As you read this, indispensable clues to the origins of the known universe are plummeting from unimaginable heights straight for the Australian Outback. There, somewhere in the desert wilderness of Woomera, a capsule ferrying sample material from an asteroid — the primary goal of a six-year-long mission spanning billions of miles — is set to make its triumphant arrival on Earth.
The capsule is expected to herald its re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere with a brilliant fireball around 2 to 3 a.m. local time (12-1 p.m. ET). The event will be streamed here by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, which is spearheading the mission.
Inside the capsule is just a little bit of dust and dirt with potentially grand ramifications. It comes from Ryugu, a jet black asteroid roughly one mile wide, which orbits the sun between Earth and Mars, roughly 180 million miles from our planet.
Researchers expect the sample to contain organic matter similar to the early space rocks that combined to make planets, which, with careful study, may offer a glimpse of the mysterious processes that turned the universe into what it is today. In other words, JAXA explains, scientists hope that by examining the sample, they may “approach the secrets of the birth of the solar system and the birth of life.”
Scientists have studied the composition of asteroids before. But usually the material they’re looking at has been radically changed by its arrival on Earth, after the rocks are burnt up by atmospheric entry and tainted by other matter it touches after landing. This sample, taken directly from the asteroid and protected by the capsule, should offer scientists a more accurate view of the organic matter in its natural state.
Still, it has been no easy feat to return the sample to Earth, and certainly not to obtain it in the first place.
After its launch in late 2014, JAXA’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft spent 3 1/2 years getting into position by orbiting the sun. After its arrival at Ryugu in 2018, the craft first sent a lander to the surface before making two trips of its own to collect material. Before its second visit to Ryugu’s surface in 2019, Hayabusa2 prepared a crater for itself with plastic explosives.
On its return trip, the capsule containing the sample separated from Hayabusa2 more than 130,000 miles from Earth — a distance that would get you more than halfway from your home to the moon. And JAXA researchers are aiming to land the little pod inside an area spanning about 40 square miles in the Australian Outback.
As if that weren’t enough, they will also have to find the darn thing, which is expected to contain material weighing just one gram. It’s a search that is expected to require at least five antennas, a helicopter and the support of the Australian space agency and the country’s military.
The specimens, which are estimated to weigh 1 gram in total, include the world’s first subsurface asteroid sample. Scientists hope the primordial materials will help further research into the origin of life on Earth and the evolution of the solar system.
Masaki Fujimoto, deputy director-general of JAXA’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, told reporters on Friday local time that researchers will move quickly to get the capsule, once located, over to an Australian Department of Defense facility for inspection.
“We don’t want to miss anything,” he said at a briefing, according to a translation by Japanese media, “so as soon as the capsule is back to the headquarter building we can extract the gas sample so the best science can be obtained from the precious sample we are returning from asteroid Ryugu.”
This will not be the end of the line for Hayabusa2, however. The spacecraft will not follow the capsule back to Earth but rather continue on to another asteroid traveling between Earth and Mars, which it is expected to reach by 2031.
Tonight, Uranus will be on display for all to see – BGR – BGR
- Uranus isn’t the easiest planet to spot in the night sky, and most of the time we can’t see it at all, but tonight it’ll be a bit easier to spot the distant, frosty world.
- NASA says that Uranus will be near Mars in the night sky, and if you have something like a nice pair of binoculars or, better yet, a telescope, you should be able to see it.
- The planet, which is a pale blue and white, will appear tiny at such a distance, but it’s actually nearly 15 times more massive than Earth.
When you gaze up at the night sky you see plenty of stars, but can you pick out planets when you see them? Sometimes it’s possible to spot the likes of Jupiter and Mars without a telescope, but more often than not, folks with “average” eyes can’t tell much of a difference. Tonight, however, you might be able to catch a glimpse of Uranus, and all you should need is a decent pair of binoculars.
Uranus huge, blue, and stinky. It’s also one of the most interesting planets in our system, and it’s not often that we have guideposts in the sky in order to see it. This time around, Uranus will appear close to Mars in the sky, making it a bit easier to spot, especially if you have the hardware to zoom in a little closer.
