Space Experts Swoon Over ‘The Martian’ Despite Inaccuracies

Surviving in space is hard and scientists say The Martian shows precisely what challenges astronauts will face on a pioneering mission to Mars, even though it contains some big inaccuracies right from the get-go.

Case in point – the colossal storm that causes the crew to abandon the movie’s main character, botanist Mark Watney played by Matt Damon, would not have packed much of a punch on the Red Planet.

“The fundamental starting premise is completely incorrect,” said Mars expert Scott Hubbard, a consulting professor in the department of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University.

Due to the thin atmosphere on Mars, wind speeds could only reach about half a hurricane’s strength, and “would probably not be sensed by an astronaut let alone pose the sort of threat seen in the movie.”

Still, Hubbard and others say they are fans of the story both the novel, written by Andy Weir, and the movie, directed by Ridley Scott because it brings to life the challenges Nasa must overcome as it strives to send humans to Mars by the 2030s.

In the movie, Nasa is already there, landing an ethnically diverse crew on the Red Planet, where Damon’s character accidentally gets left for dead with about a month’s supply of food.

Facing the prospect of waiting four years until a spaceship could get back to him, he is constantly thinking about what could kill him and how to avoid it that is, when he is not dancing to the disco music left behind by his commander or vowing, “I am going to have to science the shit out of this,” in order to survive.

“The thing we like about the movie is it shows how you think one, two, three steps ahead,” said Nasa astronaut Rex Walheim.

What’s real
In the movie, the stranded astronaut manages to grow a crop of potatoes, which he eats along with protein bars and vitamins in order to stay alive.

When his character is feeling glum, after running out of ketchup, he crushes up the painkiller Vicodin and sprinkles it on his potatoes.

At one point, Damon proclaims himself the greatest botanist on the planet, which is true since he is the only one.

But when he brags that he grew hundreds of potatoes in his “own shit,” he takes a bit of creative license, said Bruce Bugbee, director of the plants, soils and climate department at Utah State University.

“You would never put raw sewage on plants,” said Bugbee, noting that his waste would have to be composted first to kill off any harmful bacteria.

Otherwise, Bugbee said it is true that scientists on Earth have figured out how to grow plants in harsh environments, as well as split carbon dioxide (CO2) in order to get oxygen, and to split water (H2O) to get oxygen.

What is missing is an experiment to test these techniques in a long-term Mars simulation on Earth, by sealing people off in an area with no outside oxygen or water and only their own tools for growing food and recycling waste.

That hasn’t been done in the United States since the Biosphere 2 project in the 1990s.

There is a year-long Nasa-funded Mars simulation under way in Hawaii, but its focus is primarily crew psychology, not building a self-sustaining food system.

“We do know how to do everything. The challenge is practicing,” said Bugbee.

What’s not
Retired Nasa astronaut Leroy Chiao said he tried to leave his “technical hat” at the door when he saw the movie.

But there were a couple of scenes that were “implausible and too much,” he said.

One involved an astronaut puncturing a glove to devise a thruster. The other came when a crew member crafted a makeshift bomb that blew up just one part of the spaceship.

“There is no way either one would work!” Chiao said.

In scenes when Damon makes contact with the crew, he types and reads messages back in real time, when there would likely be a delay of many minutes to get messages to Mars and back.

Nor does the movie allude to the dangers of radiation in space, and the risk of cancer that would likely stalk the Mars pioneers if they made it back to Earth.

Not to mention that Nasa is still working on the machinery to rocket humans to Mars. The US space agency has begun testing the Orion deep space capsule, but its first manned flight test may not be until 2023.

“I think the reality is that even if all those technologies were ready if the Orion was magically ready tomorrow we would be a no-go for launch because the human body is not yet ready for us to go to Mars,” said Camille Alleyne of the International Space Station program science office.

But space policy expert John Logsdon said he expects the story will inspire young people to keep working on ways to get there.

“I think the bottom line of both the book and the movie is yes, it is worth doing,” he said.

Nasa’s Latest Pluto Photos Reveal Snakeskin-Like Surface Features

New “snakeskin” mystifying images of Pluto sent by Nasa’s New Horizons probe have revealed a multitude of previously unseen topographic and compositional details.

The images captures a vast rippling landscape of strange, aligned linear ridges that has astonished New Horizons team members.

