Venus: Death of a Planet

From the fires of a sun’s birth, twin planets emerged. Venus and Earth. Two roads diverged in our young solar system. Nature draped one world in the greens and blues of life. While enveloping the other in acid clouds, high heat, and volcanic flows. Why did Venus take such a disastrous turn? And what light can Earth’s sister planet shed on the search for other worlds like our own? For as long as we have gazed upon the stars, they have offered few signs that somewhere out there are worlds as rich and diverse as our own. Recently, though, astronomers have found ways to see into the bright lights of nearby stars. They’ve been discovering planets at a rapid clip, using orbiting observatories like NASA’s Kepler space telescope, and an array of ground-based instruments. The count is almost a thousand and rising. These alien worlds run the gamut, from great gas giants many times the size of our Jupiter, to rocky, charred remnants that burned when their parent star exploded. Some have wild elliptical orbits, swinging far out into space, then diving into scorching stellar winds.

Still others orbit so close to their parent stars that their surfaces are likely bathed in molten rock. Amid these hostile realms, a few bear tantalizing hints of water or ice, ingredients needed to nurture life as we know it. The race to find other Earths has raised anew the ancient question, whether, out in the folds of our galaxy, planets like our own are abundant, and life commonplace? Or whether Earth is a rare Garden of Eden in a barren universe? With so little direct evidence of these other worlds to go on, we have only the stories of planets within our own solar system to gauge the chances of finding another Earth. Consider, for example, a world that has long had the look and feel of a life-bearing planet. Except for the moon, there’s no brighter light in our night skies than the planet Venus, known as both the morning and the evening star. The ancient Romans named it for their goddess of beauty and love. In time, the master painters transformed this classical symbol into an erotic figure, then a courtesan.

It was a scientist, Galileo Galilei, who demystified planet Venus, charting its phases as it moved around the sun, drawing it into the ranks of the other planets. With a similar size and weight, Venus became known as Earth’s sister planet. But how Earth-like is it? The Russian scientist Mikkhail Lomonosov caught a tantalizing hint in 1761. As Venus passed in front of the Sun, he witnessed a hair thin luminescence on its edge. Venus, he found, has an atmosphere. Later observations revealed a thick layer of clouds. Astronomers imagined they were made of water vapor, like those on Earth. Did they obscure stormy, wet conditions below? And did anyone, or anything, live there? The answer came aboard an unlikely messenger, an asteroid that crashed into Earth.

That is, according to the classic sci-fi adventure, “The First Spaceship on Venus.“ A mysterious computer disk is found among the rubble. With anticipation rising on Earth, an international crew sets off to find out who sent it, and why. What they find is a treacherous, toxic world. No wonder the Venusians want to switch planets. It was now time to get serious about exploring our sister planet. NASA sent Mariner 2 to Venus in 1962, in the first-ever close planetary encounter. Its instruments showed that Venus is nothing at all like Earth. Rather, it’s extremely hot, with an atmosphere made up mostly of carbon dioxide. The data showed that Venus rotates very slowly, only once every 243 Earth days, and it goes in the opposite direction. American and Soviet scientists found out just how strange Venus is when they sent a series of landers down to take direct readings. Surface temperatures are almost 900 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to melt lead, with the air pressure 90 times higher than at sea level on Earth.

The air is so thick that it’s not a gas, but a “supercritical fluid.” Liquid CO2. On our planet, the only naturally occurring source is in the high-temperature, high-pressure environments of undersea volcanoes. The Soviet Venera landers sent back pictures showing that Venus is a vast garden of rock, with no water in sight. In fact, if you were to smooth out the surface of Venus, all the water in the atmosphere would be just 3 centimeters deep. Compare that to Earth, where the oceans would form a layer 3 kilometers deep. If you could land on Venus, you’d be treated to tranquil vistas and sunset skies, painted in orange hues. The winds are light, only a few miles per hour, but the air is so thick that a breeze would knock you over. Look up and you’d see fast-moving clouds, streaking around the planet at 300 kilometers per hour. These clouds form a dense high-altitude layer, from 45 to 66 kilometers above the surface. The clouds are so dense and reflective that Venus absorbs much less solar energy than Earth, even though it’s 30% closer to the Sun. These clouds curve around into a pair of immense planetary hurricanes as the air spirals down into the cooler polar regions.

