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SETI Institute in the news March 21 – March 27, 2019

SETI Institute in the news March 21 – March 27, 2019

Astronaut Canyon
Exploring Mars-like Environments with Google Street View

Devon Island, a remote region of the Canadian High Arctic, has an undeniable otherworldly ambiance… but the extreme environment, while making it an excellent testing ground as a Mars analog, discourages casual tourism. Now Google Street View gives virtual explorers the chance to walk around the rugged terrain of one of the most Mars-like environments on Earth. The partnership between Google and the NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP), announced in a joint statement by the SETI Institute and the Mars Institute, aims share the marvels of scientific fieldwork involved in Mars exploration efforts with the public.

A guided virtual tour brings viewers to notable features such as Astronaut Canyon, and Haughton Crater, an impact crater believed to have been formed by a meteor strike some 23 million years ago. Viewers can also watch a short documentary featuring SETI Institute Senior Planetary Scientist Pascal Lee. picked up the story:

"The main objective for Google at HMP-2018 was to collect Street View imagery to allow Google Earth and Google Maps users to visit Devon Island virtually, and to create a Google Earth guided tour illustrating, via factual narrative, how Devon Island is so similar to Mars," officials with the SETI Institute said in a statement.

"We are excited about this new partnership with Google on the Haughton-Mars Project and about the data products being released," Pascal Lee, director of the NASA HMP at NASA Ames Research Center, said in the statement. "They allow us to share with the world some of the Mars-like wonders of the site and the fieldwork that we do."

Lee was also in the news earlier this month for his work leading the field team that announced successful 3D mapping of ice-filled lave tubes in the Myvatn region of Iceland using Astrobiotic Technology, Inc.’s LiDAR-equipped drone. The team hopes the observations will help “understand better both the potential hazards and opportunities presented by the many lava caves we hope to explore on the Moon and Mars”, Lee said in a SETI Institute press release.

Black and white image of a tiny Pandora next to Saturn's outermost ringSaturn’s Moons and Rings Shape and Sculpt Each Other

The elegant rings of Saturn may be the planet’s most acclaimed feature, but observations from the last stages of the Cassini mission, which ended in 2017, draw attention to its five peculiar ring moons. A study recently published in the journal Science suggests that the oddly shaped moons, which resemble raviolis or flying saucers, were likely sculpted in a twirling dance with Saturn’s rings. But the small, icy moons aren’t uniform; Atlas is smooth and wide, while Pan bears a sharp ridge along its equator. SETI Institute Senior Research Scientist Matt Tiscareno participated in the Cassini mission and offered insight to The New York Times on the findings:

“Neither of these moons is actually orbiting in a cloud of ring material right now, so it wasn’t necessarily obvious that the equatorial ridges come from accreted ring material,” said Matthew Tiscareno of the SETI Institute, who was not involved in the study and says more work is needed to explain the differences between the two moons.

Researchers also found that the moons are coated in colorful red material from the rings, as well as white material erupting from Enceladus, Saturn’s ocean moon orbiting just beyond the rings, which Tiscareno describes as “the cosmic graffiti artist of the Solar System”. What’s more, the dance of moons and rings continues, as Tiscareno told PBS’s Nova:

“This is a robust, evolving system,” says Matthew Tiscareno, a planetary scientist and Saturn ring expert at the SETI Institute who participated in the Cassini mission, but was not involved in the study. “These moons...might have grown up together with the rings.”

Far from being a static system, Saturn is an active and complex system, and each mission has uncovered fascinating new details.

Image of a young boy looking up at skyCosmic Connections in Project EARTHLING

SXSW featured a panel discussion on the Earthling project, an ambitious project by SETI Institute artist-in-residence Felipe Pérez Santiago. But Why Tho? covered the story, quoting Santiago in a press release from when he joined the SETI AIR program.

“The project’s goal is to create global collaborative music, for eventual launch into space, that leaves a message of who we are now as species, as humans, and as earthlings,” said Felipe. “Using online platforms and social media we will invite musicians, artists, space lovers, humanists, and everyone else in the world to participate and build a community of music, art, and technology.”

The long-term project is in its early days and will involve multiple phases of collaborative work with artists and the public.

Big Picture Science

Last week’s episode explored the impact of the microorganisms that call YOU home, in an encore of You Are Exposed. On our previous week’s episode, a look at the sometimes-contentious relationship between science, political engagement, and activism in an encore of Skeptic Check: Political Scientist.

Facebook Live

Last time on Facebook Live, SETI Institute Director of Education Pamela Harman discusses augmented reality in education with AstroReality co-founder Joanne Dai and AstroReality science advisor and SETI Institute research scientist J.R. Skok. Videos of all past Facebook Live events can be found on our Facebook page:


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