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First Published: September 24: 2015
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The Sunnara
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And One Day Human Footfalls Be Echoing Through the Solitude of Mars: A Jane Douglas Today May Only Pretend at the ESA Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany But Only Through Imagination Humanity Edges Towards New Realities: March 04: 2017
Like Orpheus for Music Go to the Underworld: A New Journey Into the Earth for Space Exploration

 

 

|| Friday: September 13: 2019 || ά. Six astronauts, five space agencies and a fresh start into the underground worlds to help prepare for living on other planets. The European Space Agency:ESA’s latest training adventure will equip an international crew with skills to explore uncharted terrains on the Moon and Mars, this time with a focus on the search for water.

The CAVES training course takes astronauts to the depths of the Earth to improve their communication, problem-solving and teamwork skills. After a week of preparations above and underground, the ‘cavenauts’ are set to explore a cave in Slovenia where they will live and work for six days.

“It is all part of a simulation but, the experience is the closest you can get on this planet to the environmental, psychological and logistics constraints of a space mission.” says the Course Designer Ms Loredana Bessone. “The training involves real science, real operations and real astronauts with the best speleologists in the field.”

The six cavenauts of this edition of CAVES are ESA astronaut Mr Alexander Gerst, NASA astronauts Mr Joe Acaba and Ms Jeanette Epps, Roscosmos’ cosmonaut Mr Nikolai Chub, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Mr Josh Kutryk and JAXA’s Mr Takuya Onishi.

“This new space-caving adventure helps them to learn from each other, from themselves and from the cave, which always humbles you with its enclosing spaces and darkness.” says CAVES Technical Course Director Mr Francesco Sauro.

The training started already and soon the cavenauts will begin their descent into the dark to set up a base camp on September 20. Supported by a team of instructors and safety personnel, the six explorers will take their own decisions and work autonomously, isolated from the outside world and coping with communication delays.

Underground exploration means following air and water flows as tell-tale signals of new paths ahead. The crew will learn how to trace water, the main link with life on Earth and a precious resource in space exploration.

Caves are normally made by running waters. ESA picked a cave for this edition in an area where rivers flow underground. To keep the element of exploration, astronauts themselves do not know the exact location. This entrance to the underground is called ‘Lepa Jama’, meaning ‘Beautiful Cave’ in Slovenian. “The cave is a labyrinth of passages, mostly, unexplored and rich in indigenous species.” says Mr Francesco.

“This Karst area is one of Europe’s natural wonders and where speleology was actually born.” says Professor Franci Gabrovšek, at the Karst Research Institute ZRC SAZU in Slovenia.

“The genesis of caves, mysterious groundwater flow and subterranean life still pose numerous scientific questions. Astronauts could help us answer them.” Inhospitable and hard to access, caves are almost untouched worlds and ideal traps for scientific evidence. Astronauts will carry out a dozen of experiments and will be on the lookout for signs of life that have adapted to the extremes.

“We are really hoping to find new species again.” says Ms Bessone, recalling the discovery of the crustacean Alpioniscus Sideralis during the second CAVES edition in 2012. Monitoring the presence of ‘microplastics’ will be part of the science programme. These millimetric plastics can end up in the food chain and raise concerns for the environment and human health.

The astronauts will use with an upgraded version of the Electronic Field Book. This all-in-one, easy-to-use platform will allow them to deliver science and video logs while checking procedures and cue cards on a tablet.

Above the ground, mission control will track their progress with a three-D map generated on the app as they explore the cave. Scientists can locate the astronauts’ scientific observations paired with pictures and send their comments back to the cave.

“It is augmented science. This technology saves crew and ground teams time and helps improve the scientific return of the mission.” says Ms Bessone. As all space agencies prepare for Moon exploration, "ESA is taking the lead in subsurface expeditions to shape future missions exploring lunar caves." she assures. Ideas on how to detect, map and explore caves on the Moon are welcome.

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Caption: Caves for Space Exploration: Image: ESA: A. Romeo:::ω.

