Mars Invasion #wateronmars #amacrojot @profmcateer

Great video from the Guardian newspaper in UK.

Guardian video on water on Mars
Not for the first time, NASA have announced they have found water on Mars. The difference this time is that this water must have flowed recently, within days to months of this image being taken. The evidence is piling up – it now looks very likely that Mars has some sort of the surface for at least part of year. And where water flows, life is. 

The idea that there may be some sort of life somewhere beyond Earth scares some people. It upsets some people. It suggests that we were are not created in some special way. This makes the journey to confirming life fraught with problems, not the least of which is how to protect this Exo-life. As a species we don’t have a stellar record in protecting native life while we explore. We have generally accepted that exploration requires a certain amount of collateral damage.  There is an international treaty on space exploration that all space – exploring countries have signed up to. The question is how we will adhere to this as the search for life progresses. In the end, the only way of confirming life might be send such an experiment that disobeys this treaty. The science and moral dilemma will only become harder to adress as we get closer to the moment that we’ve been waiting on since we started looking up.

Watch the video – what do you think?


The Pluto Enigma #stillnotaplanet #plutoenigma @profmcateer

The part of science I like best is that the more we learn, the more questions we have. Pluto provides a perfect example of this. Initially a planet, although lonesome. Then it found its kin, a set of dwarf planets. And now, when we actually see it, it looks more Earthly than we could have imagined. Large, frosty glaciers, seemingly draining watery residue from icy mountains. A distinct, hazy atmosphere, layered and complex. Active landscapes. This is absolutely not the dead cold planet we teach about. This enigma is alive.

In the photo, the New Horizon’s spacecraft is looking back at Pluto, with the Sun setting through the mist. The glaciers slowly drain moisture from icy mountains that tower over smooth, lowland basins. Overhead, the sky is filled with haze – lots and lots of it, carved into multiple layers. The image, “reminds me of the Transantarctic Mountains along the Ross Ice Sheet, because of the tall mountains looming over a flat open expanse of ever-changing ice,” says New Horizons team member Simon Porter of the Southwest Research Institute.

But there the similarity to Earth ends. Pluto’s mountains cannot be made by plate tectonics. Pluto’s glaciers are made from nitrogen, not water ice. Pluto has something analogous to Earth’s hydrological cycle, where water evaporates from the oceans, rains or snows back down, and returns to the seas by rivers and glaciers. But Pluto’s chemistry and temperature are different, perhaps dominated by soft nitrogen ice, and also featuring methane and carbon monoxide ices. This is not Earth-like. It is not reminiscent of Mars or Venus. This is not a planet.

To use the word ‘planet ‘ to describe this land is doing it a disservice. It is so much more than that. This, is an enigma.

Open wide, Exploding Stars #amacrojot #FluorineStars @profmcateer


Being at the dentist this morning reminded me of this new research.

Trillions and trillions of neutrinos fly through your body every second. You don’t notice this, as these particles don’t interact with anything inside you – they just fly on through you, through the Earth, out the other side and back into space. However, new research shows that these mysterious particles may be responsible for producing large amounts of fluorine present in the Universe. In one way or another, stars created almost all the chemical elements. Although fluorine sits between oxygen and neon on the periodic table it is much rarer than either – oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe, and neon ranks fifth or sixth. In contrast, fluorine doesn’t even make the top 20.

So two astronomers went looking for it. Using the 2.1-meter telescope atop Kitt Peak in Arizona, they searched 79 stars for a nasty gas named hydrogen fluoride (HF). They found it in 51 of their targets, by far the largest number of normal stars in which fluorine has been seen. As they report in the September issue of The Astronomical Journal, the fluorine abundance they measure is so high that neutrinos must have created much of it during supernova explosions. When a massive star explodes, it unleashes 1058 neutrinos that are so energetic a few knock a proton or neutron off some of the star’s many neon nuclei, producing fluorine. Other processes also create fluorine, but not enough to explain quite so much.

If this research is confirmed with a follow up study, you can thank particles that normally don’t do anything for the cavities you never got.


Welcome to Mars, Hawaii #HI-SEAS #MarsOnEarth #profmcateer


The big problem with traveling to Mars is not actually getting there. We’ve had that technology for ages. We could even put together a living quarters. But getting home is a nuisance. Most likely the first people there would have to stay for quite a while. It might even be a one way trip, and so we need to know how such an emotional  will play on the human mind.

On Friday last week, the newest experiment to test this out got underway. Six scientists left our earthly comforts behind and entered an isolation chamber in a 36-foot-wide and 20-foot-high solar-powered dome in a remote location on the island of Hawaii. The team will have to live for a full year with no contact with the outside world. No email, no Facebook, no tv, nothing. “We hope that this upcoming mission will build on our current understanding of the social and psychological factors involved in long-duration space exploration,” Kim Binsted, principal investigator for HI-SEAS, said in a statement from the University of Hawaii. A sort of scientific Big Brother, maybe?

On previous shorter trips, the crew members were allowed to leave the dome in spacesuits to do experiments, but this time it is purely human emotions under the spotlight. The crew of consists of three women and three men; four American, one French and one German. They have a yearlong supply of food and water. The cuisine, which the team must be able to store for months at a time, is similar to what astronauts eat. They have lab, a kitchen, workspace, dining area, bedrooms and a bathroom. That’s it.

Not my idea of a holiday in paradise.