The 7th annual Planetary Science Short Course will run August 29 to September 4 2016. Topics to be covered include origin of the solar system and planet formation; planetary interiors; planetary surfaces; astromaterials, planetary atmospheres; astrobiology, and exoplanets. Details on the course can be found here.
Image: NASA, artist depiction of the TRAPPIST-1 system, from NASA article.
NASA continues to search space for rocky planets orbiting nearby stars with the Kepler Space Telescope. Two such planets found by Kepler orbit the star TRAPPIST-1, a brown-dwarf 40 light-years from Earth, lie just outside the ideal "Goldilocks Zone" where water can exist in liquid for on the planet’s surface.
On Earth we are familiar with the Water Cycle, a process which defines all life here. But what if there was a similar cycle for other liquids - like methane perhaps? We may be a step closer to finding out. ESA has confirmed that the Cassini has found oceans and lakes of pure methane on its surface. Scientists had previously thought that sunlight would break down the methane, making for bodies of a mix of hydrocarbons, but this does not seem to be the case. Radar scans have mapped the northern hemisphere, which is dotted with these bodies of methane and seems to suggests at a complexe liquid system with methane wetlands, methane sludge ocean beds, a Methane Cycle, and even a climate influenced by this cycle on Titan. The Methane Cycle in particular allows for organic compounds to disolve. All these could result in an environment that is able to create life, but like as we cannot image; based on and composed of methane rather than water. One thing is for sure, there is a lot more going on on Titan than its simple appearance would have you believe.
The search for life on Mars continues. Joining the hunt is ESA's new ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli lander set to launch in late March from Kazakhstan. The mission is to try to find traces of methane in the planets atmosphere which could suggest biological or geological activity. Methane makes up less than 1% of Mars's atmosphere and the Trace Gas Orbiter is designed to investigate what this means and if this is evidence for life on Mars. Studies on Earth suggest that methane in the atomsphere disapates quickly meaning there must be an active source on Mars. Schiaparelli is meant primarily as a demonstration of the ESA's ability to deliver a lander successfully to Mars, but is also equiped with scientific instruments. This spacecraft will be arriving at Mars in October of this year, where the lander will seperate from the orbiter and being the mission. This is the first of two planned missions, with a rover and surface platform launching in 2018.
The CSS is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr Shawna Pandya as the Standing Session Chair, Space Life Sciences.
Dr. Shawna Pandya was part of the first crew to test a commercial spacesuit in microgravity, and also completed scientist-astronaut training with Project PoSSUM. In 2015, she was chair and curator of the first-ever International Space Development Conference LaunchPad session, and will be reprising this role for ISDC 2016.