Category Archives: Mars

Space sciences roundup – May.21.2020

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images from space-related science news items (find previous roundups here):

Mars

** The Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover is getting ready for its launch in a few weeks. The launch period  opens on July 17, 2020 and the target date for landing on Mars is February 18, 2021. Here are reports on the final preparations.

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover lives up to its name by enduring a series of tests to prepare for its journey to the Red Planet. Tests for the mission were performed between September and December of 2019 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. This video highlights the following tests:
Spin test
Shake test
Mobility deployment test
Rover’s first unassisted stand Solar test
Thermal vacuum test
Sample caching test
Drive test

the process of placing the Mars-bound rover and other spacecraft components into the configuration they’ll be in as they ride on top of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. …

Called “vehicle stacking,” the process began on April 23 with the integration of the rover and its rocket-powered descent stage. One of the first steps in the daylong operation was to lift the descent stage onto Perseverance so that engineers could connect the two with flight-separation bolts.

“This image of the rocket-powered descent stage sitting on top of NASA’s Perseverance rover was taken in a clean room at Kennedy Space Center on April 29, 2020. The integration of the two spacecraft was the first step in stacking the mission’s major components into the configuration they will be in while sitting atop of the Atlas V rocket.” Credits: NASA

Did life ever form on Mars? NASA is launching its new Perseverance rover to find out. In February 2020, mission scientists practiced skills they’ll need while Perseverance explores the Red Planet. A seven-person field team served as a simulated rover, carrying cameras and science instruments to the Nevada desert. Meanwhile, mission scientists at institutions like NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California sent commands for them to take pictures or collect data from the landscape. The region of Nevada they studied is a former lakebed, just like Jezero Crater, Perseverance’s landing site on Mars.

** The deployment of the Ingenuity helicopter will be a highlight of the Perseverance mission:

**  The UAE “Hope” spacecraft is in Japan in final preparation for launch to Mars where it will study the planet’s atmosphere from orbit: UAE-built Mars orbiter arrives at launch site ahead of July liftoff – NASASpaceFlight.com

Emirati-built Mars explorer, named Al Amal (“Hope” in English) and developed by engineers at the Mohammed bin Rashed Space Centre, has been shipped to the JAXA-run Tanegashima Space Center for final checkouts and preparations ahead of its launch aboard an H-IIA rocket. The launch window for this mission is currently scheduled to open July 14th, with an arrival at the Red Planet set for 2021.

The Hope spacecraft is the singular major component of the Emirates Mars Mission, which will study the Martian atmosphere and weather, daily and seasonal weather cycles, and how the climate varies in different regions. The scientific data that will be collected from Hope will help us answer key questions about Mars’ atmosphere, such as why gaseous hydrogen and oxygen are being lost to space and how the planet’s drastic climate changes occur.

The orbiter was built in collaboration with several of American institutions:

The Hope spacecraft was built by 150 Emirati engineers and 200 partnering U.S. engineers and scientists, with construction having taken place at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado. Academic partners from the University of California, Berkeley and Arizona State University also collaborated in the development of the spacecraft.


[Google Translation: The probe of hope is an achievement that represents a turning point for the Arab and Islamic worlds in the space field … reaching Mars was not only a scientific goal … but its goal is to send a message to the new generation in our Arab world that we are capable … and that nothing is impossible … and that the power of hope is shortened The distance between the earth and the sky ..]

** Leonard David describes the rover Curiosity’s recent explorations:

** Tour more sites on the marvelous Martian surface with Bob Zimmerman

Astronomy

**  The TESS space observatory can study stellar phenomena as well as search for exoplanets: TESS Aids Study of Perplexing Stellar Pulsations | NASA

Astronomers have detected elusive pulsation patterns in dozens of young, rapidly rotating stars thanks to data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). The discovery will revolutionize scientists’ ability to study details like the ages, sizes and compositions of these stars — all members of a class named for the prototype, the bright star Delta Scuti.

“Delta Scuti stars clearly pulsate in interesting ways, but the patterns of those pulsations have so far defied understanding,” said Tim Bedding, a professor of astronomy at the University of Sydney. “To use a musical analogy, many stars pulsate along simple chords, but Delta Scuti stars are complex, with notes that seem to be jumbled. TESS has shown us that’s not true for all of them.”

Geologists studying seismic waves from earthquakes figured out Earth’s internal structure from the way the reverberations changed speed and direction as they traveled through it. Astronomers apply the same principle to study the interiors of stars through their pulsations, a field called asteroseismology.

Sound waves travel through a star’s interior at speeds that change with depth, and they all combine into pulsation patterns at the star’s surface. Astronomers can detect these patterns as tiny fluctuations in brightness and use them to determine the star’s age, temperature, composition, internal structure and other properties.

This video shows simulations of the pulsations:

Watch the pulsations of a Delta Scuti star! In this illustration, the star changes in brightness when internal sound waves at different frequencies cause parts of the star to expand and contract. In one pattern, the whole star expands and contracts, while in a second, opposite hemispheres swell and shrink out of sync. In reality, a single star exhibits many pulsation patterns that can tell astronomers about its age, composition and internal structure. The exact light variations astronomers observe also depend on how the star’s spin axis angles toward us. Delta Scuti stars spin so rapidly they flatten into ovals, which jumbles these signals and makes them harder to decode. Now, thanks to NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, astronomers are deciphering some of them. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

**fast radio burst (FRB) has been detected in our own galaxy for the first time. The observation of the signal from a system known  to hold a magnetar (a neutron star with a high magnetic field) should help solve the mystery of the origin of FRBs, which were first observed in 2007.

A discussion of the event:  Mysterious origin of the FRB resolved? The Galactic FRB SGR 1935+2154SETI

Researchers announced that they have discovered the first fast radio burst (FRB) detected in our galaxy, the galactic soft gamma repeater, SGR 1935+2154. Panelists from that discussion, Daniele Michilli and Wael Farah, to share their insights about this new discovery, Hosted by Franck Marchis

** The Hubble Space Telescope recently celebrated 30 years in orbit: Hubblecast 128: 30 Years of Science with the Hubble Space Telescope | ESA/Hubble

Sun

** The Sun remains nearly spotless: Sunspot update: The deep minimum continues | Behind The Black

…In April sunspot activity went up, but trivially so, with only four sunspots during the month, three of which had a magnetic polarity assigning them to the next solar maximum.

The solar minimum remains very deep, deeper than the very deep previous minimum, and possibly the least active in two hundred years. The presence however of more sunspots for the new cycle strengthens the expectation that we will not be entering a grand minimum, with no sunspots for decades. It just appears that, as predicted, the next solar maximum will be a very weak one.

How this weak activity will effect the climate remains an unknown. In the past, such as the weak maximum that just ended as well as during past weak maximums at the beginning of the 1800s and the 1900s, the Earth’s climate cooled. It also cooled during the Little Ice Age in the 1600s, during the last grand minimum.

Check SpaceWeather.com for a daily reading of the sunspot number.

Moon

** High spots at the Moon’s lunar poles get extra sunlight. Unlike the Earth, the Moon has very little tilt with respect to the plane of the orbit of the Earth-Moon system around the Sun. This results in low elevation areas in the lunar polar regions receiving little or no sunlight over the course of a year and high places getting lots of sunlight for much of the year. While there are in fact no lunar peaks of eternal light, there are several areas that are in sunshine for over 80% of the year.

Bob Zimmerman points to a report from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) about an image taken by the orbiter of the “Rim of Aepinus crater rising above a sea of dark during a winter night”:  Dawn at the Moon’s North Pole | Behind The Black

The [Aepinus] crater itself sits between Hermite and Peary craters, both of which have shown evidence suggesting the presence of water ice in their permanently shadowed regions.

