Image shared by Arne Kuilman under a Creative Commons license.

Friday is Astronomy Day!

We’re back on track (two space updates in one week!): citizen scientists send microbes into space, and auroras on Mars…

As part of Project MERCCURI, citizen scientists from across the USA have collected swabs of bacteria and send them up to the International Space Station to see how they grow. Researchers wanted to see how different types of the bacteria that surround us (from the normal, human and built environment) behaved in space; turns out, not so differently! Only one species out of 48, Bacillus safensis, showed any difference, growing at a much faster rate on board the ISS. You can read about the different microbes and where they came from (including the Liberty Bell!) at the Project MERCCURI website, http://spacemicrobes.org/.

A map of MAVEN's Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) auroral detections. Image credit: University of Colorado
A map of MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) auroral detections.
Image credit: University of Colorado

The picture above shows Mars’ Christmas Lights– an aurora, much like the ones one Earth, detected in Dec. 2014. Unlike Earth, the aurora extended very far south down the planet; if these auroras took place on Earth, you would be able to witness them as far south as Florida! The measurements detecting these “lights” were taken by MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission) , part of NASA’s Mars Scout program. These phenomena are caused by energetic particles raining down on the atmosphere, which, on Earth, are guided to the poles by our magnetic field. On Mars, there is no global magnetic field, so the lights can appear anywhere. When asked what the colour of these auroras would be, the University of Colorado’s Nick Schneider (leader of   MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument team) hazarded a guess: “A diffuse green glow seems quite possible in the Mars sky, at least when the Sun is throwing off energetic particles.”

Image credit: Arne Kuilman under a Creative Commons license

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