Along the equator, they rise in powerful storms, unleashing bolts of lightning. Just like earth, these storms produce rain, only it’s acid rain that evaporates before it hits the ground. At higher elevations, a fine mist forms, not of water but of the rare metal tellurium, and iron pyrites, known as fool’s gold. It can form a metallic frost, like snowflakes in hell. Scientists have identified around 1700 major volcanic centers on Venus ranging from lava domes, and strange features called arachnoids or coronae, to giant volcanic summits. The planet is peppered with volcanoes, perhaps in the millions, distributed randomly on its surface. Venus is run through with huge cuts thousands of kilometers long that may well be lava channels. Our sister planet is a volcanic paradise, in a solar system shaped by volcanism. The largest mountain on Earth, Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano, measures 32,000 feet from sea floor to summit.

Rising almost three times higher is the mother of all volcanoes: Olympus Mons on Mars. Jupiter’s moon Io, is bleeding lava. It’s produced deep underground by the friction of rock on rock, caused by the gravitational pull of its mother planet. Then there’s Neptune’s moon Triton, with crystals of nitrogen ice shooting some 10 kilometers above the surface. Saturn’s moon Titan, with frozen liquid methane and ammonia oozing into lakes and swamps. On our planet, volcanoes commonly form at the margins of continents and oceans. Here, the vast slabs of rock that underlie the oceans push beneath those that bear the continents. Deep underground, magma mixes with water, and the rising pressure forces it up in explosive eruptions. On Venus, the scene is very different. In the high-density atmosphere, volcanoes are more likely to ooze and splatter, sending rivers of lava flowing down onto the lowlands. They resemble volcanoes that form at hot spots like the Hawaiian islands.

There, plumes of magma rise up from deep within the earth, releasing the pressure in a stream of eruptions. To see a typical large volcano on Venus, go to Sappas Mons, at 400 kilometers across and 1.5 kilometers high. The mountain was likely built through eruptions at its summit. But as magma reached up from below, it began to drain out through subsurface tubes or cracks that formed a web of channels leading onto the surrounding terrain. Is Venus, like Earth, still volcanically active? Finding the answer is a major goal of the Venus Express mission, launched in 2005 by the European Space Agency. Armed with a new generation of high-tech sensors, it peered through the clouds. Recording the infrared light given off by several large mountains, it found that the summits are brighter than the surrounding basins. That’s probably because they had not been subject to as much weathering in this corrosive environment.

This means that they would have erupted sometime within the last few hundred thousand years. If these volcanoes are active now, it’s because they are part of a deeper process that shapes our planet as well. On Earth, the release of heat from radioactive decay deep in its mantle is what drives the motion of oceanic and continental plates. It’s dependent on erosion and other processes associated with water. With no water on Venus, the planet’s internal heat builds to extreme levels, then escapes in outbreaks of volcanism that may be global in scope. This may explain why fewer than a thousand impact craters have been found on Venus. Anything older than about 500 million years has literally been paved over. So why did Venus diverge so radically from Earth when it was born in same solar system and under similar circumstances? There is growing evidence, still circumstantial, that Venus may in fact have had a wetter, more Earth-like past.

One of the most startling findings of the early Venus missions was the presence of deuterium, a form of hydrogen, in Venus’ upper atmosphere. It forms when ultraviolet sunlight breaks apart water molecules. Additional evidence recently came to light. Venus Express trained its infrared sensors on the planet’s night side, to look at how the terrain emits the energy captured in the heat of the day. This picture is a composite of over a thousand individual images of Venus’ southern hemisphere. Higher elevation areas, shown in blue, emit less heat than the surrounding basins. That supports a hypothesis that these areas are made not of lava, but of granite. On Earth, granite forms in volcanoes when magma mixes with water. If there’s granite on Venus, then there may well have been water. If Earth and Venus emerged together as twin blue marbles, then at some point, the two worlds parted company.

