boot when you step in it. You find biologically rich environments where you find smectites on Earth."

John Grotzinger of Caltech and co-authors examined physical characteristics of rock layers in and near Yellowknife Bay and concluded the habitable environment there existed at a time "relatively young by Martian standards." It was a part of Martian history called the Hesperian Era, when parts of the planet were already becoming drier and more acidic, less than 4 billion years ago and roughly the same time as the oldest evidence for life on Earth.

"This habitable environment existed later than many people thought there would be one," Grotzinger said. "This has global implications. It's from a time when there were deltas, alluvial fans and other signs of surface water at many places on Mars, but those were considered too young, or too short-lived, to have formed clay minerals. The thinking was, if they had clay minerals, those must have washed in from older deposits. Now, we know the clay minerals could be produced later, and that gives us many locations that may have had habitable environments, too."

Research suggests habitable conditions in the Yellowknife Bay area may have persisted for millions to tens of millions of years. During that time rivers and lakes probably appeared and disappeared. Even when the surface was dry, the subsurface likely was wet, as indicated by mineral veins deposited by underground water into fractures in the rock. The thickness of observed and inferred tiers of rock layers provides the basis for estimating long duration, and the discovery of a mineral energy source for underground microbes favors habitability throughout.

Implications for Human Explorers

Today's reports include the first measurements of the natural radiation environment on the surface of Mars. Cosmic rays from outside our solar system and energetic particles from the sun bombarded the surface at Gale Crater with an average of 0.67 millisieverts per day from August 2012 to June 2013, according to a report by Don Hassler of Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and co-authors. For comparison, radiation exposure from a typical chest X-ray is about 0.02 millisievert. That 10-month measurement period did not include any major solar storms affecting Mars, and more than 95 percent of the total came from cosmic rays.

Results from the surface-radiation monitoring provide an additional piece of the puzzle for projecting the total round-trip radiation dose for a future human mission to Mars. Added to dose rates Curiosity measured during its flight to Mars, the Mars surface results project a total round-trip dose rate for a future human mission at the same period in the solar cycle to be on the order of 1,000 millisieverts.

Long-term population studies have shown exposure to radiation increases a person's lifetime cancer risk. Exposure to a dose of 1,000 millisieverts is associated with a 5 percent increase in risk for developing fatal cancer. NASA's current career limit for increased risk for its astronauts currently operating in low-Earth orbit is 3 percent. The agency is working with the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies to address the ethics, principles and guidelines for health standards for long duration and exploration spaceflight missions.

The radiation detected by Curiosity is consistent with earlier predictions. The new data will help NASA scientists and engineers create better models to anticipate the radiation environment human explorers will face, as the agency develops new technologies to protect astronauts in deep space.

"Our measurements provide crucial information for human missions to Mars," Hassler said. "We're continuing to monitor the radiation environment and seeing the effects of major solar storms on the surface at different times in the solar cycle, will give additional important data. Our measurements also tie into Curiosity's investigations about habitability. The radiation sources that are concerns for human health also affect microbial survival as well as preservation of organic chemicals."

If any organic chemicals that are potential signs of life did exist within rocks at about 2 inches (5 centimeters), the depth of Curiosity's drill, Hassler estimated they would be depleted up to 1,000-fold in about 650 million years by radiation at the exposure rate measured in Curiosity's first 10 months. However, the Cumberland rock that Curiosity sampled with its drill at Yellowknife Bay had been exposed to cosmic rays' effects for only about 60 million to 100 million years, by Farley's estimate. Researchers calculate that, with such a young exposure age, enough organic material could still be present in Cumberland to be detectable. Even if Mars has never supported life, the planet receives organic molecules delivered by meteorites, which should leave a detectable trace.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory built Curiosity and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory


An image of Yellowknife Bay at Gale Crater on Mars, taken by NASA's Curiosity rover on December 24, 2012.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Quote of the Day...

"You may not be her first, her last, or her only. She loved before she may love again. But if she loves you now, what else matters? She's not perfect—you aren't either, and the two of you may never be perfect together but if she can make you laugh, cause you to think twice, and admit to being human and making mistakes, hold onto her and give her the most you can. She may not be thinking about you every second of the day, but she will give you a part of her that she knows you can break—her heart. So don't hurt her, don't change her, don't analyze and don't expect more than she can give. Smile when she makes you happy, let her know when she makes you mad, and miss her when she's not there."

-― Bob Marley

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

Rest In Peace, Mr. Mandela... Less than a week after the car accident that took actor Paul Walker's life left us in mourning, another good man passed away today. But as one of my relatives pointed out through Facebook this evening, one influential person departed from us too soon...and the other departed from us with a legacy. Mandela was 95.

Nelson Mandela was responsible for ending apartheid in his homeland of South Africa.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

A Random Public Service Announcement...

This world is filled with crazy people. Watch out for them.

I stumbled upon this article on Facebook. Cut-and-pasted here for your benefit...

WRITTEN BY A COP: Everyone should take 5 minutes to read this. It may save your life or a loved one's life. In daylight hours, refresh yourself of these things to do in an emergency situation... This is for you, and for you to share with your wife, your children, and everyone you know. After reading these 9 crucial tips, forward them to someone you care about. It never hurts to be careful in this crazy world we live in.

