Tag: Planets

Budweiser Is Sending Barley To Space In Hopes Of Learning How To Brew Beer On Mars

Budweiser wasn’t kidding about its plans to brew “the first beer on Mars.

After announcing its initiative at the South by Southwest conference in March, Budweiser is reportedly taking its next steps toward accomplishing its out-of-this-world goal by sending beer-making grains, namely, barley — into space later this year.

According to a press release, this December, SpaceX will be delivering the shipment of barley to the International Space Station, where it will remain in orbit for a month.

Once back on Earth, the barley will be analyzed in order to determine how the grain reacts to microgravity environments.

Budweiser’s “innovation team” will also experiment with germinating the exposed barley seeds.

Budweiser is always pushing the boundaries of innovation and we are inspired by the collective American Dream to get to Mars,” said Budweiser Vice President Ricardo Marques in a statement.

“We are excited to begin our research to brew beer for the red planet.”

The company said its efforts might also provide insight on its agricultural practices here on Earth, although it maintained that its foremost goal is to one day supply “a colonized red planet the same enjoyments provided here on Earth.

Budweiser executives originally announced the company’s plans back on March 11 during SXSW in Austin, Texas, at a panel discussion that also included retired astronaut Clayton “Clay” Anderson and actress Kate Mara, of the 2015 film “The Martian.”

At the time, Budweiser also explained the challenges it faced in brewing beer in a Mars-like environment, including limited water resources, limited sunlight for growing hops and atmospheric pressure that would turn traditional beer to “foamy slop.”

Nevertheless, the company vowed to be ready to “toast on Mars” when mankind finally colonizes the planet.

With this bold, new dream Budweiser is celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit in which our iconic brand was founded upon,” said Marques in a press release issued shortly after the initial announcement.

Through our relentless focus on quality and innovation, Budweiser can today be enjoyed in every corner of the world, but we now believe it is time for the King of Beers to set its sights on its next destination.”

“When the dream of colonizing Mars becomes a reality, Budweiser will be there to toast the next great step for mankind.”

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Pass it on: New Scientist

These Weird Red Arcs On Saturn’s Moon Tethys Can’t Be Explained

An icy moon of Saturn has mysterious red arcs of material crisscrossing its surface — and no one knows exactly how they got there.

The Cassini spacecraft caught these graffiti-like features on camera as it imaged the northern side of the Tethys, which is one of Saturn’s larger moons.

While the arcs faintly show up in 2004 pictures, the latest images, from April, are the first to really show their colors by incorporating the right viewing conditions and wavelengths invisible to the human eye.

This is partly because Saturn and its moons’ northern hemispheres are currently in summer, providing better illumination of this region.

The features were a surprise to scientists because red tints are rare in the solar system.

Until now, astronomers have spotted a few small, reddish craters on Saturn’s icy moon Dione, and identified many rouge zones on the icy surface of Jupiter’s Europa.

Scientists don’t exactly know how these features occurred. Perhaps they are ice with chemical impurities, leftovers from gas released from the moon or artifacts from features that were smaller than the resolution of the image.

The red arcs must be geologically young, because they cut across older features like impact craters, but we don’t know their age in years.” Paul Helfenstein, a Cassini imaging scientist at Cornell University who helped plan the observations, said in a statement.

If the stain is only a thin, colored veneer on the icy soil, exposure to the space environment at Tethys’ surface might erase them on relatively short time scales.

Icy moons lke Tethys are considered a key area of interest in our solar system because they could host microbial life if enough chemical energy and warmth is available in the oceans below the ice.

In recent years, plumes of gas have been repeatedly observed at Enceladus, another of Saturn’s moons, and in 2013 the Hubble Space Telescope spotted a single, large-plume event at Europa.

Cassini will do follow-up observations of Tethys at a higher resolution later this year. The mission is in the final two years of work before the spacecraft runs low on fuel in September 2017.

When that happens, it will plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere to protect the icy moons from possible contamination.

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NASA Confirms New Horizons Is Hurtling Towards Some Barren Space Rock Named 2014 MU69

Remember how excited you were last summer?