Earth developed ways to moderate its climate, in part by removing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from its atmos phere. Plants, for one, absorb CO2 and release oxygen in photosynthesis. One square kilometer of tropical jungle, for example, can take in several hundred tons of co2 in just a year. That’s nothing compared to the oceans. In a year’s time, according to one recent study, just one square kilometer of ocean can absorb 41 million tons of CO2. Earth takes in its own share of CO2. When rainfall interacts with rocks, a chemical reaction known as “weathering” converts atmospheric CO2 to carbonate compounds. Runoff from the land washes it into rivers and the seas, where they settle into ocean sediments. With little water and no oceans, Venus has no good way to remove CO2 from its atmosphere. Instead, with volcanic eruptions adding more and more CO2 to the atmosphere, it has trapped more and more of the sun’s heat in a runaway greenhouse effect. Venus is so hot that liquid water simply cannot survive on the surface. Nor, it seems, can it last in the upper atmosphere.

The culprit is the Sun. The outer reaches of its atmosphere, the corona, is made up of plasma heated to over a million degrees Celsius. From this region, the sun sends a steady stream of charged particles racing out into the solar system. The solar wind reaches its peak in the wake of great looping eruptions on the surface of the Sun, called coronal mass ejections. The blast wave sweeps by Venus, then heads out toward Earth. Our planet is fortified against the solar blast. Plumes of hot magma rise and fall in Earth’s core as it spins, generating a magnetic field that extends far out into space. It acts as a shield, deflecting the solar wind and causing it to flow past. It’s this protective bubble that Venus lacks. Venus Express found that these solar winds are steadily stripping off lighter molecules of hydrogen and oxygen.

They escape the planet on the night side, then ride solar breezes on out into space. All this may be due to Venus’ size, 80% that of Earth. This prevents the formation of a solid iron core, and with it the rising and falling plumes that generate a strong magnetic field. There may be another reason too, according to a theory about the planet’s early years. A young planet Venus encountered one or more planet-sized objects, in violent collisions. The force of these impacts slowed its rotation to a crawl, and reversed it, reducing the chances that a magnetic field could take hold. This theory may have a surprising bearing on Earth’s own history. Scientists believe the sun was not always as hot as it is. In fact, going back several billion years, it was cool enough that Earth should have been frozen over. Because it was not, this is known as the faint young sun paradox. Earth’s salvation may well be linked to Venus’ fate.

The idea is that the Earth occupied an orbit closer to the Sun, allowing it to capture more heat. The gravity of two smaller planets with unstable orbits would have gradually pushed it out to its present orbit. The pair would eventually come together, merging to form the Venus we know. As dead as Venus is today, it has brought surprising dividends in the search for life. On its recent crossing between Earth and the Sun, astronomers were out in force. In remote locations where the viewing was optimal, such as the Svalbard islands north of Norway. The data gathered here would be added to that collected by solar telescopes on the ground and in space. To object for most was to experience a spectacle that will not occur again till the year 2117. It was also to capture sunlight passing through Venus’ atmosphere.

Today, the Kepler Space Telescope is searching for planets around distant stars by detecting dips in their light as a planet passes in front. Telescopes in the future may be able to analyze the light of the planet itself. If elements such as carbon or oxygen are detected, then these worlds may well be “Earth-like.” Venus provides a benchmark, and some valuable perspective. So what can we glean from the evolution of planet Venus? As we continue to scan the cosmic horizons, the story of Venus will stand as a stark reminder. It takes more than just the right size, composition, and distance from the parent star, for a planet to become truly Earth-like. No matter how promising a planet may be, there are myriad forces out there that can radically alter its course. For here was a world, Venus, poised perhaps on the brink of a glorious future.

But bad luck passed its way. Now, we can only imagine what might have become of Earth’s sister planet? 8.

