Humans have long dreamt to venture to Mars, and NASA fueled those dreams, especially in recent years. With the Space Launch System and Orion, the agency guaranteed the public that we would reach Mars in the 2030s. However, with the consistent budget cuts and turnover in administration, many remained skeptic of the agency’s ability to follow through on their plans.
Well it seems that Bill Gerstenmair, NASA’s chief of human spaceflight, announced to the public and confirmed that NASA’s budget does not actually have the funding to follow through with their plans to Mars. “I can’t really put a date on Mars,” Gerstenmair said, explaining that the current budget makes landing essentially unfeasible.
Gerstenmair went to to explain that maybe a Moon Surface Program would be more feasible. However, many remain skeptic about either possibility.
N = R* • fp • ne • fl • fi • fc • L
- N = Detectable Electromagnetic emissions
- R* = Star Formation Rate for stars that are suitable for life
- fp = Percentage of the stars that have solar systems
- ne = Number of planets that have habitable conditions
- fl = Percentage of habitable planets that have any sort of life
- fi = Percentage of habitable planets with intelligent life
- fc = Percentage of civilizations who develop detectable technology
- L = Time it takes each civilization to reach detectable signals
Astronomer Frank Drake proposed this concept to estimate the chances of communicating with other intelligent life in the universe in 1961. It was only relatively recently that exoplanets and Kepler planets were discovered, supporting the idea that life may exist on planets with conditions similar to Earth. However, most of the Kepler planets discovered, while similar to Earth do not have suitable life conditions. Now, with the existence of the Drake Equation leading to the high probability that life does indeed exist in other places in the universe, the question stands: If there are aliens, why haven’t we found them? This contradiction is known as the Fermi Paradox. The best explanation we have for this lack of finding other life is that in the entire existence of the universe, civilizations throughout time live relatively short lifespans, destroying themselves before they can ever technologically develop enough to seek out other life.
As a high mass star reaches the end of its life and collapses into a supernova, its protons and electrons merge together to form neutrons. During this process, the neutrons pack closer and closer together, increasing in density exponentially. These remaining neutron stars, which may be 20 km in diameter, are so dense that a single teaspoon full of it would weigh more than the entire Earth! Because of all the energy from the supernova, neutron stars spin at extremely rapid speeds up to 43,000 times per minute.
Exactly twelve years ago on July 4th, 2005, a NASA Spacecraft called the Deep Impact landed on Comet Temple 1, being the first mission to probe the interior contents of an orbiting comet. Comet Temple 1, discovered in the mid 1800s, orbits the sun every 5.5 years. Although we had known then that a comet’s surface was composed of rocky dust and ice, the mission aimed to delve within the comet and discover how the composition of its interior was different than that of its surface. In order to delve into the interior, the Deep Impact spacecraft impacted the comet with an 820 lbs mass; on impact, the object created a crater on the surface that the spacecraft then took pictures of. After investigation, NASA scientists were able to use the pictures to look within the Temple 1.
Several Jovian moons are candidates for extraterrestrial life. One of these is Enceladus, a medium-sized moon of Saturn. Like Europa, there is strong evidence for a subsurface ocean, which is likely 30-40 kilometers below the moon’s surface, and then extends down another 30 kilometers. Due to the suspected ocean’s thickness, it is more likely that there is a habitable zone. A very recent discovery about Enceladus is about its bursts of matter that skyrocket off the surface like the geysers in Yellowstone. It was recently discovered that these fountains contain ice, or water. Because of this it may be simpler to discover life on the planet because a spacecraft could fly through a blast of ice and determine if the spray has any life. The discovery is also a reminder that the universe is full of surprises.
Ice Fountains on Enceladus
From the title, you might think the subject of this blog is about human space travel, something that isn’t very developed today. However, it is possible that some life forms before us have experienced travel between the planets. There are theories that support the idea that life originated on either Venus or Mars, and then spread to the Earth. This is possible because, very early on in the Solar System, there was much more bombardment of rocks among the planets, amounting to several tons of material. It is difficult to believe that life can survive a trip through space, but we already know that meteorites and comets can harbor organic life. Also, some extremophiles, such as tardigrades, have been proven to be able to survive at least some amount of time in space. It is an interesting thought, that life as we know it was implanted from one of our neighbors or potentially even more distant places.
In a black hole, spacetime is curved infinitely. Light cannot escape. Black holes have fascinated mankind for years, but what would happen if you actually reached the event horizon?
What would happen if you fell into a black hole?
It’s likely you would be pulverized by other objects, burn via light radiation, experience spaghettification, or be magnetically ripped apart due to the magnetic fields inside. It won’t be pretty.
If you do intend on visiting a black hole, Charles Liu, an astrophysicist who works at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium, suggests going big or going home.
“If you had a black hole the size of our solar system, then the tidal forces at the event horizon … are not quite that strong. So you could actually maintain your structural integrity,” Liu said.
Where is everybody?
That is essentially the question asked in the Fermi Paradox.
Compared to Earth and our solar system, the universe is extremely vast and extremely old. Surely there must be intelligent life somewhere within the depths of the unexplored universe?
The Drake Equation (written as N = R* • fp • ne • fl • fi • fc • L) attempts to determine a plausible number of civilizations and some estimates can be around 10,000 or more. So where are all the aliens?
Although intelligent life has yet to make its debut for us, extraterrestrial life may be a little closer that we typically think of- specifically Martian life. No, no, not little green men or facehugger kind of Martian life, but microbial life. And not just on Mars either! The three likeliest candidates for elementary life in our solar system are the places where it is likely there is or was liquid water.
Martian polar ice cap: msss.com
We know there is ice on Mars, and it’s not entirely unlikely that liquid water exists, in some capacity, somewhere on the planet. That makes it prime real estate for young life. There is also evidence for sub-surface liquid water on both Europa and Enceladus, making a wonderful, contained environment for life to grow. There is also a possibility that life of a different kind than we’re used to could inhabit the liquid methane/ethane lakes on Jupiter’s moon, Titan. All of these are exciting possibilities for the observation of life in its youngest stages.
As some of you may know, there is an upcoming Total Solar Eclipse that will be visible in Nashville, TN! The last total solar eclipse visible from the United States was back in 1998, so it’s been a while, but it’s finally back! On August 21st, the eclipse will be visible at 1:27 PM local (Nashville) time and will last for almost 2 minutes. So prepare your eclipse glasses (this is very important for the safety of your eyes!) and remember to take some time to watch this amazing sight that won’t be visible in the United States again until April 8, 2024. Another tip: if you want your family to come as well, make sure you have hotel rooms booked; they are filling up! I know I booked a room for my family already
A map of the eclipse route
So how does a solar eclipse actually happen? Well, since the moon orbits the Earth while the Earth orbits the sun, sometimes the moon gets in between the sun and the Earth, and while we’re under the shadow of the moon, the sun will appear blacked out— this is known as a solar eclipse. Not all eclipses are total, sometimes only a portion of the sun is blocked rather than the entirety, which is why the one on August 21st is so special. Go watch it, I promise you, you will be amazed.