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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Exploring Space

Exploring Space

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Tuesday, November 8, 2016/Categories: natural history, space science, environment, adventure

               Testing of the Completed James Webb Space Telescope (credit: Goddard Space Flight Center)

If the current political antics are annoying, consider 3 accomplishments in exploration that may bring more cheer.

1: The durable Cassini probe oribiting Saturn has returned some remarkable new photographic and radar imagery from the gigantic moon, Titan. Using sequential images of moon's atmosphere in summer, researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena have produced an animation to show the movement of methane clouds on the gigantic moon. The JPL movie was developed using infrared filters on Cassini's camera to see methane clouds visibly moving across the moon when animated. Another series of Titan scans using radar imagery of the surface topography show the moon to have a series of "grand canyons" made of karst topography not unlike similar landscape features on Earth.

2. The new remote-sensing imaging tool known as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) could potentially be employed to determine if life exists on Mars. LiDAR uses an infrared laser to map landscapes while LiDAR using penetrating green light maps underwater seafloor and riverbed features.


                     LiDAR Images of Natural and Manmade Features in Big Sur, California (credit: NOAA)

In a ground-breaking announcement, a biosensor now used by the military to monitor air for toxins has provided the potential for a smart-device that could be used to detect biosignatures in space. A fluorescence-based LiDAR tool could be used in planetary exploration to analyze particles for organic matter. Positioned on the mast of a future Mars rover, the Bio-Indicator LiDAR Instrument (BILI) could scan the landscape for Martian dust plumes. When a twister was located, a larer pulse could be directed at it, causing the dust particles to fluoresce. By analyzing the fluorescence, it would be possible to determine if they contained organic molecules. If biosignatures were present, they would become visible to BILI. The applications of LiDAR-based tools for mapping and exploration have "barely scratched the surface", so to speak.

3. The James Webb space telescope (JWST) has been finally been completed after 20 years of design, construction, and $8.8 billion in expenses. The telescope, the Hubble's successor, will allow a diversity of applications for astronomers and cosmologists and may even be able to investigate atmospheres of exoplanets circling other stars in the search for life. Often referred to as a 'Super Hubble' the new telescope will be nearly 100 times more powerful that its famous predessor. According to NASA, James Webb is scheduled for launch in October 2018.

While recent news has provided a mind-numbing string of ugliness, such scientific and technological accomplishments as these 3 show what is much better from human intelligence.



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