Alien truths, revenge, adventure and darkness

Seanchai Library

It’s time to highlight another week of storytelling in Voice by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s home at Holly Kai Park, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, June 11th 19:00: Protector

Phssthpok the Pak had been travelling for most of his thirty-two thousand years. His mission: save, develop, and protect the group of Pak breeders sent out into space some two and a half million years previously.

Brennan was a Belter, the product of a fiercely independent, somewhat anarchic society living in, on, and around an outer asteroid belt. The Belters were rebels, one and all, and Brennan was a smuggler. The Belt worlds had been tracking the Pak ship for days — Brennan figured to meet that ship first…

He was never seen again. At least not by those alive at the time.

Join Gyro Muggins as he reads Larry Niven’s engaging tale of humanity’s past – and future..

Tuesday, June 12th: The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire #1)

Two years ago, four boys were put on trial for raping a Cheyenne girl. Now one of them – Cody Pritchard – is dead, shot and dumped in with a local farmer’s sheep.

For Walt Longmire, it means his hope of finishing out his term as sheriff of Wyoming’s Absaroka county in peace and quiet is at an end; instead, he finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation.

Plenty of people had cause for wanting Cody Prichard dead but who had the guts to do the deed? And are his three compadres next on the hit list? For Longmire, it means facing one of the more volatile and challenging cases in his twenty-four years as sheriff. One in which he means to ensure that revenge, so often regarded as a dish best served cold, is never served at all.

Join Kayden OConnell as he reads the first volume of Craig Johnson’s tales of Sheriff Walt Longmire.

Wednesday, June 13th 19:00: Hello, Universe

In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways.

Virgil Salinas is shy and kind-hearted and feels out-of-place in his loud and boisterous family; Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and loves everything about nature; Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister Gen is always following her around; and Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just act normal so that he can concentrate on basketball.

None of them are friends; at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well.

This leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find the missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms.

Join Caledonia Skytower as she reads Erin Entrada Kelly’s 2018 Newbery Medal Award-Winning tale.

Thursday, June 14th:

The Haunter of the Dark

The Shining Trapezohedron was discovered in Egyptian ruins, in a box of alien construction, by Professor Enoch Bowen before he returned to Providence, Rhode Island in 1844.

Members of the Church of Starry Wisdom in Providence would awaken the Haunter of the Dark, an avatar of Nyarlathotep, by gazing into the glowing crystal.

Summoned from the black gulfs of chaos, this being could show other worlds, other galaxies, and the secrets of arcane and paradoxical knowledge; but he demanded monstrous sacrifices, hinted at by disfigured skeletons that were later found in the church. The Haunter of the Dark was banished by light and could not cross a lighted area.

Join Shandon Loring as he delves into a classic tale by H.P. Lovecraft. Also presented in Kitely (hop://grid.kitely.com:8002/Seanchai/144/129/29).

19:00 Seanchai Late Night

Contemporary Sci-Fi with Finn Zeddmore.

 

 


Please check with the Seanchai Library’s blog for updates and for additions or changes to the week’s schedule.

The current charity is Feed a Smile.

Space Sunday: of molecules, meteorites and missions

In 1996, amidst a huge fanfare which included a statement by then US President Bill Clinton, a team of researchers announced they had discovered evidence of past Martian microbial life within a meteorite called ALH84001, discovered in the Allen Hills of Antarctica in 1984.

The claim lead to a high degree controversy, with many scientists disputing the findings of the original team. While that discovery has never been conclusively disproved, it has never been verified, either. However, it has – alongside the controversial results from two of the Viking Lander experiments in the 1970s – encouraged teams researching the potential for microbial life on Mars to be cautious in their work.

So it was with a sense of excitement that on Thursday, June 7th, 2018, NASA announced that the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover has once again found potential evidence of both organic molecules and methane on Mars. The news came via two papers Organic matter preserved in 3-billion-year-old mudstones at Gale crater, Mars and Background levels of methane in Mars’ atmosphere show strong seasonal variations.

In the first paper, the authors indicate how Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite detected traces of methane in drill samples it took from Martian rocks in 2016. Once these rocks were heated, they released an array of organics and volatiles similar to how organic-rich sedimentary rocks do on Earth – where similar deposits are indications of fossilised organic life.

What is particularly exciting is the first paper indicates that the material discovered on Mars is similar to terrestrial kerogen, a solid organic matter found in sedimentary rocks. Comprising an estimated 1016 tons of carbon, Kerogen on Earth exceeds the organic content of all living matter on Earth by a factor of 10,000.