Tonight, Uranus will appear between our own Moon and Mars in the sky. It’ll be tiny and very faint, but it’ll be there, shining a pale blue and just waiting for someone to come visit in search of life.
“The distant, outer planet Uranus is too faint for most of us to see with the unaided eye, and it can be tough to locate in the sky without a computer-guided telescope,” NASA explains in its weekly skywatching tips post. “But Uranus can be located now right between the Moon and Mars.”
Uranus is strange and special for a variety of reasons. It’s very cold, which isn’t particularly unusual, but the planet happens to rotate on a 90-degree angle compared to the rest of the planets in our system. The theory is that something huge slammed into Uranus a long time ago, causing it to shift and ultimately rotate at an angle that doesn’t match up with its own orbit around the Sun.
Additionally, the planet’s moons have been of interest to scientists for some time, mainly because they’re thought to be covered in ice that may hide liquid water beneath it. If that’s the case, those moons could harbor life in some form, but we wouldn’t know for sure until we actually went and checked it out.
In any case, Uranus will be in the sky tonight, and if you have a pair of binoculars or a telescope, you’ll have a great shot at seeing it. Assuming the weather cooperates, of course.
Giant predatory worm's ancient fossil burrows discovered – CBC.ca
Millions of years ago, giant predatory worms as long as an adult human terrorized the ocean. The fearsome creatures hid under the sea floor, waiting to seize unwitting prey with their slicing jaws and drag them underground to be consumed — like they do today, recently discovered fossils suggest.
The fossils are “very, very distinctive,” said Shahin Dashtgard, a professor of earth sciences at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., who co-authored a new study describing them.
“They’re like nothing we’ve ever seen before in the rock record.”
Unlike traditional fossils that are usually formed from the hard parts of an animal’s body, such as its bones or shell, the worm fossils are “trace fossils” consisting of non-biological traces such as footprints or, in this case, a burrow. The fossils are described in a study published this week in the journal Scientific Reports.
Dashtgard noted that because worms have soft bodies, they’re rarely fossilized.
“So, the burrows they make is really the only record we have of what the ecosystem would look like and how diverse the ecosystem was.”
Evoke the monsters of science fiction
The researchers propose that the ancient worm was similar to the modern-day Bobbit worm or sand striker, a marine predator that lives in tropical and subtropical seas in the Indo-Pacific Region and grows up to three metres long. It hides in underground burrows with just its head exposed, striking and grabbing prey, such as fish or shellfish with sharp, scissor-like jaws and dragging them into its burrow.
Bobbit worms are named for the slicing ability of their jaws, which was likened to the slicing that abused wife Lorena Bobbit did to remove her husband’s penis in 1989. They have also been compared to sand crawling monsters in science fiction worlds such as Star Wars, Dune and Tremors.
Bobbit worms and their relatives are thought to have existed for a very long time. Fossil jaws of what is thought to be the oldest Bobbit worm have been found in a 400 million year old rock formation in Ontario.
But because they’re soft, worms are rarely found in the fossil record.
That’s why researchers have begun looking for trace fossils of soft-bodied marine animals. Ludvig Löwemark, a professor of geosciences at National Taiwan University and Masakazu Nara, a professor of biological sciences at Kochi University in Japan, two co-authors of the study, were looking for trace fossils of another ancient animal when they came across something unusual in a 20 million-year-old sandstone formation in Taiwan.
Figuring out what it was became the project of Yu Yen Pan, a master’s student working with Löwemark who is now a PhD student at Simon Fraser University.
Key piece of the puzzle
The rock where the fossils were originally found, Badouzi promontory, was an ancient continental shelf about 30 or 40 metres below the surface of the ocean, said Pan. It was likely similar to the environment found off the coast of Taiwan today. Other fossil evidence shows that it was likely a coral reef populated by animals such as stingrays and other fish, sea urchins and crustaceans such as shrimp and lobsters.
The first fossils were mostly fragments left behind by erosion, so the researchers decided to look for similar fossils in another part of the same rock layer some distance away in an area called Yehliu Geopark.