Ocean Seeding – A New Technology that can Save Marine Life

People have relied on the abundance of the ocean since the beginning of human history. But things are rapidly changing. Scientists project that by 2048 the ocean will be depleted and fisheries will cease to exist. Billions of people rely on fish as their primary source of food and income – a number that will continue to grow over the next few decades as the world population increases. A collapse of ocean fisheries will be a massive threat to the food security and well-being of life on this planet. Nations around the world are pursuing better management practices and sustainable fishing in an attempt to curb this loss… but it is not enough. Despite our efforts, the health of the ocean is decaying even faster than initially predicted. Moreover, we have discovered that overfishing is only part of the problem. To see the bigger picture, we have to go much, much smaller. The whole oceanic ecosystem obtains its energy, food, and nutrients from tiny green phytoplankton – microscopic organisms that play a critical role as the base of the marine food chain. They grow and multiply through the absorption of sunlight – alongside water, carbon dioxide, and micronutrients such as iron.

Phytoplankton are the food of zooplankton, which in turn are consumed by small fish, which are themselves consumed by larger ones and so on. For their health, phytoplankton depend on the natural fertilization of iron-rich winds and upwelling currents, which have been ongoing for millions of years. However, as a result of climate change, winds and currents are changing, and the oceans are getting warmer. This hinders the mixing of surface layers, separating phytoplankton from the nutrients they need to grow. A NASA study has shown a constant decrease of phytoplankton in the ocean… 1% per year since 1950. That means plankton has declined more than 40% in just 60 years. When phytoplankton are in danger, the whole ocean is in danger. Less plankton means less food for fish and other organisms. With the continual decline of plankton, we are facing the collapse of the marine food chain as we know it due to climate change.

The question is: WHAT CAN BE DONE? Over the last several decades, scientists have observed that the iron-rich dust of volcanic eruptions can create massive plankton blooms over deserted areas of the ocean. On several occasions, scientists saw the volume of wild fish in these areas increase significantly – far beyond expectations. Given these observations, experts began to consider what might happen if humans could mimic natural volcanic iron fertilization to boost ocean life. This process is known as OCEAN SEEDING. In a recent Ocean Seeding project, researchers added iron dust to an area of the ocean that was part of the migratory route of juvenile salmon. Only a year later, mainland rivers experienced one of the largest salmon returns in history. Ocean Seeding offers an opportunity to begin repairing the damage to our ocean, rebuild wild fish stock, and improve food security for the growing populations of the world. This vital shift cannot be made without further research in Ocean Seeding and your support. Support us by sharing this video with your friends on social media.

And join the conversation on Twitter with hashtag #OceanSeeding.

It’s so Cold, there can’t be Global Warming

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold tow opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald Meanwhile we’ve got this updated Fox news global warming alert, it is still cold, in fact it is getting colder, much colder, environmentalists telling me DUHHH “because it’s winter”…IT IS FREEZING! We’ve heard a lot of talk lately from deniers that cold temperatures are proof that there is no such thing as global waming. It looks like it will be an annual event for me to remind people that winter still follows summer. So, before we get started, a little review. It was a cool summer, right? Chicago, New York, places like that, so, how can it be global warming? This is how. Look at the context. These blue dots over North America represent below average temperatures for the summer, June, July, August, what we call climatological summer.

But look at the context, they’re lost in a sea of red dots, across much of the rest of the globe, just a couple other blue dots here and there, those red dots are above average temperatures. What that translates to in terms of a ranking, for this summer and for august, globally, second warmest on record, period of record going back a little more than a century. June through august globally, the third warmest on record, the oceans, which had cooled for a couple years, now recovered with a vengeance, August the warmest on record, June through August, also the warmest on record, and in the southern hemisphere, August was the warmest on record. The warm summer was followed up by a very warm november, globally, including abnormally warm temperatures in north america. Ironically, unseasonal warmth set the stage for dramatic winter weather, when temperatures did drop in december.