Thus, this rim on Aepinus Crater is prime real estate on the Moon. It will have extended periods of light, even during the lunar night, providing access to solar power energy. And it is likely close to those permanently shadowed crater floors, where ice is suspected to exist.

It is now dawn there. It is also one of the places where the dawn of the human settlement of the solar system will begin. Who will be first to land and take possession of this territory?

“Rim of Aepinus crater rising above a sea of dark during a winter night. Illuminated area 1.5 kilometers by 6.0 kilometers.” Credits: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

** China’s Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover continue to survive the 2 week long lunar nights and then resume studies of the Moon’s far side during the 2 week long lunar day.

** US Geological Survey releases hi-res map showing the Moon’s geology:

Have you ever wondered what kind of rocks make up those bright and dark splotches on the moon? Well, the USGS has just released a new authoritative map to help explain the 4.5-billion-year-old history of our nearest neighbor in space.

For the first time, the entire lunar surface has been completely mapped and uniformly classified by scientists from the USGS Astrogeology Science Center, in collaboration with NASA and the Lunar Planetary Institute.

“Orthographic projections of the “Unified Geologic Map of the Moon” showing the geology of the Moon’s near side (left) and far side (right) with shaded topography from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA). This geologic map is a synthesis of six Apollo-era regional geologic maps, updated based on data from recent satellite missions. It will serve as a reference for lunar science and future human missions to the Moon. Credit: NASA/GSFC/USGS.” Credits: USGS

The lunar map, called the “Unified Geologic Map of the Moon,” will serve as the definitive blueprint of the moon’s surface geology for future human missions and will be invaluable for the international scientific community, educators and the public-at-large. The digital map is available online now and shows the moon’s geology in incredible detail (1:5,000,000 scale).

“People have always been fascinated by the moon and when we might return,” said current USGS Director and former NASA astronaut Jim Reilly. “So, it’s wonderful to see USGS create a resource that can help NASA with their planning for future missions.”

** Asteroids and Comets

**** The OSIRIS-REx Mission has selected a spot to grab a sample of the Bennu asteroid. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Ready for Touchdown on Asteroid Bennu – OSIRIS-REx Mission

NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission is officially prepared for its long-awaited touchdown on asteroid Bennu’s surface. The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has targeted Oct. 20 for its first sample collection attempt.

“The OSIRIS-REx mission has been demonstrating the very essence of exploration by persevering through unexpected challenges,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science. “That spirit has led them to the cusp of the prize we all are waiting for – securing a sample of an asteroid to bring home to Earth, and I’m very excited to follow them through the home stretch.”

From discovering Bennu’s surprisingly rugged and active surface, to entering the closest-ever orbit around a planetary body, OSIRIS-REx has overcome several challenges since arriving at the asteroid in December 2018. Last month, the mission brought the spacecraft 213 ft (65 m) from the asteroid’s surface during its first sample collection rehearsal — successfully completing a practice run of the activities leading up to the sampling event.

Now that the mission is ready to collect a sample, the team is facing a different kind of challenge here on Earth. In response to COVID-19 constraints and after the intense preparation for the first rehearsal, the OSIRIS-REx mission has decided to provide its team with additional preparation time for both the final rehearsal and the sample collection event. Spacecraft activities require significant lead time for the development and testing of operations, and given the current requirements that limit in-person participation at the mission support area, the mission would benefit from giving the team additional time to complete these preparations in the new environment. As a result, both the second rehearsal and first sample collection attempt will have two extra months for planning.

“OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Collecting a Sample of Bennu. This artist’s concept shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft descending towards asteroid Bennu to collect a sample of the asteroid’s surface. “Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

** It was hoped Comet ATLAS might become visible to the naked eye but instead it broke up into dozens of smaller pieces in April: Hubble Captures Breakup of Comet ATLAS | ESA/Hubble

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has provided astronomers with the sharpest view yet of the breakup of Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS). The telescope resolved roughly 30 fragments of the fragile comet on 20 April and 25 pieces on 23 April.

The comet was first discovered in December 2019 by the ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) robotic astronomical survey system in Hawaiʻi, USA. It brightened quickly until mid-March, and some astronomers initially anticipated that it might be visible to the naked eye in May to become one of the most spectacular comets seen in the last two decades. However, the comet abruptly began to get dimmer, leading astronomers to speculate that the icy core may be fragmenting, or even disintegrating. ATLAS’s fragmentation was confirmed by amateur astronomer Jose de Queiroz, who photographed around three pieces of the comet on 11 April. 

The Hubble Space Telescope’s new observations of the comet’s breakup on 20 and 23 April reveal that the broken fragments are all enveloped in a sunlight-swept tail of cometary dust. These images provide further evidence that comet fragmentation is probably common and might even be the dominant mechanism by which the solid, icy nuclei of comets die. 

A comparison of the Hubble images:

This animation dissolves between the Hubble Space Telescope’s observations of Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) on 20 and 23 April. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has provided astronomers with the sharpest view yet of the breakup of Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS). The telescope resolved roughly 30 fragments of the comet on 20 April and 25 pieces on 23 April.  The comet was first discovered in December 2019 by the ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) and its fragmentation was confirmed in April 2020. Credit: NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA), Q. Ye (University of Maryland)

SETI

** China’s big new radio telescope gives it a chance to be first to detect ET. The dish could be used for sending signals to ET as well. Ready, SETI, go: Is there a race to contact E.T.? – Space.com

Researchers using China’s new Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST), the largest single-dish scope in the world, are piecing together a technological strategy to carry out a major and sweeping search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). 

What if China someday announces that this hunt has been successful? How would such a claim be verified, and what might the consequences be? And could an unofficial international SETI race already be underway?

The Five hundred Meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in southwest China.

=== Amazon Ad ===

The Demon in the Machine:
How Hidden Webs of Information Are Solving the Mystery of Life

Space sciences roundup – Mar.19.2020

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images from space-related science news items (find previous roundups here):

Mars

** The next US Mars rover given name selected by middle-school student: Virginia Student Earns Honor of Naming NASA’s Next Mars Rover | NASA

ASA’s next Mars rover has a new name – Perseverance.

The name was announced Thursday by Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, during a celebration at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. Zurbuchen was at the school to congratulate seventh grader Alexander Mather, who submitted the winning entry to the agency’s “Name the Rover” essay contest, which received 28,000 entries from K-12 students from every U.S. state and territory.

“Alex’s entry captured the spirit of exploration,” said Zurbuchen. “Like every exploration mission before, our rover is going to face challenges, and it’s going to make amazing discoveries. It’s already surmounted many obstacles to get us to the point where we are today – processing for launch. Alex and his classmates are the Artemis Generation, and they’re going to be taking the next steps into space that lead to Mars. That inspiring work will always require perseverance. We can’t wait to see that nameplate on Mars.”

** A report on the selection of the target spot for Perseverance’s landing: Here’s How Scientists Mapped the Mars 2020 Rover’s Landing Site | The Planetary Society

NASA’s soon-to-be-named Mars 2020 rover launches in late July or early August and will arrive on Mars in February 2021. The rover will land near an ancient river delta. Deltas form as rivers deposit sediment from upstream sources into standing bodies of water, like lakes or oceans. On Earth, these areas tend to teem with life. The Mars 2020 rover will search for signs of past life while collecting soil and rock samples for future return to Earth.

