Journey to Jupiter

August 5, 2011

Rheanna Sand

Oh, space… how you brighten any dark news day! In a time of devastating drought, when our polar ice is melting, and Swedes are trying to make stovetop nuclear reactors, there are always exciting reports and projects happening above the surface of our plagued planet to inspire us.


Take the launch of Juno, for example - no, not the movie, or the awesome world-famous Canadian music awards - but a solar-powered NASA module on its way to Jupiter! It lifted off this morning from Cape Canaveral, and the latest updates say the nose cone has jettisoned as planned. Once it arrives at the gas giant (sadly, not until 2016) Juno will orbit 30 times to study the planet's core, measure atmospheric water and ammonia, and map Jupiter's magnetic field in high-definition with it's twin magnetometers. It may even get some better images of the auroras!

This week, NASA is also touting new evidence of liquid water on the surface of Mars. If true, this would be another historic first, as any water is believed to be frozen and concentrated in the polar regions. Researchers studying detailed satellite images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter noticed finger-like lines that appeared darker in the spring and summer but faded in the winter. Water thawing and flowing down the sides of hills and craters would cause such seasonal markings - and even though it would likely be extremely salty, with the consistency of syrup, there is always the possibility of life where there is water. Even the most inhospitable of environments on Earth are habitats to strange microbes.


And finally, in the realm of space travel, Boeing is joining Virgin Galactic in the private space race. The difference is, however, that Boeing will be moving astronauts to and from the space station, whereas Richard Branson will be moving millionaires to and from nowhere in particular for vast sums of money. Boeing's CST-100 capsule - markedly less sexy than the VSS Enterprise but with that retro, Apollo-11 feel - will undergo its first test flight in 2015 if all goes well in the development phase.


Now, doesn't focusing on stuff thousands of kilometers above the Earth take your mind off… Earth? You're welcome.



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