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The Terra Sabaea: The Martian Sight: The Dust Devil in Frenzy

 

 

|| March 14: 2019 || ά. This remarkable image was taken in the Terra Sabaea region of Mars, west of Augakuh Vallis, by the Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System:CaSSIS, onboard the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. This mysterious pattern sits on the crest of a ridge and is thought to be the result of dust devil activity.

This, essentially, is the convergence of hundreds or, maybe, even, thousands of smaller martian tornadoes. This image is a colour-composite representation, where features, that are bluer compared to the average colour of Mars are shown in bright blue hues. In actual colour, the streaks would appear dark red. Dust devils churn up the surface material, exposing fresher material below.

The reason why the streaks are so concentrated on the ridges is not known at present, but a relationship to orographic lift as masses of carbon dioxide air flow uphill and converge with other air masses is one possibility.

The image was taken on February 08, 2019 and is centred at 26.36ºN:56.96ºE. North is up in the original picture

Caption: Image: ESA:Roscosmos:CaSSIS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO:::ω.

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The Origin of Neptune’s Smallest Moon: Hippocamp

 

 

|| February 21: 2019 || ά. Astronomers, using the NASA:ESA Hubble Space Telescope, along with older data from the Voyager Two probe, have shown more about the origin of Neptune’s smallest moon. The moon, which was discovered in 2013 and has now received the official name Hippocamp, is believed to be a fragment of its larger neighbour Proteus. A team of astronomers, led by Mr Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute, studied the origin of the smallest known moon orbiting the planet Neptune.

“The first thing we realised was that you wouldn’t expect to find such a tiny moon right next to Neptune’s biggest inner moon.” said Mr Mark Showalter. The tiny moon, with an estimated diameter of only about 34 km, is likely to be a fragment from Proteus, Neptune’s second-largest moon and the outermost of the inner moons. Hippocamp, formerly known as S:2004 N 1, is named after the sea creatures of the same name from Greek and Roman mythology. The orbits of Proteus and its tiny neighbour are incredibly close, at only 12,000 km apart.

Ordinarily, if, two satellites of such different sizes co-existed in such close proximity, either the larger would have  kicked the smaller out of orbit or the smaller would crash into the larger one. Instead, it appears that billions of years ago a comet collision chipped off a chunk of Proteus. Images from the Voyager Two probe from 1989 show a large impact crater on Proteus, almost, large enough to have shattered the moon.

“In 1989, we thought the crater was the end of the story.” said Mr Showalter. “With Hubble, now, we know that a little piece of Proteus got left behind and we see it today as Hippocamp.”

Hippocamp is, only, the most recent result of the turbulent and violent history of Neptune’s satellite system. Proteus itself formed billions of years ago after a cataclysmic event involving Neptune’s satellites. The planet captured an enormous body from the Kuiper belt, now, known to be Neptune’s largest moon, Triton. The sudden presence of such a massive object in orbit tore apart all the other satellites in orbit at that time. The debris from shattered moons re-coalesced into the second generation of natural satellites, that we see today.

Later bombardment by comets led to the birth of Hippocamp, which can, therefore, be considered a third-generation satellite. “Based on estimates of comet populations, we know that other moons in the outer Solar System have been hit by comets, smashed apart and re-accreted multiple times.” noted Mr Jack Lissauer of NASA’s Ames Research Centre, California, USA, a co-author of the new research. “This pair of satellites provides a dramatic illustration that moons are sometimes broken apart by comets.”

The mythological Hippocampus possesses the upper body of a horse and the lower body of a fish. The Roman god Neptune would drive a sea-chariot, pulled by Hippocampi. The name Hippocamp was approved by the International Astronomical Union:IAU. The rules of the International Astronomical Union require that the moons of Neptune are named after Greek and Roman mythology of the undersea world.

The team of astronomers in this study consists of M R Showalter, SETI Institute, Mountain View, USA, I de Pater, Department of Astronomy, University of California, Berkeley, USA, J J Lissauer, NASA Ames Research Centre, Moffett Field, USA and R S French, SETI Institute, Mountain View, USA.

Image: ESA:Hubble, NASA, L Calçada, A Feild, M Showalter et al:::ω.

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