Why the Curiosity Rover is Forbidden From Collecting Water on Mars

In 2015 NASA announced that they found definitive evidence of liquid water on Mars. But while obtaining a physical sample would revolutionize science, it’s forbidden by international law. 

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prevents every nation on Earth from sending a mission, robot or human, close to a water source in the fear of contaminating it with life from Earth [PDF]. In its 140-million-mile journey from Earth to Mars, it’s possible that Curiosity has carried harmful microbes all the way from home. Even though NASA tries its best to sterilize all space-traveling equipment before launch by subjecting it to intense ultraviolet light, it still might harbor microbial hitchhikers.

In theory, NASA could turn up the heat and radiation to a level pretty much guaranteed to destroy any microbial life—but that could also end up wiping out the rover’s internal systems. "In order to be completely sterile, they'd have to use really powerful ionizing radiation or heat, both of which would damage the electronics,” University of New South Wales astrobiologist Malcolm Walter told Fairfax Media. "So they go as far as they dare."

Another issue that would prevent Curiosity from investigating the water source is the terrain itself. The slopes where the streaks formed are steep and therefore difficult to navigate. Future Mars rovers could be designed with this hurdle in mind, and they could also come equipped with DNA sequencers to test for life or 3D-printing capabilities to build smaller bots with little to no chance of being contaminated.


NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Unfortunately, it’s too late for NASA modify the next generation of Mars rovers, which is set to launch in 2020. The European Space Agency says it plans to send an organic molecule analyzer on its 2018 ExoMars mission, though they still wouldn’t be able to test Martian water unless they could guarantee 100 percent sterilization.

[h/t: Science Alert]

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

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Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

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Space Hero, a New Reality Show, Wants to Send You to the International Space Station

The ultimate ocean-view getaway.
The ultimate ocean-view getaway.

One lucky astronomy enthusiast may soon have the chance to see space without committing to a massive career change. As Travel + Leisure reports, an upcoming reality show called Space Hero is looking to send a civilian to the International Space Station (ISS).

You won’t need a degree in astrophysics or decades of engineering experience to enter, but a passion for space exploration is a must. The series will reportedly follow a group of contestants as they compete in challenges that reflect what actual astronauts have to go through, and viewers might get to vote for their favorite participant. The winner will then spend 10 days aboard the International Space Station, and the rest of us will watch it all unfold from home.

The series is a collaboration between a space media company called Space Hero Inc. and Axiom Space, the private aerospace company founded by NASA’s former ISS program manager Mike Suffredini. Axiom will oversee all the space-related elements of the show, from training the contestants to planning the journey itself, which is tentatively scheduled for 2023. As for how the winner will get to the ISS, they’ll likely be aboard one of SpaceX’s Dragon rockets.

Plenty of details are still up in the air. We don’t yet know, for example, how people can apply or audition for a spot on the show, who will host it, or where we can watch it. According to Deadline, it’s meant to be a worldwide phenomenon: Producers intend to hold an international search for contestants and broadcast the series across the globe.

While you’re waiting to find out how to toss your space helmet in the ring, here are 17 odd things we’ve sent to space.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]