It is Thursday so time for a US Drought Monitor update. As you could have guessed, no change in the drought conditions here in Wisconsin. We are still experiencing drought in the northern third of the state and this is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
The weather has been drier than normal since the beginning of the year and it looks like it will continue that way for the next 7 to 10 days at least. At this point it looks like the next big storm moving from west to east across the nation will stay to our south on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. When the next big snow or rain storm will hit Northcentral Wisconsin is still up in the air. I have got my fingers crossed for some heavy precipitation this Spring. Drought during the winter does not matter much. Drought during the growing season can bring a lot of grief.
Since almost nothing is happening in the weather I might as well turn to some of my other favorite blog subjects – such as space travel.
In a follow up on the attempt to revive or at least converse with the Mars Phoenix lander, NASA folks have begun listening once again for any signs of life. The attempt began in January, but was unsuccessful. The martian sun is now higher in the sky and the temps are getting warmer so mission planners are trying again. It is unlikely that the Phoenix will “rise from the ashes” or should I say “frost”, but it would be interesting if it started operating again. Besides conducting some additional experiments, engineers could figure out which parts survived and which parts broke during the cold martian winter.
The Phoenix lander might be down for the count but another mission keeps producing interesting data. The Cassini mission to Saturn has revealed some cool new pictures of the moon Encaledus and has detected more signs of liquid water and chemicals needed for life as we know it. It is amazing that just a few years ago, Enceladus was considered a dead lifeless ball of ice and rock. Now astro-biologists think there is a chance (remote as it might be) that life could form in such an environment.
Another moon of Saturn has gotten a close up examination by Cassini. It is the moon Minas. It is a peculiar moon that has a large impact crater that makes it look like and “eyeball”. Minas is not as dynamic as Enceladus but it does hold one mystery. Why wasn’t it blown apart by the huge meteor impact? The crater on Minas is one-third the diameter of the entire moon. Many astronomers expect that such an impact should have blown the moon to “smithereens”. I can’t imagine there would be much left of the earth if it was struck by something large enough to create a crater one-third the diameter of the planet.
Another mission that is somewhat of a follow up is that of Stardust. It is on a path to rendezvous with the comet Temple 1. If that name sounds familiar, it should. This is the same comet that was blasted by the satellite Deep Impact back in 2005. It was a spectacular explosion on the surface of Temple 1 and the mission was a great success. Even though the official stated mission of Deep Impact and Stardust is to study comets, I wonder if the real primary mission was test how easy it would be to destroy or alter the course of a comet. In any case, Stardust should be able to see what damage was left behind by Deep Impact. We will see around February 14th of 2011. Less than a year away!
In human space travel news good news has arrived from the moon. India’s lunar satellite Chandrayan-1 returned data from the north pole of the moon indicating large amounts of ice just below the surface. If we are going to build bases on the moon we will need plenty of water and it would be almost impossible to transport all we need from the earth.
Of course we will need new rockets and space vehicles to transport us to the moon someday and private space ventures could help out a great deal. In this article, Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites makes the case for sub-orbital flights as essential before getting into orbit. The key aspects of the sub-orbital flights (by Virgin Galactic) will be to prove safety, reduce cost, and develop new technology.
Of course Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic are not the only players in the market for commercial human space flight. Another company – Blue Origin – has been secretly developing a new rocket capable of vertical take -off and landing. They recently held a press conference but did not let out many new details as to their progress.
Have a fine Thursday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
This post was written by jloew on March 4, 2010