NASA Releases the First Complete Map of Antarctic Ice Flow

AntarcticaNowadays, it seems as if most of the world has been mapped and all unknown lands visited. However, the cold and inhospitable land known as Antarctica has always seemed a bit mysterious to most of us. Recently NASA announced in a press release that it has “created the first complete map of the speed and direction of ice flow in Antarctica.”

Creating the map took a lot of effort and time. Using radar and a collection of international satellites, Eric Rignot, Jeremie Mouginot, and Bernd Scheuchl, scientists from UC-Irvine, “used billions of data points captured by European, Japanese and Canadian satellites to weed out cloud cover, solar glare and land features masking the glaciers. With the aid of NASA technology, the team painstakingly pieced together the shape and velocity of glacial formations, including the previously uncharted East Antarctica, which comprises 77 percent of the continent.”

The scientists discovered a new ridge between the 5.4 million square miles of land between East and West Antarctica and unknown formations of land that move 800 ft. ever year towards the Antarctic Ocean. The findings will give these scientists plenty of data to pore over, including “tracking future sea-level increases from climate change.”

Check out the map for yourself:


The Water of Mars?

3D model Mars

3D image from NASA depicting spring and summer on a slope inside Mars’ Newton crater.

We’ve heard endlessly about the possibility that Mars, the far away red planet, has water, but recently we’ve gotten closer to a confirmation. Last week NASA revealed that its “Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter [has] revealed possible flowing water during the warmest months on Mars.” And, according to an article published in the New York Times, scientists note that “shifting dark streaks on the surface of Mars are signs that water is flowing there today.”

Ice has been plentiful on Mars for quite some time but scientists have been looking for evidence of water because it could lead to the possibility of life outside the scope of Earth. While ice is important, “the recipe for life, at least as we know it, calls for liquid water, carbon-based molecules and a source for energy” and “chemical reactions for life come to a halt when water freezes.”

The data collected by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is being pored over by Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona. McEwen notes that “the best explanation for these observations so far is the flow of briny water. We have this circumstantial evidence for water flowing on Mars. We have no direct detection of water.”

The observations of the data reveal seasonal discrepancies and that

“some aspects of the observations still puzzle researchers, but flows of liquid brine fit the features’ characteristics better than alternate hypotheses. Saltiness lowers the freezing temperature of water. Sites with active flows get warm enough, even in the shallow subsurface, to sustain liquid water that is about as salty as Earth’s oceans, while pure water would freeze at the observed temperatures.”

While it may be too early to get your hopes up about water or life on Mars, these findings bring us closer than ever to an exciting breakthrough about how we perceive life in the universe.

Scientists Discover Water Cloud in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Quasar art

Artist's rendering of a quasar

Discussions of black holes in space tend to veer toward science-fiction. Couple that with stories of water on distant planets or moons and you have a tale that many would find hard to believe. However, as National Geographic recently reported, traces of water outside the realm of Earth is now science-fact and evidence suggests that a large mass of water vapor resides in a black hole light years from Earth.

A study co-authored by Eric Murphy, an astronomer based in Pasadena, California who works at Carnegie Observatories, has indicated that “in a galaxy 12 billion light-years away resides the most distant and most massive cloud of water yet seen in the universe…Weighing in at 40 billion times the mass of Earth, the giant cloud of mist swaddles a type of actively feeding supermassive black hole known as a quasar.”

Terms like black holes and quasars may sound a bit daunting, but the concepts are easy to understand. NASA states that a black hole “is a great amount of matter packed into a very small area – think of a star ten times more massive than the Sun squeezed into a sphere approximately the diameter of New York City. The result is a gravitational field so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape.”

And quasars “are black holes at the centers of galaxies that are gravitationally consuming surrounding disks of material while burping back out powerful energy jets. As this disk of material is consumed by the central black hole, it releases energy in the form of x-ray and infrared radiation, which in turn can heat the surrounding material, resulting in the observed water vapor.”

Murphy’s study indicates that water resides within this quasar, but just how much water are we talking about? According to the study, the vapor surrounding the quasar could have “enough water to fill all the oceans on the Earth over 140 trillion times.”

While we won’t have access to intergalactic water anytime soon there is still plenty of scientific worth to this major finding: “Astronomers are hoping to use the find to study how large quantities of water in the young universe may have acted as efficient coolants of the interstellar medium—the thin gas and dust that exists between stars—possibly affecting star formation and the evolution of galaxies such as our Milky Way.”

As for now, take the time to enjoy terrestrial water.