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ExoMars 2016 is about to launch, and The Arecibo Observatory is picking up some mysterious signals this week on SciShow Space News!

Hosted by: Caitlin Hofmeister

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Well, it's time.  The instruments are on board.  All the major tests are done, and now, ExoMars 2016 is set to launch.  We've talked about this mission before, it's being run by the ESA and the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, with an orbiter-lander combo set to arrive at Mars this October.  The main focus of the mission is the orbiter, called the Trace Gas Orbiter, which will pretty much do what its name suggests, look for trace gases in the Martian atmosphere.  Mostly, it's searching for compounds made of Carbon and Hydrogen, as well as chemicals with sulfur in them, because those could be signs of geological or biological activity, and the orbiter is equipped to map the Hydrogen on Mars up to a meter below the surface, which is useful, because one important thing that has Hydrogen in it is ice.  So this mission will create a map of Mars' water ice with ten times the resolution that we have now.

ExoMars 2016 also includes a small test lander, known as Schiaparelli.  Now, the lander only comes with a few days worth of battery life, so it isn't going to be doing much investigating on the red planet itself, but it is going to be testing the ESA's Mars landing technique, which will help when the ExoMars 2018 mission arrives with a much more advanced lander and a rover.  This year's mission was originally set to launch in January, but back in October, the ESA discovered some issues with a couple of Schiaparelli's components. 

The problems were with the sensors that monitor fuel pressure, so rather than take the risk of broken sensors leaking fuel and messing up the mission, the ESA decided to just push back the launch date while they took out the sensors entirely, since the lander will still work without them.  Luckily, a couple months delay doesn't change much.  The mission will have to use a little more fuel, but it'll still get to Mars in time.  

So as of this filming, the launch is set for March 14, and they have until March 25 until the launch window closes, and the launch will be livestreamed from the ESA's website if you wanna watch.  We have put a link in the description.

Meanwhile, telescopes here on Earth have detected signals that might help us solve an ongoing mystery in a discovery that has astronomers very excited, but also puzzled.  In a study published in Nature last week, a group of astronomers announced that for the first time, they've detected multiple fast radio bursts, or FRBs, from the same source.  But just what that source is, nobody knows.  

Fast Radio Bursts are radio waves that come in short flashes, usually lasting just a few milliseconds.  They must be produced by something out there in the universe, but it's hard to pinpoint exactly what, especially because FRBs were only discovered in 2007, and until now, we'd detected just 16 of them.  Researchers have lots of ideas though, based on what we know could send out short blasts of radio waves.  Merging neutron stars, for example, might produce an FRB.  Supernovas might do it, too, but most of those explanations don't fit in this case, because the bursts were seen more than once and from the same location, suggesting that they weren't the result of a one-time event.  

The series of bursts were spotted in May and June of last year.  Researchers were using the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico to follow-up on a Fast Radio Burst that had been detected back in 2012.  When they observed the area of the sky that the 2012 signal came from, they found a series of 10 more bursts.  Events like neutron stars combining or a star going supernova can only happen once, so astronomers have ruled these out as possible causes, and to make things even weirder, there didn't seem to be much of a pattern in the data.  The amount of time between the bursts wasn't predictable.  Six of them came within ten minutes, while the others were more spread out, and each burst came in a different arrangement of frequencies of radio waves, in other words, their spectra were all different.  One possibility is that the signals are coming from an incredibly magnetic neutron star called a magnetar, that's sending out flares as its magnetic field shifts around.  It's hard to know for sure without more data, so researchers will have to keep hunting for and studying more FRBs.  But now, the sources of these sudden bursts of radio waves are just another space mystery.

Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Space News, and thanks especially to our Patrons on Patreon, who help make this show possible.  If you want to help us keep making episodes like this, just go to and don't forget to go to and subscribe.