The Quest to Inhabit Mars

As a species, we need multiple paths to survival. One of which is living in space. With this in mind, companies like SpaceX have plans to colonize Mars. But why Mars? It is the next most habitable planet after Earth. It contains water, temperatures that are not too hot nor too cold, enough sunlight, ability to adapt to its gravity, an atmosphere, and similar day/night rhythm’s to Earth.

A potential Mars city, envisioned by SpaceX

Elon Musk wants to make a reality, starting by sending humans to Mars in 2024. Musk first plans by testing “planet hops” to refuel rockets in 2019. In 2020, SpaceX’s Starship testing will begin and eventually reach Mars in 2022 without humans. Assuming all goes well, Musk plans on sending humans to Mars in 2024 (with two unmanned cargo ships) the next time Earth and Mars are aligned. The very next year in 2025, Mars’s first human colony could appear, which would eventually expand into towns and eventually cities, offering habitats, greenhouses, life support, etc. By 2050, Musk is aiming for an entire city. By 2117, The United Arab Emirates wants to see a city of 600,000 people.

If this doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

Electric Propulsion

A propulsion method I was unaware of is electric propulsion (EP). An EP system consists of thruster components, propellant components, power components, and an optional pointing mechanism. Essentially, electric and magnetic fields react to charged particles in the rocket’s exhaust which accelerates charged particles that make up propellant.

Electric Propulsion System

This requires less energy than chemical rockets due to higher exhaust speeds, however, thrust is much weaker due to limited electric power. Therefore, electric propulsion is not currently used for rocket launches; instead, electric propulsion systems are used for station keeping, orbit raising, and primary propulsion in satellites.

Future Exoplanet Research

The future of exoplanet research means not just the discovery of more exoplanets, but characterizing them. To do so, the European Space Agency (ESA) is launching the Characterizing Exoplanet Satellite (CHEOPS), the PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars mission (PLATO), and the Atmospheric Remote-Sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey mission (ARIEL).

European Space Agency (ESA) Exoplanet Mission Timeline

CHEOPS will observe bright stars with known exoplanets, in search for transits. The goal is to measure precise sizes of smaller planets and determine their densities (using mass data from other observatories). PLATO, however, will discover new planets with an emphasis on habitable planets where liquid water can exist on the surface. Additionally, it will analyze host stars to further our understanding of the extrasolar system’s evolution. Lastly, ARIEL will analyze the atmospheres of exoplanets. Altogether, the hope is to discover new life in the Universe.

NASA’s Mars 2020 Mission

In 2020, sometime from July 17th to August 5th during the rover’s launch window, NASA will send a rover to Mars to try to answer a question being asked for over a century: was there life on Mars? The objective of the Mars 2020 Mission is to search for signs of previous microbial life as well as signs of previous “habitable conditions.” Additionally, the goal is to demonstrate new technology that could show the potential of “human expeditions to Mars.” Such methods used to test this potential is the rover’s ability produce oxygen using the Martian atmosphere, search for sources of water, identify the living conditions to prepare for astronauts, and improve landing technology.

Mars 2020 Mission Timeline

The Mars 2020 rover is based on NASA’s Curiosity rover, which demonstrated the ability to land heavy rovers on Mars and demonstrated surface mobility for sample collections. To improve upon this design, the 2020 rover is carrying a drill for coring samples rather than scooping rocks or soil from the surface. This “depot caching” strategy demonstrates “gathering, storing, and preserving” capabilities. These samples will eventually be sent back to Earth on a future mission for “intensive laboratory analysis” which will allow scientists to identify “past environments capable of supporting microbial life” and rocks with signs of previous life. Additionally, the new rover has technology to extract oxygen from Mars’ 96% carbon dioxide atmosphere, which will be used to demonstrate human exploration potential to improve designs for “life support, transportation, and other important systems for living and working on Mars.”

The Mars 2020 Mission is very important for future space exploration on Mars and other planets. As technology advances, scientists and engineers are eager to send more astronauts into space in search of life to continue answering questions about the history of our solar system and the universe. Technology will continue to develop, and the Mars 2020 Mission is the next step to demonstrate our ability to make new, ground-breaking discoveries.

Below is an interesting overview of the Mars 2020 Mission:

References:

https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/mission/overview/


Blog 2: When is the Best Time to Surf?

