You know, the solar system is just brim full of awesomeness. Check out the latest skinny on Mercury, once thought to be an unremarkable rock on the grand scheme of things:
Magnetic tornadoes form when the magnetic field in the solar wind links up to the field generated by a planet, a process called magnetic reconnection. Bundles of magnetic field lines connect the surface of the planet directly to the surface of the sun, and as the solar wind pushes them away from the sun, they twist and whirl like cyclones. On Earth, these cyclones (technically called “flux transfer events”) dance on the ionosphere, creating the Northern Lights and messing up GPS systems.
On Mercury, though, the twisters were 10 times as strong as any magnetic cyclones observed on Earth. With so little atmosphere to interfere, Mercuryâ€™s magnetic tornadoes are great spinning chutes that ionized gas can slide down.
“They act as magnetic channels or open windows that allow solar wind plasma from the sun, very fast and very hot, to come right down those field lines and impacts the surface,” said Jim Slavin of NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center. When the gas hits the surface, it knocks off neutrally-charged atoms and sends them on a loop high into the sky.
Now there’s a hard sf novum just waiting for someone to write it; maybe a system-wide power supply based around funneling the solar wind onto the innermost planet and then harnessing it somehow? Paul McAuley, I’m looking at you. [image courtesy thebadastronomer]
… are rarely as jaw-droppingly amazing as the ones the Cassini probe keeps beaming back from its jaunt through the Saturnian neighbourhood. [via the indispensible Metafilter; image borrowed under fair use terms and not covered under CC license, contact for takedown if required, yadda yadda]
Shots like that make me feel like a kid again; that’s the sensawunda kick, right there. And I needed that today, so I thought I’d share. 🙂
Neither I nor David Bowie know for sure. But the Phoenix Lander is on Mars … and with it – among quarter of a million others – is my signature, thanks to the Planetary Society and me spending a few minutes a year or so ago. Which feels both weird and cool at once, to be honest.
As far as life on Earth is concerned, today was a pretty majestic FAIL, thanks to circumstances beyond my control. But hey – it’s not all about me. And tomorrow is another day, as the saying goes. The species progresses, even when I do not. This is comforting, somehow.
Thanks to a number of people for dropping me a line about this – I’d have caught it in the daily news-trawl anyway, but it’s flattering to know that you care about my coverage!
So, yes; Earth-like exoplanet spotted. Lot’s of poor journalism about though, which I’ll not bother linking to. For the more detailed facts of the matter, I refer you on to the ever-reliable Centauri Dreams, which discusses what is known for certain (and what is mere conjecture) about the planet and the solar syastem it is situated in, and then looks at the potential of the planet as an environment habitable to humans.
Of course, not everyone is particularly impressed by this – transhumanist philosopher Michael Anissimov believes (with some justification) that we should use our time and effort more effectively, and stop getting excited about other planets until we’ve properly addressed the issues and potentials of the one we find ourselves on already.
That difference in attitudes throws an interesting light on the post I just made about modern (and post-modern) science fiction themes, come to think of it. While I’m overjoyed that we’re exploring space (albeit only by telescope at the moment), I’d dearly like to see a lot more focus on issues closer to home – though not at the expense of the gosh-wow space stuff, if at all possible. Yes, I’ll have my slice of hypocrisy cake and eat it, thanks. 😉
[This post adapted and expanded from an original at Futurismic, because I don’t have the time to write things out twice if I can possibly avoid it. Shout-outs for news alerts to Jetse and Ariel – thanks, guys.]
I sincerely hope this turns out to be unnecessary concern, but Colony Worlds suggests that Liftport, one of the leading space elevator companies, may be forced to shut down after losing their office space. The official Liftport staff blog indicates that times are tough, but therer’s no definite word either way as of yet. I’m not ashamed to say that I’d be gutted to see Liftport fold – in a world where so many are busy staring at their feet, those guys have the guts to look up at the stars. Best wishes, Liftport.
[Cross-posted from Futurismic]