Martian Methane & Deep Impact | SciByte 103

Martian Methane & Deep Impact | SciByte 103

We take a look at Martian methane, robotic bees, familiar formations on Mercury, viewer feedback, Curiosity news, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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— Show Notes: —

Martian Methane

  • NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover can’t find any sign of methane on the red planet, but the agency emphasized that methane would be only one indicator of possible life
  • No Methane, No Life?
  • Methane only addresses one type of microbial metabolism
  • So while this data reduces the probability of current methane-producing Martian microbes, there are many types of terrestrial microbes that don’t generate methane
  • The Data
  • Curiosity sniffed the atmosphere six times for methane between October 2012 and June 2013
    and didn’t see any sign of the molecule
  • The instrument used would be able to detect minute concentrations
  • Scientists today estimate methane on Mars must be 1.3 parts per billion at the most, which is only one-sixth as much as earlier estimates
  • These results are intriguing given that other teams have spotted methane on Mars as far back as 1999
  • The Mars Global Surveyor, which was working for more than 10 years, charted the evolution of Martian methane over three years
  • NASA Earth-bound observations using spectroscopic measurements reported even greater amounts, as high as 45 parts per billion, in the Martian atmosphere
  • The reports of the highest concentrations of Mars methane came from Earth-based observatories, which might imply that peering through Earth’s atmosphere may have distorted the measurements
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Curiosity Rover Finds No Methane On Mars. What’s Happening? |
  • Mars rover fails to find methane | Planetary Science | Science News
  • Mars Mystery Deepens: Curiosity Rover Finds No Sign of Methane |



  • The Low Down
  • Something is killing off up to half of America\’s bees, and fewer bees not only means less honey, it means less food
  • Researchers at Harvard are working on tiny drones the size of bees
  • These flying robots are designed to be small enough to pollinate a flower (80 milligrams)
  • The wings mimic those of a fly, are also designed to hover, giving them plenty of time to transfer pollen
  • The drone is so small that there is no room for gears, so the researchers are utilizing piezoelectricity
  • Using a special ceramic that contracts when stimulated by electricity they can move the wings
  • The robo-bees\” aren\’t ready at this time yet as they are too tiny for a battery pack for power, and will also need some sort of computer so they can guide themselves in flight
  • Colony collapse disorder (CCD) Also Seen On
  • Unfilter 8 | Meet Monsanto [July 6, 2012]
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | RoboBees to the Rescue | NOVA PBS
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Colony collapse disorder (CCD) |
  • How Robo-Bees Could Save America\’s Crops | Popular Science


Pictures From Mercury


End to the Deep Impact/EPOXI Mission

  • Check This Out!
  • Jupiter Broadcasting Allan, from BSD Now and TechSNAP
  • Deep Impact/EPOXI Mission
  • After almost 9 years in space NASA’s Deep Impact/EPOXI mission has officially been brought to a close.
  • The team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has reluctantly pronounced the mission at an end after being unable to communicate with the spacecraft since Aug. 8
  • Comet Temple 1
  • Orbits the sun every 5.5 years
  • Discovered on April 3, 1867 by Wilhelm Tempel, an astronomer working in Marseille
  • Photographic attempts during 1898 and 1905 failed to recover the comet, it\’s orbit had been changed by Jupiter
  • It was rediscovered in 1967 after British astronomer Brian G. Marsden performed precise calculations of the comet\’s orbit that took into account Jupiter\’s perturbations
  • The Mission
  • Launched in January 2005
  • On July 3, 2005, the spacecraft deployed a coffee table-sized impactor into the path of comet Temple 1’s nucleus on July 4, 2005
  • The impact caused material from below the comet’s surface to be blasted out into space
  • The debris blasted off the nucleus was examined by the telescopes and instrumentation of the flyby spacecraft
  • Sixteen days after that comet encounter, the Deep Impact team placed the spacecraft on a trajectory to fly back past Earth in late December 2007
  • That flyby meant it was able to to put it on course to encounter another comet, Hartley 2 in November 2010
  • Extended Mission
  • The spacecraft’s extended mission included a successful flyby of comet Hartley 2 on Nov. 4, 2010
  • It also observed six different stars to confirm the motion of planets orbiting them and took images and data of the Earth, the Moon and Mars
  • Some of the data taken helped to confirm the existence of water on the Moon, and attempted to confirm the methane signature in the atmosphere of Mars
  • This year in June, it took images of comet ISON this year and collected early images of comet ISON
  • The Deep Impact mission returned around 500,000 images during it\’s total of about 7.58 billion km [4.7 billion mi] traveled
  • What Happened?
  • Mission control spent a couple of weeks trying to uplink commands and reactivate its onboard systems after losing contact
  • The exact cause of the loss is not known for certain; however, analysis has uncovered a potential problem with computer time tagging that could have led to loss of control for Deep Impact’s orientation.
  • The fault protection software might not have been able to read any date after August 11, 2013
  • That would then affect the positioning of its radio antennas, making communication difficult
  • In addition its solar arrays would not be able to point them correctly, which would in turn prevent the spacecraft from getting power
  • It would allow cold temperatures to ruin onboard equipment, essentially freezing its battery and propulsion systems.
  • Multimedia
  • Animated .gif | View from Impacter | Wikipedia
  • Animated .gif | View of Impacter from Spacecraft | Wikipedia
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • NASA – NASA\’s Deep Impact Spacecraft Eyes Comet ISON |
  • NASA\’s Deep Impact Produced Deep Results |
  • Deep Impact (spacecraft) | Wikipedia
  • Temple 1 comet


