It is safe to say that the world is a hot mess. There’s that pesky global pandemic. Climate change continues to chug its way along. The United States is swiftly on its way to reverting civil rights back to the 1940s. There’s the skirmish between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the protests in Nigeria, and the fact that I’ve had a DVD on hold at the library for over a week that still isn’t ready for pickup. A Colorado woman’s pet deer gored her neighbor and threatened authorities with its bloody antlers. What is the world coming to?
There is only one source of good news in these difficult times, and that is NASA. Good old NASA, always there to remind us that none of this matters, as one day the sun will go nova and fry the earth up to bits. It sounds very awesome, but sadly I will not be here for it (probably). Lately, NASA has been in overdrive to provide the world with some good news. While I agree that the United States arguably has better things to spend money on than a trip to the moon, I can’t pretend that I’m not excited about the Artemis mission. And then there was all that business about there possibly being life in the clouds of Venus [Author’s Note: Keep reading]. And of course, just yesterday, the news about water on the moon. It’s nice to read something in the news that doesn’t bring automatic dread, that gives you a few seconds to dream.
So, let’s review. What has NASA been up to?
We’ll start with the most recent, and arguably the biggest piece of news: that beautiful lady in the sky, La Luna, is wet. NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) detected water molecules on the sunlit surface of the moon. There’s not quite enough to have a nice, refreshing glass after a long day of building the new indoor skydiving center in the lunar colony — as NASA notes in their press release, the Sahara desert has 100 times the amount of water detected on the Moon. Europa, Jupiter’s sexiest moon, has geysers that scientists believe expel enough water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool within minutes. That puts Europa one point ahead of Earth’s moon in this author’s very prestigious Best Moon in the Solar System Competition, although I suppose one could argue that given the radiation that Jupiter finds necessary to blast onto Europa’s surface at all times, their scores probably even out. The author would not argue this, as Europa is obviously the best, but someone else might (though they would be wrong). Still, water molecules on the moon are definitely something to be happy about. A little piece of good news from space amidst all the misery here on Earth. Good ol’ NASA, what a pal!
And now, the twist ending. I wrote the first part of this article on a Tuesday. I am finishing it on a Wednesday (as in, the next day) and of course, there has been news. In typical 2020 fashion, that news is bad. There may not be life in the clouds of Venus after all. Back in September, scientists at Cardiff University (home of Doctor Who, a show about an alien) reported that they had found signs of phosphine gas in Venus’ atmosphere. On Earth, this gas is only a product of microbes or industrial activity (the latter of which is probably not happening on Venus, unless some early Industrial Age ghosts are busy at work). In other words, the phosphine gas was a possible sign of life. But of course, this is 2020, and the scientific method requires peer review, and the Doctor Who scientists’ peers have found that there probably is not phosphine gas in the clouds of Venus. Of course, there is no reason to fret. Just because there currently isn’t enough evidence to say for certain that there’s phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere — we just don’t know yet. The clouds of Venus could totally be full of Horror of the Heights-esque pink jellyfish. And none of this should stop us from building a blimp city there. In other words, keep dreaming!
Right now, life on Earth is less than pleasant. In times like these, we follow the example of the millennia of people who came before us and look to the stars. But of course, our journey to the stars is human-driven, and humans are bad at a lot of things. Sometimes, we get good news — water molecules on the Moon! Others, we get bad news — no life in the clouds of Venus! And yet, we keep dreaming and hoping. And working. It’s the only way to go on.
Besides, space isn’t all about aliens or the ability to support a human colony. Along with the bad news about Venus, we got some good news about an asteroid called 16 Psyche — it is made of metals, and could be worth $10,000,000,000,000,000,000. Imagine the lunar indoor skydiving center that could build.