Category Archives: Europa

NASA Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars and in Texas with Austin Planetarium Party

Tomorrow night brings another great historical milestone for astronomy and for the possibility of discovering alien life.

The newest Mars rover, Curiosity, will land on the red planet at 12:30 a.m. CT, Monday morning, August 6, 2012. This rover contains the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), which NASA scientists will use to investigate if life existed or still exists on Mars.

After it gets settled, the rover will bring the laboratory to Gale Crater to drill into Martian rock, collect and heat up dust, and examine the emitted gases to detect the minerals or organic molecules contained in the minerals.

When watching the animated video of the Curiosity Rover landing, “Challenges of Getting to Mars: Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror”, at the top of my blog post, I noticed that it wasn’t a “bouncing” landing like the earlier rover landing as shown in the NASA animated video of the 2003 Mars rover.

The Curiosity Rover has a sky crane that will help it land slowly and safely in the rough terrain and to keep a dust cloud from damaging the instruments on the rover.

Mars Landing Party Hosted by the Austin Planetarium

Overnight, from Sunday, August 5, to Monday, August 6, the Austin Planetarium will host a free party to celebrate the landing of NASA’s Curiosity Rover at ND Studios as part of the Get curious campaign.

Here are the activities that you can look forward to:

  • 4:00 – 8:00 p.m.– Lots of family and kids activities
    • Enjoy Austin Planetarium’s Discovery Dome, their mobile planetarium, as well as their Magic Planet
    • Play Mars Bingo with the Texas Space Grant Consortium
    • View a robot replica of the Curiosity Rover
    • Get tasty snacks, including real astronaut ice cream and drinks
  • 9:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m. – Adult activities and the lander live
    • Hear from science speakers
    • Watch live feeds from NASA with the latest updates from the lander
    • Listen to live music
  • 12:30 a.m. – Watch the Curiosity Rover touch down on the Mars surface!!!!

I’m really looking forward to seeing the live landing. (Actually, almost live since it takes the rover’s signal 14 minutes to reach Earth.) It’s going to be a blast!

Update: Hooray! The Mars rover, Curiosity, landed safely. How exciting to learn that Dr. John Grotzinger is a research scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory. As young Commander Ben, I met Dr. Grotzinger in 2005 at a UT Austin Environmental Science Institute Hot Science. Cool Talks. presentation.

Austin Planetarium at Hot Science – Cool Talks

Commander Ben and the Austin Planetarium team at UT Austin before Dr. Brittany Schmidt’s Hot Science – Cool Talks Presentation

I had a chance to meet the Austin Planetarium team and take part in their fun activities twice earlier this year as part of the great UT Austin Environmental Science Institute’s Hot Science – Cool Talks presentations:

You’ll find fun, interactive activities before every Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation. For example, before Dr. Schmidt’s talk, I entered the Austin Planetarium’s Discovery Dome. The speaker inside the planetarium used a computer to control a projector that led us through the night sky and zoomed in on Jupiter and its Galilean moons.

P.S. The Austin Planetarium team is working on building a world-class science and technology museum in Austin!

What about life on Europa?

Dr. Britney Schmidt and Commander Ben are excited by the possibility of life on Europa

Earlier this year, and I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Schimdt to talk about the possibility of life on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, as part of her Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation.

Dr. Schmidt thought that if there was life on Mars, it existed in the past and we would only find fossils today. Europa may have a greater chance of having life currently because this moon contains liquid water under its frozen surface.

Whether there’s life in space or not, there’s certainly life teeming in Austin for everyone who’s scientifically curious!