Jezero crater is located at the northeastern edge of a volcanic region on Mars known as Syrtis Major. Credits: NASA Ames/USGS/JPL/Corrine Rojas via Planetary Society

** Meanwhile, the rover currently operating on Mars sent a new grand panorama: Curiosity Mars Rover Snaps 1.8 Billion-Pixel Panorama (narrated video)

NASA Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada guides this tour of the rover’s view of the Martian surface. This panorama showcases “Glen Torridon,” a region on the side of Mount Sharp that Curiosity is exploring. The panorama was taken between Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, 2019, when the Curiosity team was out for the Thanksgiving holiday. Since the rover would be sitting still with few other tasks to do while it waited for the team to return and provide its next commands, the rover had a rare chance to image its surroundings several days in a row without moving. Composed of more than 1,000 images and carefully assembled over the ensuing months, the larger version of this composite contains nearly 1.8 billion pixels of Martian landscape.

The interactive panorama:

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover produced this 360-degree panorama of “Glen Torridon,” a region on the side of Mount Sharp. The panorama was taken between Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, 2019, when the mission team was out for the Thanksgiving holiday. Since the rover would be sitting still with few other tasks to do while it waited for the team to return and provide its next commands, the rover had a rare chance to image its surroundings several days in a row without moving. Composed of more than 1,000 images and carefully assembled over the ensuing months, the larger version of this composite contains nearly 1.8 billion pixels of Martian landscape.

** Curiosity rover detects organic material in Martian rock:

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars that suggests the planet could have supported ancient life, as well as new evidence in the Martian atmosphere that relates to the search for current life on the Red Planet. While not necessarily evidence of life itself, these findings are a good sign for future missions exploring the planet’s surface and subsurface.

The new findings – “tough” organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface, as well as seasonal variations in the levels of methane in the atmosphere – appear in the June 8 edition of the journal Science.

Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen, and also may include oxygen, nitrogen and other elements. While commonly associated with life, organic molecules also can be created by non-biological processes and are not necessarily indicators of life.

** European/Russian ExoMars rover mission postponed till 2022: ExoMars to take off for the Red Planet in 2022 – ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Roscosmos Space Corporation have decided to postpone the launch of the second ExoMars mission to study the Red Planet to 2022.

The joint ESA-Roscosmos project team evaluated all the activities needed for an authorisation to launch, in order to analyse the risks and schedule. With due consideration of the recommendations provided by European and Russian Inspectors General, ExoMars experts have concluded that tests necessary to make all components of the spacecraft fit for the Mars adventure need more time to complete.

The primary goal of the mission is to determine if there has ever been life on Mars, and to better understand the history of water on the planet. The ExoMars rover, named Rosalind Franklin, includes a drill to access the sub-surface of Mars as well as a miniature life-search laboratory kept within an ultra-clean zone.

Problems with the parachutes arose last year and fully testing the solutions apparently left too little margin in the schedule:

The latest ExoMars parachutes dynamic extraction tests have been completed successfully at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the main parachutes are ready for the two final high-altitude drop tests in March in Oregon, US.

See also: Mars in limbo – The Space Review.

** China continues to aim for summer launch of the Huoxing orbiter/lander/rover mission to Mars:

China’s probe, called Huoxing, will include an orbiter, a lander and a rover — the first Mars probe to include all three. The project will have 13 scientific payloads, including several cameras, subsurface radar imagers and particle analyzers, as well as a magnetometer and magnetic-field detector. The mission’s scientific goals include studying the Martian morphology, geology, soil and water–ice distribution.

Wang says the coronavirus outbreak has affected the way his team works, but has not yet caused delays.

Several days ago, the team had to move six scientific payloads for the orbiter from Beijing to Shanghai, where they will be assembled. Instead of risking the team members getting infected on a plane or high-speed train, 3 people drove the 6 payloads in a car — a journey that took more than 12 hours.

An illustration of the rover mounted on the China’s Mars 2020 mission. Credits: Xinhua

** UAE Hope Mars orbiter set to launch this summer to study Martian atmosphere and climate history:

The Hope Probe will be the first probe to provide a complete picture of the Martian atmosphere and its layers when it reaches the red planet’s orbit in 2021. It will help answer key questions about the global Martian atmosphere and the loss of hydrogen and oxygen gases into space over the span of one Martian year.

Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre is responsible for the execution and supervision of all stages of the design, development and launch of the Hope Probe in 2020.

The UAE Space Agency is funding and supervising procedures and necessary details for the implementation of this project. Following a journey of several months, the probe is expected to enter the Red Planet’s orbit in 2021, coinciding with the Golden Jubilee of the Union.

Some specifications of the Hope Orbiter. Credits: HopeMarsMission on Twitter

The mission will launch this July on a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA rocket.

More at Emirates mars mission | Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre – MBRSC -UAE.

Emirates Hope Orbiter in preparation for tests in vacuum chamber. Credits: UAE Space Program

** An update on recent activities of the Curiosity rover from Bob Zimmerman: Mars rover Update: March 4, 2020 | Behind The Black

Since my last rover update on January 13, 2020, Curiosity has finally moved on from the base of Western butte, where it spent more than a month drilling a hole and gathering a great deal of geological data. Rather than head downhill and around the plateau and back to its planned route (as indicated by the red line in the map to the right), the Curiosity science team decided to push upward and onto the Greenheugh Piedmont (as indicated by the yellow line).

They had always planned to reach the top of this plateau, but not for several years. First they were going to head east to study a recurring slope lineae (see my October 2019 update), an example of a dark streak that darkens and fades seasonally and could provide evidence of water seepage from below ground.

Map showing the trail of Curiosity’s recent roving. Credits: NASA with annotations by Bob Zimmerman

** Leonard David also describes Curiosity’s roving:

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 2702, March 13, 2020. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via Leonard David

** Tour more sites on the marvelous Martian surface with Bob Zimmerman

An impact crater on Utopia Planitia that was subsequently enlarged by the sublimation of water ice. Credits: NASA, Univ. Arizona. Cropped by Bob Zimmerman

Solar system

** Juno continues to display the glorious magnificence of our largest planet:

**** Massive Beauty | NASA

NASA’s Juno mission captured this look at the southern hemisphere of Jupiter on Feb. 17, 2020, during the spacecraft’s most recent close approach to the giant planet.

Juno captures a view of the southern hemisphere of Jupiter. Credits: NASA and Kevin M. Gill

Not only is Jupiter the largest planet orbiting the Sun, it contains more than twice the amount of material of all other objects in the solar system combined — including all the planets, moons, asteroids and comets. In composition, Jupiter resembles a star, and scientists estimate that if it had been at least 80 times more massive at its formation, it could have become a type of star called a red dwarf rather than a planet.

While the universe’s most common elements, hydrogen and helium, make up most of Jupiter’s mass, the striking clouds that are visible at the top of its atmosphere are composed mostly of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide.

This high-resolution view is a composite of four images captured by the JunoCam imager and assembled by citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill. The images were taken on Feb. 17, 2020, between 10:31 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. PST (1:31 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. EST). During that time, the spacecraft was between about 30,700 and 62,400 miles (49,500 and 100,400 kilometers) from the tops of the planet’s clouds, at latitudes between about 50 and 68 degrees South.

**** Jupiter Storms Merging | NASA

This view of Jupiter’s atmosphere from NASA’s Juno spacecraft includes something remarkable: two storms caught in the act of merging.

Juno spots two big storms on Jupiter. Credits: NASA and Tanya Oleksuik

The two white ovals seen within the orange-colored band left of center are anticyclonic storms — that is, storms that rotate counter-clockwise. The larger of the two ovals has been tracked for many years, as it grew in size through mergers with other anticyclonic white ovals. JunoCam was fortunate to capture this new merger, which typically takes place over the course of only a few days. The event interests scientists because the ovals had approached each other months earlier, only to move apart again.

