Today is a day of worldly news. We revisit the possibility of water on Venus, look at Mars, announce 21 new moons (that you can name!), and learn this year’s Physics Nobel Prize was awarded for the discovery of 51 Peg b, the first known planet orbiting an alien star.
This is the Daily Space for today, Tuesday, October 8, 2019. I am your host, Dr Pamela Gay, and I am here to put science in your brain.
Most Mondays through Fridays, either I or my cohost Annie Wilson will be here bringing you a quick rundown of all that is new in space and astronomy.
Today we’re going to keep the science in our Solar System, and we’re going to start with an update on Venus. Many of you may remember the September 20th announcement that Venus may once have been a world with oceans and a not deadly atmosphere. We covered this news in our very first podcast episode back on September 23. Well, today we have a new paper pointing out that some of our evidence for water may not be quite as good as we had hoped. In particular, a new study of the Ovda Fluctus lava flow indicates that the Venusian highlands may be made of Basaltic rock instead of granite as had been previously thought. Lunar and Planetary Institute scientists, and summer intern and paper lead author Frank Wroblewski, reanalyzed radar data of Venus. While granite requires water, Basaltic rocks do not. If this research proves true, then the highlands of Venus were created through some kind of a dramatic uplift process.
This story reminds me that science is a process, and our accuracy is often limited by the quality of our data. With Venus, we’re generally working off of radar data that doesn’t have the kinds of detail we’re used to dealing with from images. It is unlikely we’ll ever have the same wealth of data for Venus that we enjoy with so many other worlds, like Mars and our Moon. Still, we needn’t give up on trying to understand Venus. Japan is currently doing research at Venus, and I hope to see more nations and more creative ways to handle to toxic clouds getting put into action in the coming years.
From Venus, we now jump to Mars, where the evidence for water is a lot more definitive. Currently, the Mars Curiosity rover, which is a science laboratory on wheels, is traveling through Gale Crater. From orbit, this region looks like water may one have filled the crater and eventually formed a river flowing out of the crater. From inside the crater, Curiosity is finding all sorts of more detailed evidence of water. Most recently, in a new study in Nature Geosciences, W. Rapin and his team have discovered rocks that look like water flowed through them, and Curiosity’s science instruments found salt crystals in the rocks. These particular kinds of crystals most often form when water evaporates in pools that regularly refill, and are further evidence of briny moisture coming to the surface over and over over millions of years. Mars was wet, and I don’t think there is any way for this discovery to go away.
In other discovery news, Saturn has new 21 more moons, and you – yes you! – you can enter a contest to name them. We have all the details on our website, dailyspace.org. The science of these moons is highly varied and they are seen orbiting in both directions around Saturn. We will do a special episode about Saturn’s moons in the coming weeks.
And finally, we have late-breaking news from Sweden. This morning the Nobel prize committee announced awardees Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz “for contributions to our understanding of the evolution of the universe and Earth’s place in the cosmos.” While this official announcement is vague, the actual discovery was very specific. These men found the planet 51Peg b in 1995 and started the field of exoplanet discovery. Today we know of 1000’s of worlds orbiting alien stars
And that rounds out our show for today.
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