No, not because you found a booth at the state fair selling deep fried beer. I’m talking about New Horizons, sillies.

Well get ready for another bout of excitement, because NASA has greenlit New Horizons’ next target: a lump of rock out in the Kuiper Belt called 2014 MU69.

And don’t worry if you’re still exhausted from last year’s Pluto-brations (or the Juno mission’s orbital insertion happening this July 4th).

New Horizons isn’t scheduled to rendezvous with 2014 MH69 until January 1st, 2019, so you have plenty of time to get ready.

Because what better way is there to spend your New Years’ hangover than sitting in the dark and waiting for a space probe five and a half billion miles away to send a few squawks home confirming that it passed its target successfully?

But wait, you ask. Doesn’t this 2014 MU69 character sound familiar? It should.

Nineties kids will remember that in season three of Big Bad Beetleborgs, a cyborg monster called 2014 MU69 kidnaps Flabber, leading Drew, Jo, and Roland on a wild chase through the Hillhurst suburbs.

Just kidding, everyone knows that show only had two seasons.

2014 MU69 should really only sound familiar to Pluto-heads who were paying attention last August when NASA first announced the Kuiper Belt object as New Horizons’ next target. So what is new?

Well, this is NASA just doubling down, saying it has allotted funding to the mission. Yay, money!

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Have You Ever Wonder Why Jupiter’s Great Red Spot Isn’t White?

The giant cyclonic storm that swallowed Alaska last week has nothing on Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. The GRS is a cyclone, too, but one so immense it could gulp down the Earth in one shot and still have room for Mars.

It’s been swirling for centuries, at the very least, and while it’s smaller than it used to be, nobody thinks it’s going away.

All of this is pretty well known to planetary scientists. What they don’t know is the answer to a very simple question: Why is the Red Spot, well, red?

There are some other places on Jupiter that are reddish,” says Kevin Baines of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), “although they’re more of a reddish-brown.

The spot’s color, however, is pretty much unique and thus pretty mysterious.

In fact, Baines adds, “back in the 1970’s, when we were trying to sell the Galileo mission to Congress, it really resonated that we were going to try and answer that question.”

Now Baines and two JPL colleagues may have finally done it — not with data from Galileo, which orbited Jupiter and its moons from 1995 to 2003, but from the Cassini probe, which took a few snapshots en route to Saturn.

Those images, supplemented by laboratory experiments, suggest that the red color is just a thin dusting on the very top of swirling clouds that are otherwise white.

I call it the creme brulee model,” Baines says, “or the strawberry frosting model.”

Cassini was essential to solving the mystery because its instruments were sensitive to a broader range of light wavelengths than Galileo’s, and could thus show that the very center of the Red Spot is redder than the rest.

The center is also at the highest altitude of what’s already an unusually high-altitude feature. “It reaches something like 50,000 feet higher than the surrounding clouds,” says Baines.

That exposes the swirling clouds to more intense ultraviolet light from the sun than most of Jupiter’s clouds.

And when the JPL scientists did lab experiments to test the effects of ultraviolet rays on chemicals such as ammonia, acetylene and various hydrocarbons, which are abundant in Jupiter’s atmosphere, they got the same red colors seen on the giant planet itself.

This isn’t the only evidence that the Spot’s red is created from above rather than coming from reddish gases upwelling from below, which is the leading alternate theory: There actually are some other tiny spots of red dotted around Jupiter, and they also coincide with clouds of unusually high altitude.

The Red Spot, in short, as a JPL press release cutely puts it, represents “a sunburn, not a blush,” on the face of the Solar System’s largest planet.

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Flowing Water On Mars’ Surface May Just Be A Rolling Sand Instead

Two years ago, NASA made a big splash when it announced the discovery of flowing water on the surface of Mars. But it turns out, the space agency might have been wrong.

The surface features that NASA thought were made up of liquid water may actually be flowing grains of sand instead, according to new research from the US Geological Survey.

And that could decrease the chances of microbial life living on the Red Planet.

The features in question are dark streaks that show up periodically on Martian hills, known as recurring slope lineae, or RSLs.