1.) A tip from Taekwondo: The elbow is the strongest point on your body. If you are close enough to use it, do!

2.) Learned this from a tourist guide: If a robber asks for your wallet and/or purse, DO NOT HAND IT TO HIM. Toss it away from you... Chances are that he is more interested in your wallet and/or purse than you, and he will go for the wallet/purse instead. RUN LIKE MAD IN THE OTHER DIRECTION!

3.) If you are ever thrown into the trunk of a car, kick out the back tail lights and stick your arm out of the hole and start waving like crazy. The driver won't see you, but everybody else will. This has saved lives.

4.) Women have a tendency to get into their cars after shopping, eating, working, etc., and just sit there (doing their checkbook, texting on their smartphone, or making a list, etc. DON'T DO THIS!). The predator will be watching you, and this is the perfect opportunity for him to get in on the passenger side, put a gun to your head, and tell you where to go. AS SOON AS YOU GET INTO YOUR CAR, LOCK THE DOORS AND LEAVE...

If someone is in the car with a gun to your head, DO NOT DRIVE OFF. Repeat: DO NOT DRIVE OFF! Instead gun the engine and speed into anything, wrecking the car. Your airbag will save you. If the person is in the back seat they will get the worst of it. As soon as the car crashes, bail out and run. It is better than having them find your body in a remote location.

5.) A few notes about getting into your car in a parking lot, or parking garage:

A. BE AWARE: Look around you, look into your car, at the passenger side floor, and in the back seat.

B. If you are parked next to a big van, enter your car from the passenger door. Most serial killers attack their victims by pulling them into their vans while the women are attempting to get into their cars.

C. Look at the car parked on the driver's side of your vehicle, and the passenger side... If a male is sitting alone in the seat nearest your car, you may want to walk back into the mall, or work, and get a guard/policeman to escort you back out. IT IS ALWAYS BETTER TO BE SAFE THAN SORRY. (And better paranoid than dead.)

6.) ALWAYS take the elevator instead of the stairs. Stairwells are horrible places to be alone and the perfect crime spot. This is especially true at NIGHT!

7.) If the predator has a gun and you are not under his control, ALWAYS RUN! The predator will only hit you (a running target) 4 in 100 times; and even then, it most likely WILL NOT be a vital organ. RUN, preferably in a zig-zag pattern!

8.) As women, we are always trying to be sympathetic: STOP. It may get you raped, or killed. Ted Bundy, the serial killer, was a good-looking, well-educated man, who ALWAYS played on the sympathies of unsuspecting women. He walked with a cane, or a limp, and often asked 'for help' into his vehicle or with his vehicle, which is when he abducted his next victim.

9.) Another Safety Point: Someone just told me that her friend heard a crying baby on her porch the night before last, and she called the police because it was late and she thought it was weird. The police told her 'Whatever you do, DO NOT open the door...' The lady then said that it sounded like the baby had crawled near a window, and she was worried that it would crawl to the street and get run over. The policeman said, 'We already have a unit on the way, whatever you do, DO NOT open the door.' He told her that they think a serial killer has a baby's cry recorded and uses it to coax women out of their homes thinking that someone dropped off a baby... He said they have not verified it, but have had several calls by women saying that they hear a baby's cries outside their doors when they're home alone at night.

10.) Water scam! If you wake up in the middle of the night to hear all your taps outside running or what you think is a burst pipe, DO NOT GO OUT TO INVESTIGATE! These people turn on all your outside taps full-blast so that you will go out to investigate, and then they attack.

Stay alert, keep safe, and look out for your neighbors! Please pass this on. This e-mail should probably be taken seriously because the Crying Baby Theory was mentioned on America's Most Wanted when they profiled the serial killer in Louisiana.

I'd like you to forward this to all the women you know. It may save a life. A candle is not dimmed by lighting another candle... I was going to send this to the ladies only, but guys, if you love your mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, etc., you may want to pass it onto them, as well.

Send this to any woman you know that may need to be reminded that the world we live in has a lot of crazies in it, and it's better to be safe than sorry... Everyone should take 5 minutes to read this. It may save your life or a loved one's life.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers...

The White Ranger strikes a pose in MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS.

In an unofficial tradition that started when I was bored enough to reminisce about the old Disney animated series Darkwing Duck three years ago today, I'd like to post a quick entry talking about another show that I enjoyed watching when I was a wee little...adolescent. The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers grew in popularity in mid-1994, and was even watched by some people I knew in the 'cool crowd' back in high school. (I was a 9th grader in the fall of '94... No comments). The Power Rangers were really awesome once the White Ranger (formerly known as the Green Ranger) showed up on scene, and I'll quickly point out that I was geeky enough (moreso than now) to um, have a Tigerzord toy collecting dust in my closet. Now if only they do another Power Rangers movie—and the Zords looked like the ass-kicking Jaegers featured in Guillermo del Toro's latest flick, Pacific Rim. I have just one question about that, though: Which actress would replace Amy Jo Johnson as the Pink Ranger? Facetious question... Look at the tag words below to get a hint of who I have in mind. Oh, and here are two last words on why the Power Rangers were bad-ass: Lord Zedd. That is all.

An illustration depicting the Green Ranger welding the Dragon Dagger.

Lord Zedd was the coolest villain in MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS.