Space sciences roundup – Oct.19.2020

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

** Asteroids and Comets

** OSIRIS-REx set to touch down briefly on BennuThe Long Arm of NASA: The OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Gets Ready To Grab An Asteroid Sample – IEEE Spectrum

Sixteen years after NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission was first proposed and two years after the robotic spacecraft went into orbit around asteroid 101955 Bennu, mission team members are now counting down to the moment when it will descend to the surface, grab a sample—and then get out of there before anything can go wrong.

The sampling is set for next Tuesday, Oct. 20. If it works, it will be a first for the United States. (A Japanese probe is currently returning to Earth with samples from asteroid 162173 Ryugu.)

Though the mission plan has so far been executed almost flawlessly, an outsider might be forgiven for thinking there’s something a bit…well, counterintuitive about it. The spacecraft has no landing legs, because it will never actually land. Instead, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft vaguely resembles an insect with a long snout—a honeybee, perhaps, hovering over a flower to pollinate it. The “snout” is actually an articulated arm with a 30.5 cm round collection chamber at the end. It’s called TAGSAM – short for Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism. You’ve doubtless heard the old expression, “I wouldn’t touch that with a 10-foot pole.” The TAGSAM arm is an 11-foot pole.

** Watch the event on NASA TV: Update: NASA to Broadcast OSIRIS-REx Activities | NASA

** A discussion of the OSIRIS-REx mission: NASA EZScience

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is scheduled to touch down on the asteroid Bennu on October 20, 2020, for its first sample collection attempt. To kick off the second season of #EZScience, NASA associate administrator for science Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen and National Air and Space Museum director Dr. Ellen Stofan discuss this exciting and innovative mission to return samples from an asteroid to Earth and the scientific opportunities it opens up.

** An interview with an OSIRIS REx mission scientist: Hotel Mars – John Batchelor Show/The Space ShowDr. Harold C. Connolly talked about

…the OSIRIS REx mission to asteroid Bennu and the sample return from Bennu. We discussed landing at the Nightingale landing site on Bennu and why, the actual quantity of material being collected for sample return, material changes on the way back to Earth, instrumentation operational status, asteroid ejecta, Bennu collisions with asteroid material, Vesta rocks on Bennu, the expectation of finding organic prebiotic compounds in the sample and more.

** A simulation of the sampling maneuver using the SpaceMissionstm app from BINARY SPACE (see posting here):

This video shows a simulation of the NASA probe OSIRIS-REx’s sample collection on Asteroid Bennu planned for October 20, 2020:

00:00 Approach Burn
00:09 Solar Panels folding back

00:23 Samples Collection Arm Deployment
01:06 Samples Collection
02:21 Samples Weighting
03:42 Storing Samples in Return Container
06:04 Solar Panels unfolding

06:15 Approach Trajectory

The above mentioned application is a 3D solar system and space missions simulator available in the Microsoft® Store:

More about OSIRIS-REx and Bennu:

** Amateur astronomer spots a big NEO: Planetary Society Grant Winner Discovers Large Near-Earth Asteroid – The Planetary Society

An amateur astronomer has discovered a kilometer-wide asteroid that would create global devastation if it were to hit the Earth. Thankfully that won’t happen: the asteroid will miss our planet by 40 million kilometers as it passes on 10 September 2020, more than 100 times the distance between Earth and the Moon. But the fact that this relatively large near-Earth object, or NEO, wasn’t detected until now serves as a reminder that there’s much work to be done when it comes to defending our planet from dangerous asteroids.

Amateur astronomer Leonardo Amaral discovered the asteroid at the Campo dos Amarais observatory in Brazil. The Planetary Society in 2019 awarded Amaral an $8,500 grant to purchase a more stable telescope mount for better tracking and longer camera exposures. The Society’s Shoemaker NEO Grant program funds advanced amateur astronomers around the world who find, track, and characterize potentially dangerous space rocks. Much of this work follows up on asteroids discovered by large-scale sky surveys, providing observations crucial to orbit determination or asteroid characterization.

