Ceres, Dawn, Pyramids & Craters

NASA’s spacecraft Dawn has been on a mission to the planet Ceres which is located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Compared to Earth’s diameter of almost 8,000 miles, Ceres seems tiny with a diameter of less than 600 miles. It is so small that despite its official designation as a minor-planet, there are still those who will call it an asteroid or a dwarf planet. To put it in perspective, the entire surface of Ceres is about the same size as India or Argentina. Whatever the moniker, the dear reader gets the point. Still, UFO and ET enthusiasts like to believe that Ceres was once home to an intelligent otherworldly species that liked to build pyramids. The gringa can only say, “Um, not.”

Why is the gringa so sure of herself in raining on their parade? Let’s take a look at some of the geographical and geological characteristics of this teensy-weensy little world:


First of all, just take an up close and personal look at the pitiful pitted little thing. It has more impact craters than an eight-year-old ginger gringa had freckles. It seems pretty obvious to me that with global environmental disasters happening on a regular basis, it is very unlikely that life would flourish in such a place. Not to mention any surviving life having the opportunity to pursue advancements.


Ceres, in many ways, is pretty much a clone of our desolate moon, an enormous rock with a lot of ice. With no evidence or traces of ever having vegetation, any ETs most assuredly would have starved to death. Unless, of course, it was a civilization that could survive on the nourishment of clay seasoned with ammonia and a splash of salt and iron.


It’s highly unlikely that water as we Earthlings know it ever existed on Ceres. Although there is alot of ice, enough even to indicate the possibility of an ocean at one time, it wouldn’t have been a salty brine like we are accustomed to, inhabited with sharks and whales and penguins and such. It most likely would have been a caustic sea of ammonia and sulfuric acid. So, unless those ETs had skin of steel and enjoyed a dip in antifreeze, any recreational activities of a Ceres civilization would have been strictly limited to land-lubbing.

Details, Details, Details

If the gringa has sufficiently convinced you that no one was building pyramids on Ceres way back when, let us move on to the details that are still interesting despite lacking any ET spin.

In the late 1700s Johann Elert Bode suspected a planet existed between Mars and Jupiter. However, the official discovery of Ceres is credited to Giuseppe Piazzi in 1801 who first claimed it was a comet. It was later classified as a planet but then redesignated as an asteroid in the 1850s. It seems scientists still haven’t made up their minds because it can be called any number of names when referred to by different people. The gringa doesn’t so much care. It makes no difference to me. Ceres is just Ceres, a planet named after the Roman goddess of agriculture despite the fact that not a single ear of corn or blade of grass has ever been grown on its surface.

Over thousands of years meteors and comets have slammed into Ceres, creating hundreds of craters. A few of them are distinctly bright, containing either minerals with reflective properties or light reflecting off of ice. It is theorized that underneath the crusty and dusty surface of Ceres is a layer of water and ice that, by volume, is more than the fresh water found on Earth. This has led to scientists entertaining the notion that if living organisms once lived in the sea of Ceres, it is possible that through the many cosmic impacts throughout history some biological material may have been ejected into space and made its way to Earth. So, ETs on Ceres? The gringa thinks not. ETs from Ceres on Earth? It’s possible.


Ceres is too dim to be seen with the naked eye except on extremely dark sky conditions. The best way to peek at Ceres is through a pair of binoculars or a telescope. The best time to see Ceres is fast approaching, from August through April. Observers in mid northern latitudes should look toward the low southern sky after nightfall. It is best to view on a night when the Moon is in waning stages. Look toward the Sagittarius constellation and Ceres will arc slowly westward and approach the border of the Capricorn constellation.

If you have a fancy telescope you can enter coordinates and the telescope will do the hard work of locating and tracking for you. But if you only have binoculars, it is still easy enough to locate and track Ceres so don’t be discouraged.   For some help in finding Ceres, online astronomy clubs are a great resource.  The gringa wishes you the greatest success in taking a peek at Ceres!





Image Source:  www.skyandtelescope.com









Cosmic Spas & Outer Space Mineral Mines

Are NASA and other international space agencies interested in creating colonies on the Moon and various other exotic, cosmic locales? Most certainly. However, not for the nefarious purposes of whisking away the highly educated and financial elite in order to preserve the human race from extinction. What they really want to do is exploit the natural resources of these places.

Humans are a hungry species and their appetites include all sorts of stuff from fruits and vegetables to minerals and ores. Many minerals and ores are not only rare, with few deposits in sundry places around the world, but are also finite in their supply. Once diminished, humans will have to find another source. That’s where asteroids and the Moon come into play.

Asteroids are like one of those grab bags you get as a party favor. You never know what’s inside. Although primarily chunks of ice, tar and dust, they also contain scare minerals and metals. For astronaut mining crews, outer space is full of opportunity, kind of like a mechanic entering an auto junkyard the size of Earth. Best estimates to date believe there are hundreds of thousands of asteroids, some nearly five billion years old, of assorted sizes and shapes from the size of a coffee table to hundreds of miles in diameter (Earth, in comparison, is about 8,000 miles in diameter). With such abundance, if humans can overcome the technological and economical obstacles, we may have a seemingly limitless supply of raw materials available.

