Space exploration has dominated human imagination for the most of the last 125-odd years. Every year we learn more about what lies beyond the limits of Earth’s atmosphere. We learn about extraterrestrial resources, such as metals on asteroids or water on the Moon; we discover new exoplanets that may be able to support life; we research new technologies that will get us onto planets a little closer to home, such as Mars.
In 2017, the UN is celebrating World Space Week by highlighting these discoveries and others under the theme “Exploring New Worlds in Space”. As governmental organizations and private enterprises are recognized for pushing the boundaries of exploration, we’ve brought together a selection of books and articles that describe some of the biggest breakthroughs of the last decade.
Planets: A Very Short Introduction by David A. Rothery
Our own Solar System is the place to start when learning about space. There are four ‘rocky’ planets in the system, but so far we’ve only discovered life on one (Earth, that is). What is it in the make-up of these terrestrial planets that suggests life, but doesn’t contain it? A short introduction to the topic might provide the answers.
Exploring the Planets: A Memoir by Fred Taylor
Comparing the meteorology of Mars and Earth has long been an aim of international space programmes in order to prove the viability of life on the Red Planet. With the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA was able to gather data that will help to understand the climate on Mars and why it changed from one that could theoretically support life, to the frozen desert we know it as today.
“Is it time for a manned mission to Mars?” by Toby Samuels and Natasha Nicholson in Astronomy & Geophysics
Mars has long been next on the list of planets to which a manned mission should be sent. Has the time finally arrived to begin planning this tremendous endeavour? The “for” argument would have it that a timeline needs to be set in order to push the competition that will lead to this incredible feat of space exploration.
Spectroscopy and Radiative Transfer of Planetary Atmospheres by Kelly Chance and Randall V. Martin
Looking at what makes up planetary atmospheres can help us learn about Earth’s atmosphere as well as learn about possibility of life in other systems. But how is this data even collected? Spectroscopic field measurements taken by remote sensors on satellites allows scientists to gather this data and how atmospheric constituents affect climate, biogeochemical cycles, and weather.
“Planning our first interstellar journey” by Ben Fernando in Astronomy & Geophysics
Breakthrough Initiatives, a programme set up by Pete Worden, Stephen Hawking, and Russian tycoon Yuri Milner, is funding private research into space exploration, including a trip to the star system nearest to ours. Breakthrough Starshot aims to develop a spacecraft that will make the journey to Alpha Centauri with a travel time of 20 years. Let’s see if in 40 years’ time this becomes reality!
Living with the Stars: How the Human Body is Connected to the Life Cycles of the Earth, the Planets, and the Stars by Karel Schrijver and Iris Schrijver
While looking to outer space for conditions that might sustain life, what is it on Earth that made it possible for intelligent life (i.e. humans) to evolve? In large part it was the process of “terraforming” that occurred over a period of some 3.9 billion years through the twin chemical cycles of the water cycle and the carbon cycle.
The yearn for space exploration has resulted in building the International Space Station. But what exactly led to its construction? The history of this incredible feat in human engineering, politics, international collaboration, and bravery stretches from the first earth-orbiting satellite launch (Sputnik) in 1957, to astronauts from across the world continuing to live and work on the ISS in the present day.
“Titan: the moon that thinks it’s a planet” by John Zarnecki in Astronomy & Geophysics
Space exploration occurs mission by mission, with each on providing more and more data on the vast expanse beyond the Earth. As the Cassini mission draws to a close, the conclusion can only be that an enormous amount of data has been collected in its twenty years. One of the many discoveries is the existence of seven more moons around Saturn than previously thought.
Featured image: Sunrise by qimono. Public domain via Pixabay.