** A sizable and previously unknown asteroid recently passed by close by the Earth: School Bus-Size Asteroid to Safely Zoom Past Earth | NASA

Roughly 15 to 30 feet wide, the object will make its closest approach on Sept. 24.

A small near-Earth asteroid (or NEA) will briefly visit Earth’s neighborhood on Thursday, Sept. 24, zooming past at a distance of about 13,000 miles (22,000 kilometers) above our planet’s surface. The asteroid will make its close approach below the ring of geostationary satellites orbiting about 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) away from Earth.

Based on its brightness, scientists estimate that 2020 SW is roughly 15 to 30 feet (5 to 10 meters) wide – or about the size of a small school bus. Although it’s not on an impact trajectory with Earth, if it were, the space rock would almost certainly break up high in the atmosphere, becoming a bright meteor known as a fireball.


** Discovery of phosphine in the clouds of Venus ignites speculation that it is produced by microbial life. However, there are inorganic processes that could produce it as well. Possible Marker of Life Spotted on Venus | ESO

An international team of astronomers today announced the discovery of a rare molecule — phosphine — in the clouds of Venus. On Earth, this gas is only made industrially or by microbes that thrive in oxygen-free environments. Astronomers have speculated for decades that high clouds on Venus could offer a home for microbes — floating free of the scorching surface but needing to tolerate very high acidity. The detection of phosphine could point to such extra-terrestrial “aerial” life.

“When we got the first hints of phosphine in Venus’s spectrum, it was a shock!”, says team leader Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in the UK, who first spotted signs of phosphine in observations from the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), operated by the East Asian Observatory, in Hawaiʻi. Confirming their discovery required using 45 antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, a more sensitive telescope in which the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is a partner. Both facilities observed Venus at a wavelength of about 1 millimetre, much longer than the human eye can see — only telescopes at high altitude can detect it effectively. 

The international team, which includes researchers from the UK, US and Japan, estimates that phosphine exists in Venus’s clouds at a small concentration, only about twenty molecules in every billion. Following their observations, they ran calculations to see whether these amounts could come from natural non-biological processes on the planet. Some ideas included sunlight, minerals blown upwards from the surface, volcanoes, or lightning, but none of these could make anywhere near enough of it. These non-biological sources were found to make at most one ten thousandth of the amount of phosphine that the telescopes saw.

To create the observed quantity of phosphine (which consists of hydrogen and phosphorus) on Venus, terrestrial organisms would only need to work at about 10% of their maximum productivity, according to the team. Earth bacteria are known to make phosphine: they take up phosphate from minerals or biological material, add hydrogen, and ultimately expel phosphine. Any organisms on Venus will probably be very different to their Earth cousins, but they too could be the source of phosphine in the atmosphere.

More about the discovery:

This finding greatly increases scientific and public interest in Venus, which has been visited by spacecraft far less often than Mars. The Venusian surface is a hell-scape with an atmospheric pressure over 90 times that of earth and temperatures close to 500 degrees Celsius. So the bare surface and thin atmosphere of Mars make it seem benign in comparison. However, there is the possibility of human habitats floating atop the thick Venusian atmosphere, though there would the challenge of dealing with the sulfuric acid present at such altitudes. Venus is similar to Earth in terms of gravity and so for human visitors it has at least this one advantage over the Red Planet, where gravity is about a third that of Earth’s.

** Interview with a member of the team that found evidence of phosphine in the Venusian clouds:

Could life exist elsewhere in the Solar System? Astronomers have announced the presence of phosphine in the clouds of Venus, which could be evidence of microbial life around the hellish planet. Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder, one of the astronomers behind the discovery, reveals how they did it, and why we need a new mission to explore Venus.

** BepiColombo spacecraft flies by Venus to adjust its orbit closer to Mercury, the target of its mission: BepiColombo flies by Venus en route to Mercury – ESA

The ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission has completed the first of two Venus flybys needed to set it on course with the Solar System’s innermost planet, Mercury.

The closest approach of the flyby took place at 03:58 GMT (05:58 CEST) this morning at a distance of about 10 720 km from the planet’s surface.

The Venus flyby offered an opportunity to test the science instruments on the spacecraft and to investigate the cloudy planet:

Seven of the eleven science instruments onboard the European Mercury Planetary Orbiter, plus its radiation monitor, and three of five onboard the Japanese Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter were active during the flyby. While the suite of sensors are designed to study the rocky, atmosphere-free environment at Mercury, the flyby offered a unique opportunity to collect valuable science data at Venus.

BepiColombo returns images of Venus during close approach. Credits: ESA

** The Parker Solar Probe flew by Venus, taking advantage of the planet’s gravity to adjust its orbit as well: Parker Solar Probe Speeds toward Record-Setting Close Approach to the Sun – Parker Solar Probe – Sept.25.2020

This weekend’s perihelion was set up by the probe’s third Venus flyby. On July 11, the spacecraft came within 518 miles above Venus’ surface — much lower than the previous two flybys but still well above Venus’ atmosphere — putting it on a path that brings it 3.25 million miles closer to the Sun than the last perihelion, on June 7. Mission Design and Navigation Manager Yanping Guo of APL noted that the gravity assist provided the mission’s largest orbital speed reduction since launch, trimming the spacecraft’s velocity by 8,438 miles per hour (13,579 kilometers per hour).

More at:


** China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft appears to be in good condition as it heads for Mars. In an unusual exercise, a small camera was recently ejected so that it could  take  images of the spacecraft. Several of these were transmitted back to Earth and released by the Chinese space agency: Tianwen-1’s first ‘selfie’ in space to celebrate China’s National Day – CGTN

Image of the Tianwen-1 as seen by camera released from the spacecraft. Credits: CNSA Chinese National Space Administration

The images during flight were taken by a measurement sensor installed on the outer wall of the probe.

It can be separated from the probe under the ground control and takes one image per second with its two wide-angle lenses. The photos can be transmitted to the probe via WiFi communication and then transmitted back to the ground by the probe.

The probe was successfully launched on July 23 onboard a Long March 5 carrier rocket. It has successfully completed multiple tasks including capturing photos of the Earth and the Moon, completing two mid-course orbital corrections, and conducting self-check of the payloads.

As of the start of Thursday, the probe, in sound flight condition, has traveled about 188 million kilometers and is about 24.1 million kilometers away from the Earth.

More about the deep-space photo-shoot:

And for other details about the Tianwen-1 mission:

** Hints of underwater lakes on Mars detected with radar soundings by Europe’s Mars Express orbiter: Water on Mars: discovery of three buried lakes intrigues scientists – Nature

Two years ago, planetary scientists reported the discovery of a large saltwater lake under the ice at Mars’s south pole, a finding that was met with excitement and some scepticism. Now, researchers have confirmed the presence of that lake — and found three more.

The discovery, reported on 28 September in Nature Astronomy1, was made using radar data from the European Space Agency’s Mars-orbiting spacecraft, called Mars Express. It follows the detection of a single subsurface lake in the same region in 2018 — which, if confirmed, would be the first body of liquid water ever detected on the red planet and a possible habitat for life. But that finding was based on just 29 observations made from 2012 to 2015, and many researchers said they needed more evidence to support the claim. The latest study used a broader data set comprising 134 observations from 2012 to 2019.

“We identified the same body of water, but we also found three other bodies of water around the main one,” says planetary scientist Elena Pettinelli at the University of Rome, who is one of the paper’s co-authors. “It’s a complex system.”

See also: There might be even more underground reservoirs of liquid water on Mars | MIT Technology Review

** Insight lander’s Mole moves below the surface but still unclear if it can dig deeper. The instrument was built to dig itself 5 meters underground and measure the temperature.  The goal is to better understand the heat flow from the interior of the planet to the surface. However, the slippery, super-dry and powdery soil prevented the mole from obtaining sufficient grip to move itself downward using a hammering mechanism.  The probe even moved backwards out of the ground in several failed workarounds. Eventually, the team used the lander’s scoop to push on the probe and succeeded in at least moving the mole deep enough to cover itself with dirt.

We found that during the first two rounds of hammering and during the first half of the third round of hammering, the scoop went further into the sand. Since the Mole was hidden under the scoop, the penetration of the probe itself could not be observed directly. During the hammering, the flat tether running to the probe moved considerably, but these could only be clearly identified as forward movements during the hammering on 22 August. Overall, we could estimate from the movements of the scoop that the Mole moved at most one centimetre further into the ground. It was interesting to observe that during the second half of the round of 250 hammer blows on 19 September, the scoop did not go any further, probably because it encountered duricrust. This was certainly a desired outcome, as it allowed a second Free Mole Test to be conducted. In fact, the probe continued to move according to the movements of the tether, but it could not be clearly determined that these movements brought the Mole deeper into the ground.

** Leonard David updates on Curiosity’s roving:

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

  • A massive Martian glacier that looks just like a glacier on Earth – “The many parallel grooves or fractures running along the length of the glacier resemble what are seen in many similar Earth glaciers. Some of these fractures are caused by the glaciers slow drift downward, with different sections moving at slightly different rates, thus causing a separation along the flow. Hence the parallel
  • Lava cones, fissures, and channels from Olympus Mons – “The location of this image is west of Olympus Mons. It sits on the vast lava plain that was laid down by that volcano, the largest in the solar system.”
  • More Martian pits! – “This post will highlight five new photos and the pits therein. The first two, on the right, are both located on the southern flanks of the giant volcano Arsia Mons, where many such pits are found.”
  • A typical mid-latitude Martian crater with glacial features – “… the image cropped and reduced to post here, is a great example of many craters scientists have found in the mid-latitudes on Mars containing a variety of features that suggest buried glaciers.
  • Cliffs of Martian ice – “This ice scarp is one of about two dozen [pdf] that have so far been found within the latitude bands of approximately 45 to 65 degrees latitude in both the north and south hemispheres. The data so far obtained suggests that the scarp exists because of a pure water ice layer just below the surface.
  • Criss-crossing Martian ridges hit by new impacts – “The darker northwest-to-southeast ridges appear to be ash deposits that are being eroded away by the wind, thus explaining their orientation parallel to the prevailing wind direction.” See also A Criss-Cross Landscape with Fresh Craters (ESP_065189_1700) – HiRISE.
  • On the rim of Mars’ Grand Canyon – The photo “shows only a tiny section of this [Valles Marineris] gigantic canyon’s rim. At this spot the depth from rim to floor is about 4.3 miles, or about 22,700 feet. In the image itself I estimate the cliff at the rim to be somewhere between 6,000 to 8,000 feet high, more than the depth of the entire Grand Canyon. And that’s only this top cliff.”
  • Big scallops in the Martian southern latitudes: “The photo …  shows an example of some large scalloped depressions in the high southern latitudes of Mars.
  • Martian channels formed by water? by ice? by lava? – “The channels suggest some form of flow going downhill to the northwest, but was it caused by water or ice?
  • An ice-covered mountain on Mars? – “Today’s cool image, taken on July 1, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, is of a mound-like mountain on Mars that to all intents and purposes appears covered by glacial ice, some eroded, some not.
  • Corroding glacier in crater rim gully? – “Today’s cool image to the right, rotated and cropped to post here, shows a gully flowing down the north facing rim of a 30-mile-wide crater in the southern cratered highlands.
  • A patch of chaos in the Martian cratered southern highlands – “Taken by the context wide angle camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, this image shows us a strange isolated patch of what appears to be chaos terrain, which on Mars generally means an area of random knobs and mesas cut by canyons and channels.
  • Martian channels within Martian channels – “Whatever caused the meandering canyons on Mars, whether glaciers or liquid water, it was a process that was long-lived and multi-staged, as indicated by today’s cool image…
  • Martian crater filled with lava – “Unlike most of the recent images I’ve posted from Mars, today’s has nothing glacial about it. Instead, the photo to the right, cropped to post here, shows us a crater where lava broke through the southern rim to fill its interior.