“It is a unique and perplexing landscape stretching over hundreds of miles,” said William McKinnon,New Horizons team’s deputy lead from Washington University in St Louis.

“It looks more like tree bark or dragon scales than geology. Maybe, it is some combination of internal tectonic forces and ice sublimation driven by Pluto’s faint sunlight,” he added in a statement.

The “snakeskin” image of Pluto’s surface is just one tantalising piece of data New Horizons sent back in recent days.

snake_new_horizons_nasa_1.jpgThe spacecraft also captured the highest-resolution colour view yet of Pluto, as well as detailed spectral maps and other high-resolution images.

The new “extended colour” view of Pluto shows the extraordinarily rich colour palette of Pluto.

“Many landforms have their own distinct colours, telling a wonderfully complex geological and climatological story that we have only just begun to decode,” noted John Spencer from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado.

Beyond the new images, new compositional information comes from a just-obtained map of methane ice across part of Pluto’s surface that reveals striking contrasts.

“With these just-downlinked images and maps, we have turned a new page in the study of Pluto beginning to reveal the planet at high resolution in both colour and composition,” added New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern.

The distribution of methane across the surface is anything but simple with higher concentrations on bright plains and crater rims, but usually none in the centres of craters or darker regions.

Satellites to Help Check Illegal Mining in India

India would soon use indigenous space technology to check illegal mining and guard its mineral wealth using satellite imagery, a top official said on Thursday.

“We are in talks with the Indian space agency to use its earth-observation and remote sensing satellites for tracking illegal mining activity and guard the rich mineral assets in the country,” Mines Secretary Balwinder Kumar said at a trade event here.

The Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) will soon sign an agreement with the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) to utilise its space applications for monitoring mining activity and study its impact to protect the environment.

“We are meeting Isro officials on October 1 in New Delhi to work out modalities, as arrangements are in place to use space technology to regulate mining activity,” Kumar said.

As a watchdog, IBM regulates scientific development of mineral resources and protects environment of mines other than coal, petroleum and natural gas, atomic minerals and minor minerals.

Rampant illegal mining in Karnataka and Goa led to closure of iron ore mines and judicial intervention by the Supreme Court, leading to the setting up of an empowered committee to regulate and monitor mining activity under rehabilitation and resettlement system.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 7 directed various ministries to make use of space-based technology in collaboration with Isro for the common good of all.

The city-based space agency will enhance its satellite capacity to meet the needs of the mining sector in coordination with the respective states.

Kumar was here to participate in the inaugural event of the three-day annual Mining, Exploration Convention and Trade Show, organised by the Federation of Indian Mineral Industries (FIMI) in association with the mines ministry, at the Bangalore International Exhibition Centre.

Meteorite Bashing Changed Earth’s Chemistry

In its early life, Earth suffered a meteorite pummelling that lasted 100 million years and may have changed its chemical makeup forever, researchers said Wednesday.

The steady stream of Earth-shattering collisions shortly after the birth of our solar system, ripped up the planet’s surface and altered the very composition of the rock we call home.

At the same time, those ancient meteorites called chondrites were adding to the Earth’s bulk, which like all planets form through a process of accretion where material is pulled in by gravity, according to the study published in the journal Nature Communications.

While the Earth lost chunks as the meteorites crashed into it, it nevertheless experienced a net gain in mass during this violent period.

The finding is the latest in a long scientific quest to resolve a puzzle over the makeup of meteorites building blocks of early Earth and the chemical signature of our present-day planet.

Embryonic Earth some 4.7 billion years ago, the new research suggests, did in fact have the same chemical mix as at least one type of chondrite (called enstatite).

But the extended bombardment changed the chemical signature of the planet itself.

“Repeated episodes of production and erosion of the terrestrial crust removed large quantities of silicon, leaving the relative excess of magnesium we observe today,” the researchers concluded.

The crust is the outermost layer of Earth, a thin layer over the mantle, which itself covers the planet’s outer and inner core.

If scientists could extract samples from its deep layers, they might have a better idea of what a proto-Earth was made of.

But they have no choice but to rely on other evidence including meteorites.

For the study, Asmaa Boujibar and colleagues at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) used lab experiments and modelling to test their theory.

They reproduced the conditions under which Earth’s primitive crust accumulated, by melting chondrites under various pressures.

