Archive for June, 2013
NASA’s Voyager 1 Probe Enters New Realm Near Interstellar Space
by Mike Wall, SPACE.com Senior Writer
Date: 27 June 2013 Time: 02:01 PM ET
NASA’s venerable Voyager 1 probe has encountered a strange new region at the outer reaches of the solar system, suggesting the spacecraft is poised to pop free into interstellar space, scientists say.
Voyager 1, which has been zooming through space for more than 35 years, observed a dramatic drop in solar particles and a simultaneous big jump in high-energy galactic cosmic rays last August, the scientists announced in three new studies published today (June 27) in the journal Science.
The probe did not measure a shift in the direction of the ambient magnetic field, indicating that Voyager 1 is still within the sun’s sphere of influence, researchers said. But mission scientists think the spacecraft will likely leave Earth’s solar system relatively soon. [NASA’s Voyager Probes: 5 Surprising Facts]
“I think it’s probably several more years — 2015 is reasonable,” said Voyager project scientist Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, lead author of one of the new studies and co-author of another.
“But it’s speculation, because none of the models we have, have this particular region in them,” Stone told SPACE.com. “So none of the models can be directly and accurately compared to what we’re observing. What we’re observing is really quite new.”
A new region of space
Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, launched a few weeks apart in 1977 to study Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune. The probes completed this unprecedented “grand tour” and then kept right on flying toward interstellar space.
Voyager 1 should get there first. At 11.5 billion miles (18.5 billion kilometers) from Earth, the spacecraft is the farthest man-made object in space. Voyager 2, for its part, is now 9.4 billion miles (15.1 billion km) from home.
Both probes are currently plying the outer layers of the heliosphere, the enormous bubble of charged particles and magnetic fields surrounding the sun. But things are really getting interesting for Voyager 1, the new studies report.
On Aug. 25, 2012, the probe recorded a 1,000-fold drop in the number of charged solar particles while also measuring a 9 percent increase in fast-moving particles of galactic origin called cosmic rays.
Those are two of the three phenomena that Voyager scientists expect to see when the spacecraft crosses over into interstellar space. But Voyager 1 still hasn’t observed the third one — a shift in magnetic-field orientation, from east-west within the solar system to roughly north-south outside of it.
The magnetic field “did not change direction. All it did was get compressed, so it’s stronger now than it was,” Stone said. “That’s what one would expect if, in fact, the energetic particles, which were providing the pressure, suddenly left.”
Overall, researchers said, Voyager 1’s new data suggest that the spacecraft remains within the solar system, though it appears to be in a sort of interface region connecting the heliosphere and interstellar space.
Keep on trucking
Mission scientists will keep an eye on the magnetic-field readings over the coming months and years, Stone said.
“If there’s a dramatic change, like there was last Aug. 25, that will be very exciting,” he said. “If it’s a gradual change, well, it’ll just take us longer to realize what’s happening.”
Stone and his colleagues hope that Voyager 1 leaves the solar system before 2020. The probe’s declining power supply will force engineers to shut off the first instrument that year, and all of them will probably stop working by 2025.
There’s no reason to think anything will go wrong before 2020, since the spacecraft remains in good health despite its advanced age. But the mission team knows there are no guarantees.
“Something could break. That’s what you can’t predict — the random failure,” Stone said. “So far, we’ve been lucky. There haven’t been any catastrophic random failures.”
Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on SPACE.com.
Willow Springs Toyota Southwest Superlates 2013
Was on air on the local channel 165 Time Warner for the last few weeks, now on the internet … KaBoom is seen a few times in this show …
‘Waking Mars’ is the most amazing game about gardening you’ll ever play
By Jess Zimmerman
New iOS app “Waking Mars” is a game about gardening, botany, and ecology, which sounds boring — especially if you’re about my age, and your primary school teachers tried to get you to learn about ecosystems via some clunky games with Oregon Trail-level graphics where you controlled the number of fish or ducks or some shit and then watched the population spiral out of control. That? That was boring. THIS IS RAD.
(Full disclosure: The designer/company founder is a friend of mine, which probably obligated me to buy the thing, but did not obligate me to stay up until after 1 a.m. playing it.)
The concept: You’re an astronaut exploring caves under the surface of Mars. The caves are full of “zoa,” which are sort of plants and sort of creatures and sort of a really useful Scrabble word, and each type has particular defense systems, reproductive habits, and ways of interacting with other life forms. Some of them hurt you, some of them heal you — but more importantly, some of them kill and eat other zoa, and some make other zoa grow and flourish. So your underground gardening isn’t just increasing the amount of life on Mars; it’s also setting up self-sustaining, symbiotic ecological systems.
You need to observe each creature and figure out its diet, its relationship with other organisms, its reaction to different chemicals and the way it reproduces. Some plants spit seeds, others jettison great bubbles of water, and some toss explosive fruits. There are animals that asexually reproduce, and there are carnivorous plants that munch on the game’s aliens.
Getting through each room requires you to put these elements together and solve an organic puzzle where all the different parts are moving, interacting and — half the time — eating each other. By planting seeds and herding animals you can experiment with different pairings, find symbiotic relationships and exploit food chains. It’s about carefully setting up self-sufficient ecoystems that steadily increase in biomass, even while you’re not around.
Human influence on Mars is kind of a mixed bag, just like it is on Earth. You have the chance to restore ailing ecosystems and establish robust new ones, but you can also end up with gardens that cannibalize themselves. I really can’t think of a more engaging way to bring home the idea of ecological balance.
But I better go play it just a leeeeetle more to make sure I’m right. See you in three hours.
The biological science behind Martian gardening game ‘Waking Mars’, Wired UK
Jess Zimmerman is the editor of Grist List.