  • Unexplored Mars – “We today are blessed at being born at the very beginning of the space age, the human race’s first attempts to explore the universe beyond Earth’s atmosphere. The mysteries and unknowns hidden out there are legion, and in science (as in life) the mysteries and the unknowns are the most important. Even on Mars, which had been the focus of intense exploration during the past two decades, our knowledge remains limited and scattered. A full understanding will take at least a few more generations of exploration. I envy the future generations this task. It will be exciting, ennobling, and above all, a whole lot of fun.”
  • The frozen and changing mid-latitudes of Mars – “Using “frozen” and “changing” to describe any single location might seem contradictory, but when it comes to the mid-latitudes of Mars, high resolution images keep telling us that both often apply, at the same time and at the same place.
  • The alien Red Planet and the scientific method – “In the winter on Mars the carbon dioxide in its atmosphere falls as snow at the poles, laying a mantle of carbon dioxide dry ice on everything down to about 60 degrees latitude. In the spring, when the Sun returns, the ground below that dry ice mantle is warmed, causing the dry ice to turn to gas at its base. Eventually gas pressure causes the mantle to break at its weak points, allowing that CO2 gas to escape while leaving behind a dark splotch.
  • Sharp Martian ridges sticking up from the dust – “This part of Arabia Terra seems somewhat boring from a distance, an endless vista of craters, with no major mountains or channels or canyons or anything big and spectacular. As is usually the case, that distant view gives an incorrect impression. On a human scale close-up, there is plenty of interesting stuff hidden among these craters. Opportunity during its journey illustrated this.
  • A Martian starburst spider – “Each winter the poles of Mars are blanketed with a thin mantle of dry ice, generally less than six feet thick. When spring arrives and sunlight hits this mantle, it heats the ice and sand on which the mantle lies, and that warmth causes the mantle’s base to sublimate back into gas. Eventually gas pressure causes the mantle to crack at its weak points so the gas can escape. By the time summer arrives that mantle is entirely gone, all of it returning to the atmosphere as CO2 gas.
  • Strange glacial flow features on Mars? – “These features are typical in the mid-latitudes, and once again suggest the presence of buried glacial ice.
  • Another pit on Mars! – “…most of the pits in this area are alike, isolated pits with no other related features. If they are skylights into lava tubes, those tubes show no expression on the surface, which suggests they are either deep underground or simply don’t exist. The assumption that these pits are skylights into larger cave systems is based on Earth experience. On Mars however volcanic lava flow might express itself in different ways. To better understand this geology we simply have to enter these pits and explore them.
  • The icy Erebus Mountains near where Starship will land on Mars
    These mountains appear to be a very icy place, much like the nearby Phlegra Mountains another 500 miles to the west. One of SpaceX’s Starship images, #9, was taken in Phelgra, and a previous post in April looked at the similar very icy nature of those mountainsErebus Montes apparently has as much if not more ice, and its terrain is far less forbidding that the mountains at Phlegra. There are no steep escarpments or mountains to cross. Future colonists will need only drive between scattered small hills to get to any ice mining site that pleases them.
  • Bright-tipped perplexing terrain on Mars – “It is very clear we are looking at a collection of straight and curved ridges and mesas, all of which for some reason are bright at their tips and edges. Some of the curved ridges might be the rims of craters, but only some. Other ridge lines look more like leftovers following a strange erosion process. The problem is that to my uneducated eye I can find little rhyme or reason to these shapes.”

Solar System:

** Hubble takes a gorgeous photo of Jupiter:  Hubble Captures Crisp New Image of Jupiter and Europa | ESA/Hubble

This latest image of Jupiter, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope on 25 August 2020, was captured when the planet was 653 million kilometres from Earth. Hubble’s sharp view is giving researchers an updated weather report on the monster planet’s turbulent atmosphere, including a remarkable new storm brewing, and a cousin of the Great Red Spot changing colour — again. The new image also features Jupiter’s icy moon Europa.