NASA’s Curiosity rover has discovered ancient organic molecules on Mars, embedded within sedimentary rocks that are billions of years old. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre

Essentially, want happens on Earth is that organic material gets laid down within the sedimentary layers, then over the aeons, fluid flowing thought the rock initiates chemical reactions to break down the organic deposits until only the insoluble  kerogen is left. It has already been established that Gale Crater was once the home of several liquid water lakes, and also that perchlorate salt – particularly good at breaking down organics – is present on Mars. Hence why the discovery of the kerogen-like material on Mars is a cause for excitement – it could be a similar process to that seen on Earth is present.

While the team responsible for the styudy point out the material SAM has found is similar to an insoluble material discovered in tiny meteorites known to fall on Mars, that it might have formed naturally on the planet is somewhat strengthened by the fact Curiosity has previously confirmed Gale Crater contains the chemical building blocks and energy sources that are necessary for life. However, the legacy of ALH84001 urge caution when dealing with these findings from the rover, as one of the authors of the first paper explained.

Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules. Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes… The Martian surface is exposed to radiation from space. Both radiation and harsh chemicals break down organic matter. Finding ancient organic molecules in the top five centimetres of rock that was deposited when Mars may have been habitable, bodes well for us to learn the story of organic molecules on Mars with future missions that will drill deeper.

Jennifer Eigenbrode, co-author, Organic matter preserved in 3-billion-year-old mudstones at Gale crater, Mars

In the second paper, scientists describe the discovery of seasonal variations in methane in the Martian atmosphere over the course of nearly three Mars years, which is almost six Earth years. This variation was also detected by Curiosity’s SAM instrument suite over the 3-year period.

This image illustrates possible ways methane might get into Mars’ atmosphere and also be removed from it. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre / University of Michigan

Water-rock chemistry might have generated the methane, but scientists cannot rule out the possibility of biological origins. Methane previously had been detected in Mars’ atmosphere in large, unpredictable plumes. This new result shows that low levels of methane within Gale Crater repeatedly peak in warm, summer months and drop in the winter every year.

This is the first time we’ve seen something repeatable in the methane story, so it offers us a handle in understanding it. This is all possible because of Curiosity’s longevity. The long duration has allowed us to see the patterns in this seasonal ‘breathing.’

Chris Webster, co-author, Background levels of methane in Mars’ atmosphere show strong seasonal variations

In 2013, SAM detected organic molecules in rocks at the deepest point in the crater. These more recently findings, gathered further up the slopes of “Mount Sharp” add to the inventory of molecules detected in the ancient lake sediments. Thus, finding methane in the atmosphere and ancient carbon preserved on the surface gives scientists confidence that NASA’s Mars 2020 rover and ESA’s ExoMars rover will find even more organics, both on the surface and in the shallow subsurface.

NASA Successfully Transfers Sample

Following my last two Space Sunday updates concerning attempts to resume the collection of rock samples using Curiosity’s drilling mechanism, the US space agency has indicated a successful transfer of material gathered within the rover’s hollow drill bit into the rover’s on-board science suite (which includes the SAM instrument referred to above).

The new drilling capability is referred to as Feed Extended Drilling (FED), designed to bypass a formerly critical, but at risk of failure, piece of the rover’s drill system called the drill feed mechanism. This mechanism also used to form a part of the means by which samples used to be transferred from Curiosity’s arm-mounted turret to the on-board science suite. As it can no longer be used, engineers instead determined the sample could potentially be transferred to the science suite by positioning the drill bit directly over the sample intake ports and then running the drill in reverse, causing the gathered sample to (hopefully) trickle backwards and into one of the hoppers.

Referred to as Feed Extended Sample Transfer, the approach was tested on May 31st, 2018, and successfully saw the transfer of part of a sample obtained on May 19th into the hopper serving the rover’s Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) unit.

Curiosity’s drill bit (upper right) positioned over one of the sample inlets on the rover’s deck leading to the on-board science suite. This image was captured on May 31st, 2018 (Sol 2068) by the rover’s Mast Camera (Mastcam). Credit: NASA / MSSS

The approach had already been successfully tested on Earth, but there were concerns the thin, dry atmosphere of Mars might not produce the same results. There’s also a matter of balance. Previously, any sample gathered by the drill would pass through the rover’s CHIMRA sieving system, which helps ensure the right amount is transferred to the on-board instruments. Without this, transfers become a matter of judgement, as engineer John Moorokian explained following the transfer:

On Mars we have to try to estimate visually whether this is working, just by looking at images of how much powder falls out. We’re talking about as little as half a baby aspirin worth of sample.

John Moorokian, lead developer of the FEST delivery method

The problem here is, were too little materials transferred, and CheMin and SAM would not be able to provide accurate analyses, but transfer too much of the unsorted material, and it could either clog instruments or remaining unused, potentially contaminating measurement of future samples. So far, it appears the first attempt has succeeded, although it will still be a while before the outcome of any analysis is known.
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