Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

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NASA’s Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter and Opportunity Rover Update – 5/26/09

With NASA’s ambitious Hubble repair mission behind us, it is time to take note of the next major mission to launch and mark an important milestone.  NASA’s Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter remains on track for its June 17th launch.  The LRO will substantially add to NASA’s knowledge of lunar polar conditions. notes the following mission goals:

Using a suite of seven instruments, LRO will help identify safe landing sites for future human explorers, locate potential resources, characterize the radiation environment and test new technology.  The probe’s instruments will also allow scientists to explore the moon’s deepest craters, look beneath its surface for clues to the location of water ice, and identify and explore both permanently lit and permanently shadowed regions.

Joining the LRO in June will be the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite. Its mission is to impact the moon in a crater. The resulting plume of lunar material will be studied by the LRO, Earth-based instruments and possibly the Hubble Space Telescope for possible water ice, as well as other chemical compounds.

I’m looking forward to the successful launch of LRO and LCROSS.

The Opportunity Rover on Mars passed a phenomenal milestone recently: it has traveled more than 10 miles to date over 5 years of operations!  That’s not bad for a rover that was designed to travel 1km over 1 year of operation.  I’ll say this for NASA: they like things to be spectacular.  Either spectacular successes or spectacular failures seem to be the result of missions – manned and unmanned.


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Glaciers on Mars

It looks as though researchers have found mid-latitude buried sheets of ice on Mars.  Future probes sent to Mars would likely have to dig a couple of meters down to reach them.

The list of potential landing sites for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory has been whittled down to four candidates.  MSL should launch next fall.

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Space Related News 6/23/08

NASA launched a newer satellite that will map Earth’s oceans. Topex-Poseidon and Jason-1 are the current satellite’s predecessors. This satellite, Jason-2, was built for the French space agency, CNES, and NASA. Support was also provided by the U.S. and European meteorological agencies, which made financial contributions to the project. Uninterrupted observations of the oceans are necessary as the threat climate change poses rises. Unfortunately, NASA hasn’t indicated support for Jason-2’s replacement, citing their mission as a research agency. I don’t agree with this assessment. NASA could support future ocean observing satellites with new technologies. Needless to say, support for these kinds of missions will require a pro-science administration and Congress working together.


One proposed method for dealing with a potential major asteroid strike on Earth in the future is to send a spacecraft to the space object well in advance of the strike and utilize the gravitational attraction between to two bodies to nudge the asteroid off the impact course. A study of such a venture has now been funded. A detailed performance analysis will be performed, including required stability, maneuvering capability and fuel assessments.


Take a look at skies on Mars. Very cool.


The water ice story from Mars via the Phoenix lander is still very intriguing. I’ve got a couple friends totally hooked on what Phoenix is doing. 🙂


This piece of news about the Shuttle program is new: the U.S. House has approved a bill for an extra Shuttle flight in 2010. That flight would be used to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station. We’ll see if the Senate approves the 2009 NASA budget the House set forth in their bill.

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Random Pieces 6/20/08

Devilstower sums up the Republican approach to our energy crisis very nicely:

The Republican narrative for 2008 is that the oil crisis is your fault. It’s not their fault for throwing the Middle East into turmoil. It’s not their fault for blocking decades of conservation measures and failing to support alternatives. It’s not their fault for voting just last week, to block legislation that would allow better controls on speculators. It’s your fault — you and everyone else who ever spent a moment worrying about health or safety. Because the Republicans don’t see the problems at the pump as just an opportunity to walk off with prizes they’ve wanted for years, they see it as a political opportunity to smear Democrats for the direct result of Republican policies. [emphasis DTs]

I’ve written before about Republicans not taking responsibility for their actions. The energy issue is a prime example of this. The second and third sentences in particular certainly lay out the landscape: Republicans have blocked conservation and efficiency and alternative energy measures for 30-some years. Then, they jumped on the Iraq-invasion and occupation bandwagon. The same oil corporations that were blocked from controlling Iraq’s oil fields when Saddam Hussein took power are now about to gain control of those same fields. Except it required taking Saddam out of power and destabilizing a primary source of fossil fuels, which Republicans made sure we stayed dependent on. But according to these irresponsible children, it’s everybody’s fault but their own for putting every American, and really every global citizen, between a rock and a hard place. Imagine the nerve of responsible people to ask that future energy sources are developed and secured with our own health and safety in mind! I mean really!

If you support the path Republicans have placed us on, there are plenty of them looking to keep their jobs this November. If you prefer a new approach, there are similarly lots of good Democrats looking for a chance to implement responsible policies.


Did NASA’s Phoenix lander find ice on Mars?

Scientists believe NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander exposed bits of ice while recently digging a trench in the soil of the Martian arctic, the mission’s principal investigator said Thursday.

Crumbs of bright material initially photographed in the trench later vanished, meaning they must have been frozen water that vaporized after being exposed, Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, said in a statement.

