Space

In case you haven't heard of it, Nibiru is a totally nuts idea. Yet it gets many people very scared. I started to get messages about it as a result of writing articles about asteroid impacts, and how we can detect and deflect asteroids. It is possible to have beliefs that don't make any sense if you look at them closely. For instance, if you believe that you can have a square with every point on its edges equally distant from its center in ordinary geometry - that's impossible. That's a square circle. Nibiru is a belief of this sort.

Solar storms trigger Jupiter's intense 'Northern Lights' by generating a new X-ray aurora that is eight times brighter than normal and hundreds of times more energetic than Earth's aurora borealis, new research finds. 

It is the first time that Jupiter's X-ray aurora has been studied when a giant storm from the sun has arrived at the planet.

The dramatic findings complement NASA's Juno mission this summer, which aims to understand the relationship between the two biggest structures in the solar system - the region of space controlled by Jupiter's magnetic field (its magnetosphere) and that controlled by the solar wind.


I wrote this soon after ExoMars's successful launch to Mars, 2015. Hurray! In the program about the mission, before and during the launch, the presenters talked about the care they take to sterilize the lander of microbes to protect Mars. And indeed, kudos to all the space faring countries, and the planetary protection officers, for doing this. But in the same program they talked about ideas to send humans to Mars, talking about all its benefits. For some reason it never seems to occur to anyone to ask if humans can be sterilized in the same way as robots. There is nothing unusual about this - it's the same for programs from NASA, or programs about Mars on UK television, and anywhere.

NASA hopes to go full speed ahead with its "Road to Mars" to land humans on the planet, and Elon Musk wants to build a city of a million on Mars by 2100, but it is rare for anyone in the debates to mention planetary protection. I think many assume it has already been dismissed by simple arguments like this one of Zubrin's - but far from it. As some of the listeners said to me when I was guest on the Space Show last Monday, the disconnect is enormous.

This is another in my now rather frequent articles to reassure people who are panicking because of news stories, saying that there is a chance we will all die in a big future cataclysm. No, this is all total bullshit! (I can use the word bullshit because here in the UK it is a very mild word, not even a swear word quite, e.g. often used on prime time TV, though I understand it is  a strong word in some parts of the States).

This is a talk I gave last summer to a small conference "The Search for Extraterrestrial Life - Europa&Enceladus" in Oxford, summer 2015. It's about the idea that when searching for life in our solar system, we could find something that's a "super positive" outcome of overwhelming value for us and future generations. And that if so we need to take great care we don't lose the opportunity or destroy it by introducing Earth life by mistake.

Back in January, Bradley Schaefer published a finding that promised to be a bombshell: KIC 8462852 had been dimming at a rate of nearly 20% per century since 1890 (Schaefer, 2016). The finding was widely reported as refutation of the comet family hypothesis, and further evidence that KIC 8462852 might be home to a Type 2 alien civilization. 

Mars is Earth like in some ways, but in other ways it's very different with its global dust storms every two years, its thick sheets of dry ice at its ice caps in winter. Any fresh water is close to its very low boiling point in the near vacuum. And the eccentric orbit also has a big impact on its seasons. So how do its seasons work exactly and what effect does this have on its climate?

Yes, a thousand of them indeed. The asteroid belt, and Near Earth Asteroids. I don't mean living on them like the little prince:

The Little Prince

That's not very practical without an atmosphere.

Nor living inside them as some suggest.

But rather, using materials from the asteroid belt and first, from the close Near Earth Asteroids, to build large habitats following the Stanford Torus design and others.

NASA currently has Mars sample return as their priority flagship mission not just for this decade but for the next one as well. They were recommended to do this in the 2012 decadal review. It is good for geology, nobody doubts that. But it is motivated mainly by the search for ancient life on Mars. Some exobiologists have warned that it is likely to be no more conclusive than the Mars meteorites we already have. They regard it as is little more than a technology demo for the search for life.