Let’s talk about why we’re seeing such a huge and significant lake effect event. The Great Lakes themselves, the water temperature there is still some 3 or 4 degrees warmer than it should normally be this time of year, because of a very mild November. Now again, its very cold air right now, its about 17 degrees, the cold air is coming over these warm lakes, picking up all this moisture, and dumping inch after inch of snow down wind, and, people, waking up on your friday, dealing with perhaps 2 to 4 feet of snow. People love to talk about the weather, and a series of strong storms and cold temperatures in December and early january sparked a lot of discussion. What scientists are telling us is that an important circulation pattern, the arctic oscillation, is in it’s negative phase. Normally, in the positive phase, the arctic oscillation produces strong winds around the arctic that keep cold air bottled up. When the oscillation is in its negative phase, cold air spills out of the arctic, and flows into north america and eurasia. Paradoxically, while temperate zones feel an arctic chill, the arctic itself becomes warmer than usual, exactly the effect that has been observed over the last several weeks.

The UK meteorological office produced this map, and described the observations. “Canada, North Africa, the mediterranean, and south-west Asia have all seen temperatures above normal, in many places by more than 5° C, and in parts of northern Canada, by more than 10° C.” When we look at the graph of the monthly arctic oscillation index, we can see that the current one is the strongest negative since the 1970s, which is why many people were surprised by the blasts of cold air, that are expected under these conditions. One effect was on air circulation over western europe, which normally flows from the west over the atlantic, delivering warmer air. Under the negative arctic oscillation, the warmer winds are blocked, and most of of the air flow is cold arctic winds, leading to snow and cold in many european countries. This diagram from NOAA shows the pattern of warmth in the arctic and unusual cold in mid latitudes around the northern hemisphere.

Dr Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data center, told reuter’s news agency: “It’s very warm over the Arctic, with air temperatures locally at 10 to 15 degrees F (5.6 to 8.4 degrees C) warmer than they should be in certain areas,” This map from NASA also shows the pattern, which was well illustrated in a BBC report with graphics from the UK Met office. This MET office maps show’s today’s temperatures around the northern hemisphere. There’s cold air over us, but warmer air elsewhere. Look further south and east, there’s an unusually warm band of air there. Then, further east, and over China, another very cold pocket. But just as the arctic was unseasonably warm, other areas of the globe also were not feeling the cold. While much of the Northern Hemisphere suffers from one of the hardest winters in years, the thermometer is shooting way up, down under. On Monday, Melbourne was melting with highs soaring to 110 degrees fahrenheit, monday night, Melbourne sweltered through its hottest night since 1902, the temperatures topping 34 degrees Celsius, or 93 degrees fahrenheit.

Most people think of global warming as a process where the planet sets new warming records year after year. A clearer picture comes in a new study from the National Center for Atmospheric research, described here by senior scientist Gerald Meehl. But what we noticed is in the last 10 or 20 years there’s been this ratio of about 2 to 1, for every 2 record high maximum temperatures, there’s only been about one record low minimum temperature set, on average over the US. We looked at a model simulation going off into the future, and in this model simulation we had a scenario where we are increasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases going off into the twenty first century. And as the climate continued to warm, this ratio continued to grow. In other words, you kept having more and more record high maximum temperatures, fewer and fewer record low minimum temperatures. So by the mid twenty first century, this ratio, which is now about 2 to 1, was about 20 to one, by the end of the century, with this continued warming, this continued change in the distribution of records, the ratio is about 50 to 1.

One of the messages of this study is, you still get cold days. Even at the end of the twenty first century, in the model simulation, when the climate’s warmed up by 3° or 4° Centigrade on average across the US, you’re still setting record low minimum temperatures on a few days every year. So, people always get very alarmed if there’s a cold snap in the winter, and they say, “what’s happened to global warming? We’re freezing out here.” And you say, well, that’s just the weather. In the northeast we’re talking temperatures well above average, Boston heading up to 43, warm in New York at 44, DC, we’re in the 50s, that’s about 10 degrees above average. And no cold in the midwest either, we are well above average here, friday temperatures 20 degrees above average in Bismark, at 39 degrees, we’ll be warm in Kansas City, in Denver will be mild, and in Great Falls, Montana, about 20 degrees above average, the warmth hangs on on saturday, all across the midwest.

