The Same Technology Could Search for Microbes in Mars Rocks or Under the ice on Europa

Ever since it landed in the Jezero Crater on Feb. 18th, 2021, the Perseverance rover has been prepping its scientific instruments to begin searching for signs of past life on the Red Planet. These include spectrometers that will scan Martian rocks for organics and minerals that form in the presence of water and a caching system that will store samples of Martian soil and rock for retrieval by a future mission.

These telltale indicators could be signs of past life, which would most likely take the form of fossilized microbes. In the near future, a similar instrument could be used to search for present-day extraterrestrial life. It’s known as the Wireline Analysis Tool for the Subsurface Observation of Northern ice sheets (WATSON), and could be used to find evidence of life inside “ocean worlds” like Europa, Enceladus, and Titan.

Continue reading “The Same Technology Could Search for Microbes in Mars Rocks or Under the ice on Europa”

Trojan Mission Lucy Tested its Solar Panels for the First Time. Those Things are Huge

Space missions often have to go where the sun don’t shine. Or at least where it shines very faintly.  That is particularly important if the mission draws its power from the sun.  Luckily, engineers have a way of dealing with that problem – just make really really big solar panels.  That is exactly what they did for Lucy, a mission to visit the Trojan asteroids around Jupiter.  Those sails have now been tested on the ground, and they are magnificent.

Continue reading “Trojan Mission Lucy Tested its Solar Panels for the First Time. Those Things are Huge”

Gaia Finds 12 Examples of Einstein Crosses; Galaxies Being Gravitationally Lensed so we see Them Repeated 4 Times

In 1915, Einstein put the finishing touches on his Theory of General Relativity (GR), a revolutionary new hypothesis that described gravity as a geometric property of space and time. This theory remains the accepted description of gravitation in modern physics and predicts that massive objects (like galaxies and galaxy clusters) bend the very fabric of spacetime.

As result, massive objects (like galaxies and galaxy clusters) can act as a lens that will deflect and magnify light coming from more distant objects. This effect is known as “gravitational lensing,” and can result in all kinds of visual phenomena – not the least of which is known as an “Einstein Cross.” Using data from the ESA’s Gaia Observatory, a team of researchers announced the discovery of 12 new Einstein Crosses.

Continue reading “Gaia Finds 12 Examples of Einstein Crosses; Galaxies Being Gravitationally Lensed so we see Them Repeated 4 Times”

Brown Dwarfs can Spin so Fast They Almost Tear Themselves Apart

We tend to image planets as spheres. Held together by gravity, the material of a planet compresses and shifts until gravity and pressure reach a balance point known as hydrostatic equilibrium. Hydrostatic equilibrium is one of the defining characteristics of a planet. If a planet were stationary and of uniform density, then at equilibrium, it would be a perfect sphere. But planets rotate, and so even the largest planets aren’t a perfect sphere.

Continue reading “Brown Dwarfs can Spin so Fast They Almost Tear Themselves Apart”

OSIRIS-REx Did One Last Close Flyby of Asteroid Bennu. It’s Almost Time to Come Home

After more than two years in orbit around asteroid Bennu, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is ready to come home. It’s bringing with it a pristine sample of space rocks that geologists here on Earth are eager to study up close. The sample will arrive in September 2023, but we won’t have to wait nearly that long for new data from OSIRIS-REx. Last week, the probe carried out one final flyby of Bennu, in an effort to photograph the sample collection site. The photographs are being downlinked now, and should be here by midweek.

If you’ve been following the OSIRIS-REx mission, you probably already know why scientists are keen to see these photographs, but if you haven’t, hold on to your hats – it’s a wild story.

Continue reading “OSIRIS-REx Did One Last Close Flyby of Asteroid Bennu. It’s Almost Time to Come Home”

How’s the Weather in Jezero Crater? According to Perseverance: Cold

On February 18th, 2021, the Perseverance rover landed in the Jezero crater on Mars. Shortly thereafter, it powered up some of the scientific instruments it will use to conduct science operations and search for potential evidence of past life. One such instrument is the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA), which turned on for 30 minutes and issued the rover’s first weather report from Mars.

The forecast? Bitter Cold! Basically, the temperature was lower than what you’d expect on a harsh and windy winter’s night here on Earth! According to the data the rover sent back, which was received by mission controllers at 05:25 P.M. EST (08:25 P.M. PST), the local temperature around the Octavia E. Bulter landing in the Jezero crater was -20 °C (- 4 °F) when MEDA started recording, then dropped to -25.6 °C (-14 °F) within 30 minutes.

Continue reading “How’s the Weather in Jezero Crater? According to Perseverance: Cold”

Primordial Asteroids That Never Suffered Massive Collisions all Seem to be Larger Than 100 km. Why?

Planetary systems form out of the remnant gas and dust of a primordial star. The material collapses into a protoplanetary disk around the young star, and the clumps that form within the disk eventually become planets, asteroids, or other bodies. Although we understand the big picture of planetary formation, we’ve yet to fully understand the details. That’s because the details are complicated.

Continue reading “Primordial Asteroids That Never Suffered Massive Collisions all Seem to be Larger Than 100 km. Why?”

What Would Raindrops be Like on Other Worlds?

Precipitation is much more widespread throughout that solar system than commonly assumed.  Obviously it rains water on Earth.  But it snows carbon dioxide on Mars, rains methane on Titan, sulfuric acid on Venus, and could potentially rain diamonds on Neptune.  The type of material falling out of the sky is almost as varied as the planets themselves.  New research from a team led by Kaitlyn Loftus at Harvard found a similarity for all of the liquid materials that constitute rain throughout the solar system – all of the drops, no matter the material, are roughly the same size.

Continue reading “What Would Raindrops be Like on Other Worlds?”

Jupiter Could Make an Ideal Dark Matter Detector

So, you want to find dark matter, but you don’t know where to look? A giant planet might be exactly the kind of particle detector you need! Luckily, our solar system just happens to have a couple of them available, and the biggest and closest is Jupiter. Researchers Rebecca Leane (Stanford) and Tim Linden (Stockholm) released a paper this week describing how the gas giant just might hold the key to finding the elusive dark matter.

Continue reading “Jupiter Could Make an Ideal Dark Matter Detector”