This merger may be the result of perturbations due to the proximity of Oval BA, which is the larger storm just to the north of the two merging, white ovals. Oval BA is the second largest anticyclonic vortex in Jupiter’s atmosphere, second only to the famous Great Red Spot. During this pass over Jupiter, Juno gave scientists their best views of Oval BA to date.

Citizen scientist Tanya Oleksuik created this color-enhanced image using data from the JunoCam camera. The original image was taken on Dec. 26, 2019, at 10:28 a.m. PST (1:28 p.m. EST) as the Juno spacecraft performed its 24th close flyby of the planet. At the time, the spacecraft was about 44,900 miles (72,200 kilometers) from the tops of Jupiter’s clouds, at a latitude of about 60 degrees South.

JunoCam’s raw images are available for the public to peruse and process into image products at https://missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam/processing.    

More information about Juno is at https://www.nasa.gov/juno and https://missionjuno.swri.edu.

Astronomy

** A cosmic Tarantula offers clues to the births of huge stars: On the Origin of Massive Stars -ESA/Hubble

This scene of stellar creation, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, sits near the outskirts of the famous Tarantula Nebula. This cloud of gas and dust, as well as the many young and massive stars surrounding it, is the perfect laboratory to study the origin of massive stars.

This image shows a region of space called LHA 120-N150. It is a substructure of the gigantic Tarantula Nebula. The latter is the largest known stellar nursery in the local Universe. The nebula is situated more than 160 000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighbouring dwarf irregular galaxy that orbits the Milky Way.

The bright pink cloud and the young stars surrounding it in this image taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have the uninspiring name LHA 120-N 150. This region of space is located on the outskirts of the Tarantula Nebula, which is the largest known stellar nursery in the local Universe. The nebula is situated over 160 000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighbouring irregular dwarf galaxy that orbits the Milky Way.

The Large Magellanic Cloud has had one or more  close encounters in the past, possibly with the Small Magellanic Cloud. These interactions have caused an episode of energetic star formation in our tiny neighbour — part of which is visible as the Tarantula Nebula.

Also known as 30 Doradus or NGC 2070, the Tarantula Nebula owes its name to the arrangement of bright patches that somewhat resemble the legs of a tarantula. It measures nearly 1000 light-years across. Its proximity, the favourable inclination of the Large Magellanic Cloud, and the absence of intervening dust make the Tarantula Nebula one of the best laboratories in which to study the formation of stars, in particular massive stars. This nebula has an exceptionally high concentration of massive stars, often referred to as super star clusters.

Astronomers have studied LHA 120-N 150 to learn more about the environment in which massive stars form. Theoretical models of the formation of massive stars suggest that they should form within clusters of stars; but observations indicate that up to ten percent of them also formed in isolation. The giant Tarantula Nebula with its numerous substructures is the perfect laboratory in which to resolve this puzzle as in it massive stars can be found both as members of clusters and in isolation.

With the help of Hubble, astronomers try to find out whether the isolated stars visible in the nebula truly formed alone or just moved away from their stellar siblings. However, such a study is not an easy task; young stars, before they are fully formed — especially massive ones — look very similar to dense clumps of dust.

LHA 120-N 150 contains several dozen of these objects. They are a mix of unclassified sources — some probably young stellar objects and others probably dust clumps. Only detailed analysis and observations will reveal their true nature and that will help to finally solve the unanswered question of the origin of massive stars.

Hubble has observed the Tarantula Nebula and its substructures in the past — always being interested in the formation and evolution of stars.

Sun

** An update on solar activity from Bob Zimmerman: Sunspot update: The flatline resumes | Behind The Black

NOAA this week released its February update of its monthly graph showing the long term sunspot activity of the Sun. Below is my monthly version, annotated as I have done every month since 2011.

After a tiny uptick in sunspot activity in January, the Sun resumed the unprecedented flatlining of sunspot activity that began last June. Since then, the Sun has produced practically no sunspots, a drought that as far as I can tell has never happened since the 11-year sunspot cycle resumed in the 1700s (after the grand minimum in the 1600s) and astronomers began counting sunspots.

Moon

** More about China’s lunar sample return mission: China’s Lunar Sample Handling Plans Detailed – Leonard David

China’s Chang’e-5 robotic lunar sample return mission is slated for liftoff later this year. That venture represents the third phase of China’s lunar exploration project -returning samples from the Moon.

The reported candidate landing region for China’s Chang’e‐5 lunar sample return mission is the Rümker region, located in the northern Oceanus Procellarum. The area is geologically complex and known for its volcanic activity.

The Chang’e-5 mission will retrieve and return to Earth up to 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of lunar surface and subsurface samples.

** Yutu-2 reveals the structure beneath the lunar surface near the Chang’e-4 landing site on the Moon’s far side: Chang’e 4 and Yutu-2 Reveal Moon’s Sub-surface — The Space Resource

After landing for the first time on the Moon’s farside, the Chang’e-4 lander deployed the Yutu-2 rover, which utilized a dual-frequency Lunar Penetrating Radar (LPR). The LPR was previously tested on the Chang’e-3, and uses ground penetrating radar at 60 MHz and 500 MHz. The LPR instrument collected data during the first two lunar days of Yutu-2’s journey across the Von Kármán crater. While capable of far less depth than instruments like JAXA’s LRS, the LPR on Yutu-2 has a much finer vertical resolution of about 30 centimeter.

Using the high frequency option, radar data from LPR revealed good signal penetration in the areas Yutu-2 traveled. This greatly exceeded the performance of the Chang’e-3 ground penetrating radar. After combining the radargram, tomographic image, and quantitative analysis, the team produced the first picture of the lunar farside subsurface (image above).

A diagram of the lunar subsurface structure as detected by the radar system on Yutu-2. Credits: Chunlai Li, et al 2020 via The Space Resource

More about the Yutu-2’s rovings and research:

Asteroids and Comets

** Follow comet ATLAS as it dives towards the sun: Comet Atlas Is Brightening Faster Than Expected – Spaceweather.com

Get ready for a wild ride. Comet ATLAS (C2019 Y4) is plunging toward the sun and, if it doesn’t fly apart first, it could become one of the brightest comets in years.

“Comet ATLAS continues to brighten much faster than expected,” says Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC. “Some predictions for its peak brightness now border on the absurd.”

The comet was discovered in December 2019 by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) in Hawaii. Astronomers quickly realized it might be special. On May 31, 2020, Comet ATLAS will pass deep inside the orbit of Mercury only 0.25 AU from the sun. If it can survive the blast furnace of solar heating, it could put on a good show.

However, no one expected the show to start this soon. More than 2 months before perihelion (closest approach to the sun), Comet ATLAS is already “heating up.” The worldwide Comet Observation Database shows it jumping from magnitude +17 in early February to +8 in mid-March–a 4000-fold increase in brightness. It could become visible to the naked eye in early April.

“Right now the comet is releasing huge amounts of its frozen volatiles (gases),” says Battams. “That’s why it’s brightening so fast.”

Check out the Comet C/2019 Y4 ATLAS Images.

Exoplanets

** Imaging Exoplanets: From Adaptive Optics to Starshades In SpaceSETI Institute

Direct imaging of exoplanets – “seeing” the planet as a separate point of light near a star – is extremely difficult, and several decades ago, scientists used to say that it would be impossible to image Earth-like exoplanets. Today this seems possible, using some combination of adaptive optics technology, coronagraphs, or starshades.

