Mars is conventionally described as a cold, lifeless world that's a giant barren desert, because the surface explorations we've made via Mars Rovers pretty much demonstrate that. But NASA's recently released data about Methane on Mars is providing fodder for excitement, and speculation.
2009 is the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei's cosmos-destroying observations and discoveries. They include the fact that Venus has phases, that Jupiter has moons, and a number of other observations that helped create modern astronomy and encouraged Galileo to support a solar-centric Copernican view, which, of course, did not make him BFF with the Inquisition, or the Catholic church, who favored the inaccurate but comforting geocentric view, which believed that the sun revolved around the earth.
NASA's remaining shuttle is nearly 30 years old and scheduled to be retired in 2010. NASA's new spaceship, Orion, won't be ready for launch until 2015, according to the current budget and schedule. NASA is reported to be examining alternatives for maintaining space transport, either moving up the completion date for Orion—an expensive strategy—or else extending the current shuttle program (also expensive, and with every trip the aging shuttle runs a higher risk of accident or disaster.)
NASA's quandary is nothing new. In fact, it brings up the same problem we've been looking at pretty much since our first ventures into space: what's the best way to get there? Putting stuff on a big rocket, fueled with super-test fossil-fuels, and blasting it into space by sheer force has worked pretty well, so far. Except it's expensive, and rockets tend to blow up, since . . . well . . . they're explosive by design.
The most distant object easily visible to the human eye is the Andromeda Galaxy, roughly two million light-years away, our nearest neighbor galaxy, and very very large. Without a telescope Andromeda looks like a faint, gassy cloud in the constellation Andromeda. Conventional astronomical reasoning for years has held that Andromeda, also known as M31, was larger and denser than our own Milky Way galaxy. Using a high-end telescope, and multiple digital images, Andromeda looks like the image embedded to the left.