** Gi-normous collision of two black holes detected by gravitational wave observatories: A “bang” in LIGO and Virgo detectors signals most massive gravitational-wave source yet | MIT News | Massachusetts Institute of Technology

… researchers have detected a signal from what may be the most massive black hole merger yet observed in gravitational waves. The product of the merger is the first clear detection of an “intermediate-mass” black hole, with a mass between 100 and 1,000 times that of the sun.

They detected the signal, which they have labeled GW190521, on May 21, 2019, with the National Science Foundation’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), a pair of identical, 4-kilometer-long interferometers in the United States; and Virgo, a 3-kilometer-long detector in Italy.

The signal, resembling about four short wiggles, is extremely brief in duration, lasting less than one-tenth of a second. From what the researchers can tell, GW190521 was generated by a source that is roughly 5 gigaparsecs away, when the universe was about half its age, making it one of the most distant gravitational-wave sources detected so far.

More at:

And Scott Manly describes the event:

GW190521 was the name given to a gravitational wave event observed by LIGO and VIRGO in May 2019, and after a year of analysis and modelling it’s now clear that not only was this the largest gravitational wave event ever recorded, but, it required progenitor black holes which were more massive than can be created by a supernova.

** Zoom to Fading Supernova in NGC 2525 – NASA

This video zooms into the barred spiral galaxy NGC 2525, located 70 million light-years away in the southern constellation Puppis. Roughly half the diameter of our Milky Way, it was discovered by British astronomer William Herschel in 1791 as a “spiral nebula.” The sharpness of the image increases as we zoom into the Hubble view. As we approach an outer spiral arm a Hubble time-lapse video is inserted that shows the fading light of supernova 2018gv. Hubble didn’t record the initial blast in January 2018, but for nearly one year took consecutive photos, from 2018 to 2019, that have been assembled into a time-lapse sequence. At its peak, the exploding star was as bright as 5 billion Suns.

More at Hubble Watches Exploding Star Fade Into Oblivion | NASA.

** Terrifying marvels lurking in space:  Galaxy of Horrors: Terrifying Real Planets (live public talk) – von Karman Lectures/NASA JPL

There are many deadly and mysterious phenomena out there in the Milky Way. This month’s show will profile some of the real — and terrifying — marvels of astrophysics and exoplanets exposing some of the dangers lurking in the darkness of space…

Host: Brian White
Co-Host: Thalia Rivera, Public Outreach Specialist, JPL

Speaker(s): Dr. Tiffany Kataria, Exoplanet Scientist, JPL Dr. Daniel Stern, Astrophysicist, JPL Dr. Jacqueline McCleary, Astrophysicist, JPL


** Latest on the solar cycle and start of the next maximum from  Bob Zimmerman

What is clear is that the activity does herald the next maximum. As in the past few months, the sunspots in August all had polarities that assigned them to the new maximum. While it is not impossible for there to be a handful of sunspots in the next few months that belong to the last maximum, it now appears that the last cycle is pretty much over. We are entering the ramp up to the next maximum, presently predicted by a portion of the solar science community aligned with NOAA to be a weak one.

Above all, the real scientific mystery remains: Scientists do not really yet understand the causes and processes that produce this sunspot cycle. They know without question that it is caused by cycles in the Sun’s magnetic dynamo, but their understanding of the details behind this process remain quite unknown.

Furthermore, the Sun’s importance to the climate on Earth is unquestioned. What we still do not know is its precise influence on long term climate changes. There is circumstantial evidence that it causes cooling and warming of the climate on scales of decades and centuries, but this remains unconfirmed. Once again, our understanding of the details behind the changes in the climate remain quite unknown.

** The Parker Solar Probe opens up science data from fourth orbit around the Sun.: Parker Solar Probe Mission Releases Science Data from Fourth Orbit – Parker Solar Probe

Just over a month after Parker Solar Probe marked two action-packed years in space—and hot on the heels of its third Venus flyby and fifth solar orbit—the mission to “touch” the Sun released another trove of data to the public on Sept. 15.

