The 'Fish Out of Water' Blog

written by Tom Edathikunnel

Month: December, 2013

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Determines Martian Radiation

Goddard- Mars

NASA’s Martian probe Curiosity has recently made detailed measurements of the absorbed dose and dose equivalent of cosmic rays and solar energy particles on the surface of Mars. Using the Radiation Assessment Detector, or RAD, aboard the rover, scientists now have a more detailed glimpse into the atmospheric and cosmic climate of Mars.

First published in November’s issue of Science, these measurements provide valuable assessment information for future manned missions to Mars. By monitoring the radiation and effects of solar storms on the Martian surface, scientists can determine if conditions are pragmatic for a human mission.

“Our measurements also tie into Curiosity’s investigations about habitability. The radiation sources that are of a concern for human health also affect microbial survival as well as the preservation of organic chemicals.” Stated Dr. Don Hasslar of Southwest Research Institute.

Mars-RadiationFindings show two forms of potentially harmful radiation. One is a chronic low dose of galactic cosmic rays and the other is short-term exposure of solar energetic particles, which are produced from solar flares.

Radiation on the Martian surface is much harsher than on Earth. Mars lacks a global magnetic field, which acts as a natural shield against solar radiation. Additionally the atmosphere on Mars is much thinner, providing little shielding to the surface.

The radioactive particles can penetrate Martian soil and mix with the regolith, the powdery rock on the surface, which is the main contributor to the complex radiation environment on the Martian surface.

Long-term exposure to radiation can prove harmful and even deadly.  A 500-day mission on the surface would bring the total radiation exposure to around 1 Sieverts.  Exposure to a dose of 1Sv is associated with a five percent increase in fatal cancer risk.

These findings bring new questions about radiation exposure in deep space as well as possible remedies and technologies to curb its effects. Curiosity’s discoveries yield new light on the possibility of Martian life and conditions. With findings of an ancient fresh water lake earlier this month, the possibility of solid evidence of life and a manned mission to Mars seem to be just as indeterminate and exciting as ever.


Hubble’s Reveals Latest Nebula Capture of Nebula ‘RS Puppis’

NASA has just released a fascinating collection of data that visually represents the reflective nebula around the Cepheid variable RS Puppis. The oddly named nebula has been monitored from some time and has regular 41.4-day pulsation cycles. Each time RS Puppis reaches its maximum brightness, it pushes another wave of illumination into the surrounding dust cloud.

RS Puppis Light Echo

With such rhythmic pulsations, a pattern of an expanding bulls-eye has appeared around the star, similar to the outward rippling of a pond from strikes on the water’s surface

The images, taken with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys in a visual filter, began on March 2010 and stretched until April 29, 2010. Each individual image is over a 23-minute exposure frame.

RS Puppis Light Echo II

China Lands First Probe on Moon’s Surface

China's Lunar RoverAccording to Nasaspaceflight, China’s Chang’e-3 and the lunar rover Yutu, also known as Jade Rabbit, have landed on the lunar surface at approximately 8:11 EST.  Launched on December 1st, these rovers followed a normal flight plan and are now China’s first soft landing on the Moon.

Yutu is equipped with a solar panel which will power the rover during the three-month mission. Yutu will explore a three square kilometer area (roughly 7.7 miles) from the landing point. The rover is capable of real time video transmission and is equipped with a number of instruments for soil sampling and testing.

The details of the launch and landing aside, this marks a big step for China as well as space exploration as a whole.  The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) launched by India earlier this year, as well as the recent findings by NASA’s Curiosity Rover, have ignited newfound interest in the unknown realms of outer space.

China's Lunar Rover 2China’s robotic foot on the moon symbolizes two things. The first is that they are truly an advancing country and with the smog and air pollution issue aside, seem to be funding money into tangible technology for the future. This also demonstrates their power to organize and fund complex missions, which means that it will not be long before they set their eyes on larger and more daring exploratory endeavors.

This pressure may be a much-needed incentive for the United State’s Space Program. Mining projects, colonies, and other theoretical missions have been conjured since the early era of the Space Race, but until now have remained too expensive and risky for implementing.  Perhaps a rivalry with China or India may change that.

I see these findings as a progressive step towards more funding and more advancement in space exploration worldwide, but specifically within the United States.  Perhaps more manned mission to the moon or even to Mars may be in the future, especially with countries beginning to trek into space. Recent reports of Europa’s seismic activity have also garnered attention and I remain eager to see what new missions and finding lay in the future.