Monday, January 24, 2011
Dr. Paul Mahaffy is the Principle Investigator for the SAM analysis suite on Mars Science Laboratory Rover (Curiosity). An important goal of upcoming missions to Mars is to understand if life could have developed there. The vehicle should land in 2012.
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The task of the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite of instruments and the other Curiosity investigations is to move us steadily toward that goal with an assessment of the habitability of our neighboring planet through a series of chemical and geological measurements. SAM is designed to search for organic compounds and inorganic volatiles and measure isotope ratios.
Other instruments on Curiosity will provide elemental analysis and identify minerals. Dr. Mahaffy discusses how SAM will analyze both atmospheric samples and gases evolved from powdered rocks that may have formed billions of years ago with Curiosity providing access to interesting sites scouted by orbiting cameras and spectrometers.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Astronomers are now able to detect planets orbiting stars other than the Sun where life may exist, and living generations could see the signatures of extra-terrestrial life being detected. Should it turn out that we are not alone in the Universe, it will fundamentally affect how humanity understands itself—and we need to be prepared for the consequences. A Discussion Meeting held at the Royal Society in London, 6–9 Carlton House Terrace, on 25–26 January 2010, addressed not only the scientific but also the societal agenda, with presentations covering a large diversity of topics.
Aliens 'wouldn't faze modern world'
The comments are part of an extraterrestrial-themed edition of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A published today. In it, scientists examine all aspects of the search for extraterrestrial life, from astronomy and biology to the political and religious fallout that would result from alien contact.
Proof that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is unlikely to upset modern Earthlings: times have changed dramatically since 1961 when the US Congress was warned that evidence of extra-terrestrials would lead to widespread panic, argued psychologist Dr Albert Harrison.
First contact with ET, or the discovery of ancient alien relics on Earth or Mars, would probably be met with delight or indifference today, he believes.
Dr Harrison, from the University of California at Davis, US, wrote in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: "The discovery of ETI (extra-terrestrial intelligence) may be far less startling for generations that have been brought up with word processors, electronic calculators, avatars and cell phones as compared with earlier generations used to typewriters, slide rules, pay phones and rag dolls."
People had been getting used to the idea of ET since the Seti (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project first began listening out for alien radio signals 50 years ago, said Dr Harrison.
Today, surveys suggest that half the population of the US and Europe believe extra-terrestrials exist, and a "substantial proportion" were convinced alien spacecraft had already visited the Earth.
As long ago as the 1840s a popular New York newspaper reported on the discovery of "batmen" on the Moon. Later it was widely accepted that astronomers had found evidence of canals built by a dying civilisation on Mars.
In the 1960s scientists suspected that quasars and pulsars, galaxies and stars that emit powerful bursts of energy, might be intelligently controlled, said Dr Harrison. And in 1996 the American space agency Nasa announced it had found fossil evidence of life on Mars, in the form of a meteorite containing alien bugs.
"Society has been unfazed by batmen on the Moon, the canals of Mars, discoveries of quasars and pulsars, claims that a fossil arrived from Mars, and bogus announcements of Seti detections," Dr Harrison wrote.
In North America and Europe at least, neither the discovery of an alien specimen nor the detection of a "dial tone at a distance" were likely to lead to "widespread psychological disintegration and collapse".