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Uploaded:2014-08-07
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SciShow Space shares the latest news from around the universe, including new details about our next mission to Mars, and a study that predicts a catastrophic solar storm may be more likely than we thought.
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Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_2020
http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mars2020/mission/instruments/
http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mars2020/news/whatsnew/index.cfm?FuseAction=ShowNews&NewsID=1678
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-07/iop-sut073014.php
http://www.space.com/26669-huge-solar-storm-2012-destruction.html
http://blog.physicsworld.com/2014/08/01/why-were-five-years-overdue-for-a-damaging-solar-super-storm/
https://isulibrary.isunet.edu/opac/doc_num.php?explnum_id=549
Last week, NASA unveiled the details for our next trip to Mars.

It will feature a new rover equipped with some of the coolest instruments that scientists could imagine, and launch is scheduled for 2020... that is if the sun has destroyed all of our technology by then.

I'm Caitlin Hofmeister and welcome to SciShow Space News.

(Intro)

Two years ago, when Curiosity landed on the red planet, NASA announced a plan to send another rover to Mars in 2020.

This new mission will piggy-back off of Curiosity's successes, reusing our favorite rover's state-of-the art design and several of its spare parts. But the new rover will feature a bigger and better suite of instruments, which NASA unveiled at a televised conference last week.

Like Curiosity, the mission will look for signs of past life, but where Curiosity is mostly just following water, the 2020 mission will go deeper and search for signs of life-supporting chemicals.

To do this, the yet unnamed rover will examine Mars' geological composition and look under its surface - drilling and packaging around 30 rock samples to be sent back to Earth.

The 2020 mission will also help us prepare to send people to Mars by testing equipment and conditions with human safety in mind. To these ends, NASA has winnowed down 58 proposals to select 7 instruments that will tell us more about Mars than ever.

First, there's Mastcam-Z, a binocular camera that can zoom, making it easier to predict and navigate terrain, and it can also see wave-lengths of light that we can't, giving us images of the terrain that we've never seen before.

SuperCam is another camera, equipped with a laser that can incinerate rocks and analyze vapour to determine a rock's chemical composition. It too will be able to see in more wavelengths and will be able to detect organic compounds from several meters away.

Then there's RIMFAX, a radar that will scan up to half a kilometer beneath the surface, PIXL, an X-ray spectrometer that can map out each element in a rock sample, and SHERLOC, which will use an ultraviolet laser to scan for organic molecules.

The 2020 mission will also test equipment that future astronauts may use, including Moxie - a tool than can extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and break it apart to make oxygen. This could be added to astronaut's air supply, or could be used to make rocket fuel.

And finally there's MEDA, an instrument that will give us a better sense of the Martian atmosphere. It will record temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind-speed and measure Mars' atmospheric dust which, packed with toxic fine-grained silicates, could be lethal.

And speaking of lethal, new research has the internet abuzz about how a single solar storm could spell the end of the internet... and basically everything else we are using to communicate right now.

When the sun's hyperactive magnetic field releases pressure in the form of charged particles, these can carry huge clouds of hot plasma called Coronal Mass Ejections, or CME's. These actually happen all the time, sometimes several times a day, but according to a team of astronomers reporting in the journal Space Weather, they might be a threat to our current way of life.

In 2012, a solar storm sent out a huge CME that could have devastated Earth's power systems. Luckily, it narrowly missed earth, but it was later measure to be as powerful as the so-called Carrington Event, a solar storm that hit Earth in 1859 with the energy equivalent of 10 billion atomic bombs - so strong that it reportedly fried telegraph lines.

Based on Earth's orbit and the patterns of the sun's magnetic fields, the scientists predict that there's a 12% chance that a Carrington-class solar storm could strike Earth in the next 10 years.

In fact, the scientists say, such a storm is likely to hit us every 150 years, which puts us about 5 years over-due. This time, though, it would be a much bigger deal because, I don't know if you've noticed, but people don't use telegraphs much these days.

If a Carrington-style event happened today, photons and high energy particles from the sun would first damage our satellites. They would interfere with their circuitry and make them difficult, maybe even impossible to control and therefore use.

Depending on the strength of this CME and the Earth's magnetic field at the time, some of these effects could penetrate to electronics on Earth's surface. Then, magnetized clouds of plasma would hit power lines, possibly blowing out transformers and transfer stations and destroying power grids.

But don't worry! Before you start getting all "end-times", scientists have contingency plans. At a conference last year called SolarMax, 40 scientists from around the world came up with proposals to use satellites in orbit around the sun to better predict solar storms, and provide time to switch off power lines, reorient satellites and spacecraft and to basically brace ourselves for life on Earth briefly turning into a bad prime-time TV drama.

Hopefully NASA will listen to their advice because I'd really miss talking to you!

Thanks, as always, for watching SciShow Space News. If you want to keep exploring the universe with us check out subbable.com/scishow to learn how you can help support us, and don't forget to go to youtube.com/scishowspace and subscribe.