Phobos May Shatter; Study: Poles Won’t Flip; Webb Space Telescope

Posted November 25th, 2015 at 4:00 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

Color image of Martian moon Phobos (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

Color image of Martian moon Phobos (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

Mars May Shatter its Largest Moon

Scientists in California have found that the largest moon of Mars, Phobos, is slowly inching closer to Mars.

They predict that once the gravity of Mars finally overpowers Phobos, in about 20 to 40 million years, the moon will probably be shredded to bits.

The scientists from the University of California, Berkley explain that since Phobos is in such fragile condition, the closer it gets to the Red Planet, it will begin to break up instead of crashing into Mars intact.

While some of the moon’s largest remains will probably smash into Mars, most of the smaller bits and pieces are expected spread out above the planet, where they will circle it like the rings of Saturn.

After millions of years of orbiting the planet, the researchers say Phobos’ remains will eventually fall to the surface of Mars, much like our meteor showers on Earth.

Artist's illustration of the shape and function of the Earth's magnetic field that protects us from harmful cosmic radiation (NASA)

Artist’s illustration of the shape and function of the Earth’s magnetic field that protects us from harmful cosmic radiation (NASA)

Earth May Not Flip Magnetic Poles After All

A number of scientists say that Earth’s magnetic fields have been quickly losing strength over the past 100 years or so.

Recent research suggests that because of this, Earth is on the verge of flipping its magnetic poles.

But a new study finds that the field’s strength is merely returning to normal after reaching rather unusually high levels.

Columbia University’s Dennis Kent, the study’s co-author, says while Earth’s magnetic field may be rapidly weakening, it’s not lower than the long-term average.

He also suggests that after weakening to a point, the fields may again increase in intensity.

Earth’s magnetic field has flipped a number of times throughout its 4.5 billion year history.

The last time that happened, about 786,000 years ago, scientists say it took only about 100 years of diminishing field strength to do so.

NASA says that fossil records show that past field changes had no major effect on living creatures.

Vocal Tone Predicts Relationship Success or Failure

A new study from the University of Southern California finds that when couples converse it isn’t the words they say but their tone of voice that can predict whether their relationship will improve or worsen.

The USC team fed a number of recorded conversations between a hundred couples during marriage therapy sessions into a computer running a newly developed algorithm.

The system makes its predictions based on various acoustical properties of the couple’s voices.

After comparing the computer results with a two year follow up study, the researchers found that their new program had a 79 percent accuracy rate of forecasting the success or failure of the relationships.

They say that their algorithm was even more successful at predicting couple’s relationships than those made by relationship experts during the original marriage therapy sessions.

The USC team plans to improve their algorithm by incorporating other factors such as verbal and non-verbal language.

An engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center worked to install the first flight mirror onto the telescope structure at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. (NASA/Chris Gunn)

An engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center worked to install the first flight mirror onto the telescope structure at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
(NASA/Chris Gunn)

Important Step Taken in Webb Space Telescope Construction

NASA has taken an important step in completing construction of the James Webb Space Telescope it hopes to launch in 2018.

Recently engineers and technicians at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland used a robotic arm to successfully install the first of the new space telescope’s 18 flight mirrors.

NASA says that the mirror segments are made of an ultra-lightweight material called beryllium and is coated with a thin layer of gold.

Once all the mirror segments are installed, sometime early next year, they will work together as one 6.5 meter mirror.

After the space telescope launched, NASA says that the 18 mirror segments will unfold and adjust to shape.

The mirror along with other state of the art technologies that have been developed for the new space telescope will allow scientists to study the first stars and galaxies created after the Big Bang and play an important role in searching for possible life on distant exoplanets.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

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