The fate of the Mars InSight lander will all come down to a fiery seven-minute freefall into the Red Planet. Will it survive and reveal new insight into our planetary neighbour, or will the atmosphere of Mars prove to be too much for our new planetary explorer?
2018 • Astronomy
Sagan discusses the story of the Heike crab and artificial selection of crabs resembling samurai warriors, as an opening into a larger discussion of evolution through natural selection (and the pitfalls of intelligent design). Among the topics are the development of life on the Cosmic Calendar and the Cambrian explosion; the function of DNA in growth; genetic replication, repairs, and mutation; the common biochemistry of terrestrial organisms; the creation of the molecules of life in the Miller-Urey experiment; and speculation on alien life (such as life in Jupiter's clouds). In the Cosmos Update ten years later, Sagan remarks on RNA also controlling chemical reactions and reproducing itself and the different roles of comets (potentially carrying organic molecules or causing the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event).
If humans could easily travel to Mars, it still remains to be proven that they can settle down there. Scientists are now designing and testing a new generation of spacesuits, dwelling-units and several other technologies in order to make it possible to live and work on the red planet.
2018 • Astronomy
Suppose you placed a camera at a fixed position, took a picture of the sky at the same time every day for an entire year, and overlaid all of the photos on top of each other. What would the sun look like in that combined image? A stationary dot? A circular path? Neither. Oddly enough, it makes a ‘figure 8’ pattern, known as the Sun’s analemma.
Today we’re rounding out our planetary tour with ice giants Uranus and Neptune. Both have small rocky cores, thick mantles of ammonia, water, and methane, and atmospheres that make them look greenish and blue. Uranus has a truly weird rotation and relatively dull weather, while Neptune has clouds and storms whipped by tremendous winds. Both have rings and moons, with Neptune’s Triton probably being a captured iceball that has active geology.