When I look out at the world from a limited perspective, my senses tell me that the earth is flat. For thousands of years, most human beings probably believed that this was so. But in a technological, scientific world, our perception is greatly expanded, and we have a much larger view of the world and our place in it. We need to understand the larger perspective about our changing climate as well. Sophisticated instruments and advanced science show us details that our senses could never see, and recent satellite measurements show, that in fact, on january 13th, global temperatures were the warmest for a january day in the satellite record. And this week, NASA released data showing that 2009, was the second hottest year in the instrumental record. We’ll be looking more at this new data in coming weeks and months. The science of global climate is vital for us to understand if we are to pass along to our children a planet that is liveable, diverse, and abundant.

It’s the most important task this generation will undertake, and you can keep track of our progress right here, on climate denial crock of the week..

The Crazy Tech Behind America’s Arctic Missile Defense

So, we found a bunch of huge sci-fi satellite dish things…on the top of a mountain…in Alaska…and they look like this! And we just figured out why they’re there and what they do…and it’s really weird! Hey everyone, Amy here. Our friends at Seeker went on a shoot to Alaska recently, and they came back with a story that we just had to tell on DNews. It’s about a huge, ambitious military project called White Alice. By now the whole thing is barely a footnote in the history of the Cold War…but 60 years ago, it was revolutionary for the military, and for Alaska. In order to get why White Alice was so important, you have to understand a few things about Alaska. First: it’s huge, it’s empty, and it’s wild. In the mid 1950’s, it was home to just 215,000 people, spread across an area that’s twice the size of Texas. That made modern communication a pretty big hassle. Stringing telegraph or phone lines between cities meant crossing hundreds of miles of rugged, usually frozen terrain. The huge distances made radio communication flaky; even high-frequency signals fritzed out when the Northern Lights appeared! This was all a big problem because, during the Cold War, the US military needed good comm networks in Alaska.

Pearl Harbor was still fresh in everyone’s mind, and the government feared a far-North sneak attack from the Soviets…remember, Alaska and Russia are 53 miles apart at the Bering Strait. It’s such a narrow divide that the region became known as the “ice curtain”. The US and Canadian air forces set up a series of radar listening posts along the Arctic Ocean, but they needed a way to relay information across the state, and fast. And that is where White Alice came in. Beginning in 1955, the Air Force and Army built a network of communications hubs that used a very new technology to connect with one another. Phone calls and other data were transmitted via microwaves, beamed into the air, bounced off the Earth’s upper atmosphere, and back down to a receiving site. Each hub had two sets of dishes: one set for receiving a signal, and another for broadcasting it back out to the next hub. The process, called “tropospheric scattering”, had (and still has) a lot of advantages over other technologies.

First, bouncing signals off the upper atmosphere means that hubs don’t need a clear line of site to communicate…which is a useful thing in a mountainous place like Alaska. This way, White Alice sites could be 200 miles apart. The signal could also support multiple phone calls at the same time, something few other systems could manage. And, crucially for the military, it was secure. Once a signal is beamed out, it can only be received at one exact spot – making it next to impossible to intercept the signal along the way. All in all, the military built 22 tropospheric scattering sites across Alaska, eventually spending around $300 million dollars. And it wasn’t alone. Similar networks sprung up around the world – the US even connected Hawaii to the Philippines through the Pacific Scatter System. But it might have had the biggest impact on Alaska, uniting the new state in ways that no other technology could have.

But…before White Alice was even complete, a new technology arrived to replace it. In 1957 the Soviets launched Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite. US development of satellite communications ramped up, and by 1967, just 8 years after the network’s completion, the government began to divest from the very system it built. Interestingly, White Alice remained in use until the late ‘70s as a civilian phone network. And today, the military still uses tropo scattering networks here and there…because they’re still really secure. But this remains the era of satellites. Now, the reason we have all this footage is that the White Alice hub outside of Nome still stands today…it’s one of the last tropo scattering sites in Alaska to escape demolition.