Your friend,
Ben

Leave a comment

Filed under Alien life, Astronomy, Austin Planetarium, Curiosity Rover, Dark Energy, Explosions, and Zombie Stars, Dr. Andrew Howell, Dr. Britney Schmidt, Dr. John Grotzinger, Environmental Science Institute, Europa, Extraterrestrial life, Gale Crater, Galilean moons, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Jupiter, Jupiter's Icy Moon, Mars, Mars Landing, Mars Rover, Mars Science Laboratory, NASA, Texas Space Grant Consortium, University of Texas, UT Austin

Life on Europa: Interview series with Dr. Britney Schmidt

You won’t believe what I got to do the other day…I had breakfast at the Bouldin Creek Cafe with Dr. Britney Schmidt, research scientist at The University of Texas Institute for Geophysics!

And not only did I have breakfast with her, she was very gracious to allow me to interview her about her fascinating research on the possibility of life in our solar system and her upcoming talk, “Life on Europa? Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon, which is part of the awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks series, presented by the Environmental Science Institute. (Don’t miss her talk on Friday, April 13, 2012!)

I published her interview in seven parts with cool planetary graphics from NASA/JPL-Caltech. Click on the videos below to learn more about the possibility of life on Europa, planetary science, and the amazing trajectory Dr. Schmidt took to become a planetary scientist.


(1) Life on Europa: Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon – Hot Science – Cool Talks Preview

Dr. Schmidt describes her upcoming presentation, “Life on Europa? Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon”, and talks about astrobiology, the study of the rise of life in habitable planetary systems.


(2) Does Icy Europa Hide Life?

What can learning about ice on Earth tell us about possible single or multicellular life on Europa? Dr. Schmidt talks about the trapped lakes under the surface of one of Jupiter’s moons that might harbor life.


(3) Would Scientists Freak Out if They Found Life on Europa?

If we discovered life on Europa, would we start a robotic space race to get there? Would scientists dance in the streets or would such a discovery cause great scientific or social revolutions? Dr. Schmidt shares her thoughts about what might happen after such a fantastical discovery.


(4) Incredible Tidal Forces Power Europa

Dr. Schmidt talks about the incredible tidal forces exerted by Jupiter and its Galilean moons that bring chaos to Europa, but also give it the energy and heat that may make it possible for Europa to sustain life.


(5) Does Earth Ice Hold the Key to Alien Life?

If we can find microbes living between ice crystals on Earth, can we find life on icy Europa too? Dr. Britney Schmidt describes Earth’s environments and creatures, such as ice loving cryophiles, that can help us understand the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe.


(6) Planetary Moon Smackdown: Triton versus Europa

Why does Dr. Schmidt find Triton so compelling? If you’re looking for a young surface, covered in methane, with a bizarre geology, look no further than Triton. Oh, and did we mention cryovolcanism too?


(7) From Heavy Metal Fan to Planetary Scientist (Geophysicist Dr. Britney Schmidt)

Dr. Schmidt looked to musicians as modern day poets and never pictured herself in a lab coat. Discover Dr. Schmidt’s remarkable journey after her class in planetary science, when she felt the gravitational pull to physics to pursue her passion for researching Europa.

Thanks, Dr. Schmidt; Dr. Jay Banner, Director of the Environmental Science Institute (ESI); and Mr. Geoff Hensgen, ESI Outreach Coordinator!

Commander Ben…signing off

Leave a comment

Filed under Astrobiology, Astronomy, Cryophiles, Cryovolcanism, Dr. Britney Schmidt, Environmental Science Institute, Europa, Extraterrestrial life, Galilean moons, Geoff Hensgen, Geophysicist, Jay Banner, Jupiter, Jupiter's Icy Moon, Neptune, Space race, Spacecraft, Triton, University of Texas, University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, UT Institute for Geophysics

From Heavy Metal Fan to Planetary Scientist (Geophysicist Dr. Britney Schmidt)

Dr. Britney Schmidt looked to musicians as modern day poets and never pictured herself in a lab coat. Discover Dr. Schmidt’s remarkable journey after her class in planetary science, when she felt the gravitational pull to physics to pursue her passion for researching Europa.

Dr. Schmidt is a research scientist at The University of Texas Institute for Geophysics. Her talk, “Life on Europa? Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon”, is part of the awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks series, presented by the Environmental Science Institute.

