Hard Science Fiction by Brandon Q. Morris
The Way of the Water Astrophysics

The Way of the Water

The water that fills the earth's oceans, lakes and rivers has come a long way. It is initially formed in molecular clouds, which consist of 90 percent molecular hydrogen. When individual regions in these clouds condense into stars, it plays an important role in the formation of the protoplanetary disk. In the process, it is often transported as ice to their outer regions, from where it is later carried by comets to the inner planets. Cosmologists have already been able to document the first and the last section of this path well, but they have had measurement problems with…
Life on Mars? We will not find it this way Life

Life on Mars? We will not find it this way

The scientific instruments currently being used on Mars may not be sensitive enough to detect possible traces of life in this environment. Researchers explain this in a paper published in Nature Communications. Since the Viking missions in the 1970s, there have been several attempts to search for signs of life on Mars. Now, half a century later, even the latest sophisticated instruments on NASA's Curiosity and Perseverance rovers have detected only small amounts of simple organic molecules. Why aren't we making faster progress? It could be because of the nature of the substances in the Martian rocks - or…
How life could be detected on Enceladus Enceladus

How life could be detected on Enceladus

The mystery of whether microbial alien life exists on Enceladus could be solved by a spacecraft orbiting Saturn's moon, according to a new study led by University of Arizona researchers. In a paper published in The Planetary Science Journal, the researchers show how a hypothetical space mission could provide definitive answers. When Enceladus was first surveyed by NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1980, it looked like a small, unexciting "snowball" in the sky. Later, between 2005 and 2017, NASA's Cassini spacecraft orbited the Saturn system, examining Saturn's complex rings and moons in unprecedented detail. Scientists were stunned when Cassini…
Rocky planets from the planet factory Space

Rocky planets from the planet factory

Why do rocky planets in a given star system usually look relatively similar? A new theory developed by Konstantin Batygin, professor of planetary science at Caltech, along with Alessandro Morbidelli of the Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur in France, may explain. "With the increase in exoplanet observations over the past decade, it has become clear that the standard theory of planet formation needs to be revised, starting with the basics. We need a theory that can explain both the formation of terrestrial planets in our solar system and the formation of self-similar systems of super-Earths, many of which have…
This is what a dust storm on Mars sounds like Mars

This is what a dust storm on Mars sounds like

In "The Martian," dust storms are quite unpleasant and downright dangerous. This is one of the few scientific inconsistencies of the film and book. In fact, they even seem to be very practical, as researchers have often discovered, because they clean solar panels of the dust that settles over time. But what does a dust devil like this even sound like? When the Perseverance rover landed on Mars, it was equipped with the first working microphone on the planet's surface. Scientists used it to make the first-ever audio recording of an extraterrestrial whirlwind. (more…)
Megatsunami on Mars Mars

Megatsunami on Mars

Our arid neighboring world once had seas, too - and with them all the catastrophes our Earth has experienced over its long existence. Right up to a megatsunami like the one after the Chicxulub impact - which contributed to the mass extinction of all non-avian dinosaurs on Earth 66 million years ago. On Mars, however, the last such event was much longer ago. 3.4 billion years, in fact, as some studies have already suggested. A new study published in Scientific Reports now brings more details to light. Alexis Rodriguez and his colleagues analyzed maps of the Martian surface created by…
Why Venus died the heat death – and the Earth did not Life

Why Venus died the heat death – and the Earth did not

Venus, Earth's hot little sister, was probably once habitable, too, a long time ago. It basically orbits in the habitable zone. Surface temperatures of 450 degrees would actually not be expected there, were it not for the dense CO2 atmosphere that heats up the planet with its greenhouse effect. But why did this happen on Venus - and not on Earth so far? Volcanism is probably to blame, as researchers show in a new paper. According to the paper, volcanic activity that lasted hundreds to thousands of centuries and ejected massive amounts of material may have helped transform Venus…