The Bottom of Valles Marineris Seems to Have Water Mixed in With the Regolith

For generations, humans have dreamed of the day when we might set foot on Mars. For many others, the dream has been one of settling on Mars and creating an outpost of human civilization there. Today, it looks as though both of these dreams are getting closer to becoming a reality, as space agencies and the commercial space industry are deep into planning regular crewed missions to the Red Planet. And when planning for long-duration missions to destinations in deep space, a vital aspect is assessing the local environment.

For example, missions to Mars will need to be as self-sufficient as possible, which means using local resources to meet the needs of the mission and astronauts – a process known as in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). According to new data from the ESA-Roscomos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), the massive equatorial canyon known as Valles Marineris (Valley of Mars) contains vast deposits of ice that have remained hidden to scientists until now.

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After 10 Days of Dangerous, Careful Work, James Webb has Been Fully Fueled up

On Oct. 12th, 2021, after years of waiting and cost overruns, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) finally arrived safely at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The crews began unboxing the next-generation observatory and getting it ready for integration with the Ariane 5 rocket that will take it to space. Then, an “incident” occurred where a clamp band suddenly released, sending vibrations throughout the facility. Once again, the JWST’s launch date was pushed back while crews investigated the source of the problem.

But lo and behold, the due diligence is now done, and the James Webb is back on track! According to the latest news from the ESA, crews have finished fueling the JWST’s thrusters in preparation for its launch, which is scheduled for Dec. 22nd. The Webb will use these thrusters to make course corrections after separating from the Ariane 5 rocket in orbit, maintaining its prescribed orbit, and repointing the observatory during operations.

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A Machine-Learning Algorithm Just Found 301 Additional Planets in Kepler Data

Artist's concept of the Kepler mission with Earth in the background. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Looking to the future, astronomers are excited to see how machine learning – aka. deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) – will enhance surveys. One field that is already benefitting in the search for extrasolar planets, where researchers rely on machine-learning algorithms to distinguish between faint signals and background noise. As this field continues to transition from discovery to characterization, the role of machine intelligence is likely to become even more critical.

Take the Kepler Space Telescope, which accounted for 2879 confirmed discoveries (out of the 4,575 exoplanets discovered made to date) during its nearly ten years of service. After examining the data collected by Kepler using a new deep-learning neural network called ExoMiner, a research team at NASA’s Ames Research Center was able to detect 301 more planetary signals and add them to the growing census of exoplanets.

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“Incident” that Occurred During Loading Pushes the Webb Launch Date to Dec. 22nd

At Europe’s Spaceport near Kourou in French Guiana, technicians are busy getting the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) ready for launch. The observatory arrived at the facility on Oct. 12th and was placed inside the upper stage of the Ariane 5 rocket that will carry it to space on Nov. 11th. The upper stage was then hoisted high above the core stage and boosters so that a team of engineers could integrate them.

Unfortunately, an “incident” occurred shortly after when the engineers attempted to attach the upper stage to the launch vehicle adapter (LVA) to the launch vehicle. According to a NASA Blogs post, the incident involved the sudden release of a clamp band (which secures the JWST to the LVA), which sent vibrations throughout the observatory. According to NASA, this incident could push the JWST’s launch date (slated for Dec. 18th) to Dec. 22nd.

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There’s Enough Oxygen in the Lunar Regolith to Support Billions of People on the Moon

When it comes to the future of space exploration, a handful of practices are essential for mission planners. Foremost among them is the concept of In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), providing food, water, construction materials, and other vital elements using local resources. And when it comes to missions destined for the Moon and Mars in the coming years, the ability to harvest ice, regolith, and other elements are crucial to mission success.

In preparation for the Artemis missions, NASA planners are focused on finding the optimal way to produce oxygen gas (O2) from all of the elemental oxygen locked up in the Moon’s surface dust (aka. lunar regolith). In fact, current estimates indicate that there is enough elemental oxygen contained in the top ten meters (33 feet) of lunar regolith to create enough O2 for every person on Earth for the next 100,000 years – more than enough for a lunar settlement!

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Finally! Here’s the Video of Webb’s Unboxing

It’s been a long time coming.  Finally, after years of delays and billions of dollars in budget overruns, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is ready to fly.  To celebrate the occasion, ESA released a video showing the “unboxing” of one of the most highly advanced technical achievements in human history.  It is truly as impressive as it sounds.

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Artemis 1 Comes Together as the Orion Capsule is Stacked on Top of the Space Launch System

Since 2004, NASA has been working on the launch system that will send astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era. These efforts bore fruit in 2011 with the proposed Space Launch System (SLS), the heaviest and most powerful rocket since the Saturn V. Paired with the Orion spacecraft, this vehicle will be the workhorse of a new space architecture that would establish a program of sustained lunar exploration and even crewed missions to Mars.

Due to repeated delays, cost overruns, and the expedited timeframe for Project Artemis, there have been serious doubts that the SLS will be ready in time. Luckily, ground crews and engineers at NASA’s Launch Control Center (LCC) – part of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida – recently finished stacking the Artemis I mission. The vehicle is now in the final phase of preparations for this uncrewed circumlunar flight in February 2022.

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A new Climate Model Suggests That Venus Never had Oceans

Thanks to evidence provided by missions like NASA’s Magellan spacecraft, scientists have theorized that Venus likely experienced a catastrophic resurfacing event about 500 million years ago (give or take 200 Mya). This is believed to be the reason why Venus is such a hellish place today, with an atmosphere that is 92 times as dense as Earth’s, predominantly composed of carbon dioxide (CO2), and temperatures hot enough to melt lead.

The question of what Venus was like before this event took place – particularly, whether or not it had oceans – has been the subject of debate ever since. While many believe that Venus’s surface was covered in large bodies of water, a recent study has contradicted this claim. Using a state-of-the-art climate model, a team of French researchers has developed an alternative scenario of how Venus evolved to become what it is today.

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I Could Look at James Webb Unboxing Pictures all Day

On Oct. 12th, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) arrived safely at Port de Pariacabo in French Guiana after spending 16 days traveling between California and South America. Since then, the observatory was transported to a cleanroom in the Guyanese Space Center (GSC). Here, crews “unboxed” the observatory from its protective cargo container in preparation for launch – now targetted for Dec. 18th.

These events were captured in a series of beautiful images recently shared by the Guyanese Space Center, the European Space Agency (ESA), and NASA via their JWST Twitter accounts (more are posted on the NASA JWST Flickr page). This process involved carefully lifting the telescope from its packing container and raising it vertically, the same configuration Webb its launches to space aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.

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Europa has Water in its Atmosphere

Since the Voyager probes passed through the Jupiter system in 1979, scientists have been intrigued and mystified by its moon Europa. Once the images these probes acquired of the moon’s icy surface returned to Earth, scientists began to speculate about the possibility of a subsurface ocean. Since then, the detection of plume activity and other lines of evidence have bolstered this theory and fed speculation that there could be life beneath Europa’s icy surface.

According to new research, another critical piece of evidence of Europa’s watery nature has at least been confirmed. Using a similar technique that confirmed the presence of atmospheric water vapor in Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, Lorenz Roth of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology confirmed that Europa has water vapor in its atmosphere. This discovery could lead to a greater understanding of Europa’s atmosphere and surface environment, informing missions headed there in the near future.

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