Tag Archives: nasa

Baby's first podcast

This afternoon, the Beagle Project's Director of Science, Dr Karen James, and I recorded a podcast, which I have named 'Messages from Above', for reasons which will become apparent if you listen to it. It contains lots of Darwinny goodness, and some pretty cool space stuff.

I've never been in a podcast before. They might just catch on.

Listen now:

Download | Embeddable Player

Life on Mars!

The Beagle Project's new colleagues over at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have spent many billions of dollars over the years trying to discover signs of life on Mars. Their latest magnificent endeavour is the Phoenix Mars Lander, which earlier this year identified water in a sample of soil it had collected from the planet's surface. As I type, the plucky, little lander continues to carry out excellent scientific work before the harsh Martian winter finally takes grip.

But Nasa could have saved themselves an awful lot of time, money and effort trying to establish the presence of water—and, indeed, life—on Mars, had they simply consulted the only scientific publication of record. Popular Scientific Recreations, Profusely Illustrated (pp. 524–526) has this to say on the subject of Mars:

Mars seen from the earthIt is quite ascertained that Mars is very like our earth in miniature. We annex a diagram of the planet, and when it is examined with a good telescope the seas and continents can be quite distinctly perceived. At the poles there appears to be a white or snowy region at varying periods, which would lead us to the conclusion that the atmospheric changes and the seasons are similar to our own; and as the inclination of the planet is nearly the same as the earth, this supposition may be accepted as a fact.

Thus we see that Mars is the most like earth of all the planets, and its inhabitants—if, indeed, it is now inhabited—must have a beautiful view of us when the weather is fine, for we are so much larger…

There have been numerous theories concerning Mars being inhabited, and of course these suggestions made respecting life on one planet may, with varying circumstances, be applied to another. Each planet may have had, or may yet have, to pass througn what has been termed a "life-bearing stage". We on earth are at present in the enjoyment of that stage. So far as we can tell, therefore, Mars may be inhabited now, as he bears much the same appearance as our planet. Certain changes are going on in Mars, and all planets, just as they go on here in our earth, and as they did long, long ages before the earth was populated, and which will continue to go on after life on the earth has ceased to exist…

That there are clouds and aqueous atmosphere surrounding Mars we learn from spectroscopic observation and analysis, and in fine we may look upon Mars as similar to our earth. Respecting the question of its habitation we take the liberty to quote Mr. Richard Proctor:—

"I fear my own conclusion about Mars is that his present condition is very desolate. I look on the ruddiness of tint to which I have referred as one of the signs that the planet of war has long since passed its prime. There are lands and seas in Mars, the vapour of water is present in his air, clouds form, rains and snows fall upon his surface, and doubtless brooks and rivers irrigate his soil, and carry down the moisture collected on his wide continents to the seas whence the clouds had originally been formed. But I do not think there is much vegetation on Mars, or that many living creatures of the higher types of Martian life as it once existed still remain.

Chart of Mars, showing continents and oceans

"All that is known about the planet tends to show that the time when it attained that stage of planetary existence through which our earth is now passing must be set millions of years, perhaps hundreds of millions of years ago. He has not yet, indeed reached that airless and waterless condition, that extremity of internal cold, or in fact that utter unfitness to suport any kind of life, which would seem to prevail in the moon. The planet of war in some respects resembles a desolate battle-field, and I fancy that there is not a single region of the earth now inhabited by man which is not infinitely more comfortable as an abode of life than the most favoured regions of Mars at the present time would be for creatures like ourselves."

Friends in high places

The Beagle Project has been on a bit of a roll over the last nine days: first they finally achieve UK charitable status, then they're hob-nobbing it with tea and HobNobs™ at the House of Lords, and now they've entered into a 'trans-atmospheric' Space Act Agreement with Nasa. Yes, that Nasa; the ones who landed on the fucking moon. And get this: it was Nasa who approached them!

ISS

The International Space Station yesterday.

According to their press release [no longer available], scientists, teachers and students sailing aboard the rebuilt HMS Beagle will collaborate with astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to investigate the biology of plankton blooms, coral reefs and other ocean surface and terrestrial ecosystems. Using satellite link-ups, students in classrooms and laboratories will be able to follow the voyage, and interact with scientists as they apply the tools and techniques of modern science in Darwin's footsteps ashore and at sea. From space, astronauts will use the ISS's high resolution imaging to photograph the Beagle and fix her position as she sails into plankton blooms and takes seawater samples for chemical and biological analysis. Samples will be analysed aboard by marine biologists and also processed and shipped to labs for DNA sequencing and comparison to libraries of known marine organisms using DNA barcoding and metagenomics.

If that alone doesn't justify the cost of the ISS, I don't know what does.

I can't wait for the day when the magnificent square-rigger pulls up at a Santiago Island dock, and they get on the blower to their friends in the ISS and utter the immortal words, Galápagos Base: the Beagle has landed.

How could they not do?