The gringa wonders what will happen when that occurs? Will space become filled with flag waving asteroids? Considering even a small asteroid could be valued at many millions of dollars in potential minerals, will countries be zipping about space, hither and yon, planting flags on as many asteroids as possible in a territory game of, “Mine! I found it first!”? The gringa is hoping it will be much more civilized than that.

For mining purposes, asteroid’s are classified according to three groups based on light reflection (spectral) analysis. Since mankind cannot yet land on an asteroid and physically take a geological sample or do so with a robotic satellite, scientists evaluate how light reflects off the surface of an asteroid to determine its primary mineral component.

C-type asteroids are dark and carbon based. They are comprised of clay based minerals that have lots of water trapped within the clay. The gringa thinks these could, perhaps become cosmic spas if we could find a way to generate some kind of thermal reaction within the asteroid. Think of it, “Come visit asteroid XP-247 for its relaxing steam baths and mineralized clay body and facial wraps. Just don’t forget your oxygen mask.”

But what about the carbon and other stuff in the clay? Is that any good for anything? Yep. It makes a garden grow lush, thick and plentiful. C-type asteroids rich in carbon, phosphorous and other elements in the fertilizer spectrum could be very valuable as future garden spots. The gringa can now see the cosmic version of the “Hanging Gardens of Babylon” where visitors can also get a soak in the hot springs and a beautifying and detoxifying mineral rich clay body wrap.

I mean, really, we have plenty of clay and carbon and water here on Earth but surely there will be an eager entrepreneur who will see the same potential. Or do we really have plenty of clay, minerals and water on Earth?

The water reserves could very well come in handy. The gringa can see it now – a gravity beam lassos a water rich C-type asteroid and hauls it near Earth’s atmosphere. It then uses transporter technology that has finally been perfected to zap it through the atmosphere, avoiding a friction filled entry that would evaporate up all that precious water. Then, as it approaches fatefully close to a desert region, just before impact a precision laser beam goes, “ZIP, ZAP, ZOOM!” and a lovely shower of water rains down upon the desert with all the pulverized clay and carbon providing rich fertilizer. The desert is soon a fertile oasis. Hey, it could happen. Stranger things already have.

But NASA thinks the real value of water rich asteroids is in using the resource in outer space. By finding a way to mine the water in flight, crews could save billions of dollars by not having to pack this life-support necessity. Interestingly enough, the very thing that humans need to survive, consisting of two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen, are the very elements of rocket fuel. (Wow, humans are 60% rocket fuel, or, water, depending on your perspective!). So, astronauts dock their spaceship at a galactic version of Exxon to fill up the tank and top off the water reserves. And while the service station is checking the engine’s oil level and cabin’s air pressure, the crew is freshening up at the nearby spa. Interesting.

So, C-type asteroids can either be Desert-to-Eden conversion sources, hot spring spas, water wells, or rocket fuel depots. Or all three at the same time.Take your pick.

S-type asteroids shine a little brighter than dark, carbon based C-types. That’s because they are rich in reflective metals like cobalt, iron and nickel. If a mining crew is really lucky they could find one with deposits of rhodium, platinum or gold. Scientists estimate that an asteroid about the size of an average bedroom could be packed with well over one million pounds of metals, a tiny fraction being the exceedingly valuable rare ones. Even if mining crews could extract just one hundred pounds of platinum, at about $1000 an ounce, a $100,000 load of platinum would just be the gravy on top of the wealth accumulated from the remaining predominant minerals.

But it may be the M-class asteroids that wars end up being fought over. The wars for oil that we have raging now could very well become wars for M-class asteroids in the future. These asteroids are expected to contain at least ten times the mineral content of S-types.

To make space mining a reality, the mission has to be profitable. With current missions costing in the hundreds of millions, some even billions, an asteroid would have to be massively rich in raw materials. The other option is to develop technologies that are more economical.

Before any of that even matters, current asteroid knowledge needs to be vastly broadened and fine-tuned. We need cosmic cartographers to accurately map the hundreds of thousands of asteroids in outer space. The world needs space geologists that have the technology and knowledge to analyze what minerals each asteroid actually contains. Young students now, who have an interest in a cosmic career, could really have a geology or cartography degree pay off by landing them their dream job.

NASA’s first effort to test their scientific mettle for determining present mineral resources within an asteroid lie with their OSIRIS-REx mission. The goal of “Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security and Regolith Explorer” is to return with a geological sample from asteroid Bennu. It is set to launch in September and arrive at the asteroid almost two years later. If all goes according to plan, Earthlings can expect an authentic piece of Bennu to arrive on planet Earth around 2020. (Of course, the gringa is reminded of her favorite piece of motherly advice given regularly to her children in efforts to cultivate a more relaxed approach to life, “The plan is that nothing goes according to plan.”)

