Space science roundup – Feb.21.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images related to space related sciences:

** Mars weather reportsDaily Mars weather reports are now available from the Insight lander, which has activated its temperature and wind sensors – InSight Is the Newest Mars Weather Service | NASA

This public tool includes stats on temperature, wind and air pressure recorded by InSight. Sunday’s weather was typical for the lander’s location during late northern winter: a high of 2 degrees Fahrenheit (-17 degrees Celsius) and low of -138 degrees Fahrenheit (-95 degrees Celsius), with a top wind speed of 37.8 mph (16.9 m/s) in a southwest direction. The tool was developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, with partners at Cornell University and Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología. JPL leads the InSight mission.

The white east- and west-facing booms — called Temperature and Wind for InSight, or TWINS — on the deck of NASA’s InSight lander belong to its suite of weather sensors. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Full image and caption

Through a package of sensors called the Auxiliary Payload Subsystem (APSS), InSight will provide more around-the-clock weather information than any previous mission to the Martian surface. The lander records this data during each second of every sol (a Martian day) and sends it to Earth on a daily basis. The spacecraft is designed to continue that operation for at least the next two Earth years, allowing it to study seasonal changes as well.

The tool will be geeky fun for meteorologists while offering everyone who uses it a chance to be transported to another planet.

Today’s readings:

A similar weather report is available from the Curiosity rover: Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) – Mars Science Laboratory.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provides a view of global Martian atmosphere conditions: MRO MARCI Weather Report – Malin Space Science Systems.

** The Mars 2020 rover is coming together at NASA JPL in preparation for launch next year:

Tour the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and see the Mars 2020 mission under construction. Project System Engineer Jennifer Trosper explains the hardware being built and tested, including the rover, descent stage, cruise stage, back shell and heat shield. This NASA mission is preparing to launch to the Red Planet in 2020 and land in 2012. For more about Mars 2020, visit

** Rovers on Mars and the Moon:  Bob Zimmerman gives an update on Curiosity as it slowly ascends Mt Sharp and on China’s Yutu-2 rover on the lunar surface: Rover update: February 20, 2019 | Behind The Black

The valley that Curiosity is presently traversing is dubbed “the clay unit” or “the clay-bearing unit” by the geologists, based on its make-up determined from orbital data. So far they have found this terrain to be “some of the best driving terrain we’ve encountered in Gale Crater, with just some occasional sandy patches in the lee of small ridges.” Initially they had problems finding any rocks or pebbles large enough for the instruments to use for gathering geological data. For the past week or so, however, they have stopped at “bright exposure of rock” where some bedrock was visible, giving them much better material to work with.

Click to see Curiosity’s track for past couple of years.

** Mars once had rivers flowing on its surface as shown by river beds seen from orbit. But up close images of the river beds show that it has been billions of years since water flowed over them: A river valley floor on Mars | Behind The Black

The floor of a canyon in Reull Vallis.

Here we see that the floor has been significantly eroded by later processes after the water disappeared. Later, wind action, which probably contributed to that erosion, also placed dust and dunes within the depressions here.

A lot of time has passed since that river flowed through Reull Valles. Or to put it another way, Mars has generally been a very dry place for a very long time. It might have considerable water at its poles as well hidden in an underground ice aquifer, but its surface is far drier than any desert on Earth, and has been for eons.

** Odd looking surface features on Mars are not uncommon. Here Bob examines an unusual pit that he spotted in an image of the south pole: Strange crescent-shaped pit near Martian south pole | Behind The Black

I found it in the February image release from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. I have merely cropped the full image to focus at full resolution on its primary feature, a region of stippled-like surface surrounding an area of black striping that in turn surrounds a crescent-shaped pit outlined by whiter material.

Why is there a pit here? Why is it crescent-shaped? Why is it surrounded by that whiter material? I could guess and say that the pit is a vent from which water vapor from the lower cap of water sprays out onto the upper cap of frozen carbon dioxide, staining it with white ice, but I am most likely wrong.

