We discuss and comment on the role agriculture will play in the containment of the CO2 problem and address protocols for terraforming the planet Earth.
A model farm template is imagined as the central methodology. A broad range of timely science news and other topics of interest are commented on.
Friday, February 25, 2011
NASA Closes on Tempel 1
The comet we tracked and observed close in 2005 is doing a
swing past the sun and we will see what happens after the pass and be able to
compare it to these before images.
Expect lots of great images.We will do our best to post them in a timely fashion.Otherwise check the NASA feed.
It would be interesting to ride a comet as an imbedded
observer down close to the sun’s surface with robotic sensing gear.Perhaps a few decades from now we can try all
NASA Spacecraft Closes in on Comet Tempel 1
February 9, 2011: NASA is about to discover how solar heat devours a
Stardust-NExT chases a comet, an artist's concept.
"For the first time, we'll see the same comet before and after its
closest approach to the sun," explains Joe Veverka, principal investigator
for NASA's Stardust-NExT mission.
The comet is Tempel 1, which NASA's Deep Impact probe visited in 2005.
Now another NASA spacecraft, Stardust-NExT, is closing in for a second look on
Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, 2011. The two visits bracket one complete orbit of
the comet around the sun--and a blast of solar heat.
"Close encounters with the sun never go well for a comet,"
says Veverka. "Fierce solar heat vaporizes the ices in the comet's core,
causing it to spit dust and spout gas. The cyclic loss of material eventually
leads to its demise."
Researchers suspect the flamboyant decay doesn't happen evenly all over
a comet's surface*, but until now they've lacked a way to document where,
exactly, it does occur. Stardust NExT will image some of the same surface areas
Deep Impact photographed 6 years ago, revealing how these areas have changed
and where material has been lost.
"Deep Impact gave us tantalizing glimpses of Temple 1," says Veverka. "And we
saw strange and unusual things we'd like a closer look at."
At a January 2011 press conference, Veverka and other Stardust-NExT
team members listed the features they're most interested in seeing again:
For starters, parts of the comet's surface are layered like pancakes.
"Earth has layers because water and wind move dirt and debris
around here, but layering on a comet was a surprise – and a mystery," says
Pancake-layers and a possible powdery flow are among the surface
features of interest highlighted in this July 4, 2005, Deep Impact photo of
Comet Tempel 1. The bright flash is where Deep Impact dropped an 820 lb copper
projectile onto the comet. Stardust-NExT could get a first look at the
aftermath of the blast. [more]
"One idea is that two protocometary bodies collided at low speeds
and smushed together to form something like a stack of flapjacks," says
Pete Shultz, Stardust-NExT co-investigator.
Is that right? Data obtained by Stardust-NExT will provide clues and
possibly reveal what made the "comet pancakes."
Another area intrigues the research team even more.
"There's a large plateau that looks like a flow," says Shultz.
"If it really is a flow, it means there was recently gas and dust
emanating from the [surface]."
Stardust-NExT will reveal how the plateau has changed (Is it flowing?),
helping the team determine its origin. Whatever their origin, the plateau and
layering show that comets have a much more complicated geologic history than
A close-up view of a possible flow on Tempel 1. [more]
"Tempel 1 is not just a fuzzy ball," says Shultz. "It
It's a history NASA has had a hand in. During its 2005 visit, Deep
Impact dropped an 820-pound projectile into the comet's core. In a development
that surprised mission scientists, the impact excavated so much material that
the underlying crater was hidden from view. Deep Impact's cameras were unable
to see through the enormous cloud of dust the impactor had stirred up. Stardust
NExT could provide a long anticipated look at the impact site.
"The dust has settled there, so if the right part of the comet is
facing us, we could see the crater and learn its size," says Veverka.
"That would answer some key questions. For instance, is a comet's surface
hard or soft?"
In a future mission, a spacecraft may land on a comet and gather
samples for analysis. To design a suitable lander, researchers need to know
what kind of surface it would land on. They'll also need to know which tools to
send – drills for hard surfaces or scoops for something softer.
Like Deep Impact, the Stardust spacecraft has already had a productive
career. Launched in 1999, it approached Comet Wild 2 close enough in 2004 to
image its feature-rich surface and even gather dust particles from the comet's
atmosphere. (A key finding in the sample was the amino acid glycene – a
building block of life.)
"We could have just let this old spacecraft rest on those laurels,
leaving it to forever orbit the sun," says Veverka. "But instead,
we're doing first-class comet science with it -- again."