Space sciences roundup – March.7.2019

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

** Video shows Hayabusa2 landing on asteroid Ryuga and firing a projectile that stired up material from the surface to allow for capturing samples of the asteroid to return to earth: Watch Hayabusa2’s incredible touchdown on asteroid Ryugu | The Planetary Society

The video was shot with Hayabusa2’s small monitoring camera, CAM-H, which points downward from the side of the main spacecraft bus. Incredibly, the camera was funded by donations from the public!

There’s so much to like about the video: The reflection of Ryugu on Hayabusa2’s shiny surface. The white target marker containing names of Planetary Society members, visible in the lower-left corner for the first part of the video. And, of course, the incredible spray of debris when Hayabusa2 hits the surface and fires its tantalum bullet.

With so much material flying around, the team says “the potential for sample collection is high.” That hopefully includes some larger pieces that either floated directly into the sample catcher or were caught on the inner lip of the sample horn, giving them a chance to tumble up into the catcher later. JAXA also confirmed some debris stuck to the lens of one of the optical navigation cameras.

** NASA’s InSight Mars lander’s drill slowed by hard rock. Mars InSight Lander’s ‘Mole’ Pauses Digging – NASA’s InSight Mars Lander

NASA’s Mars InSight lander has a probe designed to dig up to 16 feet (5 meters) below the surface and measure heat coming from inside the planet. After beginning to hammer itself into the soil on Thursday, Feb. 28, the 16-inch-long (40-centimeter-long) probe — part of an instrument called the Heat and Physical Properties Package, or HP3 — got about three-fourths of the way out of its housing structure before stopping. No significant progress was seen after a second bout of hammering on Saturday, March 2. Data suggests the probe, known as a “mole,” is at a 15-degree tilt.

Scientists suspect it hit a rock or some gravel. The team had hoped there would be relatively few rocks below ground, given how few appear on the surface beside the lander. Even so, the mole was designed to push small rocks aside or wend its way around them. The instrument, which was provided for InSight by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), did so repeatedly during testing before InSight launched.

“The team has decided to pause the hammering for now to allow the situation to be analyzed more closely and jointly come up with strategies for overcoming the obstacle,” HP3 Principal Investigator Tilman Spohn of DLR wrote in a blog post. He added that the team wants to hold off from further hammering for about two weeks.

HP3 on the Martian Surface: NASA’s InSight lander set its heat probe, called the Heat and Physical Properties Package (HP3), on the Martian surface on Feb. 12. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/DLR. Full image and caption ›

** Israeli Beresheet lunar probe sends selfie as it moves closer to the Moon: Been here, done that: SpaceIL sends its first selfie from space – ISRAEL21c

The SpaceIL Beresheet lunar lander spacecraft takes a picture of itself along with the Earth in the background.

More background info on the selfie:

** View the Moon in the colors of its minerals in this image created by A James Mccarthy (u/ajamesmccarthy) and posted on Reddit

See also:

** The Chinese Chang’e 4 lander & rover on the far side of the Moon is busy on its third lunar day (equal to 14 earth days):  Yutu-2 Rocks On into Lunar Day 3 for Chang’e-4 mission | The Planetary Society

Yutu-2 awakened for lunar day 3 of the mission at 02:51 UTC on 28 February, with the lander following later the same day at 23:52. A few days later, the rover stood down for its ‘noon nap’ to avoid heating issues from a high solar incidence angle, at 10:25 UTC on March 3. It will resume its activities early on 10 March, before entering a sleep state around 02:00 UTC on 13 March, when the Sun is low in the sky over Von Kármán crater in preparation for the lunar nighttime.

According to a release by the China Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) on 4 March, Yutu-2 has so far travelled 127 meters, adding 7 meters to the total of 120 meters driven on lunar days 1 (44.185 m) and 2 (75.815 m).

The apparent relatively low distance is believed to be due to Yutu-2 taking time to image nearby rocks and features in the regolith. Analysis of the images from the Visible and Near-Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (VNIS) and Panoramic camera is expected to provide insight into the origin and composition of the rocks and development of the lunar far side itself.

Yutu-2 observes some Moon rocks during the rover’s third Lunar Day since landing on the far side.

