November 24, 2012

NASA Prepares For Historic Press Conference

This week in space news, perhaps the most striking bit of information to hit the newswire is that NASA is holding out a discovery on Mars.

Earlier this week, NPR broke word that NASA is holding out on releasing a new “history books” discovery on Mars, pending a confirmation.

John Grotzinger, the principal investigator for Curiosity, told a reporter that they have received some data from their rover that shows something “earthshaking” on Mars.  Nearly everyone believes this will be some type of organic molecule, or traces of methane, so that it leans towards the existence of ancient life on Mars.

Reports say that NASA will be holding a press conference on the discovery in the coming weeks, possibly even at the 2012 American Geophysical Union in San Francisco December 3 to 7.

We also reported on redOrbit this week that Russia and the European Space Agency have come to an agreement in missions to Mars in 2016 and 2018.

These missions will take steps in looking for methane and other trace gases in the atmosphere, and will even include a rover on the Martian surface.

Russia will be helping to provide the Proton rockets to send two ExoMars missions into space, and will also build the landing system that places the rover on Mars.

The 2016 mission will see that a satellite is placed around Mars, helping to provide communications for the 2018 mission when ESA puts a six-wheeled rover on the Red Planet.

Beyond Mars, another planetary science discovery was made this week, revealing that the dwarf planet Makemake doesn’t have an atmosphere after all.

Astronomers had assumed that the planet had an atmosphere much like Pluto, but the latest observations show that the planet has no significant atmosphere, similar to Eris, another dwarf planet.

Scientists also hypothesized what could be lying underneath the surface of Super Earths.  They reported in the journal Science Express that magnesium oxide could be a key ingredient in the mantles of these rocky planets.  When melting, magnesium oxide changes from an electrically insulating material like quartz, to a conductive metal.  Astronomers have discovered over 40 Super Earths since first identifying one in 1992.

Lastly, ESA announced on Friday that its astronauts on the CAVES underground mission returned to the surface with a new species of life.

The team found during their six-night stay in caves in Sardinia Italy a special type of woodlouse.  A molecular analysis confirmed the samples belong to a new species of crustaceans, under the suborder of terrestrial isopods known as woodlice.

Woodlice are the only group of crustaceans that have fully adapted to life on land.  The species the astronauts found have returned to living in water, completing an evolutionary full circle.

Stay tuned for next week’s edition of the Armchair Astronaut weekly space update, and maybe you could find out exactly what NASA has on the tip of its tongue.

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