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Posted on April 7th, 2015

Out Of This World – Updates

Landing on Mars

You may have thought that flying saucers are something out of an old science fiction movie, much more absurd then practical. NASA may beg to differ when it comes to their Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, or LDSD for short. Shaped like the old fashioned flying saucers, the LDSD is intended as a lander on a larger scale. With more missions to Mars in the future having to carry heavier equipment and rovers, the landers will be carrying more mass; and with Mars’ thin atmosphere, the lander will need to have increased drag to slow itself down before landing. The saucer-shaped lander accomplishes this with a larger surface area, slowing it down as it enters the atmosphere; then it deploys two supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerators that inflate and surround the lander. Once it has decelerated to around Mach 2, a 30.5-meter diameter parachute deploys, further slowing the lander. This new design will not only allow for larger payloads, it also enables the lander to set down at higher altitudes then previously capable. So the next time you see a metal disk descending from the sky, don’t bust out the thermin, it might just be a test flight of the LDSD.

Dark Matter

Matters of darkness are difficult to explain, as it is nearly impossible to see and describe your surroundings without light. Darkness can be inhabited by almost anything or nothing. In this respect, the phenomenon called dark matter is aptly named. No one knows what it is, what it does or its purpose, it cannot be directly measured, and it is only known by its effect on the objects around it. It is the darkness, that invisible energy that inhabits the spaces between light in our universe. New observations from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory have lead astronomers to the conclusion that dark matter is not affected by itself, meaning when dark matter interacts with itself, it neither slows down nor speeds up, it is unaffected. This very simple principle narrows down the list of substances that make dark matter. Scientist observed 72 large galaxy cluster collisions, and while all other objects, like stars and gas clouds, slow down or stop when colliding with each other, dark matter moves through the collisions with little impact on its speed of travel. With one major characteristic of dark matter identified, scientists can now work toward narrowing down the list even further by looking at individual galaxy collisions and the associated behavior of dark matter particles.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163

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