  • Autonomous Driving
  • For the past year, Curiosity has been driving on Mars following instructions from human rover planners called “Autonomous navigation
  • This new capability that’s coming online will let Curiosity drive herself on Mars
  • Humans will still tell her where to go, Curiosity is going to decide how to get there
  • Curiosity takes pictures from the navigation cameras, with the hazard cameras, and it’s able to combine that information, put it all together to define a safe way to get to where we ask her to go
  • The Drive
  • While moving the nav camera\’s to look around it was able to drive about 10 meters [30 feet] at an average speed of about 3 meters/min [10 feet/min]
  • The rover even curved a little bit to the right to avoid some of the small rocks that were directly in front of her.
  • Visual Odometry
  • Visual odometry uses images from the mast cameras to look at the terrain before and after a small drive step.
  • Curiosity will see a few hundred features and see how they move across the step
  • By tracking those features she can know exactly how far she moved, whether she slipped or twisted a little bit during the drive
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Curiosity Rover Report (Sept. 19, 2013): Leave the Driving to Autonav | NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Image Galleries at JPL and Curiosity Mulimedia
  • Social Media
  • Curiosity Rover @MarsCuriosity
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Transcript | Curiosity Rover Report (Sept. 19, 2013): Leave the Driving to Autonav


Looking back

  • September 25, 1878: 135 years ago : Tobacco Warning : Warning against the use of tobacco, the senior physician to the Metropolitan Free Hospital wrote in The Times newspaper in Britain. Dr. Charles Drysdale pointed to “the enormous consumption of tobacco in all European states.” He estimated that £15,000,000 was spent annually in Great Britain on tobacco. He concluded “that the use of tobacco is one of the most evident of all the retrograde influences of our time.” Years earlier, in 1864, he had published in Med. Circular results of excessive use, such as cases of jaundice in healthy young men smoking 3/4-oz daily, and a young man who smoked 1/2-oz daily having “most distressing palpitation of the heart.” In 1875, he wrote a booklet, Tobacco and the Diseases It Produces.

Looking up this week

  • Keep an eye out for …
  • Thursday | Sept 26 | The Last-quarter Moon will rise around 11 – midnight local time, with Jupiter to its lower left and Orion to it\’s farther right
  • Saturday | Sept 28 | Now Jupiter is much closer to the Moon and is now to it\’s upper left
  • Saturday | Sept 28 | The W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia is about halfway up in the NE sky
  • Sunday | Sep 29 | Now Jupiter sits above the moon in the E
  • Planets
  • Mercury | ~20 min after sunset | It\’s about 22* to the lower right of Jupiter, very close to the fainter star Spica. Tuesday evening Mercury and Spica are only 3/4* apart
  • Venus and Saturn | Twilight | Low in the W-SW, with Saturn moving farther to the right of Venus as the week progresses
  • Mars | ~3am local | Moving to the E as dawn begins, it is to the far lower left of Jupiter. Below Mars is Regulus (actually two binary star pairs.) They are both similar brightness and will be getting closer together as the week moves on.
  • Jupiter | ~5am local | Both the Moon and Jupiter will be high in the Eastern sky. On Thursday it will be far to the lower left of the moon, on Friday the Moon will be closer.

  • Further Reading and Resources

  • Sky&Telescope
  • For the Southern hemisphere:
  • Constellations of the Southern Hemisphere :
  • Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand :
  • AstronomyNow
  • HeavensAbove

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