Adaptive lets telescopes on the ground compensate for the Earth’s atmosphere. Coronagraphs use ultraprecise masks inside telescopes to block the diffracted light from a bright star. Starshades combine a space telescope with a huge flower-shaped spacecraft that flies in formation to block the starlight before it even reaches the telescope…

So what are we waiting for? What are the technical challenges associated with developing an exoplanet-hunting space telescopes? The future NASA Wide-Field Infrared Survey telescope could test out some of these technologies by studying Jupiter-like planets, and the proposed Habitable Planets Explorer (HabEX) mission could fully integrate them in a search for earthlike planets around dozens of nearby stars.

** The Planetary Society is supporting a project to find and observe 100 Earths, i.e. earth size planets in habitable zones of their stars.

More on this Planetary Radio program:

Yale astronomer Debra Fischer has spent decades hunting for exoplanets. Now she leads the 100 Earths project that includes the Lowell Observatory and astrophysicist Joe Llama. Debra and Joe join us for a conversation about this search for worlds that could be like our own. There’s big space news in this week’s edition of The Downlink at the top of the show, and Bruce Betts takes us on his weekly tour of the night sky, though it’s the pre-dawn sky that may hold the most wonder. Try your hand at the space trivia contest!

=== Amazon Ad ===

More Things in the Heavens:
How Infrared Astronomy Is Expanding Our View of the Universe

Space sciences roundup – Dec.5.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images from space-related science news items (find previous roundups here):

Sun

** Initial results from Parker Solar Probe published: First NASA Parker Solar Probe Results Reveal Surprising Details of Sun – NASA

The information Parker has uncovered about how the Sun constantly ejects material and energy will help scientists rewrite the models they use to understand and predict the space weather around our planet, and understand the process by which stars are created and evolve. This information will be vital to protecting astronauts and technology in space – an important part of NASA’s Artemis program, which will send the first woman and the next man to the Moon by 2024 and, eventually, on to Mars.

The four papers, now available online from the journal Nature, describe Parker’s unprecedented near-Sun observations through two record-breaking close flybys. They reveal new insights into the processes that drive the solar wind – the constant outflow of hot, ionized gas that streams outward from the Sun and fills up the solar system – and how the solar wind couples with solar rotation. Through these flybys, the mission also has examined the dust of the coronal environment, and spotted particle acceleration events so small that they are undetectable from Earth, which is nearly 93 million miles from the Sun.  

During its initial flybys, Parker studied the Sun from a distance of about 15 million miles. That is already closer to the Sun than Mercury, but the spacecraft will get even closer in the future, as it travels at more than 213,000 mph, faster than any previous spacecraft.

Solar scientists discuss  the Parker findings:

Parker imagery shows outflow of particles from the Sun:

Video: The WISPR image on NASA’s Parker Solar Probe captured imagery of the constant outflow of material from the Sun during its close approach to the Sun in April 2019. Credits: NASA/NRL/APL

See also: First Parker Solar Probe Science Data Released to Public – Parker Solar Probe – Nov.12.2019.

Astronomy

** Gravitational lensing by massive galaxy cluster multiples views of a galaxy behind it: Hubble Captures a Dozen Sunburst Arc Doppelgangers | ESA/Hubble

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have observed a galaxy in the distant regions of the Universe which appears duplicated at least 12 times on the night sky. This unique sight, created by strong gravitational lensing, helps astronomers get a better understanding of the cosmic era known as the epoch of reionisation.

This new image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows an astronomical object whose image is multiplied by the effect of strong gravitational lensing. The galaxy, nicknamed the Sunburst Arc, is almost 11 billion light-years away from Earth and has been lensed into multiple images by a massive cluster of galaxies 4.6 billion light-years away [1].

The mass of the galaxy cluster is large enough to bend and magnify the light from the more distant galaxy behind it. This process leads not only to a deformation of the light from the object, but also to a multiplication of the image of the lensed galaxy.

** Hubble telescope spots a face in a galactic collision: Hubble Captures Cosmic Face | ESA/Hubble

Although galaxy collisions are common — especially in the early universe — most are not head-on impacts like the collision that likely created this Arp-Madore system 704 million light-years from Earth. This violent encounter gives the system an arresting ring structure, but only for a short amount of time. The crash has pulled and stretched the galaxies’ discs of gas, dust, and stars outward, forming the ring of intense star formation that shapes the “nose” and “face” features of the system.

Ring galaxies are rare, and only a few hundred of them reside in our larger cosmic neighbourhood. The galaxies have to collide at just the right orientation so that they interact to create the ring, and before long they will have merged completely, hiding their messy past.

The side-by-side juxtaposition of the two central bulges of stars from the galaxies that we see here is also unusual. Since the bulges that form the “eyes” appear to be the same size, we can be sure that the two galaxies involved in the crash were of equal size. This is different from the more common collisions in which small galaxies are gobbled up by their larger neighbours.

This new image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captures two galaxies of equal size in a collision that appears to resemble a ghostly face. This observation was made on 19 June 2019 in visible light by the telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. Residing 704 million light-years from Earth, this system is catalogued as Arp-Madore 2026-424 (AM 2026-424) in the Arp-Madore “Catalogue of Southern Peculiar Galaxies and Associations”.

** An interview with astronomer and astrophotographer Dylan O’Donnell of Australia:

Check out O’Donnell’s astrophotography gallery. And here is a talk he recently gave about imaging the Southern Sky:

Moon

** Citizen scientist spots crash site of India’s Vikram lander in images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

From NASA:

The Chandrayaan 2 Vikram lander was targeted for a highland smooth plain about 600 kilometers from the south pole; unfortunately the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) lost contact with their lander shortly before the scheduled touchdown (Sept. 7 in India, Sept. 6 in the United States). Despite the loss, getting that close to the surface was an amazing achievement. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera team released the first mosaic (acquired Sept. 17) of the site on Sept. 26 and many people have downloaded the mosaic to search for signs of Vikram. Shanmuga Subramanian contacted the LRO project with a positive identification of debris.

After receiving this tip, the LROC team confirmed the identification by comparing before and after images. When the images for the first mosaic were acquired the impact point was poorly illuminated and thus not easily identifiable. Two subsequent image sequences were acquired on Oct. 14 and 15, and Nov. 11. The LROC team scoured the surrounding area in these new mosaics and found the impact site (70.8810°S, 22.7840°E, 834 m elevation) and associated debris field. The November mosaic had the best pixel scale (0.7 meter) and lighting conditions (72° incidence angle).

The debris first located by Shanmuga is about 750 meters northwest of the main crash site and was a single bright pixel identification in that first mosaic (1.3 meter pixels, 84° incidence angle). The November mosaic shows best the impact crater, ray and extensive debris field. The three largest pieces of debris are each about 2×2 pixels and cast a one pixel shadow.

“This before and after image ratio highlights changes to the surface; the impact point is near center of the image and stands out due the dark rays and bright outer halo. Note the dark streak and debris about 100 meters to the SSE of the impact point. Diagonal straight lines are uncorrected background artifacts. Credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University”

** China’s Chang’e-4 lander module and Yutu-2 rover complete their 12th lunar day activities and are now shutting down for the 14 earth-day long lunar night.

China’s lunar rover Yutu-2 has driven 345.059 meters on the far side of the moon to conduct scientific exploration of the virgin territory.

Due to the complicated geological environment and the rugged and heavily cratered terrain on the far side of the moon, Chinese space engineers carefully planned the driving routes of the rover to ensure its safety.

Driving slowly but steadily, the Yutu-2 is expected to continue traveling on the moon and make more scientific discoveries, said CNSA.

