This past month has seen a lot of exciting new discoveries within our solar system.
Within the past few days, NASA scientists researching the cliffs of Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, have discovered recent fault lines created by tectonic activity. This is notable, because Mercury is now the only planet in our Solar System outside Earth, that has confirmed tectonic activity.
On Earth itself, climate scientists have warned that safe levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, might have passed the point of no return. Typically in late September, there is a low point of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, that needs to be below 400 parts per million. The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii observed that the parts per million actually exceeded 400, which is seen as a “red line” that if crossed, could lead to irreversible problems caused by climate change.
Boeing and SpaceX both have recently announced their plans to get humans to Mars. Boeing wants to construct a crewed space station that will orbit the moon, to use as a stepping stone and launching pad for manned missions to the red planet. They want to assemble the station together between 2021 and 2025, and land on Mars by the mid 2030’s. Meanwhile, billionaire Elon Musk of SpaceX wants to form a permanent colony on Mars, who will get there by the Interplanetary Transport System, which is powered by the company’s Raptor engines, which run on a combination of methane and oxygen. Those elements of course can be found on Mars. Musk hopes that this will lead to exploration of the rest of the Solar System’s planets and moons, and that there will be a million people on Mars by 2060.
On Jupiter’s moon of Europa, the Hubble telescope observed plumes on the surface, that confirm geysers caused by volcanic activity under the surface. As well, plate tectonic activity has been confirmed, by the surface ice that grinds together. All this evidence further supports the theory that there is a massive liquid ocean beneath the ice, that could support alien life, if even on the microscopic level. As well, Europa’s orbit around Jupiter places it in a perfect habitable zone. A satellite observation mission has been scheduled by NASA for the 2020’s.
The satellite Cassini has begun to prepare for the end of it’s 13 year long mission to explore the strange new world of Saturn. In orbit around the yellow ringed planet since 2004, it recently recorded a timelapse of several Saturn days, which last nearly 11 Earth hours. In April 2017, Cassini will start it’s descent towards Saturn itself, recording as much information as possible about its magnetic and gravity fields, as well as the closest photos of its atmosphere ever seen. As Cassini dives through the atmosphere in September 2017, it will collect data on Saturn’s chemical composition until it burns up through friction.
Finally, on the controversial dwarf planet Pluto, the New Horizons satellite has given scientists data that indicates that there could possibly be a giant ocean beneath the surface. They also believe that this ocean would have a salt content that would be like the Dead Sea.
The past month has seen some extraordinary discoveries about how other planets and moons function, and the possibility of alien life in our Solar System, as well as serious new data when it comes to our own planet’s carbon dioxide levels and climate change. Humanity has an exciting future in space exploration and colonization. Whatever we imagine about what might be out there , what we actually find is turning out to be even more weird and wonderful.