Water on Mars, Stunning Lights and an Electric Moon.... PDF Print E-mail
Written by Nathaniel Whitehead   

Above: Titan as seen by the Cassini craft
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Well space fans yet again we have some more news coming down of the cosmic wire. This edition we have another phoenix update discussing the milestone achievement of identifying water in a soil sample delivered to one of its on board instruments, new research using a fleet of NASA spacecraft have lifted some of the mystery behind the enigmatic and spectacular aurora, and data gathered from TITAN, a moon of Saturn has confirmed liquid on its surface as well as electrical activity in its atmosphere. So let’s get into it shall we……..


Phoenix Update:
             Well the Phoenix mission has been busy performing its main mission goals and attempting to collect icy soil samples from the Martian surface to test in its array of different onboard equipment, despite the fact that the Martian soil is proving stubborn in its “clumpiness”. But the stalwart efforts of the team have overcome the difficulties and have announced triumphantly “we have water”. The confirmation of water in the Martian soil through direct testing is a never before achieved event and will go down in history as the first time humans have touched water on a world other than our own, even if it is via a robotic explorer.

Above: Image of the Pheonix workspace
on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/
University of Arizona
The soil sample that was tested for Martian water came from a trench that was dug out by the lander and has been stuck to the back of its scoop for two days, allowing some of the water to evaporate and ease the frustrating ‘clumpiness’ of the sample. Now the team is busy trying to find out if the water ice ever thaws enough to be useful in biology and if there are other chemicals and compounds in the soil that could aid such processes. Along with collecting samples the Phoenix has also been able to monitor several patches of icy material on the surface of the red planet to watch for subtle changes in the ice. This may seem rather rudimentary but it is another first in history, for never before has a probe been close enough to see these changes in Martian ice. All the previous Mars missions were in areas to warm to watch such events, but the Phoenix was put in an area of Mars were temperatures are cold enough that the ice doesn’t immediately sublimate. These observations are taken over a period of sols (Martian days) to see slow changes in the ice and some of the most recently released is of an area that was revealed by the thrusters on landing and is situated underneath the craft. The team has dubbed this patch of icy soil “The Snow Queen” and it has had everyone excited from the beginning. Phoenix is going strong and has had its mission extended, enabling it to continue amazing us. Stay tuned for more updates on this ground breaking (no pun intended) mission. To see more on this mission visit the following link and our original source;


Northern Lights Revealed:
            Researchers using a fleet of NASA spacecraft called THEMIS have discovered what makes the Northern and Southern lights shimmer and dance above the Earth’s poles. The ‘Time History of Events and Macro scale Interactions during Substorms mission’ (THEMIS) are five identical space craft that line up around the equator every four days to observe the magnetic substorms that produce the brilliant displays of the Aurora and with the help of

 Above: Artist rendering
 of Aurora Credit: NASA
/Goddard Space Flight
Image Lab
ground based observations, working in synch, the space craft have revealed that it is a phenomena called magnetic reconnection that produces these substorms and the subsequent light show of the Aurora. The solar wind pushes against the Earth’s magnetic field and causes the field lines to stretch out into space the direction opposite the Sun. When magnetic reconnection occurs it releases the stored energy in these field lines, projecting the now released energy back toward the Earth causing these substorms. Understanding the substorms is important for more than just understanding the light show in the sky, substorms can disrupt satellites, power grids and generally cause havoc with radio communications and understanding what causes them will enable scientists to better understand how to predict them. To see more on this fascinating research visit the following link;


Electric Atmosphere and Liquid Lakes:

Above: Titan as seen by the Cassini craft
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
The orange haze of Titan’s atmosphere has long held the attention of not only astronomers but anyone who turns in curiosity to the wonders of our very own solar system. Titan, a moon of Saturn, has been known for sometime to have a thick atmosphere that blocks our ability to see its surface, but recent technological advances have enabled us to peer through the haze and have revealed a world far beyond most expectations. The Cassini-Huygens mission was sent to the Saturnian system with a main objective of observing this enigmatic satellite. The Huygens lander was released from the Cassini craft and made its way down to the surface of Titan, floating though its atmosphere for sometime taking readings, making it the furthest landing of any human craft in all of history, but the milestones don’t stop there. Through the investigation of data taken by the Cassini craft during its many flybys of the moon, researchers have confirmed what has been thought to be for sometime now, liquid lakes on the surface of this curious sphere. These lakes are not water but liquid hydrocarbons, mainly ethane with methane and nitrogen mixed in, making them the only bodies of
Above: Radar mapping of lakes on Titan
Credit: Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science
liquid on the surface of any body other than the Earth so far known in the entire solar system. The lake, dubbed, ‘Ontario Lacus’ is nearly the size of the North American lake Ontario making it no small find, and is located in the northern hemisphere of Titan, where it is believed there are many, many other bodies of liquid hydrocarbons. Cassini’s observations found that the lake is evaporating and evidence for this can be seen on the shores as the liquid has left tracks of its recession. But this lake isn’t the only exciting find on Titan, the Huygens probe, in its short life on the surface of the moon, took many different readings with a variety of instruments and one of them, the mutual impedance probe (MIP), measured both the electrical conductivity and natural electrical field of Titan’s atmosphere. The results confirmed with what is being called irrefutable proof, that the atmosphere does have natural electrical activity. And why does that mean anything you might ask, well because from what we know the combination of hydrocarbons and electricity can produce complex organic compounds and prebiotic molecules, which are what many believe to be the foundations for life as we know it and that is exciting! So out there on Titan are not only vast lakes of liquid hydrocarbons but electricity and this combination is nothing to shake a test tube at. Sometime ago a scientist name Miller performed an experiment using inorganic compounds and electricity to produce complex organic compounds, and what this latest data on the Titan environment is suggesting is that the entire moon may have the ability to do the same. This is in league of the most exciting finds in all of the history of human exploration and the most amazing thing is that in astronomical terms this Titanic environment is right in our own back yard, if you will. But don’t just take my word for it, check it out for yourself. For more information visit the following link and our original source;