Moreover, what causes the black striping, as well as the stippled material surrounding it? The black stripes are probably related to a similar process that forms the spider formations found in the polar regions, except that these are not spiders. Why the parallel straight lines?

** The Chinese Chang’e 4 lander & rover on the far side of the Moon are currently in hibernation during the 2 week long lunar night. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has posted images of the pair taken during a pass over its location:

On 30 January LROC acquired a spectacular limb shot centered on the Chang’e 4 landing site, looking across the floor of Von Kármán crater. At the time, LRO was more than 200 kilometers from the landing site so Chang’e 4 was only a few pixels across and the rover was not discernable. The following day LRO was closer to the  site and again slewed (59° this time) to capture another view. This time the small Yutu-2 rover shows up (two pixels) just north of the lander. Also, shadows cast by the lander and rover are now visible.

“The Chang’e 4 rover is now visible to LROC! Just beyond the tip of the right arrow is the rover and the lander is to the right of the tip of the left arrow. The image appears blocky because it is enlarged 4x to make it easier to see the two vehicles. North is to the upper right, LROC NAC M1303570617LR [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].”

The official Chinese lunar exploration website doesn’t appear to offer an English version but your can always use the Google translation.

** Fly around Jupiter – Here is a cool time-lapse of images from the Juno probe as it made its 17th close pass above Jupiter’s clouds: ‘Juno’s Perijove-17 Jupiter Flyby, Reconstructed in 125-Fold Time-Lapse’ | JunoCam : Processing | Mission Juno

Via Movie of Juno’s December 2018 Jupiter fly-by | Behind The Black.

** A Neptune moon is a chip off the old Proteus moon according to a new report based on Hubble telescope imaging: Tiny Neptune Moon Spotted by Hubble May Have Broken from Larger Moon | NASA

Astronomers call it “the moon that shouldn’t be there.”

After several years of analysis, a team of planetary scientists using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has at last come up with an explanation for a mysterious moon around Neptune that they discovered with Hubble in 2013.

The tiny moon, named Hippocamp, is unusually close to a much larger Neptunian moon called Proteus. Normally, a moon like Proteus should have gravitationally swept aside or swallowed the smaller moon while clearing out its orbital path.

So why does the tiny moon exist? Hippocamp is likely a chipped-off piece of the larger moon that resulted from a collision with a comet billions of years ago. The diminutive moon, only 20 miles (about 34 kilometers) across, is 1/1000th the mass of Proteus (which is 260 miles [about 418 kilometers] across).

** The Moon receives a constant shower of solar protons, which can interact with oxygen in surface rocks with oxygen-bearing molecules to produce hydroxyl (OH), which needs just one more proton to become water (H2O):  NASA Finds Moon Could Be a Chemical Factory for Water | NASA

When a stream of charged particles known as the solar wind careens onto the Moon’s surface at 450 kilometers per second (or nearly 1 million miles per hour), they enrich the Moon’s surface in ingredients that could make water, NASA scientists have found.

Using a computer program, scientists simulated the chemistry that unfolds when the solar wind pelts the Moon’s surface. As the Sun streams protons to the Moon, they found, those particles interact with electrons in the lunar surface, making hydrogen (H) atoms. These atoms then migrate through the surface and latch onto the abundant oxygen (O) atoms bound in the silica (SiO2) and other oxygen-bearing molecules that make up the lunar soil, or regolith. Together, hydrogen and oxygen make the molecule hydroxyl (OH), a component of water, or H2O.

“We think of water as this special, magical compound,” said William M. Farrell, a plasma physicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who helped develop the simulation. “But here’s what’s amazing: every rock has the potential to make water, especially after being irradiated by the solar wind.”

This has implications for lunar settlers:

A key ramification of the result, [NASA Goddard plasma physicist  William M. Farrell] said, is that every exposed body of silica in space — from the Moon down to a small dust grain — has the potential to create hydroxyl and thus become a chemical factory for water.

** Dark matters – On a recent episode of The Space Show (Fri, 02/15/2019)Dr. William Dawson of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) discussed “dark matter, dark energy, physics research, black holes, research goals and legacy, gravitational waves, gravitational lensing and much more”.


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