It wasn’t long before Löwemark called Pan over. He had found a complete fossil, starting with a funnel at the top that narrows to a cylindrical tube about three centimetres in diameter, descending straight into the ground for 70 or 80 centimetres, before bending horizontally into an L-shape, reaching a total length of about two metres
“We were super excited,” Pan recalled. “This really could help us to connect the puzzle together and make the story more complete.”
In total, the researchers found 319 fossil specimens at the two sites. A chemical analysis of the fossils found they were high in iron, which is typical of burrows made by soft-bodied animals. That’s because they tend to stabilize their burrows with mucus that attracts microbes that enrich the sediment with iron.
The fact that the tunnel was L-shaped also suggested that it was made by a soft-bodied animal, as such animals can’t dig too deep before the ground gets too hard and compacted for them to continue, and they need to start digging horizontally.
The burrows were different in size and shape from burrows made from other animals, such as eels or razor clams.
But when the researchers compared the fossil burrows to the burrows of modern Bobbit worms, which inhabit modern ecosystems not much different from those that the fossil was found in, they appeared very similar.
Dashtgard suggests that means the worms have been living in a similar environment for quite a long time — about 20 million years.
‘Feathery footprint’ from Taiwan
The researchers named their new fossil Pennichnus formosae. The first part of the name refers to the feathery (“penna” in Latin) “footprint” (“ichnus” in Latin) left in the top “funnel” of the burrow by the way the sediments were disturbed when the animal pulled its prey inside. “Formosae” after Formosa, a former name for Taiwan, honours the place it was found,
Pan said the fossil is notable because it provides clues about hunting behaviour of an ancient invertebrate, something that is quite rare.
David Rudkin was one of the researchers who studied the Ontario Bobbit worm jaw fossils but was not involved in the trace fossil study. Rudkin, a retired assistant curator at the Royal Ontario Museum and a retired lecturer at the University of Toronto, said while he isn’t an expert in trace fossils, he found the interpretation in the new study “pretty convincing.”
“The kicker, of course, would be finding a direct association in the form of either ‘jaw’ elements or soft-body bits within the burrows, left after the animal died in place,” he said in an email.
Unfortunately, the conditions that preserve burrows and those that preserve bodies tend to be quite different, so they’re rarely found together, he said.
“Under the circumstances,” he said, “I think the authors have done a nice job of making the case for these being Bobbit burrows!”
More burrows likely to be found
Murray Gingras is professor at the University of Alberta who studies traces made by modern animals and compares them to the fossil record. He wasn’t involved in the new study but has gone to Australia to study the burrows of modern Bobbit worms as part of his own research.
One challenge with trace fossils, he said, is that many animals can make very similar traces and figuring out which one any given trace came from requires some interpretation. But in this case, he thinks the researchers’ interpretation is reasonable and well argued.
“I think it’s a fun discovery,” he said.
He said he’s surprised such fossil burrows haven’t been found before given how widespread Bobbit worms are and how conspicuous their burrows are.
He suspects that many more will be found now that other researchers know what to look for, and that will help uncover the animals’ movements and distribution over the past 20 million years.
SpaceX opens up Starlink internet beta program to eligible Canadians – MobileSyrup
Starlink has opened up its beta program to more people, as the website now lets you sign up immediately if your location is eligible.
Reddit users have discovered that if you live in an eligible area, you are now able to sign up for the beta program and purchase the necessary equipment. Prior to this, you could only take part in the beta if you received an email invite from Starlink.
“Enter your email and service address below to participate in Starlink’s beta program. If service is not yet available in your area, we will notify you when it becomes available,” the website reads.
To check if you’re eligible for the beta program, you just need to head to the Starlink website and enter your home address. You’ll then be notified if you’re eligible for the program right away, after which you can place an order for the hardware package.
If your location is not eligible for the program, you can sign up to be notified of future beta opportunities in your area.
In terms of pricing, Starlink internet costs $129 per month in Canada and the equipment costs $649. Some Canadians who are already part of the beta have reported welcome improvements in connectivity.
Starlink aims to leverage an extensive network of hundreds of low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites to provide high-speed internet across parts of the U.S. and Canada. SpaceX recently launched its 17th batch of Starlink satellites, putting the total Starlink constellation size at almost 1,000.
Image credit: Starlink
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