** The FARSIDE project proposes to place a radio telescope array on the far side of the Moon:

FARSIDE (Farside Array for Radio Science Investigations of the Dark ages and Exoplanets) is a Probe-class concept to place a low radio frequency interferometric array on the farside of the Moon. A NASA-funded design study, focused on the instrument, a deployment rover, the lander and base station, delivered an architecture broadly consistent with the requirements for a Probe mission. This notional architecture consists of 128 dipole antennas deployed across a 10 km area by a rover, and tethered to a base station for central processing, power and data transmission to the Lunar Gateway, or an alternative relay satellite.

Asteroids & Comets

** Japan Hayabusa-2 probe returning with samples of the asteroid Ryugu. A capsule  with the samples will reach the Australian Outback in late 2020.

” Asteroid Ryugu captured with the Optical Navigation Camera – Telescopic (ONC-T) immediately after departure. Image time is November 13 10:15 JST (onboard time), 2019.
Image credit ※: JAXA, Chiba Institute of Technology, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST.”

** A discussion of the metal rich asteroid Psyche, which will be visited by a NASA probe to launch in 2020:  The Prospects of Heavy Metal – Podcasts/NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Asteroids, ho! Pioneering space miners dream of Psyche, the largest metal asteroid in the solar system.

** TESS space observatory watched a comet erupt as it passed in view: NASA’s Exoplanet-Hunting Mission Catches a Natural Comet Outburst – NASA

Using data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), astronomers at the University of Maryland (UMD), in College Park, Maryland, have captured a clear start-to-finish image sequence of an explosive emission of dust, ice and gases during the close approach of comet 46P/Wirtanen in late 2018. This is the most complete and detailed observation to date of the formation and dissipation of a naturally-occurring comet outburst. The team members reported their results in the November 22 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“TESS spends nearly a month at a time imaging one portion of the sky. With no day or night breaks and no atmospheric interference, we have a very uniform, long-duration set of observations,” said Tony Farnham, a research scientist in the UMD Department of Astronomy and the lead author of the research paper. “As comets orbit the Sun, they can pass through TESS’ field of view. Wirtanen was a high priority for us because of its close approach in late 2018, so we decided to use its appearance in the TESS images as a test case to see what we could get out of it. We did so and were very surprised!”

“This animation shows an explosive outburst of dust, ice and gases from comet 46P/Wirtanen that occurred on September 26, 2018 and dissipated over the next 20 days. The images, from NASA’s TESS spacecraft, were taken every three hours during the first three days of the outburst. Credits: Farnham et al./NASA. View enlarged image

Mars

** A big set of Mars images of interest have been examined Bob Zimmerman at Behind the Black:

** Updates on Curiosity:

“Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2602, December 1, 2019. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech” – LeonardDavid.com

** Seasonal boost in the oxygen level detected by Curiosity is not understood: With Mars Methane Mystery Unsolved, Curiosity Serves Scientists a New One: Oxygen – NASA’s Mars Exploration Program

For the first time in the history of space exploration, scientists have measured the seasonal changes in the gases that fill the air directly above the surface of Gale Crater on Mars. As a result, they noticed something baffling: oxygen, the gas many Earth creatures use to breathe, behaves in a way that so far scientists cannot explain through any known chemical processes.

Within this environment, scientists found that nitrogen and argon follow a predictable seasonal pattern, waxing and waning in concentration in Gale Crater throughout the year relative to how much CO2 is in the air. They expected oxygen to do the same. But it didn’t. Instead, the amount of the gas in the air rose throughout spring and summer by as much as 30%, and then dropped back to levels predicted by known chemistry in fall. This pattern repeated each spring, though the amount of oxygen added to the atmosphere varied, implying that something was producing it and then taking it away.

“Seasonal Variations in Oxygen at Gale Crater: Graph showing oxygen concentration through Mars seasons. Image credit: Melissa Trainer/Dan Gallagher/NASA Goddard “

** A review of the discoveries of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers: A New Understanding | The Planetary Society

The findings from the Mars Exploration Rovers allowed the Mars science community to develop our strategy for Mars exploration beyond “follow the water” to the more complicated question of whether these watery environments were ever habitable. Very loosely defined, a habitable environment is one that has the 2 other essential requirements in addition to liquid water that are needed to support life as we know it: a source of carbon and a source of energy. The Mars Science Laboratory mission’s Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in 2012, carried a larger and more complicated payload than the Mars Exploration Rovers. Curiosity is capable of finding evidence of all 3 of these requirements. In fact, it has succeeded: within its landing site at Gale crater, Curiosity found ancient river and lake deposits that preserved carbon-containing compounds as well as evidence for water chemistry that could power microbial metabolism. Today, we not only know that Mars was once wet—it was also habitable.

** China’s Mars plans:

China has performed a hover and hazard avoidance test on a model the country’s first Mars rover, while engineers ready the real spacecraft for launch toward the red planet in mid-2020.

Comprising an orbiter, lander and rover, the mission aims to become the first Chinese spacecraft to reach Mars after lifting off aboard a Long March 5 rocket — the country’s most powerful launcher — during a several week window opening in July 2020.

The mission will launch from the Wenchang space center on Hainan Island, China’s newest spaceport.

Jupiter

** Juno continues its orbital studies of Jupiter and continues to provide amazing images. For example, Jovian Vortex View – Mission Juno:

Juno captured this stunningly detailed look at a cyclonic storm in Jupiter’s atmosphere during its 23rd close flyby of the planet (also referred to as “perijove 23”).

Juno observed this vortex in a region of Jupiter called the “north north north north temperate belt,” or NNNNTB, one of the gas giant planet’s many persistent cloud bands. These bands are formed by the prevailing winds at different latitudes. The vortex seen here is roughly 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide.

Jupiter is composed mostly of hydrogen and helium, but some of the color in its clouds may come from plumes of sulfur and phosphorus-containing gases rising from the planet’s warmer interior.

Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill created this image using data from the spacecraft’s JunoCam imager. It was taken on Nov. 3, 2019, at 2:08 p.m. PST (5:08 p.m. EST). At the time, the spacecraft was about 5,300 miles (8,500 kilometers) from Jupiter’s cloud tops above a latitude of about 49 degrees.

====

One Giant Leap:
The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the Moon

Space sciences roundup – Oct.18.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images from space-related science news items (find previous roundups here):

Astronomy

** A better view of an interstellar comet 2I/Borisov: Hubble Observes New Interstellar Visitor | ESA/Hubble

On 12 October 2019, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope provided astronomers with their best look yet at an interstellar visitor — Comet 2I/Borisov — which is believed to have arrived here from another planetary system elsewhere in our galaxy.

This observation is the sharpest  view ever of the interstellar comet. Hubble reveals a central concentration of dust around the solid icy nucleus.

Comet 2I/Borisov is only the second such interstellar object known to have passed through our Solar System. In 2017, the first identified interstellar visitor, an object dubbed ‘Oumuamua, swung within 38 million kilometres of the Sun before racing out of the Solar System. 

“Whereas ‘Oumuamua looked like a bare rock, Borisov is really active, more like a normal comet. It’s a puzzle why these two are so different,” explained David Jewitt of UCLA, leader of the Hubble team who observed the comet. 

** The Space Show – Tue, 10/15/2019 –  Dr. Alan Hale discussed “multiple astronomy, telescope and exoplanet subjects. Also Hale-Bopp and other comets. Alan’s new Ice and Stone 2020 educational outreach project.”

** The Milky Way steals gasses from unidentified neighbors:  Milky Way Raids Intergalactic ‘Bank Accounts,’ Hubble Study Finds | NASA

Our Milky Way is a frugal galaxy. Supernovas and violent stellar winds blow gas out of the galactic disk, but that gas falls back onto the galaxy to form new generations of stars. In an ambitious effort to conduct a full accounting of this recycling process, astronomers were surprised to find a surplus of incoming gas.

