If you missed seeing the Rosetta Destruction by Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after its 2 year exploration, you can watch it again complete with all the commentary and analysis the leading scientists can bring to bare on the project. It was a magnificent run, and a huge amount of science was done, questions answered, every answer spawning 2 or more new questions. Watch the program and you might just begin to understand the vastness of even our local space here within the Heliopause, a tiny percentage of the distance even to the closest star.
Starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, Passengers will be out just in time for Christmas. On an interstellar colony ship, something went wrong and they came out of cryogenic suspension 90 years too early… or did they? Yes, I absolutely have to be in the theaters for this one!
It will be years before a manned Mars mission gets to happen, and all bets are off about which country might get there first. But starting this past Monday they cut the ribbon for the opening of new Destination: Mars exhibition at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It uses a mixed-reality presentation created by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to give you a fully immersive idea of what being on Mars would be like. They used all the images they received from the Curiosity rover to build the virtual environment, so you can’t get much closer to an authentic experience than that. They are using the Microsoft HoloLens™ mixed reality headset to deliver the experience, and astronaut Buzz Aldrin will be your holographic guide. For those who missed it, I posted about this last June, complete with a couple of videos demonstrating the process; nice to know it is finally available. I am adding this to the list of fun exhibitions I want to visit, and am thinking some time next year I should be able to make it. Perhaps I will see you there.
The folks at Sci-Friday have put together their first 360 degree VR video, and it is a doozy. The recording in question is an homage to the CD they burned to go on Voyager on its journey to the stars. It could possibly be the last remaining evidence we existed if someone finds it and figures out how to play it a billion years from now. To put the journey into perspective, the Voyager satellites were launched in 1977 and are traveling at 38,000 MPH; Voyager 2 is currently at the Heliosheath, the barrier where the solar wind pushes up against interstellar gas, and so still in our local solar system at a distance of 31 light minutes. Voyager 1 made it through the Heliosheath barrier in 2012 and is now in true interstellar space at 39 light minutes, the first man made object ever to achieve that. In about 40,000 years it will do a close approach of another start 17.6 light years away, another cosmic first for our species. Yay us!
The headline says it all, because the news is we really do have a Rocky Planet (as opposed to a Gas Giant) that is only a touch more than 4 light years away, according to the ESO who made the discovery, the ESA, and NASA. It is in the Goldilocks Zone of its star Proxima Centauri, and about 1.3 times the mass of Earth. The size and mass of the planet as well as the age of the star it orbits means it at least started out with the majority of the same elements that make up the Earth. The Goldilocks Zone orbit means water would be a liquid at most places on its surface, although the fact that Proxima Centauri is a Red Dwarf makes it likely that any near-Earth planet that close would be in tidal lock-down, with a single side always facing the star. That kind of thing tends to boil off an atmosphere on the hot side, and have it fall as snow on the cold side, not terribly conductive to life (or keeping your atmosphere). The good news is Proxima Centauri is the smallest and most distanced member of a triple star system known as Alpha Centauri; since the planet is not orbiting the central duo of the set, it runs a much smaller risk of being pulled apart into an asteroid belt over the next few eons.
So yes, this is one of those good news/bad news kind of things. The good news is that our nearest stellar neighbor has a planet which could evolve life, if all the other details work out. The bad news is that the odds are good it doesn’t have life more complex than viruses because of the orbital mechanics. The REALLY good news is the implication this discovery makes obvious; for us to find a planet in the Goldilocks Zone of our nearest stellar neighbor, such combinations must be a lot more likely than we ever thought possible. Just to keep me from jumping off the deep edge, let’s take a look at what SETI had to say about what we might find there just last November…
The Mars Rover recently hit its 4th anniversary of exploration (in Terrestrial years, not Martian) and to celebrate NASA has released the Mars Rover Game for mobile devices or the desktop. The game is both free and fun, and the game page also gives you some comparisons between the game rover and the real one on the red planet. Also on the page are links to information on the other rovers, Curiosity, Spirit, Opportunity, and the as yet unnamed rover mission of 2020. The robots are not the only ones planned to go there; NASA is working on the Journey to Mars project, shooting for a manned landing in the 2030s.