The electronics there are long dead, but the structures themselves still serve a final purpose: they’re unmistakable landmarks, visible for miles. And they still help hunters and travelers out on the tundra find their way home to Nome. Like I mentioned earlier, this story came out of a much larger trip to the Bering Strait – and the Seeker Daily team has a great video about how the whole world might need the Strait soon. To watch that video now, click here. And as always, thanks for watching..

NASA | Goddard Goes to Mars

The overarching theme of the last decade or so of exploration of Mars is, what happened to the water? There’s evidence of water flowing on Mars at one point in time, perhaps even oceans on Mars. The current atmosphere as it is today is much thinner and cannot support that kind of water on the surface, so MAVEN is going after, what is the current state of the upper atmosphere, how did it change, why did it change, and how did that impact the surface? George Diller: “Five, four, three, two, one. Main engines start, ignition, and liftoff of the Atlas V with MAVEN, looking for clues about the evolution of Mars through its atmosphere.” MAVEN is a mission that is a first of its kind for the Goddard Space Flight Center, that is, a mission going to Mars that is managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center on behalf of the Principal Investigator at the University of Colorado.

With it we provide the project management, which encompasses a whole range of disciplines: safety of mission assurance, the mission systems engineering, mission design, disciplined engineers, and the financial side of this, the tracking, the schedule, the budget. So that’s all part of it. We’re also delivering two of the instruments for the MAVEN mission, one being the magnetometers, there’s actually redundant magnetometers, there’s two on this mission, and there’s a mass spectrometer, again, steeped in heritage of past developments from this particular group at the Goddard Space Flight Center. In fact they have a similar mass spectrometer on board the Curiosity rover at Mars right now. So this is two elements of Goddard, both from a project management standpoint and instrument delivery that are such an integral part of the MAVEN mission. Ultimately, I’m excited about the science that we hope to deliver for the world community and the Mars scientists. It’s going to unlock a piece of the puzzle that we have not been able to do with current rovers or other orbiters to this point in time.

This is another important piece that the scientists have been very interested for many years in what’s happening all the way up through the upper atmosphere.

The Air On Mars Has A Mysterious Glow. Here’s Why

With a rarified (or super thin) atmosphere looking at the stars from Mars must be incredible! But at night on Mars, there's also another source of light … the atmosphere of the Red Planet is literally glowing! Howdy glow worms, this is DNews, and I'm Trace. Nightglow is the tendency for the atmosphere of a planet to glow in complete absence of external light. This bizarre effect was spotted in mid-2016 by MAVEN. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission was sent to orbit Mars to ascertain how Mars was stripped of its ancient atmosphere. But, while analyzing ultraviolet pictures scientists spotted this nightglow in the swirling high-altitude air of our rust-colored neighbor… Okay first, MAVEN has found that the sun's constant barrage of energy from it's nuclear reactions have slowly stripped the atmosphere of the planet to it's current level, 100 to 150 times thinner than our on Earth.

That same stripping of the atmosphere is causing the nightglow that MAVEN spotted! When ultraviolet light from the sun hits the "leading edge" of the planet the energy in the particles break down carbon dioxide, nitrogen and oxygen which are all floating around in the Martian sky. This is called photodissociation. The now-broken-up particles, are then carried on high altitude winds all around the planet. Once they reach the nightside of Mars (away from UV light), those free nitrogen and oxygen atoms interact — combining to form nitric oxide between 60 and 100 kilometers above the dusty surface [. When they do that, they release energy, causing this nightglow! It's basically the same idea used for glow-in-the-dark toys or glowsticks! Scientists are excited because it's very difficult to map the movement of the Martian atmosphere! Taking "pictures" of this glow can help scientists determine what's happening down there throughout the Mars year.