“We expected to find the Milky Way’s books balanced, with an equilibrium of gas inflow and outflow, but 10 years of Hubble ultraviolet data has shown there is more coming in than going out,” said astronomer Andrew Fox of the Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland, lead author of the study to be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Fox said that, for now, the source of the excess inflowing gas remains a mystery.

Milky Way galaxy's gas recycling
“This illustration envisions the Milky Way galaxy’s gas recycling above and below its stellar disk. Hubble observes the invisible gas clouds rising and falling with its sensitive Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) instrument. The spectroscopic signature of the light from background quasars shining through the clouds gives information about their motion. Quasar light is redshifted in clouds shooting up and away from the galactic plane, while quasar light passing through gas falling back down appears blueshifted. This differentiation allows Hubble to conduct an accurate audit of the outflowing and inflowing gas in the Milky Way’s busy halo — revealing an unexpected and so-far unexplained surplus of inflowing gas. Credits: NASA, ESA and D. Player (STScI)”

The Moon

** Both young and old craters at lunar south pole have water:

The majority of the reported ice deposits are found within large craters formed about 3.1 billion years or longer ago, the study found. Since the ice can’t be any older than the crater, that puts an upper bound on the age of the ice. Just because the crater is old doesn’t mean that the ice within it is also that old too, the researchers say, but in this case there’s reason to believe the ice is indeed old. The deposits have a patchy distribution across crater floors, which suggests that the ice has been battered by micrometeorite impacts and other debris over a long period of time.

If those reported ice deposits are indeed ancient, that could have significant implications in terms of exploration and potential resource utilization, the researchers say.

“There have been models of bombardment through time showing that ice starts to concentrate with depth,” Deutsch said. “So if you have a surface layer that’s old, you’d expect more underneath.”

While the majority of ice was in the ancient craters, the researchers also found evidence for ice in smaller craters that, judging by their sharp, well-defined features, appear to be quite fresh. That suggests that some of the deposits on the south pole got there relatively recently.

“That was a surprise,” Deutsch said. “There hadn’t really been any observations of ice in younger cold traps before.”

** Chandrayaan-2 lunar orbiter begins producing science data: India’s Chandrayaan-2 Moon Probe Just Beamed Back Its 1st Lunar Science | Space.com

The Chandrayaan-2 mission launched in July and was designed to tackle a host of questions about the moon, with a particularly sharp eye to the water ice the spacecraft’s predecessor spotted at the south pole. The current orbiter carries eight different instruments — and Indian scientists are already poring over some of the mission’s very first science data.

The orbiter carries two cameras, both of which have been hard at work. The Terrain Mapping Camera began surveying the moon as soon as Chandrayaan-2 arrived in orbit. Now, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which runs the mission, has also released images taken by a second instrument, the Orbiter High Resolution Camera.

Chandrayaan2 Orbiter High Resolution Camera
First images released from the Orbiter High Resolution Camera on the Chandrayaan-2 lunar orbiter. Credits: ISRO

More on Chandrayaan-2 at

The Sun

** The latest on the lack of sunspots: Sunspot update Sept 2019:The blankest Sun in decades – Behind The Black. The latest from Bob Zimmerman on the spotless sun:

With the release yesterday by NOAA of its September update of its graph showing the long term sunspot activity of the Sun, we find ourselves in what might be the longest stretch of sunspot inactivity in decades, part of what might become the most inactive solar minimum in centuries.

In the last four months the Sun has produced practically no sunspots. There were two in June, two in July, and one in August. The September graph, posted below with additional annotations by me to give it context, shows that the past month was as weak as August, with only one sunspot again.

Sunspot vs time in months
A plot of the number of sunspots versus time in months. Credits: Bob Zimmerman

Mars

** More signs of abundant ice on Mars: Ice! Ice! Everywhere on Mars ice! | Behind The Black.  Bob Zimmerman reports on further examples of “exposed ice in a number scarp cliff faces found in the high-mid-latitudes of Mars.

These scarps have so far been found in the highest latitudes of those two glacial bands, which might also explain why they appear more solid with the appearance of only the beginning of degradation. The buried glaciers found in the lower latitudes always look more degraded. As Dundas notes,

We expect that ice at lower latitudes will be less stable because the temperatures are warmer, so on average (over millions of years) at lower latitudes there will be less frequent deposition and more sublimation, so this fits together.

One striking conclusion that we can begin to draw from all this recent research is that ice is likely far more prevalent close to the Martian surface then previously believed. Not only will it be reachable by colonists by simply drilling down to an underground ice table, from 30 degrees latitude and higher there will be numerous places where it will be either close to the surface, or exposed and accessible.

In this image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the blue streak along the edge of a scarf at Milankovic Crater in the northern hemisphere of Mars indicates water ice.  Credits: Bob Zimmerman

** And more Mars surface imagery analysis from Bob Zimmerman at Behind The Black:

** Progress with the Insight lander’s Mole digger: Mars InSight’s ‘Mole’ Is Moving Again | NASA

NASA’s InSight spacecraft has used its robotic arm to help its heat probe, known as “the mole,” dig nearly 2 centimeters (3/4 of an inch) over the past week. While modest, the movement is significant: Designed to dig as much as 16 feet (5 meters) underground to gauge the heat escaping from the planet’s interior, the mole has only managed to partially bury itself since it started hammering in February 2019.

The recent movement is the result of a new strategy, arrived at after extensive testing on Earth, which found that unexpectedly strong soil is holding up the mole’s progress. The mole needs friction from surrounding soil in order to move: Without it, recoil from its self-hammering action will cause it to simply bounce in place. Pressing the scoop on InSight’s robotic arm against the mole, a new technique called “pinning,” appears to provide the probe with the friction it needs to continue digging.

Since Oct. 8, 2019, the mole has hammered 220 times over three separate occasions. Images sent down from the spacecraft’s cameras have shown the mole gradually progressing into the ground. It will take more time — and hammering — for the team to see how far the mole can go.

Insight Mole digs again with help
“‘Pinning’ Helps the Mole Move: This GIF shows NASA InSight’s heat probe, or “mole,” digging about a centimeter (half an inch) below the surface last week. Using a technique called “pinning,” InSight recently pressed the scoop on its robotic arm against the self-hammering mole in order to help it dig. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.”

** Curiosity is staying busy:

Curiosity Mars Rover: Wheel Scuff at Culbin Sands – Leonard David

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2558 tasks.

The rover has made a wheel scuff at “Culbin Sands,” reports Fred Calef, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Curiosity purposely ran over a megaripple (fine grained sandy ripple with a coarser pebble coating), Calef notes, to create a “scuff” which churned up and bisected the feature to observe any layering or material within.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance-Camera-Left-B-Sol-2557-October-16-2019
Wheel scuff mark made by Curiosity wheel scuff at “Culbin Sands as seen by the Front Hazard Avoidance Camera on-Sol-2557, October-16-2019. Credits: Leonard David

Curiosity Mars Rover: Last Views of Drill Sample, Sand Dancing – Leonard David

Reports Ashley Stroupe, Mission Operations Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the rover is taking its last views of the Glen Etive 2 drill sample. A recent plan had the robot cleaning out the remaining sample within the drill and doing contact science analysis on the dumped sample.

Both the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam will be taking a look at “Penicuik,” a pebble target, and “Monach Isles,” a potential small meteorite. Also planned is a standard environmental observation suite: a Mastcam crater rim extinction and tau, and a Navcam supra-horizon movie.

====

Galaxy Girls: 50 Amazing Stories of Women in Space.