The results, the study concludes, explains the makeup of the molten rock that eventually cooled into Earth’s crust.

Isro’s Mars Orbiter Mission Turns One

India’s globally acclaimed Mars mission completed one year Thursday with Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) releasing the Mars Atlas to mark the feat of the Orbiter whose life is now expected to last many more years.

It contains a compilation of images acquired by Mars Colour Camera (MCC) and results obtained by other payload in a form of scientific atlas.

Isro will also be bringing out a book, ‘Fishing hamlet to Mars’ on November 5 to mark the anniversary of Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), whose success has boosted India’s global standing as a space power.

It was on September 24 last year that India scripted space history when it successfully placed its low-cost Mars spacecraft in orbit around the Red Planet on its very first attempt, breaking into an elite club of three nations.

The space probe entered the Mars orbit on September 24, almost a year after its launch, and made its home around the Red Planet.

European Space Agency (ESA) of European consortium, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) of the US and Roscosmos of Russia are the only three other agencies which had so far sent their missions to Mars.

Only 21 of the total of 51 missions sent to Mars by various countries have been successful before MOM.

The Mars mission of the Isro is aimed at establishing the country’s capability to reach the red planet and focus on looking for the presence of methane, an indicator of life in Mars.

The make-or-break tricky manoeuvre was carried out on this very date last year, with clockwork precision on the refrigerator sized spacecraft as planned in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who exultantly described it as “a historic occasion”, saying the country has achieved the “near impossible”.

The life of the Mars Orbiter Spacecraft which now Isro says can last “many years” was earlier intended for only six months, and later extended for another six months in March this year.

Super Blood Moon’ to Give Stargazers a Rare Show

For the first time in decades, skygazers are in for the double spectacle Monday of a swollen “supermoon” bathed in the blood-red light of a total eclipse.

The celestial show, visible from the Americas, Europe, Africa, west Asia and the east Pacific, will be the result of the Sun, Earth and a larger-than-life, extra-bright Moon lining up for just over an hour from 0211 GMT.

“It will be quite exciting and especially dramatic,” predicted astronomer Sam Lindsay of the Royal Astronomical Society in London.

“It’ll be brighter than usual, bigger than usual.”

The Moon will be at its closest orbital point to Earth, called perigee, while also in its brightest phase.

The resulting “supermoon” will look 30 percent brighter and 14 times larger than when at apogee, the farthest point which is about 49,800 kilometres (31,000 miles) from perigee.

Unusually, our planet will take position in a straight line between the Moon and the Sun, blotting out the direct sunlight that usually makes our satellite glow whitish-yellow.

But some light will still creep around Earth’s edges and be filtered through its atmosphere, casting an eerie red light that creates the “blood moon”.

The Moon travels to a similar position every month, but the tilt of its orbit means it normally passes above or below the Earth’s shadow so most months have a full moon minus eclipse.

For people younger than 33, this will be their first-ever chance to see a “super blood moon”.

The last, only the fifth recorded since 1900, was in 1982, according to the Nasa space agency, and the next will not be until 2033.

If the weather holds, that is the spectacle would not be visible behind cloud cover.

‘Gloom and doom’ Moon
On top of the wow factor, the event is also of great interest for researchers.

Over a 24-day cycle, the temperature on the surface of our satellite normally ambles between highs of about 121 degrees Celsius (250 degrees Fahrenheit) in direct sunlight, and lows around minus 115 degree C in the shade.

These changes help researchers study the composition of the crust, as rocks warm and cool slower than sand-like dust.

But on Monday, the eclipse will see that temperature shift happen over the eclipse’s duration confining the observable change to the very outer surface, said Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for Nasa’s lunar orbiter.

“That almost instant change tells us about the upper few centimetres of the surface. We’re getting a very fine, unique measurement of the uppermost surface,” Petro told AFP.

Monday’s “blood moon” will be the last in a string of four total lunar eclipses since April 15, 2014, in a series astronomers call a tetrad.

These phenomena may be a normal part of the celestial calendar today, but for many ancient peoples it was an omen of bad things to come.

“Throughout history many cultures have seen (eclipses) as being a sign of gloom and doom,” Petro said.

They weren’t always wrong.