When one of NASA’s spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, studied these lines more closely, it found that the RSLs were made up of hydrated salts meaning they were mixed with water molecules.

At the time, NASA thought that was significant evidence that flowing liquid water caused these bizarre streaks.

But researchers at the USGS say these features look identical to certain types of slopes found on sand dunes here on Earth.

Those slopes are caused by dry grains of sand flowing downhill, without the help of any water. It’s possible the same thing is happening on Mars, too.

Since liquid water is key for life here on Earth, many thought these strange lines of flowing water may help support life on the Martian surface.

But now these RSLs may not be the best place to look for life anymore.

Of course, it’s still possible that life could exist on Mars, but researchers may want to focus on other places, like under the surface.

It’s thought that liquid water exists underground, where it’s a bit warmer and easier for water to stay a liquid.

Mars still has water now, it just might be in fewer accessible places,” Michael Meyer, the lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program said.

The RSLs seemed to contain water because of the weird way they behave: the streaks seem to seep down the hills, a bit like water trickling downward.

That, and they grow thicker in the warmer months. While Mars is pretty frigid, its temperatures can exceed -9 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer, making the surface a bit more accommodating for water.

In fact, water on Mars is thought to contain a type of salt called perchlorates that can make it easier for water to exist as a liquid at colder temperatures.

Scientists thought that maybe the warm summers allowed this salty water to flow.

Researchers still think that what the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter found is solid, and that hydrated salts are involved.

But they’re probably not as wet as NASA originally thought. “This suggests there isn’t a large amount of liquid water associated with RSLs,” Dundas, a research geologist with the USGS said.

There may be a small amount of liquid water involved… but this is pointing to a relatively dry mechanism.”

So this may mean Mars’ surface isn’t as habitable as we thought, but that doesn’t mean the search is over yet.

There are lots of things that speak to Mars at least having the potential for life early on,” says Meyer. “And if it did happen, it has the potential for life hidden deep down below the surface.

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Back to Saturn? Five Missions Proposed To Follow Cassini

For 13 years, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft sent back captivating observations of Saturn, and its rings and moons, solving some mysteries but raising plenty of new questions.

With the spacecraft’s demise on Friday, the stream of data from Saturn has dried up.

Until we go back, that’s a very distant world now,” Linda Spilker, the project scientist for Cassini, said during a news conference on Friday.

The details of the rings, and those small moons snuggled in so close — those are all gone until we go back.

NASA currently has no plans to return to Saturn, but that could change. In the latest round in a scientific competition called New Frontiers, NASA specified categories of missions it would consider.

Those include a probe to study Saturn’s atmosphere or a mission to go to Titan or Enceladus, two moons known to have oceans.

The New Frontiers program solicits ideas for missions from teams of scientists and engineers. These projects can be ambitious, costing up to about $1 billion.

Earlier proposals included Juno, now orbiting Jupiter, and Osiris-Rex, currently en route to the asteroid Bennu.

NASA may announce finalists by the end of the year. A winning mission is to be selected by summer 2019 for launch around 2025.

At least five submitted proposals take aim at Saturn, Titan or Enceladus.


As a spacecraft, Dragonfly would be an oddity: It would have propellers, like a helicopter — “a nuclear quadcopter to look for life on Saturn’s moon, Titan,” Peter Bedini, a program manager at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a recent talk.

Proponents of this concept say a quadcopter would be an ideal way to explore Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. The air is thick there, thicker than on Earth.

The landscape is varied, interspersed with obstacles — rivers, lakes and seas of liquid methane — that could prove inaccessible for a rover.

The booming popularity of flying drones in recent years makes the technology potentially feasible for interplanetary exploration, too.

In the past, scientists have suggested exploring the moon with balloons and airplanes. But Titan’s geology — sand dunes, eroded gullies — is more interesting than what is in the air.

Dragonfly would fly from place to place, but would spend most of its time performing experiments on the ground.

A second Titan proposal, Oceanus, is led by Christophe Sotin, the chief scientist for solar system exploration at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which was Cassini’s home base.

