I’m pretty sure that many people have trouble understanding stellar distances. Even Mars, one of the closest planets, is really far away by Earthly measurement standards. Check out this great and simple web animation on how far away Mars actually is from Earth.
NASA’s HiRISE spacecraft, which is currently orbiting Mars, spotted these interesting patterns, which are actually rare lava flows. This is the first time that lava flows have been seen on Mars, and the corkscrew snail shell-like patterns are indicative of previous volcanic activity.
Researchers have discovered a veritable microbial oasis, under the Atacama Desert in Chile. The region is known for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), but the discovery of a hypersaline subsurface microbial habitat, associated with halite-, nitrate-, and perchlorate-containing salts, lying at a depth of 2m in the driest desert on Earth will give scientists more reasons to visit the region.
The European Space Agency’s Mars Express has finally returned with some strong evidence of Martian oceans. Using its MARSIS radar, it detected sediments reminiscent of an ocean floor, within the boundaries of previously identified shorelines.
The Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, which was supposed to have traveled to Phobos, a moon of Mars, and back, crashed on Earth. The ambitious project crashed into the Pacific Ocean, on January 15th, between 4:59PM and 5:47PM. The exact time is still unclear, as the most advanced tracking equipment belongs to the US military, and is not available to astronomers.
In an effort to learn how their technology will react to the hellish surface conditions on Venus, NASA engineers will put together a 12-ton toxic oven in Cleveland at the NASA Glenn Research Center. It will be operational in May 2012, and scorch anything that is put in it at 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as crush it at nearly 100 atmospheres, then choke it with carbon dioxide, sulfuric acid and other noxious fumes.
I finally managed to get my hands on Alastair Reynolds’ last book, Terminal World. One of the reasons why I had waited for a while is that the story was very steampunk-ish, and I don’t think that Alastair Reynolds should write steampunk. He should write hard science-fiction. Actually, I don’t really like reading about steampunk. I much prefer to read hard science-fiction, fiction, and fantasy.