** NASA will pay companies with lunar spacecraft for delivery of scientific instruments and experiments to the Moon as soon as their spacecraft are ready to go: NASA Selects Experiments for Possible Lunar Flights in 2019 – NASA

NASA has selected 12 science and technology demonstration payloads to fly to the Moon as early as the end of this year, dependent upon the availability of commercial landers. These selections represent an early step toward the agency’s long-term scientific study and human exploration of the Moon and, later, Mars.

** NASA MAVEN Mars orbiter to support communications with Mars 2020 rover:

NASA’s 4-year-old atmosphere-sniffing Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission is embarking on a new campaign today to tighten its orbit around Mars. The operation will reduce the highest point of the MAVEN spacecraft’s elliptical orbit from 3,850 to 2,800 miles (6,200 to 4,500 kilometers) above the surface and prepare it to take on additional responsibility as a data-relay satellite for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, which launches next year.

“The MAVEN spacecraft has done a phenomenal job teaching us how Mars lost its atmosphere and providing other important scientific insights on the evolution of the Martian climate,” said Jim Watzin, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. “Now we’re recruiting it to help NASA communicate with our forthcoming Mars rover and its successors.”

While MAVEN’s new orbit will not be drastically shorter than its present orbit, even this small change will significantly improve its communications capabilities. “It’s like using your cell phone,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator from the University of Colorado, Boulder. “The closer you are to a cell tower, the stronger your signal.”

Aerobraking plan for MAVEN. (left) Current MAVEN orbit around Mars: 6,200 kilometers (~3,850 miles) at highest altitude, and an orbit period of about 4.5 hours. (center) Aerobraking process: MAVEN performs a series of “deep dip” orbits approaching to within about 125 kilometers (~78 miles) of Mars at lowest altitude, causing drag from the atmosphere to slow down the spacecraft. Over roughly 360 orbits spanning 2.5 months, this technique reduces the spacecraft’s altitude to about 4,500 kilometers (~2,800 miles) and its orbit period to about 3.5 hours. (right) Post-aerobraking orbit, with reduced altitude and shorter orbit period. Credits: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio/Kel Elkins and Dan Gallagher. Download in high resolution from the Scientific Visualization Studio

** More Mars caving via images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) camera : Another batch of caves/pits found on Mars | Behind The Black

Images from the MRO showing pits, located north and west of Arsia Mons. Credits Bob Zimmerman

The November release imaged three pits found on the southern flanks of Arsia Mons. The January 2019 release found several north of the volcano, two of which are very close to the two middle new pits highlighted above. The February release, which is the focus of this post, included four more pits, shown above, all located north and west of Arsia Mons, as shown in the overview map [shown below in image from Behind the Black].

MRO images of Arsia Mons with notation by Bob Zimmerman.

** Our sun is spotless as it reaches a zero minimum in the current phase of the solar cycle. We will have to wait and see how long it remains in that state. Sunspot update February 2019: The Sun flatlines again | Behind The Black

The number of sunspots in the current cycle since 2008. Annotated by Bob Zimmerman.

** And our solar system is very bigAstronomers discover solar system’s most distant object, nicknamed ‘FarFarOut’ – AAAS

For most people, snow days aren’t very productive. Some people, though, use the time to discover the most distant object in the solar system.

That’s what Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., did this week when a snow squall shut down the city. A glitzy public talk he was due to deliver was delayed, so he hunkered down and did what he does best: sifted through telescopic views of the solar system’s fringes that his team had taken last month during their search for a hypothesized ninth giant planet.

That’s when he saw it, a faint object at a distance 140 times farther from the sun than Earth—the farthest solar system object yet known, some 3.5 times more distant than Pluto. The object, if confirmed, would break his team’s own discovery, announced in December 2018, of a dwarf planet 120 times farther out than Earth, which they nicknamed “Farout.” For now, they are jokingly calling the new object “FarFarOut.” “This is hot off the presses,” he said during his rescheduled talk on 21 February.

** Juno’s Jupiter images never get old: Dramatic Jupiter | NASA

Jupiter’s northern hemisphere as seen by Jupiter in an image enhanced by citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill.


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