There was speculation the material was salt when originally uncovered, but salt doesn’t behave like this.


Check out 350 Science. 350ppm CO2 concentration should be the target of climate change policy.


Four environmental groups say they will sue to prevent the sale of federal oil and gas leases on the Roan Plateau.


Trigger laws target Roe v. Wade. John McCain can’t come out and say directly to voters that he wants Roe v. Wade overturned. If you have a conviction, you should have the courage to be honest to voters about it.

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Random Stories 6/10/08

Salmonella in tomoatoes across the U.S. Sounds like a silly B-movie, doesn’t it? Nope, just par for the course in recent years. Do you know what salmonella is?

Salmonella can be transmitted to humans when fecal material from animals or humans contaminates food.

Isn’t it disturbing in this day and age of super-duper antibacterial soaps being advertised everywhere that our food supply is constantly having problems with E. coli, salmonella and others? The FDA is supposed to be in charge of maintaining the safety of our food. The FDA, under the advancement of conservative ideology over the past 30 years, has had its powers slowly stripped away from it. It is a shadow of its original self. They have neither the money nor the personnel to adequately oversee our food. But Republicans have prioritized $12 billion per week to occupy another country. Is any of that in the news? Of course not. Because the liberal media has decided not to cover it, apparently. Yeah, that makes sense.


The soil that NASA’s Phoenix lander dug up last week is more dense than expected. It’s clogged up what’s essentially an oven on the lander. Soil samples will be heated and the resultant gases released will be analyzed. The soil has been vibrated on the screen above the oven, but didn’t cause enough of it to fall into the oven. If similar efforts continue to fail, scientists said they will try to vibrate the next soil sample before it reaches a different instrument.


Child poverty in Colorado “leads” the nation.

Roughly 180,000 of the state’s children — infants through high schoolers — lived in poverty in 2006, according to the report. That is a 73 percent increase since 2000, researchers concluded by using census and community survey data for the annual statistical review, KidsCount.

Keep those dates in mind. Who was President, who was in charge of Congress, who was the Governor, and who was in charge of the state legislature? Not Democrats, that’s for sure.

Additionally, TABOR was in full effect for this entire time period. What’s TABOR? It’s a mis-named initiative, the TAxpayers’ Bill Of Rights. It doesn’t grant rights to taxpayers as much as restrict the state government from levying taxes. After the 2001-2002 recession, Colorado had severe limitations placed on it by TABOR and other measures so that spending couldn’t be maintained for things like education, transportation and services. So in 2005, a group of people helped pass Referendum C, which gave TABOR a five-year time-out from spending limitations. Under Ref C, funding has been redirected to programs that were in danger of shutting down.

Referendum C went into effect starting in 2006. Will child poverty levels decrease as a result? It’s obviously too early to tell. But this is just one more example of why TABOR and other constitutional restrictions on tax collection and spending need to be completely repealed. In addition, amendments to Colorado’s constitution need to have higher standards to meet before adoption. It’s far too easy to mess things up, as competing interests have easily demonstrated in the past 15 years.

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Two Space Quick Hits

Continued testing of NASA’s Phoenix landers instruments and software has revealed that the lander could have uncovered a large patch of ice just below the martian surface. Black and white photos taken earlier this week showed the ground beneath the landers Vastitas Borealis landing site suggested the vehicle was resting on splotches of ice. The robotic arm is expected to begin its first digging operations after additional testing.


Astronomers have discovered what may be the smallest alien planet yet — a rocky “super-Earth” only four times heavier than our home planet. That’s the opening paragraph of an exciting article, a version of which can be found here. Just as exciting: the object is one of 45 potential planets in our own Milky Way galaxy that were discovered by the European Southern Observatory’s 140-inch telescope at La Silla, Chile. Confirmation of the objects will need to be made. But if they’re real, this find will be the biggest single group of extra-solar planets reported in over ten years of discoveries.

The super-Earth is reported to exist in the habitable zone of the star that it orbits. This region is also sometimes referred to as the Goldilocks zone: just right for liquid water to exist.

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Shuttle to the ISS and Phoenix on Mars

The Space Shuttle is scheduled to blast off this Saturday for another construction mission to the International Space Station. Discovery’s mission is the second of three to deliver elements of Japan’s massive Kibo lab. The STS-124 astronauts are planning on three spacewalks: attach the 37-foot main segment of Kibo, relocate the module’s attic-like storage compartment, and perform station maintenance. Also on the docket: parts to repair a currently non-functional pump on for the service module toilet. Hope that goes well!


NASA’s Phoenix lander is prepping to move it’s 8-foot robotic arm around in preparation for digging activities near its landing site.

Photographs sent back from the lander show that it’s in a good location to search for water ice under the top layers of Martian soil.

I’m still stoked from watching the landing this weekend. A significant stride in Martian exploration and solar system knowledge can take place with Phoenix.