China to explore Mars with Russia this year

China’s first Mars probe is expected to be launched in October this year in a joint operation with Russia after a two-year delay, state media reported Sunday.

The probe, Yinghuo-1, was due to blast off in October 2009 with Russia’s “Phobos Explorer” from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan but the launch was postponed, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Quoting an unnamed expert at the China Academy of Space Technology, the report said the blast-off had been pushed back to October this year. It added that China planned to launch a Mars probe on its own in 2013.

According to previous reports, the orbiter is due to probe the Martian space environment with a special focus on what happened to the water that appears to have once been abundant on the planet’s surface.

China has already begun probing the moon and this will be the next step in its ambitious space exploration programme, which it aims to be on a par with those of the United States and Russia.

It currently has a probe — the Chang’e 2 — orbiting the moon and carrying out various tests in preparation for the expected 2013 launch of the Chang’e-3, which it hopes will be its first unmanned lunar landing.

It also became the world’s third nation to put a man in space independently — after the United States and Russia — when Yang Liwei piloted the one-man Shenzhou-5 space mission in 2003.

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Saturn Moon Has Ice Volcano?

Saturn’s moon Titan has long been suspected of sporting ice volcanoes. Now NASA pictures appear to confirm at least one huge, dormant “cryovolcano”—and perhaps more.

If the evidence bears out, it might represent the best evidence yet that life could exist on Saturn’s biggest satellite.

Not unlike the volcanoes of Hawaii, the supposed ice volcano, known as Sotra Facula, rises 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) above the surrounding plain in a large, gently shaped dome, according to the mountain’s discoverer, geophysicist Randolph Kirk.

The feature had previously been seen as a circular bright spot, nicknamed “The Rose,” in radar and infrared pictures of Titan taken by NASA-ESA’s Cassini probe.

But it wasn’t until Cassini passed over the site a second time that scientists realized Sotra Facula is a circular mountain 40 miles (70 kilometers) across.

Because the two flybys viewed the apparent ice volcano from different angles, the researchers were able to make a topographical map. Converted into a 3-D video, the combined images allowed scientists to virtually fly over the region at low altitude, as though on an airplane tour.

“I was shocked when I saw the video and suddenly realized what we were looking at,” said Kirk, of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

The 3-D computer model also revealed at least two more giant mountains, one with another big crater. The mountains form a chain several hundred miles long, flanked by lowlands that appear to be enrobed in lava flows.

“That’s a combination of features you can’t make any way other than by volcanism, we believe,” said Kirk, who announced the find Tuesday at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco.

Planetary scientist Jeffrey Kargel agrees that a volcano is by far the best explanation.

“They have all their ducks in a row, short of having an actual sample form the surface that we could analyze,” said Kargel, of the University of Arizona, Tucson, who was not part of the study team.

The presence of an ice volcano would increase the chances that Titan has the building blocks for life.

Lava from an ice volcano, the thinking goes, would contain liquid water. That water could react with chemicals called tholins—molecules produced in Titan’s atmosphere when UV sunlight irradiates compounds such as methane or nitrogen.

These reactions could produce important chemical precursors to life, said planetary scientist Catherine Neish, who wasn’t involved in the discovery.


How come you didn’t see the whole of the Moon?

Famously reclusive Neil Armstrong breaks silence to answer the burning question

Every schoolchild knows that the “small step for man” and the “giant leap for mankind” are words uttered by Neil Armstrong during the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landing. But now the famously reclusive astronaut has made a rare foray into the public arena to give an answer to a puzzling question: having gone all that way at such vast expense, why were the steps and leaps so few?

The subject arose when science blogger Robert Krulwich mused on his National Public Radio page about why Armstrong and crewmate Buzz Aldrin had covered an area barely larger than a football pitch. “The trip was a ‘leap’ to be sure, a fantastic accomplishment,” he wrote. “But the first Moon explorers explored an astonishingly small area.” There it might have rested.

But much to Krulwich’s surprise, he got an answer – and from the commander himself. In an emailed response, Armstrong, who at 80 is still campaigning to have Nasa resume its exploration of the lunar surface, said there were multiple reasons for the small footprint of that first landing, not least among them nervousness about how well their water-cooled suits would work.

“We were operating in a near perfect vacuum with the temperature well above 200 degrees fahrenheit with the local gravity only one-sixth that of Earth,” he explained. “That combination cannot be duplicated here on Earth. We did not have any data to tell us how long the small water tank in our backpacks would suffice.”

The reply, from a man who famously refuses to give autographs and long refused to speak about the Moon landings even as his colleagues enthusiastically spoke of their adventures, was surprising enough in itself. Perhaps more surprising still was the detail that an apparently enthused Armstrong went into about the difficulties of exploration.

First there was the question of television coverage – for us back on Earth and for mission control. Planting a fixed video camera on the Moon’s surface was one of Armstrong’s first tasks and Nasa was very clear that thereafter everything he and Aldrin did had to be within its range of view, which wasn’t large. They wanted to be able to see, for instance, how well they were walking in those clunky outfits.

Here we learn, however, that even Armstrong himself was unable entirely to play by the rules. “I candidly admit that I knowingly and deliberately left the planned working area out of TV coverage to examine and photograph the interior crater walls for possible bedrock exposure or other useful information,” he acknowledged. “I felt the potential gain was worth the risk.”

Armstrong repeated his disappointment that Nasa has not been back and his frustration with those who argue there’s little point, since that space frontier has already been reached.

“I find that mystifying,” he said. “It would be as if 16th-century monarchs proclaimed that ‘we need not go to the New World, we have already been there…'”

“Americans have visited and examined six locations on Luna, varying in size from a suburban lot to a small township. That leaves more than 14 million square miles yet to explore.”

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New book! The NASA Conspiracies by Nick Redfern

The NASA Conspiracies: The Truth Behind the Moon Landings, Censored Photos, and The Face on Mars by Nick Redfern

What is NASA Hiding? Heading to the bestseller lists with another eyebrow raising book, Nick Redfern is a notorious media darling and expert on unsolved mysteries, conspiracies and the paranormal. His new title, The NASA Conspiracies: The Truth Behind the Moon Landings, Censored Photos, and The Face on Mars opens the hidden door that NASA has keep closed for so many decades.

Established in 1958, NASA has led efforts to explore outer space, resulting in the Apollo missions to the moon, the Skylab space station, and today’s space shuttle. All the while, behind the open, friendly face of NASA is a dark and mysterious, ominous world, a world littered with high-level cover-ups.

In his inimical, lively, riveting style, Redfern reveals, in some cases for the first time, the truth and the fiction of how NASA is linked to high-level cover-ups, including:

•Claims that the Apollo moon landings were faked in an effort to show military and technological superiority over the former Soviet Union

•The agency’s role in hiding the truth about the controversial face on Mars, clearly a carved structure created in the remote past by long-extinct, indigenous Martians

•NASA’s deep and long-standing involvement with the famous UFO crash at Roswell

•Deep Throat-like NASA sources that have attempted to blow the lid on NASA’s most guarded secrets

•NASA’s secret knowledge of UFO visitations and the existence of alien life

•Allegations that NASA has a secret space program that runs alongside its publicly-visible operations, and has access to technologies far in advance of the space shuttle and conventional rocketry

•The reported discovery by NASA of what appear to be intelligently-designed structures on the surface of the Moon and Venus

•And much more of a cosmic and conspiratorial nature!

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