November 28, 2011
As we’re catching up on our e-mails and to-do lists after the long Thanksgiving break, we thought we’d give you some recommended reading on Saturday’s launch of Curiosity, the newest Mars rover, which is scheduled to touch down on the red planet in August 2012.
In our sister publication, Air and Space, editor Tony Reichhardt outlines the physics behind the science laboratory’s descent to the planet’s surface in a fascinating photo essay:
The landing should be precise and gentle, and because the descent stage flies away after dropping off the rover, there’s no rocket exhaust to contaminate the arrival site, as happens with conventional landers. The journey to Mars takes nine months, but the final, stomach-churning landing sequence, scheduled for August 5, 2012, takes less than a minute.
In 2005, science writer Carl Zimmer wrote a piece for Smithsonian about what it would mean to find life on Mars:
If all goes as planned, a new generation of rovers will arrive on Mars within the next decade. These missions will incorporate cutting-edge biotechnology designed to detect individual molecules made by Martian organisms, either living or long dead.
The search for life on Mars has become more urgent thanks in part to probes by the two rovers now roaming Mars’ surface and another spaceship that is orbiting the planet. In recent months, they’ve made a series of astonishing discoveries that, once again, tempt scientists to believe that Mars harbors life—or did so in the past. At a February conference in the Netherlands, an audience of Mars experts was surveyed about Martian life. Some 75 percent of the scientists said they thought life once existed there, and of them, 25 percent think that Mars harbors life today.
Elsewhere on the web, Bad Astronomy gives you a rundown of what to look for in the liftoff video and has extended thoughts on Curiosity’s landing procedure; Alan Taylor of the Atlantic’s In Focus blog has an up close and personal look at the rover; and the Planetary Society highlights a great infographic by Jason Davis on the history of Mars exploration.
October 21, 2009
A quick smattering of science and gadget news on this Wednesday:
- Perhaps this is the wrong time of year to be talking about air conditioning, but when an invention this cool comes around, it’s nigh impossible to ignore. Courtesy of Core77 comes news of a bladeless fan from Dyson. The company designed a fan that looks a giant magnifying glass, without the glass at all. Using what Dyson calls a “annular aperture,” air is drawn in and then channeled out at a quick, breezy speed. The 10″ version can be yours for a retail price of $299. So start putting it on your holiday wish lists now so your friends and family can save.
- In climate change news, we’ve read much about methane-producing cows and sperm whales had been assigned similar blame for contributing to global warming. According to Discovery News, however, the whales actually help fight combat climate change by emitting high levels of iron into the upper levels of the ocean water, which in turn fosters plankton growth. Plankton, like most land-based plant life, helps with the capture of carbon dioxide. A team from Flinders University in Australia says that “Sperm whales in the Southern Ocean should rank as carbon neutral at least. The animals may even be capturing a net 5 million metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere per year.”
- The BBC reports that scientists have discovered a giant spider in southern Africa and Madagascar that is about the size of the human hand. Nephila Komaci can spin webs of up to one meter in diameter. If Tolkien predicted the existence of these giant spiders, does that mean talking trees are next?
And just in case you missed it, a few recent stories from Smithsonian:
- As featured in the November issue, the Asian Longhorned Beetle has shown up in Worcester, Mass., of all places, where government forestry agents are doing what they can to limit the spread of these invasive species. Also be sure to check out our photo essay of other dangerous beetles that live in the United States.
- Also in that issue — our monthly Wild Things feature which this month highlights geckos, the Raptorex previously written about in Dinosaur Tracking, and asexual reproduction among ants
- Lastly, blog editor Laura Helmuth contributed her list of the “10 Places Where Life Shouldn’t Exist…but Does.”