Space News #4

I haven’t been keeping up very well with Space related news, so some of these articles date back to April. I think that they are still relevant though.

Alien Life

As we look for possible homes for live in the universe, we are biased towards life taking on the aspects we know well of life here on Earth. “How alien can a planet be and still support life?“. Astronomers have primarily focused on those exoplanets in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone as being the most likely to be the home to some sort of life.

Just being in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone does not mean that the planet will host life. In our own planetary system both Venus and Mars could fall within the ‘Goldilocks’ zone. Neither, so far, have shown any sign of harboring life. The theory is raised that plate tectonics may be an additional requirement for life.

This article gives some additional background as to what my be needed for an exoplanet to develop and support life.

Ion Engine

In “THIS FUTURISTIC ION ENGINE COULD CARRY OUR LUGGAGE TO MARS” the Ion Engine that NASA is planning to use to supply the early Mars missions is discussed. This engine will harvest the abundant solar energy using it to expel xenon gas as the propellant. This system will be 10 times more efficient that conventional chemical rocket motors.

Chemical rockets can generate more thrust, but the ion engine can generate continuous thrust. The chemical propulsion systems also require considerable space for storing the necessary fuel. NASA hopes to launch a mission to the asteroid belt, capture an asteroid and then return it to orbit the Moon by 2026.

Inertia Could Explain EM Drive

A new theory of inertia could explain the EM Drive’s anomalous thrust” tries to explain how the EM Drive may be able to work. The EM Drive is still deeply controversial, with most physicists stating that it simply cannot work. That said, as I have noted in previous posts, there is some scientific evidence that it may be able to generate thrust.

In this article, a new theory of inertia is used as a possible explanation. This theory of inertia could explain the thrust generated inside the EM Drive.

Lots of theory here. Time will tell if the theory has any merit and it the EM Drive is more than just a hope.

More on the EM Drive

Another view of the EM Drive and the physics behind it is provided in “EM Drive Rises Despite Pathoskeptic Dirge“. This article also mentions the new theory of inertia and Unruh radiation as an explanation.

Finding Life

The article “SEARCHING FOR LIFE IN ALL THE RIGHT PLACES” describes a methods astrobiologists plan to follow to find extraterrestrial life. In summary these efforts are:

  • Drilling into the ice in Antarctica to look for extreme forms of life
  • Bringing samples home from Mars for further analysis
  • Scanning exoplanets for signs of life
  • Searching for more exoplanets

Not a lot of details, more of an overview of efforts planned

SpaceX Headed to Mars

SpaceX has plans (“SpaceX plans to send a Red Dragon spacecraft to Mars as early as 2018“) to send an unmanned spacecraft to Mars as early as 2018. This would be using their current Dragon module that is being used to resupply the ISS. Because of the limited size of the Dragon, it is ill-suited for long duration missions. Sending it to Mars though would be a proof of concept flight in preparation for later manned missions.

Drake Updated

The Drake Equation was updated in light of exoplanet discoveries by NASA by University of Rochester scientists. you can read “Are we alone? Setting some limits to our planet’s uniqueness” for more details, but the gist is that life out there somewhere is more likely today than thought in Drake’s time.

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