NASA is Trying to Fix a Problem With one of Perseverance's Instruments

NASA’s Perseverance puts its robotic arm to work around a rocky outcrop called “Skinner Ridge” in a set of images captured in June and July 2022 by the rover’s Mastcam-Z camera system. SHERLOC is mounted on the end of the arm. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

There’s a problem with the Perseverance rover. One of its instruments, the laser-shooting SHERLOC, which is mounted on the end of the robotic arm, has a dust cover that is supposed to protect the instrument when it’s not in use. Unfortunately, the cover has been stuck open, and that can allow dust to collect on the sensitive optics. The cover is partially open, so the rover can’t use its laser on rock targets or collect mineral spectroscopy data. NASA engineers are investigating the problem and are hoping to devise a solution.

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Some Young Planets Are Flattened Smarties, not Spheres.

This image from supercomputer simulations shows how some exoplanets form as 'flattened Smarties' rather than spheres. It shows the same planet from the top (left) and the side (right.) The images are from supercomputer simulations of planetary formation. Image Credit: Fenton and Stamatellos 2024.

One of contemporary astronomy’s most pressing questions concerns planet formation. We can see more deeply than ever into very young solar systems where planets are taking shape in the disks around young stars. But our view is still clouded by all the gas and dust in these young systems.

The picture of planet formation just got cloudier with the discovery that some young planets are shaped like flattened candies rather than spheres.

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A Super-Earth (and Possible Earth-Sized) Exoplanet Found in the Habitable Zone

Artist depiction of the surface of a super-Earth orbiting a red dwarf. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Astronomers have found a new Super-Earth orbiting an M-dwarf (red dwarf) star about 137 light-years away. The planet is named TOI-715b, and it’s about 1.55 Earth’s radius and is inside the star’s habitable zone. There’s also another planetary candidate in the system. It’s Earth-sized, and if it’s confirmed, it will be the smallest habitable zone planet TESS has discovered so far.

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Giant Star Seen 150 Days Before it Exploded as a Supernova

Artist's impression of a supernova remnant. Credit: ESA/Hubble

Supernovae are relatively rare. It might not seem like it, but that’s because they’re so bright we can see them in other galaxies a great distance away. In fact, in 2022, astronomers spotted a supernova over 10 billion light-years away.

Any time astronomers spot a supernova, it’s an opportunity to learn more about these rare, cataclysmic explosions. It’s especially valuable if astronomers can get a good look at the progenitor star before it explodes.

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Betelgeuse. Before, During and After the Great Dimming

Image showing Betelgeuse (top left) and the dense nebulae of the Orion molecular cloud complex (Rogelio Bernal Andreo)
Orion and the molecular cloud covering the region. Betelgeuse is the red star in the upper left. (Credit : Rogelio Bernal Andreo)

When a prominent star in the night sky suddenly dims, it generates a lot of interest. That’s what happened with the red supergiant star Betelgeuse between November 2019 and May 2020. Betelgeuse will eventually explode as a supernova. Was the dimming a signal that the explosion was imminent?

No, and new research helps explain why.

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A Hot Jupiter With a Comet-Like Tail

The hot jupiter exoplanet WASP-69b orbits its star so closely that its atmosphere is being blown into space. Researchers made detailed observations of the planet, located about 160 light-years from Earth. They found that it has a comet-like tail extending about 560,000 km into space, about seven times the planet's diameter. Image Credit: Adam Makarenko/W. M. Keck Observatory

About 164 light-years away, a Hot Jupiter orbits its star so closely that it takes fewer than four days to complete an orbit. The planet is named WASP-69b, and it’s losing mass into space, stripped away by the star’s powerful energy. The planet’s lost atmosphere forms a trail that extends about 560,000 km (350,000 miles) into space.

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Planetesimals Are Buffeted by Wind in their Nebula, Throwing Debris into Space

This artist's illustration shows planetisimals around a young star. New research shows that planetesimals are blasted by headwind, losing debris into space. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Before planets form around a young star, the protosolar disk is populated with innumerable planetesimals. Over time, these planetesimals combine to form planets, and the core accretion theory explains how that happens. But before there are planets, the disk full of planetesimals is a messy place.

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Hubble Returns to Science Operations

After a fairly brief pause in operations, the Hubble Space Telescope is back to work. Image Credit: NASA/CSA/ESA/STScI

After a brief interruption, NASA announced that the Hubble Space Telescope is back in business. Problems with one of its gyros put the Hubble into safe mode back on November 19th. Now, the issue has been dealt with, and the world’s most productive space telescope is back online.

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What Would a Modern “Golden Record” Include?

Voyager's Golden Record. Credit: NASA/JPL
Voyager's Golden Record. Credit: NASA/JPL

Now that several decades have passed since the launch of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 in 1977, we look back on that time with a hazy sense of history and what the event meant for humanity’s ongoing odyssey. While the Voyager spacecraft were sober scientific missions, they also carried with them a hint of the deeper yearnings that lie inside humanity’s heart: the Golden Records.

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Fly Slowly Through Enceladus' Plumes to Detect Life

The plumes of Enceladus have phosphate-rich ice grains entrained. Credit: NASA
A NASA illustrations of Cassini flying through the plumes of Enceladus. Credit: NASA.

Enceladus is blasting water into space from the jets at its southern pole. This makes it the ideal place to send a dedicated mission, flying the spacecraft through the plumes with life-detection instruments s. A new study suggests that a spacecraft must proceed carefully through the plumes, keeping its speed below 4.2 km/second (2,236 miles per hour). Using a specialized, custom-built aerosol impact spectrometer at these speeds will allow fragile amino acids to be captured by the spacecraft’s sample collector. Any faster, they’ll shatter, providing inclusive results.

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