Nevermind the #trappist planets, what about the star?

The astronomy sphere exploded a few week back with the revelation of 7 rocky planets around Trappist-1, 3 of which were in the habitable zone. Best part – the star is only 40 light years away

But best to be careful before expending any energy trying to get there.

New research

show that the star is emits a lot Xrays, suggesting it is very young and will blow any atmosphere off any nearby planets within 5 billion years. So not such a great long term survival plan for humanity when our Sun destroys the Earth (also in about 5 billion years).  Keep on looking, but remember to  look at the star, not just the planets.


Here’s looking at you, from @HiRISE

“Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes”. That way you get to see things from their perspective. Well, so much more so then when you travel over 100 million miles. Here is us, taken from Mars. Reminds us what we look like, and how fragile we are.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was 127 million miles away from Earth when the picture was taken on November 20 using the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). Alfred McEwen, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona and principal investigator for the HiRISE camera, said “The Moon is much darker than Earth and would barely be visible at the same brightness scale as Earth,” McEwen said. “The combined view retains the correct sizes and positions of the two bodies relative to each other.”

How to visit the neighbors #starshot #Proxima Centauri

If you live in the southern hemisphere, go out tonight and shine your laser pointer at Alpha Centauri. 256px-Constellation_Centaurus4 Years from now your laser’s light will arrive at the star – but will anyone be there to see it?

Communicating with our nearest neighbors, see

Space Billiards #NewHorizons @profmcateer

New Horizons was launched 2006 and has already flown 3 billion miles over 10 years on its journey of discovery. We now know Pluto is active with recent ice flows and a thin atmosphere. But the mission is far from over. It’s still moving outwards at about 15km per second, it has plenty of fuel, and the instrument packages are still working. Now astronomers get a free shot at the next target.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 4.20.23 PMLuckily there is no shortage of targets.

The terrain beyond Pluto is a mostly unexplored treasure trove of opportunities for discovery, known as the Kuiper Belt. This realm is home to millions of small icy bodies, and present vital clues to the origins of the solar system. Usually the only chance we have to see one of these close up is when they visit us, as comets. But now as New Horizons plummets on into this space NASA have picked a target so we can really see one of these up close. The rather mundanely-named 2014MU69 was selected last year as the best follow on target. It is probably another 1.5 billion miles away and may be only a few 10km across, but we know its there and last week NASA carried out the course corrections to send the spacecraft that way. In Jan 2019, the spacecraft should thread the needle and intersect 2014MU69.

Kind of like space billiards, but with moving targets.

This mission hasn’t actually been approved by NASA yet but the additional expense getting to MU69 is small compared to the large payoff. Opportunities to visit our distant cousins are rare, so this is one we’ll take advantage of.

Smile, you’re on camera @profmcateer @algore #DSCOVR

There is nothing that puts life’s little trivialities in perspective quite like seeing yourself. Get outside your own perspective and look at yourself. See your own weakness. Now, that is all very well and good as a personal and psychological idea. But this is hard as a scientific endeavor. Back in 1998, Al Gore proposed a spacecraft that would sit between the Earth and the Sun, constantly sending back live images our blue sphere.

‘Wouldn’t it be nice,’ Gore asked in 1998, ‘to have that image continuous, live, 24 hours a day?'”

And so a mission was proposed to send a probe to a spot a million miles from Earth — a place known as the L1 Lagrange point, where the gravity of the Earth and the sun cancel each other out. The space probe, originally dubbed Triana, would point a telescope with a color camera back at our planet from L1, and send images down to Earth. At the very least, it’s a cool view. At best we would inspire the next generation to see Earth in its fragility and help us to tend to it future. Today, NASA announced that this view will be available every day on a new website dedicated to publishing these images. It took nearly 20 years to make this happen, but now the idea born by Al Gore is alive.

The prime science goal of this Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), is to “maintain the nation’s real-time solar wind monitoring capabilities, which are critical to the accuracy and lead time of space weather alerts and forecasts from NOAA.” This makes it a vital early warning of pending solar storms. But the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) was included as part of the package, and these data may steal the show.

Each daily sequence of images will reveal the whole globe over the course of a day. Image sequences from all previous days will also be archived on the site and can be searched by date and continent.

The new age of seeing ourselves as we really are has begun.


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?

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.

Send your name to Mars #profmcateer #amacrojot #InSight #JourneyToMars


How about a trip to Mars? NASA is running a competition to  ‘Send Your Name to Mars’ on a silicon microchip aboard the new InSight probe. Anyone can submit their names for inclusion on a dime-sized microchip that will travel on a variety of spacecraft voyaging to destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, including Mars.

“Our next step in the journey to Mars is another fantastic mission to the surface,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, “By participating in this opportunity to send your name aboard InSight to the Red Planet, you’re showing that you’re part of that journey and the future of space exploration.” There are already 67,000 people on there. But time is of the essence since the deadline to submit your name is soon: Sept. 8, 2015.

NASA has made it easy to sign up. To send your name to Mars aboard InSight, click go here:

You can also print out your  ‘Boarding Pass’Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 12.18.28 PMI’ll pick up 297 million airmiles! Your frequent flier points soon accumulate by your participation in NASA’s ‘fly-your-name opportunity’ that will span multiple missions and multiple decades beyond low Earth orbit. Blast off for this mission is March 2016.

ASTR105G students – get your extra credit here by signing up and sharing your boarding pass.



water, water everywhere… #curiosity #WaterOnMars

.. But no one to drink it.

The temperature is actually just right. But the lack of an atmosphere on Mars means they water boils ten degrees above the freezing point. However if it could be protected, say by existing below ground, or by adding some chemicals, then water could be abundant on our little brother planet.

New research show that Mars may have ample liquid water just below its surface, according to new measurements by Nasa’s Curiosity rover.

Prof Andrew Coates, head of planetary science at the Mullard Space Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, said: “The evidence so far is that any water would be in the form of permafrost. It’s the first time we’ve had evidence of liquid water there now.”

The latest findings suggest that Martian soil is damp with liquid brine. The presence of a salt significantly lowers the freezing point of water to around -70C, and the salt also soaks up water vapour from the atmosphere.

Plenty of water then, but no one around to drink?