In February 1504, explorer Christopher Columbus used a blood moon to trick Jamaican natives who had been feeding him and his men, but cut them off when relations turned sour.

Columbus knew a blood moon had been forecast, and warned the natives that his god would send an angry “sign” at their treatment of the newcomers.

Legend has it the natives came running with food as soon as the Moon turned red.

Unlike a solar eclipse, which creates the impression of a bright “ring” of light as the Moon passes before our star, there is no danger in watching Monday’s lunar spectacle with the naked eye, the experts say.

FreedomPop’s Free Mobile Service Launches In The UK


Back in May FreedomPop announced that they were planning to launch their free mobile service in the UK and now the company has revealed that their service is now available.

The free mobile provider will give you 200 minutes of calls, 200 texts and 200MB of data completely free without any monthly contract fee, if you go over these amounts, you then pay for the extra you want.

“The U.K. has had many mobile providers and services enter the market, but none of them offer a completely new business model enabling free service, guaranteed for life,” said Stephen Stokols, FreedomPop CEO and co-Founder. “Similar to the U.S., FreedomPop will deliver unprecedented value to consumers with an easy-to-use, high-quality mobile service. We believe everyone should have access to mobile services, and we’re going to make that a reality in the U.K.”

You can find out more details about the free mobile service from FreedomPop in the UK at the link below, it has only be available in the US in the past and has now expanded to the UK, the company plans to expand to more countries in the future.

Firefox Browser Now Includes New Firefox Hello Instant Messaging

Firefox Hello

Mozilla has updated its Firefox browser this month to version 41 that brings with it a number of minor updates that allow users to personalise their Firebox Account, but more importantly adds new functionality for the Firefox Hello instant messaging beta.

The new instant messaging functionality that is now available in the latest Firefox browser has been developed in partnership with Telefónica and is fully integrated into the browser code.

Allowing users to send and receive instant messages when users are participating in a video call in Firefox for Windows, Mac and Linux. Mozilla explains a little more about the personalisation of your Firefox Account and its new Firefox Hello messaging feature.

Firefox Accounts provides access to services like Firefox Sync to let you take browsing data such as passwords, bookmarks, history and open tabs across your desktop and mobile devices. The latest update to Firefox Accounts allows you to personalize your Firefox Account profile in Firefox for Windows, Mac, Linux and Android by adding a photo.

Firefox Hello provides more value to Firefox users by making it easier to communicate with your friends and family who might not have the same video chat service, software or hardware as you. It’s free to make voice and video calls and there’s no need to download software, plugins or even create an account. It’s ready to go as soon as you open Firefox Beta by clicking on the ‘chat bubble’ icon under the customize menu.

For more information on the new Firefox Hello instant messaging beta that has been rolled out this week jump over to the official Mozilla Blog.

Isro Says 6-Month Mars Mission Will Now Last for ‘Many Years’

As it prepares to celebrate the first anniversary of its spacecraft’s tryst with Mars, Isro Monday said the mission to the Red Planet will last for “many years” as there is not much of a “problem” and they have not had any failures so far.

“Mars (mission) is expected to last for many years now, because it has gone through solar conjunction also; so we don’t see much of a problem,” Isro Chairman AS Kiran Kumar told reporters in Bengaluru.

“We had planned it only for six months. Then we were not expecting so much fuel to remain after we completed our insertion activity,” he said.

Pointing out that about 35kg of fuel was still left, he said, “There is still a lot of fuel… all other subsystems are working fine and so far we have not had any failures.” Kiran Kumar was speaking on the sidelines of Prof Satish Dhawan Commemoration Lecture that was delivered by Dr K Radhakrishnan, a former chief of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro).

The event was organised by the Institution of Engineers (India)’s Karnataka state centre in Bengaluru. Scripting space history, India on September 24, 2014, had successfully placed its low-cost Mars spacecraft in orbit around the Red Planet on its very first attempt, breaking into an elite club of three nations.

Isro will mark the first anniversary of Mars Orbit Insertion by releasing an atlas containing photos taken by the colour camera on board the spacecraft.

“Currently, on September 24, we will be releasing one of the atlases – the on taking images of MarsColour Camera and also some results from the Methane Sensor…. then, on November 5, we are bringing out a book, ‘Fishing hamlet to Mars’,” Kiran Kumar said.

