Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Water in Space

Ok, so I have neglected the blog a little bit, but that is purely because I took a bit of time off for my birthday and I've spent the rest of the time researching material... but it now means I've left myself with very little time to actually produce something as a final piece and I need to get all of my findings online for this friday... :/

damn... (i might run over a bit)...

I can't remember if I initially spoke about what got me onto water and space, but with the tone of the initial briefing looking very grim, I wanted a more positive subject to run at... and the recent finding of water on the moon sparked my interest, combining my love of space with science and dreams of science fiction.

With all the talk of Climate Change, the Copenhagen conference (currently going on) and Humankind basically destroying the planet we inhabit... the idea of finding another Earth for us to relocate to is growing in popularity. Although it sounds like something that only appears in tv shows or comics, recent discoveries are now adding new levels of plausibility to the idea, admittedly this still wont happen for god knows how many years, but "we" are searching local and distant galaxies for stars like our Sun that would provide sunlight and heat to neighboring planets with sustainable atmospheres.

But bringing this all back a bit closer to home, we have discovered signs of water existing or that existed on planets and moons in our own solar system. If you pick up any book on our solar system, you'll be presented with information about water on our Moon (averaging only 238,854 miles away from us!), evidence of water on Mars, Jupiter's moon: Europa or Saturn's moon: Titan. To me, this is amazing, since I was young I have pictured the other planets and moons to be like our deserts, barren and inhospitable to ourselves but the evidence of water suddenly opens up new possibilities and reasons to explore these places in search of life (maybe not your typical green or grey aliens, but lifeforms, microbes and bacteria),or ways in which we can harvest the water for our own benefits.

The Moon:

In early October this year, NASA bascially crashed a $79 million satellite into the Moon's surface, and it was intentional. This BBC page actually has some good graphics about half way down the page and a boring video at the top ( here ) as it explains the reasoning behind the crash. The idea was to give the LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) one final mission to analyse the 6 mile high plume of debris kicked up from the inital impact of a spent rocket from the satellite, before the satellite itself crashed into the southern crater on the moon. The results showed promise, as from the data received proved there was water on the Moon, but also that it's a substantial ammount, 25 gallons was measured within the debris which is approx 94 litres or 200 pints for the average layman. (By the way, this was invisible to us here on Earth)

As I mentioned, I have always thought of our Moon like a giant, dry dust ball that is full of craters from passing meteors crashing into it's surface (or satellites!) but in November 2008, India launched it's first satellite, Chandrayaan-1 on it's mission to study the Moon,

"It will explore its minerals, map the terrain and find out whether water and helium deposits exist. It will also give us a deeper understanding about the planet Earth itself or its origins, Earlier missions did not come out with a full understanding of the moon and that is the reason scientists are still interested.

This will lay the foundation for bigger missions and also open up new possibilities of international networking and support for planetary programmes."

Taken from the Chandrayaan-1 homepage (here)

In a recent issue of Discover magazine, unfortunately a solely American publication, there was the first detailed map produced by the LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter), which was attached and launched along with the LCROSS satellite but detached before the LCROSS crash, showing exactly where the water deposits are on the Moon's surface,

However, all this information is getting mixed signals, some say that it will now pave the way for future missions to the Moon in hopes of establishing a lunar base from which we can then launch other missions deeper into space, but others refer back to President Obama's inital plans to reduce NASA's budget and redirect funds from manned space exploration into education. The year 2020 seems to be the decider year, with at least 3 possibilities planned from returning to the Moon, heading to Mars again, or exploring Jupiter and it's Moons. The fourth option was to head to Titan, one of Saturn's Moons, as it appears to have an atmosphere of Oxygen too, but the decision was made to look to Jupiter and Europa. Either way, I'm really excited... in my opinion we can only really discover new things in 2 places now, the deepest depths of the sea and space... I know which I'm voting for...

next to come... Mars, Europa and Titan.

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