They can see how air moves in different Mars seasons, better understand the planet's cloud formations, and thanks to ozone formation, find water molecules. To be honest, nightglow is completely normal, and Mars isn't the only planet that has it… it's been seen on Venus, and a little planet you may have heard of, Eeeahhrth?! Just like on Mars, Earth's nightglow is caused by chemical reactions in the upper atmosphere, between 85 and 95 kilometers up. And just like on Mars this glow is very faint; NASA's Earth Observatory says the glow on our planet is about a billionth as bright as sunlight. So, it's very hard to see, but it's not invisible. A 2005 study in Astroparticle Physics found about 564 photons per meter squared, per second, over the Mediterranean Sea. And, if you were on the International Space Station looking sideways at the atmosphere you can see a faint glow… that's Earth's nightglow! We know a bit more about our own nightglow — for example, just like on Mars, the solar wind photo dissociates molecules in our upper atmosphere, and when they recombine they release energy as green, blue, yellow, and red light: oxygen glows green or blue, sodium yellowish, and hydroxls, or OH molecules glow red.

Science is beautiful, ain't it? Nightglow is just another byproduct of the sun's neverending assault on our atmosphere, and the atmosphere of other planets in our solar system. What a warm nuclear ball of awesome. Worried that the constant barrage of solar energy is actually going to steal our atmosphere? Can we run out of oxygen!? Check out this video with my girl Julia for more on that. And what is your favorite science topic? Space? Environment? Animals? Physics?! Tell us in the comments. Thanks for watching! Please subscribe so you get more DNews..

How Global Warming Works in Under 5 Minutes

You may have heard of global climate change, which is often called "global warming." Whether or not people accept that humans are causing global warming, most folks have an opinion about it. But how much do regular people understand the science of climate change? If you were asked to explain how global warming works, could you? Take a moment to try to explain to yourself how virtually all climate scientists think the Earth is warming. What is the physical or chemical mechanism? Don't feel bad; if you're anything like the people we've surveyed in our studies, you probably struggled to come up with an explanation. In fact, in one study we asked almost 300 adults in the U.S.– and not a single person could accurately explain the mechanism a global warming at a pretty basic level. This is consistent with larger surveys that have shown that people often lack knowledge about climate change.

But how can we make informed decisions without understanding the issues we're debating? Allow us to give you a short explanation of how global warming works: First, here is how Earth's temperature works without considering how humans influence it. The Earth absorbs light from the Sun, which is mostly visible light. To release that light-energy, Earth also emits light. But, because the Earth is cooler than the sun, it emits lower-energy infrared light. So, Earth's surface essentially transforms most to the visible light it gets from the sun into infrared light. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as methane and carbon dioxide, let visible light passed through, but absorb infrared light–causing the atmosphere to retain heat. This energy can be absorbed and emitted by the atmosphere many times before it eventually returns to outer space. The added time this energy hangs around has helped keep earth warm enough to support life as we know it.

Without this greenhouse effect–caused by these greenhouse gases in the atmosphere– the Earth's average surface temperature would be about 50 degrees Fahrenheit cooler, which is well below the freezing point for ice! So, how have humans change things? Since the dawn of the industrial age, around the year 1750, atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased by 40%– and methane has almost tripled. These increases cause extra infrared light absorption, meaning an extra greenhouse effect, which has caused Earth to heat above its typical temperature range. In other words, energy that gets to Earth has an even harder time leaving it, causing Earth's average temperature to increase– thus producing global climate change. In case you're wondering about what makes greenhouse gases special, here are two sentences of slightly technical information: Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide absorb infrared light because their molecules can vibrate to produce asymmetric distributions of electric charge, which match the energy levels of various infrared wavelengths.

In contrast, non-greenhouse gases such as oxygen–that is, 02–don't absorb infrared light, because they have symmetric charge distributions even while vibrating. To wrap, up we'll quickly summarize the mechanism global climate change: Earth transforms sunlight's visible energy into infrared light, and infrared energy leaves Earth slowly because it's absorbed by greenhouse gases. As people produce more greenhouse gases, energy leaves Earth even more slowly– raising Earth's temperature even more than it has already gone up. That's how global warming happens! This wasn't so hard to understand, right? In these few minutes you've hopefully become one of the few people who understand the mechanism of global climate change. Please share this video with others so you can help them understand how global warming works, too.

Thanks for listening!.