India getting into the lunar mapping game

At a press conference on Monday, officials from India’s ISRO announced that they are planning to launch the Chandrayaan-I satellite that will orbit the Moon for two years on a terrain mapping mission. This will be part of India’s long-range efforts toward a planned manned lunar mission within the next decade. I think it’s really a toss-up as to what country will actually successfully launch the next lunar mission.

Via Times of India

New NASA Science Website

NASA has just unveiled a new skin for it’s Science website. The site is serves as the public face for all the nifty scientific stuff done down at NASA central. I have to say the thing look pretty spiffy. There’s lots of useful links right off the front page, including a section for kids and for ‘Citizen Scientists’. I might start adding that title to my name… Frank, Citizen Scientist!

Extrasolar discovery of organic molecule

It’s a baby step, but an important one. NASA reported yesterday that they found the first evidence of an organic molecule in the atmosphere of a planet outside of the solar system. Methane was discovered in the atmosphere of planet HD 189733b (let’s call it planet ‘Moo-cow’ for simplicity) by the Hubble telescope. Plenty of methane has been discovered in the planets of the solar system, so it is far from declaring that planet Moo-Cow has life. However, it is a victory at the least for our remote sensing instruments!

Fartherest Galaxy Discovered

Scientists at the European Southern Observatory have discovered the farthest galaxy known – 13 billion light years away! The galaxy is in essence a baby picture of a newly formed galaxy 13 billion years ago. It would have been the first formed galaxy after the Big Bang. It was found using a pretty impressive system of refactoring Earth observation through a galaxy cluster that acts as a powerful zoom lens due to its density.

I promised myself I wouldn’t make the obvious joke here, but I just can’t help it – now that’s some remote sensing!!

Via Livescience

Landsat 5 imaging again!

Our reader Michelle sent us a quick email to let us know that the USGS has announced that Landsat 5 resumed imaging as of January 10th. Landsat 5 has been experiencing problems with its batteries, and the Landsat team has come up with a new procedure for charging the batteries to try to maintain a safe power balance. No new data has yet been released, but should start becoming available as it is processed.

It is just amazing how well Landsat 5 has lasted (It made its 125,000 orbit back in September) and the incredible efforts by the Landsat team to keep it and Landsat 7 up and running for image collection, and hopefully the good news will continue. If you haven’t checked out the Landsat Project website, you should definitely take a few minutes and browse around through the project history, image gallery, resources and other information on this amazing 35-year remote sensing effort.

Earth Barely Tall Enough to Ride Life Ride

Ok, so it was a bad joke. Apparently, the Earth is just barely big enough to support life. The National Geographic is reporting this new research that says the Earth is barely big enough for plate tectonics, which are critical to CO2 formation and maintenance, which in turn is critical for life. It’s an interesting finding, because it means that if we want to look for a place in outer space that could hold similar conditions as Earth, we need to be looking for much larger, rockier places. Maybe the Earth is a one in a gazillion place?

Solar Headaches to Come

National Geographic is reporting that we can expect a season of intense solar flares for the next few weeks and months. This is all part of a normal 11 year cycle in solar flare activity, but it can lead to some distinct headaches in our tech heavy world. As the article notes, this is the first cycle where GPS is widespread – and GPS is one of the systems most easily affected by solar flares. It will be interesting to see how much impact these flares have on our day to day lives, particularly in the geospatial community. So, for the next few weeks/months, if you’re doing GPS field work, you might want to bring a book!

Google Lunar XPrize gets its first official entry

Odyssey Moon, a company based on the Isle of Man, on Thursday became the first team officially entered in the Google-sponsored Lunar X Prize, which is offering a total of $30 million in prize money to support a lunar mission. The $20 million first prize will be for the team that can fly a spacecraft to the moon, operate a robotic rover, and then transmit a Mooncast back to Earth, all before December 31, 2012. After that, the prize money starts dropping. There is also a $5 million second prize, and $5 million in bonus prizes for additional tasks completed by the rover on the Moon. Funding and policy issues related to government-sponsored space exploration are opening the door for even more private involvement in space, and it may be that the next moon landing won’t be made by China or Japan or the US, but a private company. Several hundred teams have already made inquiries about entering the competition, so Odyssey Moon may only be the first of many.

Via SFGate