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March 10 2006

Big Day For NASA

NASA had two big stories today.

First up, a new orbiter entered the orbit of Mars. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will spend the next 4 years mapping the surface of Mars, testing the atmosphere of the planet and scouting possible locations for more rovers and human explorers.

This orbital insertion is exciting due to the numerous failures of past missions. This now puts four orbiters encircling the planet and Spirit and Oppurtunity are STILL roaming the surface. Mars is going to start looking like a NASA parking lot here pretty soon.

Now the mind blowing news comes from further out in our solar system. Saturn has 47 confirmed natural satellites and the Cassini-Huygens probe is exploring as many as possible. Today NASA announced that they have found evidence of ice plumes coming from the South pole region of the moon named Enceladus.

Why is this exciting? Well, water is one of the basic building blocks of life. The ice plumes suggest a heat source somewhere in the polar region is forcing the water that exists, already under pressure, to geyser, just like it happens here on Earth. This does make it seem possible there may be life on Enceladus. I don’t mean intelligent life, but still, life. NASA now wants to short list as a possible home to life. I am sure discussions are already happening about sending a probe directly to it.

Funny aside, the above linked article contained the funniest thing I heard all day.

“Enceladus measures 314 miles across and is the shiniest object in the solar system.”

Not sure why, but that made me laugh for about 10 minutes. Wow…it sure is shiny.



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