This latest data captured by the spacecraft’s four instrument suites spans Parker Solar Probe’s fourth orbit around the Sun, including its first two Venus flybys, maneuvers used to bring the spacecraft’s orbit in closer to the Sun.

The public can access the latest data through NASA’s Space Physics Data Facility and Solar Data Analysis Center, the APL Parker Solar Probe Gateway, and the Science Operation Centers of the four science investigation teams (the University of California, Berkeley; Princeton University; Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; and the Naval Research Laboratory). Data from Parker Solar Probe’s first three orbits is also available.

** A preview of Solar Cycle 25: Hotel Mars – John Batchelor Show/The Space Show – Wed. Sept.23.2020John Batchelor and Dr. David Livingston interviewed Dr. W. Dean Pesnell about the current Solar Cycle 25:

Dr. Pesnell was part of the Solar Cycle 24 Prediction Panel so we started off with a short Q&A about the Solar Cycle Prediction Panel. Dr. Pesnell talked about the sun having been studied for around 400 years but now with solar satellites and technology, we are learning much more about it as well sunspots and their cycles. Some of the additional topics talked about included space mission planning with space weather. Artemis was a good example of this, plus he talked about planning shielding for CME protection and more. I asked our guest about sunspots and climate change. You might be surprised by what he said on this topic. Dr. Pesnell had much to say about Cycle 25 which we are now in because it does and will impact Earth. Before our single segment ended, both John and Dr. Pesnell worked in additional topics you will want to hear about.


** A rusting Moon: Hotel Mars – John Batchelor/The Space Show – Wed. Sept.20.2020John Batchelor and Dr. David Livingston talk with Dr. Shuai Li from the University of Hawaii Geophysical Dept. talked about finding rust on the Moon and its probable cause.

** Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover resume exploration activities following 22nd lunar night hibernation:

** China to launch the Chang’e 5 mission this fall to gather a 2 kg lunar soil sample and bring it back to earth:

More about the Chang’e-5 mission:

China plans to launch the Chang’e-5 lunar probe by the end of this year, a senior designer said at the ongoing 2020 China Space Conference in Fuzhou, capital of east China’s Fujian Province, which will continue until Sept 21.

* Chang’e-4 studies of landing site illuminate a history of asteroid impacts: China Focus: China’s Chang’e-4 probe reveals landing site impact history on moon’s far side – Xinhua

The results showed that the materials detected by Yutu-2 come from the nearby Finsen impact crater rather than the basalt erupted from the lunar mantle, which filled the bottom of the Von Karman Crater. It was also revealed that the landing area had experienced multiple impact events and basalt magma eruptions.

The new discoveries are of great significance to understanding the evolutionary history of the South Pole-Aitken basin of the moon, as well as to the following exploration and research on the composition and structure of the lunar interior, said Lin Yangting, a researcher with the IGG.

The internal evolution of the moon has long ceased due to its small mass. Therefore, impact craters and the deposit profile of crater ejecta on the lunar surface have recorded the impact history of asteroids in the earth-moon system.

According to Lin, the subsurface structure of the moon recorded the number and scale of large-scale impact events and magma eruptions, as well as their temporal and spatial relationships. However, the fine structure of the moon’s shallow layers remains a mystery to humans.

The modification of lunar surface materials by asteroid impacts has a direct influence on the results obtained from orbital observations and landing site reconnaissance, and affects how scientists will implement the lunar sample return missions in the future, Lin said.

** The Moon’s appearance depends on your point of view: Can the Moon be upside down? | The Planetary Society

Did you know that the Moon looks different from Earth’s northern and southern hemispheres? Someone looking at the Moon from our north pole would see it upside down compared to someone seeing it from the south pole. And someone on the equator would see it at various orientations throughout the day.

** Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spots a donut:

Impact craters dominate the lunar landscape. Most are shaped like circles, some like ovals, and there are even the occasional square craters.  But sometimes, we find craters that look like donuts! Craters not only vary in shape but also in complexity. There are simple craters and complex craters with ring structures and mountains at the center. Somewhere in between is Bell E, a small crater located within the larger Bell crater. These donut-shaped formations are commonly known as concentric craters. Many questions remain on the origin of donut craters. While there have been several ideas about their origin, including double impacts, the currently favored hypotheses involve volcanic processes and compositional variations.

