Today is a milestone in NASA’s Perseverance mission to Mars. At 1:40 pm Pacific time today, the rover will have traveled 235.4 million km (146.3 million miles). That means the spacecraft is halfway to Mars and its rendezvous with Jezero Crater. The spacecraft isn’t traveling in a straight line, and the planets are moving, so it’s not equidistant to both planets.
“Although we’re halfway into the distance we need to travel to Mars, the rover is not halfway between the two worlds,” Kangas explained. “In straight-line distance, Earth is 26.6 million miles [42.7 million kilometers] behind Perseverance and Mars is 17.9 million miles [28.8 million kilometers] in front.”
But today’s still a good time to take another look at Jezero Crater, and why NASA chose it as the mission’s target.
Continue reading “This is What Perseverance’s Landing Site Looked Like Billions of Years Ago. See Why it’s Such a Compelling Target?”
Does the life of an astronomer or planetary scientists seem exciting?
Sitting in an observatory, sipping warm cocoa, with high-tech tools at your disposal as you work diligently, surfing along on the wavefront of human knowledge, surrounded by fine, bright people. Then one day—Eureka!—all your hard work and the work of your colleagues pays off, and you deliver to humanity a critical piece of knowledge. A chunk of knowledge that settles a scientific debate, or that ties a nice bow on a burgeoning theory, bringing it all together. Conferences…tenure…Nobel Prize?
Well, maybe in your first year of university you might imagine something like that. But science is work. And as we all know, not every minute of one’s working life is super-exciting and gratifying.
Sometimes it can be dull and repetitious.
Continue reading “Machine Learning Software is Now Doing the Exhausting Task of Counting Craters On Mars”
Astronomer William Herschel discovered Uranus—and two of its moons—230 years ago. Now a group of astronomers working with data from the telescope that bears his name, the Herschel Space Observatory, have made an unexpected discovery. It looks like Uranus’ moons bear a striking similarity to icy dwarf planets.
The Herschel Space Observatory has been retired since 2013. But all of its data is still of interest to researchers. This discovery was a happy accident, resulting from tests on data from the observatory’s camera detector. Uranus is a very bright infrared energy source, and the team was measuring the influence of very bright infrared objects on the camera.
The images of the moons were discovered by accident.
Continue reading “Uranus’ Moons are Surprisingly Similar to Dwarf Planets in the Kuiper Belt”
In August 2014, the ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft arrived at its destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, after a 10 year journey. Rosetta carried a small companion, the Philae Lander. On November 12th, Philae was sent to the surface of Comet 67P. Unfortunately, things didn’t go exactly as planned, and the lander’s mission lasted only 63 hours.
During that time, it gathered what data it could. But mission scientists weren’t certain of its precise location, meaning its data was difficult to interpret accurately. Only when scientists knew precisely where Philae was located on the comet, could they make best use of all of its data.
Continue reading “Rosetta’s Philae Lander Was Alive on the Surface of 67P for 63 Hours, Trying to Communicate”
At the bottom of the ocean in the South Pacific Gyre, there’s a sediment layer that is among the most nutrient-starved environments on Earth. Because of conditions in that area, there’s almost no “marine snow”—the shower of organic debris common in the ocean—that falls to the ocean floor. Without all that organic debris falling to the floor, there’s a severe lack of nutrients there, and that makes this one of the least hospitable places on Earth.
A team of researchers took sediment samples from that area, and extracted 101.5 million year old microbes. When they “fed” those microbes, they sprang back to life.
The results are expanding our knowledge of microbial life and how long it can be dormant when conditions force it to be.
Continue reading “Microbes Were Dormant for Over 100 Million Years, But They Were Able to Spring Back to Life”
Most of us will be forgotten only a generation or two after we pass. But some few of us will be remembered: great scientists, leaders, or generals, for example. But we can add history’s great artists to that list, and one in particular: Johannes Vermeer.
Vermeer was largely ignored during the two centures that followed his death, and died as other painters often did: penniless. But as more time has passed, the Dutch Baroque painter has grown in reputation, as historians increasingly recognize him as a master.
Continue reading “Astronomers Do the Math to Figure Out Exactly When Johannes Vermeer Painted this, More than 350 Years Ago”
Every 26 months, the orbits of both Earth and Mars conspire to make travel between the two planets shorter. Launching in one of these windows means the travel time can be reduced to only six months. Our robotic missions to the Martian surface, and missions that place satellites in Martian orbit, launch during these windows.
But are there other alternatives to this mission architecture?
One group of researchers says that crewed missions to Mars shouldn’t go directly to their destination; they should slingshot past Venus first.
Continue reading “Instead of Going Straight to Mars, Astronauts Should Make a Slingshot Past Venus First”
Any mission to Mars requires deeper planning than missions to the ISS or the Moon. Based purely on the length of the mission, contingencies branch outwards in complex logistical pathways. What if there’s an accident? What if someone’s appendix bursts?
And what if surgery is needed?
Continue reading “How Would We Do Surgery in Space?”
Neutrinos are puzzling things. They’re tiny particles, almost massless, with no electrical charge. They’re notoriously difficult to detect, too, and scientists have gone to great lengths to detect them. The IceCube Neutrino Observatory, for instance, tries to detect neutrinos with strings of detectors buried down to a depth of 2450 meters (8000 ft.) in the dark Antarctic ice.
How’s that for commitment.
Continue reading “Detecting the Neutrinos From a Supernova That’s About to Explode”
We all know what water is. And what rock is. The difference is crystal clear. Well, here on Earth it is.
But on other worlds? The difference might not be so clear.
Continue reading “Deep Down in Ocean Worlds, it’s Difficult to Tell Where the Oceans End and the Rock Begins”