This is part seven of Commander Ben’s interview series with Dr. Schmidt.

Watch the entire video series about possible life on Europa with Dr. Schmidt.

Leave a comment

Filed under Astrobiology, Astronomy, Dr. Britney Schmidt, Environmental Science Institute, Europa, Extraterrestrial life, Galilean moons, Geophysicist, Jupiter, University of Texas, University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, UT Institute for Geophysics

Planetary Moon Smackdown: Triton versus Europa

Why does Dr. Britney Schmidt find Triton so compelling? If you’re looking for a young surface, covered in methane, with a bizarre geology, look no further than Triton. Oh, and did we mention cryovolcanism too?

Dr. Schmidt is a research scientist at The University of Texas Institute for Geophysics. Her talk, “Life on Europa? Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon”, is part of the awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks series, presented by the Environmental Science Institute.

This is part six of Commander Ben’s interview series with Dr. Schmidt.

Watch the entire video series about possible life on Europa with Dr. Schmidt.

Leave a comment

Filed under Astrobiology, Astronomy, Cryovolcanism, Dr. Britney Schmidt, Environmental Science Institute, Europa, Extraterrestrial life, Galilean moons, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Jupiter, Neptune, Triton, University of Texas, University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, UT Institute for Geophysics

Does Earth Ice Hold the Key to Alien Life?



If we can find microbes living between ice crystals on Earth, can we find life on icy Europa too? Dr. Britney Schmidt describes Earth’s environments and creatures, such as ice loving cryophiles, that can help us understand the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe.

Dr. Schmidt is a research scientist at The University of Texas Institute for Geophysics. Her talk, “Life on Europa? Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon”, is part of the awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks series, presented by the Environmental Science Institute.

This is part five of Commander Ben’s interview series with Dr. Schmidt.

Watch the entire video series about possible life on Europa with Dr. Schmidt.

Leave a comment

Filed under Astrobiology, Astronomy, Cryophiles, Dr. Britney Schmidt, Environmental Science Institute, Europa, Extraterrestrial life, Galilean moons, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Microbes, University of Texas, University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, UT Institute for Geophysics

Incredible Tidal Forces Power Europa



Dr. Britney Schmidt talks about the incredible tidal forces exerted by Jupiter and its Galilean moons that bring chaos to Europa, but also give it the energy and heat that may make it possible for Europa to sustain life.

Dr. Schmidt is a research scientist at The University of Texas Institute for Geophysics. Her talk, “Life on Europa? Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon”, is part of the awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks series, presented by the Environmental Science Institute.

This is part four of Commander Ben’s interview series with Dr. Schmidt.

Watch the entire video series about possible life on Europa with Dr. Schmidt.

Leave a comment

Filed under Astrobiology, Astronomy, Dr. Britney Schmidt, Environmental Science Institute, Europa, Extraterrestrial life, Galilean moons, Hot Science - Cool Talks, University of Texas, University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, UT Institute for Geophysics

Would Scientists Freak Out if They Found Life on Europa?



If we discovered life on Europa, would we start a robotic space race to get there? Would scientists dance in the streets or would such a discovery cause great scientific or social revolutions? Dr. Britney Schmidt shares her thoughts about what might happen after such a fantastical discovery.

Dr. Schmidt is a research scientist at The University of Texas Institute for Geophysics. Her talk, “Life on Europa? Exploring Jupiter’s Icy Moon”, is part of the awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks series, presented by the Environmental Science Institute.

This is part three of Commander Ben’s interview series with Dr. Schmidt.

Watch the entire video series about possible life on Europa with Dr. Schmidt.

Leave a comment

Filed under Astrobiology, Astronomy, Environmental Science Institute, Europa, Extraterrestrial life, Galilean moons, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Space race, Spacecraft, University of Texas, University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, UT Institute for Geophysics