In this column, staff writer J.E. Reich rounds up the most important and fascinating space news of the past week in bite-sized summaries to keep you up to date on what's happening way up above us.
This week has been a hallmark for space enthusiasts everywhere, with the major highlights being impossible to miss: the rise of the Supermoon and the discovery of actual water (albeit salt water) on Mars. However, these huge events weren't the only news items this week regarding the ever-mysterious universe, so scroll down to check out this week in space.
Supermoon Eclipse Seen in the Night Sky for the First Time Since 1982
Kicking off the week this past Sunday was a tough act to follow: the highly-anticipated Supermoon, which ended being shorthand for the rare occurrence of a Supermoon (i.e., perigee, or in layman's terms, when our moon is closest in its orbit to the Earth's surface, and thus appears to be slightly larger than normal) and a total lunar eclipse. Perigee itself happens around four to six times a year, but when it comes to a perigee lunar eclipse, there can be decades-long gaps between occurrences (the last was in 1982; the next Supermoon total lunar eclipse is schedule to happen again in 2033).
For the record, Neil deGrasse Tyson had some words about the accuracy of the label "Supermoon":
Resist the Hype: The size of today's "Super" moon is to next month's full moon as a 16.07 inch pizza is to a 16.00 inch pizza— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) September 27, 2015
Proper uses of the word Super: Superman, Supernova, Super Duper, Super Bowl, Supercharged, Superconductivity, Super Mario.— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) September 27, 2015
Here's NASA's footage of the supermoon eclipse from its Armstrong Flight Research Center.
Water Found on Mars
If you thought that this week couldn't get any better concerning space-related events post-Supermoon, you were dead wrong: NASA found evidence of natural, flowing water on Mars after weeks — even months — of conjecture and daresay. Even though scientists have long-known about a distant possibility of verifiable H20 on the Red Planet (its polar ice caps being a large clue, as well as frozen puddles found on Mars' surface back in April 2015), the Mars Rover confirmed it via NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter:
"Using an imaging spectrometer on MRO, researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where mysterious streaks are seen on the Red Planet. These darkish streaks appear to ebb and flow over time. They darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, and then fade in cooler seasons. They appear in several locations on Mars when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius), and disappear at colder times."
How does the water itself move on a planet where water typically freezes? High concentrations of salt.
Expectedly, the news drew a massive public response. Google even created one of their famous Doodles in celebration the day after NASA made the announcement.
Some of Twitter thought the Mars news was a bit of a let-down and responded with the requisite snark.
Come on. You know you want to try a water slide on Mars.— John Scalzi (@scalzi) September 28, 2015
Exclusive first picture of water on mars! pic.twitter.com/cF15yyNhGH— Paul van Dyk (@PAULVANDYK) September 29, 2015
And, of course, Ridley Scott more or less said "I knew about water on Mars before it was cool."
So, what does this mean for future exploration of the planet? Among infinitesimal possibilities, that a possible future colonization of the planet is one step further from the realm of science fiction and one step closer to reality.
Here's NASA's announcement in the video below.
Images of Pluto's Moon Charon Captured by New Horizons Space Probe
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, whose flyby mission to Pluto has given us an idea of what the former ninth planet in our solar system actually looks like for the first time; likewise, the probe has transmitted images back to Earth that show us the same for Pluto's moon, Charon — and it's hardly like anything previously imagined. As Ross Beyer, a scientist associated with the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) group, said, "I couldn't be more delighted with what we see."
According to a statement issued by NASA, what was expected to be a smooth lunar surface is dotted by craters and mountainous regions, giving Charon a pretty multivaried terra — it even contains a canyon four times as long as Earth's own closest comparison — North America's Grand Canyon itself. There are also large swatches of plains regions on Charon's surface. As far as an explanation goes for its diverse topography — at least regarding the smooth swathes? The result of cold volcanic activity.
A Neptune-Sized Planet Might be Creating "Super-Earths"
The Hubble Space Telescope always seems to unearth a treasure trove of intergalactic wonders, and this week is no different — scientists have observed that the hydrogen atmosphere of a Neptune-sized planet named GJ 436b (nicknamed "the Behemoth") is being simmered and seethed away by a nearby "host star" — which could ultimately explain the existence of "Super-Earths," i.e., Earth-sized planets that are much closer in proximity to their suns than our own.
What Hurricane Joaquin Looks Like From The International Space Station
Currently, Hurricane Joaquin is storming its way through the Bahamas and drawing dangerously up toward the East Coast. New Jersey and North Carolina have already declared a state of emergency in cautious preparation, even though the path of the Category 4 storm is now uncertain.
In a move of solidarity with his fellow Earthlings, astronaut Scott Kelly, who is currently posted at the International Space Station (ISS), took a photo of the storm and posted it on his Twitter account.