By REBECCA TURNER & JESS FORTE
Features Editor/News Writer
It’s been a stellar few weeks for astronomical discoveries. Events like the Supermoon, water on Mars, and new insights about Pluto’s moon Charon have brought not only excitement for astronomers, but ordinary citizens as well.
The Supermoon, also called the blood moon, appeared on the night of Sept. 27 and was the result of three lunar events happening at the same time: the total lunar eclipse, the full moon closest to the fall equinox (known also as a harvest moon) and the moon’s closest approach to Earth this year. This converging triad of events isn’t scheduled to happen again until 2033, according to National Geographic.
This year’s orange-colored moon was seen in much of the world, including North and South America, Europe, Africa, parts of West Asia and the eastern Pacific, as reported by CBS News. While the lunar event was technically visible in Tampa for over an hour, it was difficult to catch more than a glimpse of it through the cloud cover until the end.
Courtney Ripp, a freshman accounting major, attemped to see the Supermoon with her friends.
“We tried, but there were too many clouds surrounding it,” she said. “I was disappointed since everyone talked about it a lot.”
Even though it wasn’t totally visible, some students were able to get a peek.
“I went out and looked all around,” said Samantha Milillo, a freshman with an undecided major. “I saw that some of the clouds were a little pinkish looking though.
The day after the uncommon Supermoon, astronomy news grabbed the world’s attention again with a surprising announcement from NASA. The organization confirmed that there is evidence of liquid water flowing on Mars.
Mysterious lines appear seasonally on the slopes of Mars’s mountain ranges and it is probable that these streaks on the planet are water, according to NASA. The scientists haven’t actually seen or sampled the water directly, but they used a method called spectroscopy to chemically analyze the streaks at a distance, according to The Washington Post.
Scientists are now debating what the presence of liquid water on Mars would mean for the planet. They are using a multitude of spacecrafts, calculations and theories to simplify this new information. The average person should just know a few basic things.
For one, the planet could sustain life. That does not mean there are Martians. Well, at least not any Martians larger than microbes. But, even microscopic organisms still may not exist on Mars now. That would depend upon how saturated it is with salt compounds, according to The New York Times. There’s likely water, but it might not be suitable for supporting life.
Keith Francisco, a senior business management major, is fairly confident that life can exist on Mars.
“There’s life, for sure. There’s no way that we’re the only ones out here,” he said. “If humans and other animals need water to survive, there’s a chance that something else does too.”
Secondly, if the streaks are actually water, it’s no vacation paradise. The water isn’t likely pooling anywhere on the planet and is probably flowing underneath the sandy surface when the streaks are visible, as reported by The Washington Post. Even if the liquid water is there, there doesn’t appear to be enough to provide for humans, even at the planet’s warmest 70 degree temperatures. So don’t pack your bags for Mars just yet.
Also, NASA has no current plans to investigate the streaks of probable water up-close any time soon. The spacecrafts they currently have up there weren’t sterilized before leaving Earth and could contaminate water rich areas of Mars with Earth microbes. While NASA will launch a new spacecraft in 2020, it too will not be sterilized and therefore not used for these investigations. They aren’t going to use a sterilized spacecraft because it is more expensive and requires a non-traditional design, The New York Times reports. Therefore, we have no way to test what NASA’s new report tells us.
As for (dwarf) planet news, Pluto’s moon Charon has some newly discovered mountains and crevices. The moon is half the diameter of Pluto, but little was previously known about Charon’s features. The New Horizons spacecraft’s camera took photos of the moon recently and transmitted them back to Earth around the same time that these other astronomical events occurred, according to a Fox News report.
These new images are the best obtained so far of Charon, and show geological aspects that we were unaware of before. The moon has fissures and canyons above its equator. Some are as much as four times the length of the Grand Canyon and twice as deep, according to NASA. The photos show that some kind of geologic event occurred on Charon, though the exact cause of these features remains uncertain.
While much of Charon appears disfigured by these geologic gashes, some sections appear seemingly newer or repaired. One early explanation for this is the possibility of cryovolcanism, or the presence of ice volcanoes, on the surface, the report also stated.
Astronomy captured our attention the past couple of weeks, but the sky stuff doesn’t stop with these three events. Every year, there are at least four eclipses and various astronomic bodies become visible. Over the next two months we may even see, cloud cover permitting, several meteor showers and a few comets.
Rebecca Turner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jess Forte can be reached at email@example.com