The Oceanus spacecraft would study the moon from orbit, potentially identifying habitable regions for life.


Jonathan I. Lunine, a planetary scientist at Cornell University, was a member of the science team managing the Huygens probe, which traveled to Saturn with Cassini and landed on Titan.

He would be the principal investigator on a proposed mission to revisit Enceladus, a small moon just 313 miles wide.

The discovery of geysers shooting from its south pole was a stunning surprise, and now the moon is considered a prime place for look for life.

The proposed spacecraft, called Enceladus Life Finder, would fly through the plumes like Cassini did but with more sophisticated instruments capable of identifying a wide variety of molecules including amino acids, which would hint at signs of life.


The Saturn Probe Interior and Atmosphere Explorer would essentially do what Cassini did on Friday: descend into the planet’s atmosphere. But it would go much deeper.

The main part of the mission would end quickly — in about 90 minutes, as the probe parachuted into the atmosphere. It would take measurements of certain elements like helium that are hard to measure.

The ratio of helium to hydrogen is a crucial measure indicating how far from the sun a planet formed in the early days of the solar system.

Cassini attempted to measure that in its final plunge, but that data, from high in the atmosphere, will not be conclusive.

NASA’s Galileo spacecraft dropped an atmospheric probe into Jupiter in 1995, and this proposal is the “same exact idea as the Galileo probe,” said Amy Simon, an expert on planetary atmospheres at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

She would be the principal investigator for the mission.

To understand how the solar system formed, it’s crucial to understand its biggest fixtures. Saturn, of course, is the second largest planet, after Jupiter.

The two of them together tell you a lot of what happened in the early solar system,” Dr. Simon said. “It will answer those few fundamental questions that we could not do with Cassini.

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This Oceans-Covered Newly Discovered May Possibly Be A Habitable Planets

Nasa scientists have discovered an alien solar system that they believe has two planets that are completely submerged under water.

The worlds, dubbed super-Earths because they are rocky and larger than our own planet, are orbiting a star called Kepler-62 that lies 1,200 light-years away in the constellation of Lyra.

Both exist in the so-called habitable zone around their home star where water essential for life as we know it can exist as a liquid.

The star is slightly smaller and cooler than the Sun, being only a fifth as bright, and has been found to have five planets in orbit around it by a planet-seeking space telescope.

Nasa has simultaneously announced the discovery of another super-Earth in another star system, labelled Kepler-69, in the neighbouring constellation of Cygnus, with two known planets, known as Kepler-69b and Kepler-69c.

In the first system, two of the planets, labelled Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f, have intrigued planetary scientists because of their likely nature.

Computer modelling by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) indicates that they are both covered by global oceans without any land protruding.

It means that though the planets are theoretically habitable, any life there must be aquatic perhaps a kind of alien fish!

Lisa Kaltenegger, of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and the CfA, led the study into Kepler-62’s strange worlds. She said: “These planets are unlike anything in our solar system.

They have endless oceans. “There may be life there, but could it be technology-based like ours? Life on these worlds would be under water with no easy access to metals, to electricity, or fire for metallurgy.

Nonetheless, these worlds will still be beautiful blue planets circling an orange star and maybe life’s inventiveness to get to a technology stage will surprise us.”

The new study suggests that Kepler-62e is 60 percent larger than the Earth while Kepler-62f is about 40 percent larger.

They are too small for the team to be able to measure their masses, but they expect them to be composed of rock and water.

Kepler-62e will be the warmer world and is likely to be cloudier than our own planet. The more distant Kepler-62f would need the greenhouse effect from plenty of carbon dioxide to warm it enough to host an ocean.

If that is not the case, it might become more like an ice-covered snowball.

Kepler-69c is the super-Earth in the second new planetary system. It is 70 percent larger that Earth and orbits its home star in 242 days.

That star is similar to the Sun, being 93 percent as big and 80 percent as bright.

To date, Kepler has discovered 115 confirmed exoplanets, with 2,740 more suspected, since its launch in March 2009.

It does so by staring constantly at around 160,000 stars in one small region of the Milky Way in the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra.