Another LRO image shows that the lunar surface is not unchanging:

“[The image] shows a spectacular landslide almost a mile and a half long that had occurred on the interior rim of a crater on the Moon“.

“Mass movement of rocky debris down the inner crater wall and onto the floor of Kepler crater. Image width 3 kilometers, north is up, M114206456LR [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].”
Background info on the LRO : Your Guide to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter – The Planetary Society


** Exoplanet-finder TESS creates a grand panorama of the Northern Sky:

Familiar stars shine, nebulae glow, and nearby galaxies tantalize in a new panorama of the northern sky assembled from 208 pictures captured by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). The planet hunter imaged about 75% of the sky in a two-year-long survey and is still going strong.

TESS has discovered 74 exoplanets, or worlds beyond our solar system. Astronomers are sifting through some 1,200 additional exoplanet candidates, where potential new worlds await confirmation. More than 600 of these candidates lie in the northern sky.

TESS locates planets by simultaneously monitoring many stars over large regions of the sky and watching for tiny changes in their brightness. When a planet passes in front of its host star from our perspective, it blocks some of the star’s light, causing it to temporarily dim. This event is called a transit, and it repeats with every orbit of the planet around the star. This technique has proven to be the most successful planet-finding strategy so far, accounting for about three quarters of the nearly 4,300 exoplanets now known. The data collected also allow for the study of other phenomena such as stellar variations and supernova explosions in unprecedented detail.

The northern mosaic covers less of the sky than its southern counterpart, which was imaged during the mission’s first year of operations. For about half of the northern sectors, the team decided to angle the cameras further north to minimize the impact of scattered light from Earth and the Moon. This results in a prominent gap in coverage.

** Study examines exoplanets that might be more suitable for life than Earth: Some planets may be better for life than Earth – WSU Insider/Washington State University

A study led by Washington State University scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch recently published in the journal Astrobiology details characteristics of potential “superhabitable” planets which include those that are older, a little larger, slightly warmer and possibly wetter than Earth. Life could also more easily thrive on planets that circle more slowly changing stars with longer lifespans than our sun.

The 24 top contenders for superhabitable planets are all more than 100 light years away, but Schulze-Makuch said the study could help focus future observation efforts, such as from NASA’s James Web Space Telescope, the LUVIOR space observatory and the European Space Agency’s PLATO space telescope.

** Another study using TESS looks at how “super-flares” from some types of stars could limit the development and sustainability of life: New research explores how super flares affect planets’ habitability – UNC News.

Ultraviolet light from giant stellar flares can destroy a planet’s habitability. New research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will help astrobiologists understand how much radiation planets experience during super flares and whether life could exist on worlds beyond our solar system.

Super flares are bursts of energy that are 10 to 1,000 times larger than the biggest flares from the Earth’s sun. These flares can bathe a planet in an amount of ultraviolet light huge enough to doom the chances of life surviving there.

Researchers from UNC-Chapel Hill have for the first time measured the temperature of a large sample of super flares from stars, and the flares’ likely ultraviolet emissions. Their findings, published Oct. 5 ahead of print in Astrophysical Journal, will allow researchers to put limits on the habitability of planets that are targets of upcoming planet-finding missions.

Universe: The end (or not)

** The Space Show – Friday Sept.4.2020Dr. Matthew Caplan talked “about theories on how the universe will end. Other topics included extra terrestrial life, New Physics, alternative universes, stars and plans, super novas and much more”.

** New Nobelist Roger Penrose discusses a theory that describes a never-ending universe cycling through Big Bangs and infinite expansions: Roger Penrose – Did the Universe Begin? – Closer To Truth – YouTube

Some scientists claim that the universe did not have a beginning. Some theologians contend that the universe did not need a beginning. Yet the universe is expanding, and so run the movie in reverse and there seems to be a beginning. What stakes are riding on whether the universe had a beginning?

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