In addition to geological studies of Bennu’s raw materials, asteroid re-direction technologies will also be studied. The spacecraft is scheduled to perform an interesting experiment. It is going to give Bennu a gentle, solar nudge. Scientists want to know if sunlight can be used to affect the path of travel of asteroids. I guess the reasoning is that asteroids are too valuable to simply blast into oblivion if Earth happens to be in the way. They would rather nudge them aside then attempt to exploit the wealth they contain.

The most important goals of the mission, however, are to further the development of space mining technologies. They plan to scrape together a two ounce and 4.4 pound geological sample. The spacecraft will then use its state-of-the-art instruments to map the surface of Bennu and analyze its composition. These are the on-board technologies and their purposes:

  • OVIRS (OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer) – analyzes visible and near-infrared light to detect minerals, compounds and chemicals within the asteroid.
  • OTES (OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer) – analyzes infrared light to detect surface minerals of Bennu, determine surface temperature and map the location of water-rich clay mineral deposits.
  • REx (Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer) – analyzes X-ray aura of Bennu’s surface in sunlight to calculate amounts and locations of elements like: iron, magnesium, silicon and sulfur.

To find out if sunlight can be used as an asteroid diversion technique OVIRS and OTES will combine their abilities to study what is known as the “Yarkovsky effect”. When an asteroid absorbs sunlight much of the heat radiates outward and provides a propelling effect. Observations will be made to see if a “man-made” solar heat saturation could result in changing an asteroid’s trajectory.

Most of what will be recorded by the different spectrometers will only reflect what is on Bennu’s surface and within a shallow depth (about half a millimeter). They are not capable of reaching deep within the asteroid’s core. To get a deeper look the spacecraft has a tool that blows nitrogen gas onto the surface that will force minerals up from a depth of about two inches. Even so, it’s pretty obvious that much about Bennu will remain unknown even if the mission is successful in achieving all of its goals.

But, a successful mission will at least tell the world one thing: can mining asteroid’s work? The gringa believes if great wealth is at stake there will be movers and shakers in this world who will make it work one way or another while pocketing a healthy profit in the process.

Source & Image Credit:  www.nasa.gov






Incan Stars

The caveman has Incan blood, a Peruvian transplant to the United States. It is then only natural that the gringa is curious about Peruvian contributions to space related science and technology. After all, considering some of the interesting theories surrounding Nazca, the Incans may have been involved in space travel long before the rest of the world was enjoying  gas lighting.

Peru has an active science industry that has developed and successfully launched nano-satellites. They were developed by the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, Universidad Alas Peruanas and Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria. Aside from the academic community, the Peruvian government, in collaboration with the government of France, will be launching a satellite this year of its own production. Individual professional groups are also participating in desert experiments related to the future exploration of Mars.

The majority of space related technology is developed by Peru’s universities with the cooperation of the Peruvian Space Agency, The National Commission for Aerospace Research and Development (CONIDA).  Launches of satellites have been successful in cooperation with NASA as well as ROCOSMOS. CONIDA recently invested over $200 million dollars in a French produced satellite, “Astrosat-300”, more commonly called Airbus. This is the most advanced satellite in Latin America. Peruvian students who were trained in France manage the operations and image capturing.

Peru desires to increase awareness of space among its population. It enthusiastically supports programs that involve active participation of Peruvian youth. It hopes its nation’s international involvement in developing space capabilities will grow. CONIDA’s official decree states it’s intent is to “[P]romote and develop peaceful, research and work aimed at the country’s progress in space”.

One way CONIDA works toward its mission is to develop graduate programs for Peru’s universities as well as create “School Workshop on Space Activities” programs that are designed to motivate interest among Peru’s youth in their final two years of high school. These courses introduce subjects such as data collection from satellites, satellite observation of earth, digital processing of satellite images and how to use supporting software. Specialized courses about geology, agriculture, forestry and mineral exploration are also offered.

CONIDA’s Technical Department of Space Technology Development is actively engaged in the research and development of rockets and probes. They are on the fast track to develop payload delivery systems and become a vital actor in the vigorous international space travel community. “Punta Lobos”, a CONIDA science base south of Lima, houses much of what this department develops. It has been visited by delegates of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) regarding future collaborative projects.

Peru has many interesting and critical areas where satellites are beneficial for the country. They have a landslide monitoring system, flood hazard monitors, tectonic movement assessment, measurements of volcanic flows, as well as seasonal precipitation monitoring of rainfall.

Peru considers space observation for its nation as critical for national security as well as to address many geological issues for the benefit of all of Peru’s people. I anticipate that they will serve the memory of their ancestors well. I believe that my caveman will proudly see the day when the land of his birth boasts about their own astronauts aboard the ISS, arriving there in their own spacecraft. The gringa just wonders if it will be of gold and shaped like a sleeping llama?


Source & Photo Credit:  http://www.conida.gob.pe/