In 2015, Matt Damon reprised his role of "confused Boston actor" in the sci-fi film The Martian. The We Bought a Zoo star was able to survive for months on the Red Planet thanks to his ingenious decision to grow potatoes for food. Now, a NASA-backed project wants to see if Matt Damon's potato scheme could actually work on Mars. And the early results are promising.
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With an atmosphere, Mars was a temperate planet with surface water - but that was 3.5 billion years ago. Imagine if we could help it create one again?
At The Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop at NASA headquarters, Jim Green - NASA's Planetary Science Division Director - is proposing launching a magnetic shield to do just that.
We're all a little uncoordinated at times, but when you're a hunk of metal hurling through space, the consequences are a bit more severe. This week, NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN), which has been orbiting the Red Planet for two years, had to perform a last-minute manoeuvre to avoid a disastrous collision with Mars' moon, Phobos. NBD, though.
For decades, Mars has entranced humans, including Matt Damon. Our cosmic neighbour, located some 56 to 401 million km away, is an enticing destination in part because of its mysterious history -- but mostly because Earth is an especially terrible place to be right now.
After much anticipation, NASA has finally released a shortlist of landing sites for its Mars rover mission slated for July 2020. The three finalists are Northeast Syrtis, which may have been warmed by volcanic activity; the Jezero Crater, which could be the remnants of a Martian lake; and Columbia Hills, which NASA's Spirit lander explored in early-to-mid 2000s. Though Jezero is reportedly the favourite among NASA scientists, in this case, it's the underdog that could be our best shot at finding hints at past or present life on the Red Planet -- which is exactly what the 2020 mission seeks to do.
The Space Between Us never goes beyond exactly what it's supposed to be. It's so straightforward that if you've heard the plot -- boy on Mars falls in love with girl on Earth, then comes to Earth to find her -- you can probably guess everything about the story, the conflict, and all of the things it's going to try to make you feel, with the end result being you're not going to feel much at all.
Earth has some battle scars from back in the day. When the solar system was still young and wild, roughly four billion years ago, Earth, its Moon and Mars were attacked by a series of asteroid assailants. It's long been assumed that the space rocks involved in the assault -- called the Late Heavy Bombardment -- are now floating around in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Sending complex pieces of machinery to faraway celestial objects? Not an easy thing. The European Space Agency is well aware of what can go wrong, especially after the demise of Schiaparelli lander when it stacked into Mars earlier this year. No sweat, says the ESA, which will continue on with its ExoMars 2020 mission... flush with cash.
In case Schiaparelli's crash-landing left you thinking the European Space Agency's ExoMars mission was a bust, rest assured it wasn't. The mission's scientific workhorse -- its Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) -- is performing beautifully, as evidenced by the first images and splashes of data ESA has now received back from the Red Planet.
If we ever get proof of past life on Mars, it will come in the form of biosignatures, fingerprints that could only have been left by living organisms. We're a long way from finding that smoking gun evidence, but an analysis of silica minerals discovered by NASA's Spirit rover pushes us one step closer. Because of their similarity to silica deposits shaped by microbial life on Earth, these intriguing Martian minerals are now being called a "potential biosignature".
National Geographic's new TV miniseries Mars has a message for the people of Earth: Colonising the Red Planet is not a pipe dream. In fact, it's achievable within a generation. Unfortunately, in the first few episodes at least, that message smothers the show's ability to tell a good story. Mars is much more enjoyable when it's not trying to cram facts, figures and carefully scripted interviews down our throats.
Placed on Earth, it would stretch from Washington DC to New York to Denver. Larger than the Grand Canyon, wider and deeper than East Africa's Great Rift Valley, Mercury's newly-discovered "Great Valley" boggles the imagination. But it's more than size that makes this geologic feature remarkable. The Great Valley may be our best evidence that Mercury's entire crust is contracting.
It will be a while before we can actually colonise Mars (no matter what Elon Musk says). But when we get there, an official tartan will be ready for the outfits.