The space telescope is watching for any dip in a star’s light that may indicate a transit a planet passing in front of it.

By measuring the effects on the star’s light that the transit has, scientists can learn a surprising amount about the planet itself.

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Jupiter’s Strange Glowing Auroras Have A Mysterious Power Source

For the first time ever, NASA’s Juno spacecraft has spotted electrons being fired down into Jupiter’s atmosphere at up to 400,000 volts.

That’s an enormous amount of energy that gives rise to the planet’s glowing auroras. These incredibly high voltages, however, are only spotted occasionally and that’s raising questions about what exactly is behind some of the planet’s most vivid glows at the poles.

The discovery, detailed in a study published today in Nature, was made possible by the instruments on board Juno, which has been orbiting Jupiter for a little over a year, passing by the poles closer than any other spacecraft has before.

It confirms, in part, what astronomers expected, but it also shows that Jupiter’s auroras behave differently than auroras on Earth through processes that we don’t fully understand yet.

Auroras, on both Earth and Jupiter, are formed when charged particles like electrons spiral down a planet’s magnetic field lines, entering the atmosphere and creating a glow.

On Earth, the most intense auroras are caused by solar storms, which occur when high-energy particles ejected from the Sun rain down on our planet.

When these particles enter the atmosphere, they interact with gases and make the sky glow red, green, and blue at the poles.

On Jupiter, auroras are formed by particles ejected mostly from the Io, the planet’s moon. Io’s volcanoes spew huge amounts of sulfur and oxygen into space, loading Jupiter’s magnetic field with particles.

On both planets, electrons are accelerated along the magnetic field lines by electric currents — similar to the electric current that goes through the socket when you plug in your phone charger.

On Earth, the solar wind is the power source, firing electrons at up to 30,000 volts.

On Jupiter, it’s the planet’s superfast rotation that acts as a gigantic electric generator, so astronomers expected electrons to be fired by very high voltages on Jupiter as well.

But they had never observed this before, so Juno gave astronomers that opportunity for the first time.

The spacecraft is in an extremely elliptical orbit around Jupiter, passing very close to the poles every 53 days. To study Jupiter’s auroras, the probe was equipped with several instruments, including the Juno Energetic Particle Detector Instrument (JEDI).

The probe is traveling at about 30 miles per second over the poles, so the measurements have to happen in a matter of seconds, says study co-author Barry Mauk, lead for JEDI and a scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which made the instrument.

That was a very substantial challenge,” Mauk said. “We’re very proud of the fact that we were able to pull that off.”

On its first flyby over the auroras, however, Juno didn’t detect the high voltages astronomers expected. “We were very surprised,” Mauk says.

Then, in following flybys, the spacecraft finally detected the signature of electrons being fired down the atmosphere all at about the same energy — as high as 400,000 volts.

The curious thing, though, is that these high voltages aren’t always there, Mauk says. They’re only spotted occasionally.

And sometimes, Juno is spotting electrons being fired down the atmosphere with all different energies, in a seemingly random way.

What’s causing this random acceleration of electrons at different energies which create very bright auroras is a mystery, Mauk says.

The probe is going to keep flying by Jupiter’s poles, and every time it does so, it collects data. “Every time we have an encounter, we see different things,” Mauk says.

So Mauk is hoping that the next observations will help astronomers answer the questions of why the auroras are so variable, and why they are sometimes strong and sometimes weak.

The goal is not to only understand the physical processes behind auroras on the Solar System’s largest planet.

Other objects around the Universe like pulsars, exoplanets, and white dwarfs also have magnetic fields, and they also accelerate particles in a way that can resemble Jupiter’s.

But Jupiter is in our backyard, so it’s actually accessible. “Jupiter is not only interested in its own right, but it also tells us a great deal about similar astrophysical bodies that we can’t reach with spacecraft,” says Nichols.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Astronomers May Have Found The First Exomoon

When the first exoplanet—or planet orbiting another star—was discovered in 1992, it was a very big deal.

Today, we’ve discovered thousands of exoplanets and it takes a particularly noteworthy one to grab our attention.

We’ve spotted big exoplanets, small exoplanets, and everything in between.

