COROT finds ten more exoplanets

While the Kepler space telescope has received a lot of the attention lately, the other planet-finding space telescope, COROT, has still been busy as well. Ten more confirmed exoplanets were announced at the second COROT symposium in Marseille, France on June 14. They are all gas giants, like Jupiter, Saturn, etc. but have a wide range of masses, densities and orbits.  Two of them are similar in size to Neptune, and orbit the same star.

Note: the Space.com article mentions the new total of confirmed exoplanets as 565, although The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia, one of the best official sources, still has the number as 562.

Meridiani on Earth

Although smaller, colder and with a much thinner atmosphere, Mars is still similar to Earth in many ways. I was reminded of that again a few days ago when I came across an interesting photo while looking for iPhone/iPad wallpaper backgrounds. I don’t know the location or who took the photo (if anyone does, please let me know), but the image shows a very good example of “mud polygons” or mud cracks where muddy sediments have dried out, forming a polygonal network of cracks (of various types).

I immediately noticed the similarity to the fractured sulphate bedrock which is extensive in Meridiani where the Opportunity rover is on Mars. While the composition may be different, both are sedimentary bedrock, not volcanic. The processes forming them may be quite similar, as it had been determined by rover scientists, from evidence found by Opportunity, that the region once had near-surface groundwater and even shallow, although perhaps temporary, pools or playa lakes of surface water (albeit salty and acidic). A couple examples of the Meridiani terrain are below (the second one taken just a few days ago):

Credit: NASA/JPL
Credit: NASA/JPL

Similar terrain can also be the result of repetitive freezing/thawing, such as the ice-wedge polygons in the Arctic. Whichever process may actually be responsible for the Meridiani polygons, the similarity to familiar geology on Earth is another example of how Mars, while quite alien in some ways, is remarkably Earth-like in others.

Thanks also to the guys on the Mars Forum for their assistance with this.

Blog update: image galleries

I’ve updated the image galleries a bit more; you can now view the main page by clicking on Image Galleries in the pages menu below the header, which then lists the individual gallery pages links, sorted by sub-gallery type (planets, dwarf planets, moons, etc.) and then by mission or telescopic observation (Cassini, MRO, Hubble, etc.) or by using the drop-down menu which pops up when you hover over Image Galleries with your mouse or trackpad pointer (for newer browsers). That main drop-down menu then also shows the individual gallery pages when you hover over the same sub-galleries. Any of the drop-down gallery links can now be clicked on to get to that particular page. The drop-down menus are the default option by design, but you can now also access the galleries the “old-fashioned way” as well. On the individual gallery pages, the thumbnail images now link to separate pages with the full-size images and a comments section.

Not a big change, just a way to make it easier for some people to see the image galleries, especially those still using older browsers. I’ll also be adding more images as I have time to do so.

Blog update: guestbook

I’ve added a guestbook to the blog, see the link in the pages menu below the header and in the sidebar. Simple, clean format in keeping with the rest of the blog; if you received the previous email or rss feed update about this, ignore that one as I was experimenting with another format which didn’t work as well, and when it synced automatically with WordPress, it was mistakenly posted as an update when it shouldn’t have been yet.

I’ve also transferred any older comments on the other main blog pages to the guestbook page, so now comments and feedback will only be on the guestbook page and in the posts themselves still of course.

The main guestbook page has the most recent five entries, below which is a link to older comments and the form to post your own comment, or you can respond to previous individual comments as well. There doesn’t seem to be a way in WordPress right now to place the form above or to the side of the comments, but if I can do that later I will.

Goodbye Spirit, but hello OSIRIS-REx

Two milestone but bittersweet announcements today from NASA… first, the formal end of mission for the Mars rover Spirit, after no communication for almost a year now, despite many repeated attempts. Spirit had gone into winter hibernation as in previous years, but this time, after being stuck in a deep sand trap for so long, with dwindling power, apparently wasn’t able to come out of it’s sleep this time. But for a mission initially designed to last three months, Spirit last about seven years! The other rover, Opportunity, however, continues to make its way across the Meridiani plains, and is now getting close to the huge Endeavour crater, which we’ve been eagerly waiting for, for a long time now…

On a positive note though, there was also announced today a new deep-space mission to launch in 2016 called Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) which will bring samples back to Earth from asteroid 1999 RQ36. As well as providing new information on the history of asteroids and the solar system, it will also help pave the way for a future manned mission to an asteroid, as directed by President Obama, before going to Mars.