Space sciences roundup – Oct.4.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images from space-related science news items (find previous roundups here):

Astronomy

** Enigmatic radio burst illuminates a galaxy’s tranquil ​halo | ESO

Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope have for the first time observed that a fast radio burst passed through a galactic halo. Lasting less than a millisecond, this enigmatic blast of cosmic radio waves came through almost undisturbed, suggesting that the halo has surprisingly low density and weak magnetic field. This new technique could be used to explore the elusive halos of other galaxies.

** Hubble Reveals Latest Portrait of Saturn | ESA/Hubble

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 observed Saturn on 20 June 2019 as the planet made its closest approach to Earth this year, at approximately 1.36 billion kilometres away.

Since the Hubble Space Telescope was launched, its goal has been to study not only distant astronomical objects, but also the planets within our Solar System. Hubble’s high-resolution images of our planetary neighbours can only be surpassed by pictures taken from spacecraft that actually visit these bodies. However, Hubble has one advantage over space probes; it can look at these objects periodically and observe them over much longer periods than any passing probe could.

 Saturn as seen by Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera
Saturn as seen by Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera.

** A Cosmic Pretzel | ESO

Astronomers using ALMA have obtained an extremely high-resolution image showing two disks in which young stars are growing, fed by a complex pretzel-shaped network of filaments of gas and dust. Observing this remarkable phenomenon sheds new light on the earliest phases of the lives of stars and helps astronomers determine the conditions in which binary stars are born.

The two baby stars were found in the [BHB2007] 11 system – the youngest member of a small stellar cluster in the Barnard 59 dark nebula, which is part of the clouds of interstellar dust called the Pipe nebula. Previous observations of this binary system showed the outer structure. Now, thanks to the high resolution of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and an international team of astronomers led by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) in Germany, we can see the inner structure of this object. 

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) captured this unprecedented image of two circumstellar disks, in which baby stars are growing, feeding with material from their surrounding birth disk. The complex network of dust structures distributed in spiral shapes remind of the loops of a pretzel. These observations shed new light on the earliest phases of the lives of stars and help astronomers determine the conditions in which binary stars are born.

Cosmology

**  If the universe is only 14 billion years old, how can it be 92 billion light years wide? – The light of the most distant stars and galaxies comes from a time not long after the Big Bang. So why didn’t that light pass us back then when we were all “close” together? Here is the explanation:

The size and age of the universe seem to not agree with one another. Astronomers have determined that the universe is nearly 14 billion years old and yet its diameter is 92 billion light years across. How can both of those numbers possibly be true? In this video, Fermilab’s Dr. Don Lincoln tells you how.

Exoplanets

** Hubble Finds Water Vapor on Habitable-Zone Exoplanet for the First Time | ESA/Hubble

With data from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, water vapour has been detected in the atmosphere of a super-Earth within the habitable zone by University College London (UCL) researchers in a world first. K2-18b, which is eight times the mass of Earth, is now the only planet orbiting a star outside the Solar System, or exoplanet, known to have both water and temperatures that could support life.

The discovery, published today in Nature Astronomy, is the first successful atmospheric detection of an exoplanet orbiting in its star’s habitable zone, at a distance where water can exist in liquid form.

Asteroids & Comets

** Europe and US teaming up for asteroid deflection – ESA – NASA  will launch the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test)  spacecraft in late 2021 to the near-Earth binary asteroid Didymos where it will smack into the smaller of the two objects in Sept. 2022. The goal is to test whether an asteroid on track to impact earth could be diverted from its path. DART will be accompanied by the Italian CubeSat LICIACube (Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids), which will record the impact event .

Another European contribution is the Hera spacecraft, which will launch in 2024. The Hera spacecraft

will perform a close-up survey of the post-impact asteroid, acquiring measurements such as the asteroid’s mass and detailed crater shape. Hera will also deploy a pair of CubeSats for close-up asteroid surveys and the very first radar probe of an asteroid.

The results returned by Hera would allow researchers to better model the efficiency of the collision, to turn this grand-scale experiment into a technique which could be repeated as needed in the event of a real threat.

The combined DART and HERA projects fall under the Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission.

Astrophysicist and Queen guitarist Brian May describes the HERA mission.

** Visitor from Interstellar SpaceSETI Institute.

Planetary Astronomer Michael Busch and Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak discuss a recent visit from Comet Borisov, C/2019 Q4.

Mars

** NASA’s InSight ‘Hears’ Peculiar Sounds on Mars

NASA’s InSight lander placed a seismometer on the Martian surface to study marsquakes. While it’s found many, it has also detected other kinds of seismic signals, including some produced by the spacecraft itself. That includes wind gusts, InSight’s robotic arm moving around and “dinks and donks,” friction caused by parts inside the seismometer moving against each other as the temperature changes. Put on your headphones and you can hear sonifications of this seismic “noise” recorded on March 6, 2019, the 98th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Around 2 p.m. local Mars time, the spacecraft’s arm was moving and snapping pictures with its cameras, surveying InSight’s “workspace.” This audio would be too faint for the human ear to heart it on Mars. It’s been sped up by 10 times and processed so you can hear the kinds of signals InSight sends back for its scientists to study.

** NASA InSight’s Robotic Arm Helps Out its Mole on Mars

NASA’s InSight lander on Mars is trying to use its robotic arm to get the mission’s heat flow probe, or mole, digging again. InSight team engineer Ashitey Trebbi-Ollennu, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, explains what has been attempted and the game plan for the coming weeks. The next tactic they’ll try will be “pinning” the mole against the hole it’s in. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) built the mole. It is designed to dig under the Martian surface to measure heat flowing out of the planet. Scientists want this data to learn how Mars and other rocky planets form.

** A recent Curiosity update from Leonard David: Curiosity Mars Rover: “Dumping Dirt on its Back”

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has just initiated Sol 2543 duties.

Reports Roger Wiens, Geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico: “Curiosity has been at this same location for all of August and September, which included a number of days of waiting for Mars to pass behind the Sun (‘conjunction’), drilling two holes, and processing the samples.”

Curiosity Chemistry and Camera RMI (Remote Micro-Imaging) photo taken on Sol 2541, September 29, 2019. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

** A selection of Bob Zimmerman‘s analyses of interesting features on the surface of Mars:

Changes in the sand dunes in the Hellas Basin region on Mars in 8 years. Images credit: MRO/HiRISE, NASA JPL/Univ. Arizona. Cropped and annotated by Bob Zimmerman

Webcasts:

** How Do Astronomers Define Latitude & Longitude on Other Planets – Scott Manley:

t took centuries for the people on Earth to decide on a common meridian to measure longitude from, but other planets also need everyone to agree about the origins of their mapping systems. In the case of the terrestrial planets a single bright spot was chosen in the early stages of exploration, and as maps improved the exact location is defined with increasing accuracy. For tidally locked moons the meridian is defined based on orientation relative to the parent body, but even then there’s a lot of room for improvement as data improves. Finally some bodies are just not suited to spherical coordinated, because they’re not particularly spherical.

** Weekly Space Hangout: September 25, 2019 – Seth Lockman & Aaron Lockman: The Astronomy Brothers – YouTube

** All your astronomy questions answered | Space InterviewTMRO.tv

Jared and Tony Darnell from Deep Astronomy lost track of time answering a bunch of community questions ranging from why James Webb Space Telescope is being intentionally launched out of focus, what’s the *next* telescope after JWST gets launched (FINALLY) to why Uranus and Neptune deserve their own dedicated space missions.

====

Fire in the Sky:
Cosmic Collisions, Killer Asteroids, and
the Race to Defend Earth