Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Auroras on Mars

As many of you know, I am super interested (some might say obsessed) in space exploration. So I'm excited to relate the latest Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) findings about auroras on Mars. 

Auroras happen on Earth when energy particles from space rain down on the upper atmosphere and are pulled to the Arctic and Antarctic poles by the planet's global magnetic field. On Mars, no organized planetary magnetic field exists so solar winds can blow them anywhere. Only pockets of magnetic fields draw them.

Since scientists know that Mars had a thick atmosphere billions of years ago, they are studying localized auroras to see if solar winds are still eroding the carbon dioxide and oxygen molecules present in the red planet's very thin atmosphere.

What does an aurora on Mars look like? 

"A diffuse green glow seems quite possible in the Mars sky, at least when the Sun is throwing off energetic particles," notes Nick Schneider who leads MAVEN's Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument team at the University of Colorado.

MAVEN's mission is to explore the planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere, and interactions with the Sun and solar wind. Scientists will be watching for loss of volatile compounds—such as CO2, N2, and H2O—from the Martian atmosphere into space. Understanding this loss will offen insight into Mars' atmosphere and climate, liquid water and potential for habitability.

To see the aurora borealis or aurora australis on Earth is definitely a bucket list item for me, but perhaps auroras on Mars will be a common site for our children's children. I can only hope! Go science!

Monday, June 1, 2015

How to Exercise an Octopus

You thought your dog could do cool tricks? Cat? Horse? How about octopus? It's not super scientific, but watching an octopus unscrew a jar from the inside has got it all over a horse that counts or a dog jumping through a hoop. Watch the flexibility and maneuverability of this animal. If you look carefully, you can even see the beak at times.

The part that particularly awed and scared me was the animal's seemingly haughty attitude when the feat was accomplished. Mother Nature's pets are an amazing bunch. Go science!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Whispering Galleries and Detecting Viruses

Do you remember when you were a young child and loved to stand under a dome and talk or even yell? The sound reverberated and made you feel very important! (Or as important as a 5 year old can feel.) The mystery of your amplified self was fun and thrilling.

Now researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, MO have gone many steps further than your simple childhood experimentation. 

Professor Nan Yang, PhD of the Nano/Micro Photonics Laboratory, Electrical and Systems Engineering Department at Washingtong Univ. has created an optical whispering gallery. It makes use of light "to interact with a single particle over thousands to millions of times to greatly enhance interactions between light and the sub-wavelength particle." The awesome sensitivity of this tiny, on-chip device is a huge breakthrough in the optical sensing of airborne particles and viruses.

Soon disease vectors like viruses will have no place to hide. Go science!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Science Images Online

Since I write about science, I often use or link to associated science and technology images. I've also taken some of my own photos to include in science updates. You can find this image of an equation written on glass and others at the stock photography site,

I think of science and technical photography as creative cross-training. It give me new ways of looking at things for my writing and research.

Interested in World War II diesel submarine technology? I took a series of photographs recently aboard the USS Razorback-394. Everything from views through a hatch, water cutoff valves, and navigation panels to an old school diving officer's checklist panel and torpedo launch controls.

Do you have ways to stir your creative or scientific creativity? Go science!