Isro had launched the Mars Orbiter Mission’s spacecraft on its nine-month-long odyssey on a homegrown PSLV rocket from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on November 5, 2013, and it had escaped the earth’s gravitational field on December 1, 2013.

Asked whether the extension in MOM’s life will reflect in the planning for fuel consumption in upcoming projects, Kiran Kumar said, “No, that cannot be said as there is always a contingency. In this particular case, it went through without any such contingency. In another mission, it could be very different.”

The Mars spacecraft’s life was extended for another six months in March due to surplus fuel, which Isro now says can last for many years.

After India’s much-hailed missions to the Moon and Mars that boosted Isro’s global standing in space technology, the next inter-planetary expedition to be launched is under discussion.

“Currently, next inter-planetary mission discussions are going on; studies are in progress. We have to go through the discussions, and then the cost,” he said.

Asked whether the discussions are focused on any specific planet, he said, “No. That has to be decided based on the outcome of the study.”

Stating that Astrosat, a satellite for the first dedicated Indian astronomy mission aimed at studying celestial objects, is scheduled for launch on September 28, Kiran Kumar said, “What it means for India is this: it is one of the first scientific missions which will be available to the Indian researcher community as an observation opportunity.”

Astrosat will be accompanied by six co-passengers – one satellite each from Indonesia and Canada, and four nano satellites from the US.

Isro is also working with the US on Nasa-Isro Synthetic Aperture Radar for a 2021 launch.

Nasa Reveals the Fact and Fiction of Martian Dust Storms

As people await the release of Hollywood actor Matt Damon-starred science fiction “The Martian,” Nasahas revealed what actually happens on Mars which is infamous for intense dust storms that sometimes kick up enough dust to be seen by telescopes on Earth.

Beyond Mars’ large annual storms are massive storms that occur more rarely but are much larger and more intense.

“Every year, there are some moderately big dust storms that pop up on Mars and they cover continent-sized areas and last for weeks at a time,” said Michael Smith, planetary scientist at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“Once every three Mars years (about five-and-a-half Earth years), on average, normal storms grow into planet-encircling dust storms, and we usually call those ‘global dust storms’ to distinguish them,” Smith noted in a statement.

However, it is unlikely that even these dust storms could strand an astronaut on Mars.

The winds in the largest dust storms were unlikely to tip over or rip apart major mechanical equipment.

The winds in the strongest Martian storms top out at about 60 miles per hour, less than half the speed of some hurricane-force winds on Earth.

Focusing on wind speed may be a little misleading as well. The atmosphere on Mars is about one percent as dense as Earth’s atmosphere.

“That means to fly a kite on Mars, the wind would need to blow much faster than on Earth to get the kite in the air,” Smith added.

Scheduled for worldwide release on October 2, “The Martian” is based on a 2011 best-selling novel by former computer programmer Andy Weir.

The film begins with a massive dust storm that strands fictional astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) on Mars.

In the scene, a powerful wind rips an antenna out of a piece of equipment and destroys parts of the astronauts’ camp.

For years, science fiction writers from Edgar Rice Burroughs to C.S. Lewis have imagined what it would be like for humans to walk on Mars.

As mankind comes closer to taking its first steps on the Red Planet, authors’ depictions of the experience have become more realistic.

“The key difference between Earth and Mars is that Mars’ atmospheric pressure is a lot less. So things get blown, but it is not with the same intensity,” explained William Farrell, plasma physicist who studies atmospheric breakdown in Mars dust storms at Goddard.

Mars’ dust storms are not totally innocuous, however.

Individual dust particles on Mars are very small and slightly electrostatic so they stick to the surfaces they contact.

“If you have seen pictures of Curiosity after driving, it is just filthy. The dust coats everything and it is gritty. It gets into mechanical things that move, like gears,” Smith informed.

In “The Martian,” Watney spends part of every day sweeping dust off his solar panels to ensure maximum efficiency, which could represent a real challenge faced by future astronauts on Mars.

When faced with a larger dust storm in the book, Watney’s first hint is the decreased efficiency of his solar panels, caused by a slight darkening of the atmosphere.

“That’s a pretty accurate depiction of what large dust storms can do,” Smith said.

Scientists have been tracking global dust storms on Mars for more than a century, using both telescopes on Earth and spacecraft orbiting Mars.