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Upgrade To Mars Rovers Could Aid Discovery On More Distant Worlds

September 10, 2013 1 comment

Smart as the Mars Curiosity mission has been about landing and finding its own way on a distant world, the rover is pretty brainless when it comes to doing the science that it was sent 567 million kilometers to carry out. That has to change if future rover missions are to make discoveries further out in the solar system, scientists say.

The change has now begun with the development of a new camera that can do more than just take pictures of alien rocks – it also thinks about what the pictures signify so the rover can decide on its own whether to keep exploring a particular site, or move on.

“We currently have a micromanaging approach to space exploration,” said senior researcher Kiri Wagstaff, a computer scientist and geologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. “While this suffices for our rovers on Mars, it works less and less well the further you get from the Earth. If you want to get ambitious and go to Europa and asteroids and comets, you need more and more autonomy to even make that feasible.”

Full Story: http://www.agu.org/news/press/pr_archives/2013/2013-43.shtml

Magnetic Shielding Of Exomoons: To Be Or Not To Be

September 10, 2013 Leave a comment

A new study on magnetic fields around extrasolar giant planets sheds first light on the magnetic environment of extrasolar moons. The work, authored by René Heller of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at McMaster University (Canada) and Jorge I. Zuluaga of the FACom group in the Institute of Physics of the University of Antioquia (Colombia) is the first to explore the complex magnetic environment of exomoons and its impact on the habitability of these peculiar bodies.

Regrettably the results are not completely encouraging. Even the most massive moons that can be expected from a formation point of view will be small compared to Earth. Thus, the only possibility these moons can be magnetically protected from the stellar and cosmic high-energy radiation is that they are encoated by their giant planet’s magnetosphere. Yet, in orbits close to the planet, these moons can be subject to enormous tidal heating, potentially making them uninhabitable. These results represent just the beginning of an interesting research branch, which introduces a new key factor for the habitability of those “Pandora”-like environments.

Probably the first image that comes to our minds when thinking of an inhabitated extrasolar moon shows the beautiful landscapes of Pandora, the hypothetical moon of James Cameron’s movie Avatar. But the environments of extrasolar moons seem to be less favored than the idealized version shown on the big screen. Even if located around planets in the stellar “Habitable Zone”, where the amount of incoming light allows for the existence liquid water and hence life, exomoons are subject to a number of other perturbing effects making things harsher for life than previously thought.

Full Story: http://urania.udea.edu.co/sitios/facom/press.php?_inicomp=3&_numcomp=1&#