NASA Just Launched a New Podcast, and It's All About Mars

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

A NASA spacecraft dubbed InSight is currently hurtling its way through space at a speed of 13,000 mph. Its destination is Mars, and scientists want to broadcast its progress every bit of the way. To do just that, the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has launched a new podcast titled “On a Mission.” Hosted by science journalist Leslie Mullen, the eight-episode series will follow InSight as it journeys hundreds of millions of miles through the cosmos and attempts to land on the “harsh, desert, alien world” of Mars on November 26.

If successful, InSight—short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport—will be the first robotic explorer to study the Red Planet’s deep interior. Scientists know a great deal about the planet’s surface, but the same can’t be said for its “inner space,” including its crust, mantle, and core. There’s a bigger picture to be gained, too: This information will not only improve our understanding of Mars, but will also help paint a picture of how Mars, Earth, Venus, and Mercury formed more than 4 billion years ago.

The first episode of the podcast broaches the “danger of going to Mars.” Although InSight successfully launched earlier this year on May 5, landing and descending will be the vessel's next big challenge. It will enter the Martian atmosphere at a velocity of 14,100 mph, and a parachute will be deployed to help it slow down. Retro rockets will then be fired off, letting it slowly descend to the surface. “On Mars the atmosphere is thick enough to burn you up on entry, but thin enough to make landing with a parachute extremely tricky,” Mullen says in the first episode. Fewer than half of past missions to Mars have been successful.

Two episodes are currently available on the InSight website, SoundCloud, and Apple Podcasts, and a new episode will be released each week in the lead-up to InSight’s attempted landing. Future seasons of the podcast are also expected, and those will focus on different NASA missions.

Does the Full Moon Really Make People Act Crazy?

iStock.com/voraorn
iStock.com/voraorn

Along with Mercury in retrograde, the full moon is a pretty popular scapegoat for bad luck and bizarre behavior. Encounter someone acting strangely? Blame it on the lunar phases! It's said that crime rates increase and emergency rooms are much busier during the full moon (though a 2004 study debunked this claim). Plus, there's that whole werewolf thing. Why would this be? The reasoning is that the moon, which affects the ocean's tides, probably exerts a similar effect on us, because the human body is made mostly of water.

This belief that the moon influences behavior is so widely held—reportedly, even 80 percent of nurses and 64 percent of doctors think it's true, according to a 1987 paper published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine [PDF]—that in 2012 a team of researchers at Université Laval's School of Psychology in Canada decided to find out if mental illness and the phases of the moon are linked [PDF].

To test the theory, the researchers evaluated 771 patients who visited emergency rooms at two hospitals in Montreal between March 2005 and April 2008. The patients chosen complained of chest pains, which doctors could not determine a medical cause for the pains. Many of the patients suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and mood disorders, or suicidal thoughts.

When the researchers compared the time of the visits to the phases of the moon, they found that there was no link between the incidence of psychological problems and the four lunar phases, with one exception: in the last lunar quarter, anxiety disorders were 32 percent less frequent. "This may be coincidental or due to factors we did not take into account," Dr. Geneviève Belleville, who directed the team of researchers, said. "But one thing is certain: we observed no full-moon or new-moon effect on psychological problems."

So rest easy (or maybe not): If people seem to act crazy during the full moon, their behavior is likely pretty similar during the rest of the lunar cycle as well.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Rare Harvest ‘Micromoon’ Will Appear on Friday the 13th

pattier/iStock via Getty Images
pattier/iStock via Getty Images

The first Friday the 13th of 2019 is coming this September, coinciding with a spooky full moon—and that unlucky event will also be a harvest micromoon, Newsweek reports. Here's everything you need to know about the lunar spectacle.

What is a harvest micromoon?

Harvest moon describes the full moon that appears in September. You may have heard that the harvest moon is larger and deeper in color than full moons that appear at different times of the year, but this isn't the case. The name harvest moon has nothing to do with its size or appearance. Many people observe the harvest moon just as it surfaces above the horizon—the time when it looks biggest due to the moon illusion, and reddish or orange-y through the filter of Earth's atmosphere. But as the moon climbs higher in the sky throughout the night, these characteristics fade away—just as they would at any other time of year.

This year, the harvest moon will actually look smaller compared to other full moons. On Friday, September 13, the celestial body reaches its apogee, or the point in its orbit where it's farthest from Earth. It has been dubbed a micromoon, which is the opposite of a supermoon.

When to see the harvest micromoon

Besides its scaled-down appearance, Friday's moon won't look any different from a regular full moon. But its rare conjunction with Friday the 13th makes it an event that anyone with a superstitious side won't want to miss. The moon will achieve maximum fullness at 12:33 a.m. the morning of Saturday, September 14 in the Eastern time zone (earlier the further west you go), but it will appear full and bright the previous and following nights. To catch the mini-moon on the 13th, look up late Friday night in a place with minimal light pollution. And if you want the full harvest moon effect, look to the horizon just after moonrise at 7:33 p.m.

[h/t Newsweek]

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