Curiosity finds organics but where do they come from?

04/12/2012

NASA logoYesterday, at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, NASA announced first results from soil analysis performed by Curiosity. Indeed, initially there was an eager expectation about this announcement as some rumors leaked out and somebody told about historical results. Then, all this was teased by NASA but what they announced yesterday was all but disappointing. I followed a real-time chronicle on twitter by Emily Lakdawalla (@elakdawalla and check her blog) that was there in San Francisco and it was really exciting. The main point is that Curiosity indeed has found organics but that people at NASA cannot be sure yet that carbon was not from Earth. Anyhow, the analysis of the soil displayed a rich content and this is indeed a riverbed. Some further analysis are required before to give definitive conclusions about the presence of organics. If you need a short summary you can read this article on The Guardian but Emily should provide a complete account shortly.

CuriosityI would like to spend a few words here to let my readers know what is at stake here. On 1975, NASA launched the Viking probes on Mars. One of the aims of this mission was to perform some experiments that should give evidence of life on Mars. A pair of these experiments turned out  to give favorable results giving such an evidence but the probes failed at finding any organic molecules and so these results were interpreted as due to some other chemical process at work. Indeed, the question is open yet. Should Curiosity find any evidence of organic molecular, the original findings of Viking probes would be vindicated but, more important, one should have a first evidence of life, even if bacterial, on another planet. This is for historical book indeed!


Warp drive at NASA

19/09/2012

ResearchBlogging.org

I am currently a twitter user. One of my followings is Jeri Ryan. She has been Seven of Nine in Star Trek Voyager saga. Yesterday, it comes out of the blue what I read in one of her twits: NASA is developing warp drive! Indeed, Jeri was pointing to  this link. This is a Gizmodo’s post that was describing an effort by NASA to develop warp drive and it seemed like something consistent was in hand. Indeed, this is all true. It is a lab at NASA, Eagleworks, headed by Harold White that is working on a technical realization of the most recent ideas from physics in the area of “spacetime engineering”. This is somewhat of a new term as, so far, no ways were at our disposal to modify spacetime even if, in principle, this is a possibility offered by general relativity. If one would be able to do so, we would have warp drive but also time machines, wormholes and all that. White’s group claims to have found some loopholes in all the hurdles encountered so far in this kind of researches. The most fundamental one is that one needs a huge quantity of exotic matter to get some of these devices work. Nothing that is manageable in practice. So, all this matter was always put in an area of research much theoretical oriented. In a quite recent paper, Stefano Finazzi, Stefano Liberati and Carlos Barceló (see here)  show that Alcubierre drive is unstable with respect to quantum effects: Indeed, if you go faster than light, Hawking radiation will kill you.

So, there are some important difficulties to overcome to change the situation from theoretical to a practical one. One of the Editors of Physical Review Letters, Robert Garisto, commented as follows on twitter:

NASA warp drive story: Not sure which is less plausible, that it’s allowed by physics or that we could implement it if it were.

White’s group claims that they are on the verge to realize an experiment comparable to the Chicago Fermi’s experiment on the nuclear pile. This would imply that they have overcome all the difficulties seen so far in this kind of studies and are able to provide a working realization of the effect. You can find a paper by White here and is worth reading. They can controvert any skepticism by a sound experimental proof.

My view is always the same: As a physicist I have a blind faith on experimental facts and I would like to see accomplished one of my lifetime dreams arisen with that small step by Armstrong on the Moon. NASA is never a disappointment.

Stefano Finazzi, Stefano Liberati, & Carlos Barceló (2009). Semiclassical instability of dynamical warp drives PHYSICAL REVIEW D 79, 124017 (2009) arXiv: 0904.0141v2

Miguel Alcubierre (2000). The warp drive: hyper-fast travel within general relativity Class.Quant.Grav.11:L73-L77,1994 arXiv: gr-qc/0009013v1


The man passed away, the legend will always survive

26/08/2012

Neil Armstrong passed away yesterday (see here and here). He was the first man to put his feet on the Moon. He started all my dreams when I was just nine and that July’s night I was staring at his extraordinary enterprise together with Buzz Aldrin (see here) and Michael Collins on the Apollo 11. Now, I am moved to tears by this but my dreams are still there and his legend will always survive. Thank you very much, Neil!


Curiosity touched down successfully!

06/08/2012

I was excited this morning while I was looking at the last minutes of flight of Curiosity there at JPL. This remembered when I was nine and, with my father, I looked at man on the moon.  This time I was with my sons and we shared happiness with all the people that worked hard for another great success.  Keep up this great job!


Water on the Moon!

13/11/2009

NASA announced today that LCROSS has indeed found water on the moon and in a significant quantity. The announcement is here.

402518main_LCROSS_results3_full

The view of the floor of Cabeus as seen through the LCROSS near-infrared camera. The fresh crater made by the Centaur impact is indicated. Credit: NASA

This is a wonderful result both for the achievement and the technique NASA used. The meaning for the future explorations in space is made brighter by this finding and the reason is that, having significant reserves of water on the moon, building a base for future missions in the solar system is made easier. So, in a situation where funding cuts are the most common actions governments accomplish, such a successful mission proves that smart people always find a way toward the aims. On the other side, we hope that, when economical difficulties in US will be overcome, NASA will be again properly funded to realize the most significant goals in space missions.


NASA shows leftovers of missions on the moon

18/07/2009

There has always been a lot to laugh about skepticism on lunar missions. Today, I apprehend from an article in the New York Times (see here) that NASA released a set of photos from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) clearly showing leftovers from Apollo missions. They released photos for missions 11 and 14 to 17 (Apollo 13 never landed for an explosion on board and photos on Apollo 12 will be released in the near future). I show here the photo on Apollo 14 taken from New York Times clearly showing the lunar module and its shadow and the most used path by astronauts.nasa_600 I can still remember that night with my father waiting for the landing of the lunar module and Neil Armstrong making his first step on the moon. Most of the choices I have done after in my professional life are due to that exciting night.

Thank you very much, folks!


Most extreme gamma-ray blast yet

20/02/2009

As my blog’s readers know, I follow as far as I can space missions that can have a deep impact on our knowledge of universe. Most of them are from NASA. One of these missions is Fermi-GLAST that has produced a beautiful result quite recently.  glastIt has seen the greatest gamma-ray burst ever (see here). The paper with the results is appeared on Science (see here). The burst was seen in Carina constellation.  These explosions are the most energetic processes in the universe and were uncovered by chance with military satellites named Vela used to find nuclear explosions in the atmosphere in the sixties of the last century. Understanding gamma-ray bursts implies a deeper understanding of stellar explosions.


Ice on Mars

01/08/2008

All newspapers today give this beautiful news: There is ice on Mars and this was the results of analysis by NASA Phoenix Mars Lander.

Mars as seen by Phoenix Mars Lander

Mars as seen by Phoenix Mars Lander

I have read this article from New York Times and I think next step would be the search for life, very elementary life. Indeed, looking at pictures from Mars it does not come as a surprise that water existed in liquid form on the planet time ago and Mars should have had a very different aspect. But it is also possible that life existed at that time and now it is completely disappeared. There has been a temporal window inside which some kind of evolution took place but all depends on the width of the window to define the complexity of such organisms. Anyhow, having such a large reservoir of water should make a manned mission on Mars easier in the future.

Due to the large success and to a wide availability of resources, NASA planned to extend this mission further. Please, folks do not give up the good work!


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