Now scientists are moving on to the next big thing: Exomoons.

Researchers examining old data from the Kepler Space Telescope have spotted what they believe is the first-ever moon beyond our solar system to be found, and they’re planning to use the Hubble Space Telescope to confirm it.

As you might have guessed, the exomoon is an enormous one. The planet in question is Jupiter-sized, and the moon if it indeed exists is around the same size as Neptune.

The Kepler telescope observed the planet and its moon passing in front of their star, which caused the star’s brightness to dip slightly.

This exoplanet-exomoon pair is a strange one, and looks nothing like anything in our own solar system. The researchers believe that the larger, Jupiter-sized planet captured the smaller one and turned it from planet into moon.

Unfortunately, the observations from Kepler aren’t clear enough for the scientists to say definitively that the moon exists. That’s why they need to use Hubble to take a second look.

If Hubble confirms the moon’s existence, it will be the first exomoon ever found. With the many highly sensitive telescopes scheduled to be completed in the next few years, more exomoon discoveries are almost certain.

We’ll probably find a few really big moons over the next few years, and as our telescopes get better we might start finding moons that look like our own.

Pretty soon, exomoons will be old news too, so enjoy this discovery while it’s still fresh.

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Mysterious Bright Spots On Ceres Are Probably Salt

The verdict is in — mostly. The bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres are probably made of salt, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has found.

Mixed with the salt are bits of rock and frozen water. When sunlight hits the blend, the ice sublimates into a misty haze above two of Ceres’s craters, researchers report in the 10 December issue of Nature.

But mission scientists are not sure how the salt, ice and haze are interlinked.

The whole picture we do not have yet,” says Andreas Nathues, a planetary scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Goettingen, Germany, and the paper’s lead author.

Dawn has also found ammonia-rich clays on Ceres, a second Nature paper reports. Ammonia is more common in the frigid outer Solar System than in the asteroid belt where Ceres reigns.

The discovery suggests that Ceres may have collected bits of outer Solar System material — or even that it was born near Neptune before migrating inward.

Both papers are the first major published results from Dawn.

At 950 kilometres across, Ceres is not only the largest asteroid in the Solar System, but also a protoplanet whose origin and evolution may help researchers to better understand how other planets formed.

Scientists previously calculated that roughly one-quarter of Ceres is water, which may lurk as an icy shell beneath the dwarf planet’s dark surface.

The bright spots are the first direct glimpse of that underground ice. Dawn has catalogued more than 130 such spots, most of them within impact craters.

The brightest lies in the 90.5-kilometre-wide Occator Crater, and the second-brightest is in the 10-kilometre-wide Oxo Crater. (Features on Ceres are named after agricultural deities.)

Dawn spotted haze only in Occator and Oxo, Nathues says. The spacecraft’s camera captured it glimmering beneath the rims of the craters in the morning sun, then vanishing by afternoon.

The haze probably forms when sunlight warms the surface, causing ice to sublimate and carry dust and ice particles upward. When the surface cools, the sublimation ceases and the haze disappears.

In 2014, researchers analysing measurements made by the Herschel Space Observatory reported water vapour in the atmosphere of Ceres near Occator.

Some kind of geological process seems to continually feed ice to the surface, replenishing what is lost, Nathues says.

Occator and Oxo are both relatively young craters, and the other bright spots on Ceres might represent older impacts where outgassing has stopped.

Dawn will never be able to spot the haze again. The spacecraft could only photograph it from an oblique angle as it first approached Ceres.

Nathues’ team also looked at spectra of light reflecting off the bright spots. Those measurements suggest that the spots contain salt, which is most likely to be a type of magnesium sulfate.

Many questions remain. De Sanctis and her colleagues are analysing new spectral data on the bright spots, which may support or rule out the presence of salts. “It’s really enticing,” she says.

Dawn is currently spiralling down to its final mapping orbit, which it will reach on or before 18 December.

From there it will study Ceres from a distance of about 385 kilometres until the mission runs out of money to operate the spacecraft or it can no longer point itself in the right direction.

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Pass it on: New Scientist