December 11, 2013
Geminid Meteor Shower To Peak This Weekend – On Science
A consolation prize for Comet ISON.
Who did ISON disappoint and who is still thrilled?
The ISS is getting a leg up on robotics.
And where’s the coldest place on Earth? Coming up today…On Science!
Hello and welcome to On Science. I’m Emerald Robinson.
Well, Comet ISON may have left us high and dry, but there’s a back-up plan. The Geminids have come courting. Just in time for the holidays, the Geminid meteors promise a shower that may last several days. So what if it’s not supposed to be as impressive as ISON? At least they’re dependable. The best show will be this Friday and Saturday with some 100 to 120 meteors per hour. And as always, for optimal viewing, get away from all the city lights. On an interesting side note, most meteor showers derive from comets, but not the Geminids. They originate from the asteroid 3200 Phaeton, which has a comet-like orbit around the sun. Oh and NASA said that if you do plan on getting outdoors to watch the show, “you might and to bring a blanket and some hot chocolate because baby, it’s cold outside!”
And speaking of Comet ISON, scientists aren’t as disappointed as the rest of us at its untimely demise. In fact they’re thrilled. Why, you ask? Comet ISON provided scientists with a plethora of data. Scientists presented information about the comet at the 2013 Fall American Geophysical Union in San Francisco this week. And Comet ISON has quite a story! Scientists say it originated at the same time as the planets and orbited the solar system in the Oort cloud, 4.5 trillion miles away from the sun. But a few million years ago, something knocked ISON off course and sent it on its fatal trek hurtling towards the sun. They also revealed data on the state of Comet ISON in its final days as it approached perihelion, before ultimately breaking up and burning. So Comet ISON may no longer be with us, but it still lives on in the hearts of scientists.
And microbes may have once lived in a Martian Lake. NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover may have discovered fossil remains of a lake inside Gale Crater – and that lake may have existed long enough for life to have evolved. The lake was comparable in size to New York’s Finger Lakes and contained chemical and mineral conditions needed to support microbial life. And it had just the right salinity to support living organisms! But let’s not get ahead ourselves, NASA stressed that the lake had the right conditions to support life but that does not necessarily prove that there was life for a fact. But they did say that “this is a huge positive step for the exploration of Mars.” And the next phase of the mission “could hold the key to whether life did exist on the red planet.”
Life on other planets sounds a little Star Wars, doesn’t it? So does this next story. NASA has finished building mechanized legs for the International Space Station’s new crew member, the robotic R2. R2 actually arrived on the ISS back in February 2011 and has been undergoing test on its functionality in a microgravity environment. R2’s new legs will provide him the mobility necessary for helping with simple and repetitive tasks inside and outside of the space station. NASA hopes this will eventually help free up human crew members to do more scientific research projects. The legs give R2 a 9 foot leg span and have seven joints and a “foot,” which they’re calling an “end effector.” But the robot will need a little upgrading to his upper body before he can go space walking. Pretty cool, R2!
It’s been pretty cold here on the East Coast in the U.S. this week, but it’s nothing compared to one place. NASA satellites have identified the coldest place Earth. Welcome to a high ridge in Antarctica on the East Antarctic Plateau where temperatures can plummet to minus 133.6 F. NASA made the discovery while taking data from Landsat 8, a joint venture between NASA and the US Geological Survey. This new low is 50 degrees colder than anything ever seen in Alaska or Siberia. NASA likened it to Mars on a nice summer day in the poles. That makes me cold just thinking about it! Definitely never want to go there!
And that’s all for On Science.