When’s the right time grab your surfboard and hit the beach? High tides cause closeouts, which blocks a surfer’s path, and low tides cause slow-rolling waves, which are low frequency and high amplitude waves. Ideally, you want to surf during mid tide conditions. But first, what causes these changes in tide?

Tides are caused by the “differences in gravitational pulls of the Moon and Sun between near and far sides of the Earth,” (Pogge, 2007). However, the effect of the Sun’s gravitational pull on Earth’s tides are approximately 46% of the Moon’s effect on tides. This is because the Sun is 390 times further from the Earth than the Moon. Therefore, the difference of gravitational pull of the Moon from the near side to far side of the Earth impacts the tides the most. The effect is a “bulge” in Earth’s waters being pulled toward the Moon on the side in line with the Moon, or pushed away from the Moon on the far side of Earth. This causes high tide. High tide occurs every 12 hours as the Earth rotates 360-degrees in a single day. Additionally, since the Moon is orbiting the Earth, the times for high tides and low tides in a given location will change by 50 minutes every day.

During a New Moon or Full Moon, the tides are 20% higher in high tide regions and 20% lower in low tide regions. This is caused by the perfect alignment between the Moon, Earth, and Sun, causing extreme tides. Using “Rule of Twelfths” you can find the perfect time to go surfing.

In order to understand the “Rule of Twelfths,” we first need to understand the tempo of the tides. When the tide reaches the highest point, it slows down before changing directions into low tide. At its halfway point, the tides have reached its maximum speed. This maximum speed occurs two times a day as there are two high tides and two low tides in a day, approximately 6 hours apart from each other. In the first hour, the “water level rises by 1/12th of the total range,” (Carey, 2013) then rises by 2/12ths of the total tide in the second hour, then rises by 3/12th in the third and fourth hours, then 2/12ths the fifth hour, and lastly rises by 1/12th the sixth hour. The pattern is 1, 2, 3, 3, 2, 1. Clearly, during mid tide the rise is the fastest at 3/12ths in the third and fourth hours, which is how you can determine this is the best time to surf, avoiding closeouts from high tides and slow-rolling waves during low tides. Note that the “Rule of Twelfths” only applies to the semi-diurnal tide, a “tide having two high waters and two low waters during a tidal day,” which occurs in most locations.

To conclude, understanding the effect the Moon has on Earth’s tides during the day can allow someone to plan their perfect surf session. By applying the “Rule of Twelfths” to your understanding of the difference gravitational pull on Earth by the Moon, you can surf during ideal mid tide conditions.

References:

Pogge, Richard. “Lecture 20: Tides.” GPS and Relativity, The Ohio State University, 14 Oct. 2007, http://www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/~pogge/Ast161/Unit4/tides.html.

“How Do the Moon and Sun Affect Tides and Surfing?” SurferToday, SurferToday, http://www.surfertoday.com/surfing/how-do-the-moon-and-sun-affect-tides-and-surfing.

“How Do the Moon and Sun Affect Tides and Surfing?” IndoSurfLife.com, 30 Sept. 2011, indosurflife.com/2011/09/how-do-the-moon-and-sun-affect-tides-and-surfing/.

Carey, Teresa. “Understanding the Rule of Twelfths for Tide Prediction.” Sail Magazine, 12 Apr. 2013, http://www.sailmagazine.com/cruising/understanding-the-rule-of-twelfths-for-tide-prediction.

The Cosmic Calendar

The Cosmic Calendar

The Cosmic Calendar is a method used to visualize and better understand the timeline of the universe. Midnight, January 1st, is when the Big Bang occurred, and December 31st, 23:59:59, is modern time. On the Cosmic Calendar, the early development of the universe ranged from January 1st to September 6th and the first known biotic life on Earth formed on September 14th. Dinosaurs lasted from December 25th to December 30th, 6:24. What is very interesting is the existence of primitive humans, starting on December 31st, 22:24, with the development of agriculture on 23:59:32. From this point on, from the end of the Ice Age to the start of Modern History, our history has lasted for less than 30 seconds on the Cosmic Calendar. Dinosaurs roamed the Earth for 5 days on the Cosmic Calendar, significantly more time compared to our short 7 seconds since the Iron Age. Despite the short while we have existed, we have discovered, learned, and created so much that has impacted Earth and the species on it in significant ways, for better or for worse.