Shortly before 10p ET on Sunday, NASA plans on having its Maven spacecraft begin a maneuver to enter the Martian orbit. If the satellite successfully reaches its destination, it marks a huge accomplishment for NASA's first spaceship dedicated to exploring the Red Planet's upper atmosphere.
Maven, short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, has gone 442 million miles during 10 months of interplanetary travel. But tonight marks the culmination of 11 years of planning and development, leaving Maven in position to begin the mission's science phase. By closely monitoring Mars' atmosphere, NASA hopes the satellite will allow them to investigate the planet like never before—launching thorough studies into Mars' history, present climate, and potential to support life.
NASA's most recent Maven update says all spacecraft systems are operating nominally and the orbiter is on track. According to the organization, tonight's procedure involves having it turn in order to point its main engines in the proper direction before firing them to slow down the spacecraft enough to be captured into Mars orbit.
In the hearts of some massive galaxies lie strange objects known as quasars. These mysterious objects were named for their apparent similarity to stars (quasar is short for ‘quasi-stellar radio source’), but they're now understood to be the light from rapidly accreting, supermassive black holes. In addition to their prodigious light output, they often emit jets of charged particles from their poles at close to the speed of light.
Mysteriously, quasars come in a variety of seemingly random forms, leading scientists to search for the cause of their diversity. While there are trends in their variation, up until now, no definitive evidence has been found to confirm any of the models we had for their appearance. But a new study has found a clear relationship between quasar properties and how they look, suggesting an underlying mechanism.
The study, which made use of archival data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, analyzed the spectra of more than 20,000 quasars, the first time a study of this type has been achieved with a statistically significant sample size. Within that huge sample, a pattern began to emerge.
Continued concerns about global warming have boosted work on alternative fuel sources that reduce emissions. Hydrogen is an appealing, clean-burning fuel. Currently, most hydrogen comes from the processing of fossil fuels, which produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct. However, the electrolysis of water produces hydrogen without the release of greenhouse gases—provided the electricity used in the process comes from renewable energy.
Currently, the favored method for producing hydrogen involves what are called proton exchange membrane electrolyzers (PEMEs). These use a polymer membrane that allows the movement of protons between solutions of varied charge while separating the negatively charged cathode and positively charged anode. Since the two gasses, hydrogen and oxygen, are produced at different electrodes, the membranes separate them as well, which allows for the easy harvesting of hydrogen.
Unfortunately, PEMEs are expensive because they require precious metal catalysts. Although higher power loads offset the price of these catalysts to some extent, these loads can lead to the simultaneous presence of hydrogen, oxygen, and catalytic particles, resulting in the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that degrade the membranes. Low power loads are not as effective because the rates of oxygen and hydrogen production are similar to the rates at which these gasses diffuse through the membrane. As a result, rather than pure hydrogen, you get a hazardous mix of the two gasses.
Not so long ago, on a website not so far away, an opinion was expressed: creativity was being suppressed in science. On the surface, the statistics support this: younger researchers are getting progressively less of the funding. Older researchers, it is asserted, tend to propose less risky and less innovative research. As with any good opinion in science, Nobel prize winners are wheeled as supporting cast. But, is it really true? Are we truly suppressing the creative side of science?
The answer is, overwhelmingly, no. Scientific papers are a crude measure for scientific progress, but never have more papers being produced per year than now. Clearly, something creative is going on here. If you don't like scientific papers, simply look at technological progress: your smartphone would not have nearly as much punch without the creativity of scientists; antiviral drugs were not found lying about on the ground; experimental stem-cell therapies were not accidentally attempted. Behind all of these new things lies a decade or more of scientific research. But, you know, thats not creative at all.
Maybe a lack of creativity manifests if we restrict ourselves to more fundamental breakthroughs, like... finding exoplanets, brown dwarfs, the anisotropy in cosmic microwave background, the Higgs Boson, Bose Einstein Condensates, or the acceleration of the rate of expansion of the universe. Not to mention very clever experiments that test the very nature of reality itself, like Wheeler's delayed choice experiment, and Bell inequality tests. Oh wait, all of those have happened in the last 20 years. Some have even garnered Nobel prizes for their work.