A Roundup of New Events in Space

Space 2013-02-27

Space has featured several times in the headlines recently. With the asteroid that crashed in Russia and the news from Mars, we thought it might be time for a recap.


Last week’s meteoroid

Through the use of amateur videos, astronomers have been able to retrace the trajectory of the meteoroid that caused mayhem in Russia last week. Its orbit has identified that it came from the Apollo family of near-Earth asteroids. This family of asteroids is known to have an orbit that can cross the Earth’s. Theoretically, being able to trace meteoride orbits means forewarning of possible collisions. However, in practice this is not so simple.

An orbital overlap such as that seen last week is a rare event and is rarely cause for concern. Additionally, prediciting meteoroid orbits is not a simple task. Frequent sightings are required to plot an orbit; telescopes do not necessarily spot asteroids and other potential threats.


On Mars

Another part of space has also been interesting scientists recently. On Mars, Curiosity may have detected perchlorate. The presence of life on Mars has been a matter of a debate since the Viking mission. In the 1970s, two probes, Viking 1 and 2 may have detected life while on Mars. However, the scientists who worked on these projects have disagreed on whether this is true or not ever since. The official version of the events states that life was not detected. The discovery of perchlorate by Curiosity may be able to put an end to this disagreement. Due to the longstanding disagreement, a sample would likely need to be brought back to Earth to settle things definitively. If Curiosity really has found perchlorate, a chemical that destroys organic matter, then a new review of the Viking mission’s data may be required. It is ironic that a malfunction in Curiosity’s equipment may resolve such a longstanding debate.

Continuing on the topic of Mars, there is a press conference scheduled for 6pm GMT this evening. A former NASA employee and other high profile businessmen will be taking to the press. The information available so far leads to speculation that a human mission to Mars may be on the cards. While we will need to wait until tonight to know if this is the case or not, whether or not such a mission is valuable will remain hotly debated. Do we need to send humans on a mission that will take over one year to complete when we can send robots. An answer of sorts is expected tonight.


An update on yesterday’s press conference

Yesterday it was confirmed that Dennis Tito will help fund a mission around Marsleaving Earth in 2018. Two people will be sent to within 100 miles of Mars and the trip should take 501 days.