From asteroids and (interstellar) comets to black holes and the sun, 2019 has been full of amazing space science.
This past year has been a fantastic one for astronomy and planetary science. On New Year’s Day, two spacecraft reached their targets, and things took off from there. Join us as we review some of the hottest science news from the last 12 months.
Farthest flyby kicks off year
On New Year’s Day, 2019, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft zoomed by its target, 2012 MU69. This Kuiper Belt Object, which has since been officially named ‘Arrokoth,’ is the most distant object ever to ever be observed by a flyby from a spacecraft from Earth.
New Horizons revealed that Arrokoth looked like a flat snowman, with two pancake-like lobes joined together. The incredible object immediately revealed new information about how planets and other objects formed in the early solar system, thanks to its near-pristine characteristics. While New Horizons moves onward on a journey that will eventually take it out of the solar system, it continues to send information back to Earth about Arrokoth and will do so until mid-2020.
Visiting an asteroid
Also on New Year’s Eve this year, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (or the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft) entered into orbit around the asteroid Bennu. The craft arrived at Bennu in early December, and rang in the new year by firing its thrusters, which pushed it into the asteroid’s orbit, making Bennu the smallest object ever orbited by a spacecraft. With this maneuver, OSIRIS-REx also set a world record for closest orbit of an object, a record the craft later broke again this past year.
But the spacecraft didn’t spend the last 12 months just sitting in orbit around the asteroid. It began an in-depth study of the diamond-shaped object, searching for an ideal target area to grab a piece of Bennu in 2020. That spacecraft will then return the rocky sample to Earth for more in-depth study.
From what the craft has found so far, it seems like Bennu displays some surprising activity, like jetting material from its surface. OSIRIS-REx has also found an interesting ridge and some intriguing boulders on the asteroid. As the year came to a close, mission scientists selected a landing place, ‘Nightingale’, as the sample return site. OSIRIS-REx will continue to orbit Bennu until 2021, when it will collect a sample and return to Earth.
Bennu wasn’t the only asteroid that was visited by spacecraft in 2019. The Japanese mission Hayabusa2 was already orbiting the asteroid Ryugu when 2019 dawned. In February, the spacecraft used a sampler horn attached to its belly to gather material blown up from the surface by a bullet fired into the asteroid.
In April, a free-flying, single-shot ‘gun,’ known as the Small Carry-on Impactor, fired a second bullet into the asteroid’s surface after Hayabusa2 dropped a deployable camera and moved to the far side of the object. A third bullet shot into the asteroid in July, which excavated subsurface material that the spacecraft later collected in its horn.
On Nov. 12, packed with precious space rocks, Hayabusa2 bid Ryugu farewell and began its return trip to Earth. The spacecraft is expected to bring samples of the asteroid to Earth in late 2020. That may not be the end for Hayabusa2, however, as it has the potential to continue to study other asteroids.
A comet from another star
In late August, astronomers caught a glimpse of a new comet, named Borisov. for its discoverer. The fast-moving object was quickly characterized as an interstellar comet, originally born around another star and making a quick tour around our sun. Unlike fellow interstellar visitor ‘Oumuamua, which was only visible for a few short weeks, Borisov was discovered before it made its pass behind the sun and should be visible until late spring 2020, giving astronomers plenty of time to study it. Also unlike ‘Oumuamua, a mysterious object scientists had trouble characterizing, Borisov is clearly a comet with observable surface activity and a glowing tail.
Not only is Borisov another interstellar treat for planetary scientists – it also suggests that interstellar objects may be more common than previously suspected. After ‘Oumuamua’s 2017 visit, astronomers didn’t anticipate catching a sight of another interstellar object until the early-2020s, when the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) goes online. The LSST should be capable of catching more faint objects, allowing it to better spot interstellar interlopers than current instruments.
Photographing a black hole
The year wasn’t all about small bodies and planetary science. In 2019, astronomers made history by photographing a black hole.
Using the Event Horizon Telescope, an instrument made up of multiple telescopes spread around the globe, astronomers snapped a photo of the supermassive black hole at the center of the nearby galaxy M87, which lies 53.5 million light-years away. The monster black hole weighs in at about 6.5 billion times the mass of our sun, and is even larger than the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way.
Because the gravity of black holes swallows even light, the scientists didn’t capture a picture of the black hole itself. Instead, they photographed the it’s boundary, the event horizon, mapping out the black hole’s silhouette against the background radiation of the material swirling around it. These researchers hope to photograph the Milky Way’s own black hole in the near future.
In April, NASA’s InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) lander felt the ground move under its robotic feet as the spacecraft sensed its first confirmed marsquake. The Martian equivalent of earthquakes, marsquakes come from seismic waves traveling through the planet’s interior. Because Mars lacks tectonic plates, marsquakes occur less frequently than their terrestrial counterparts. Hopefully, the April marsquakes and other events will help the spacecraft on its eventual goal of tracing the interior of the Red Planet.
InSight also carried a mechanical mole with it to Mars. The instrument, a burrowing heat probe, was supposed to dig 10 to 16 feet (3 to 5 meters) beneath the planet’s surface. Shortly after its February deployment, however, the “mole” became stuck about 1 foot (0.3) meters down. It was designed to dig through sandy soils like those seen around Spirit and Opportunity, but the ground under Insight is different from other landing sites. So, even though the experiment isn’t going smoothly, it continues to teach scientists about the surface of Mars.
Probing the sun
Launched in 2018, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is on a mission to “touch the sun” as it draws closer to the planet over its seven-year mission.
Ultimately, the spacecraft will come within 3.9 million miles (6.2 million kilometers) of the sun’s surface, though it hasn’t gotten that close yet. The spacecraft made its second solar flyby between March 30 and April 19, 2019. Data from the first two flybys were released to the public earlier this year. The spacecraft made its third flyby in September, 2019. The next flyby will come just after the New Year, in January of 2020.
The sample, collected near the rim of Lara Crater, was the first untouched Apollo sample opened since the 1970s. A corresponding tube will be opened in January 2020. Scientists hope that, with new instruments and techniques, they will be able to gain more insights about the lunar surface and the moon overall.
After January, only two tubes, one from Apollo 15 and one from Apollo 16, will make up the remaining untouched samples.
While 2019 had many firsts, it also boasted a few lasts. In February, NASA declared its Opportunity Mars rover “dead,” eight months after a massive Martian dust storm silenced the solar-powered rover. Scientists suspect that dust covering the rover’s solar panels kept it from recharging, bringing an end to the longest running Martian mission ever.
Along with its sister rover Spirit, Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004. Each rover embarked on what were to be 90-day missions. However, over a decade and a half, Opportunity covered more than a marathon’s worth of ground, finding conclusive evidence that Mars hosted large bodies of liquid water in the past.
Opportunity analyzed clay materials, determining that large, kilometer-scale bodies of water once existed on the now-dry planet. The hard-working rover also determined that the Martian water was neither acidic nor basic, establishing the physical habitability of Mars during the same period that life on Earth was evolving. Traveling 28.06 miles (45.16 km) over its lifetime, Opportunity holds the record for distance traveled by any vehicle, robotic or crewed, on the surface of another world.
Mercury transit of 2019
Astronomers also experienced a last of sorts in 2019. On Nov. 11, the tiny planet Mercury made its last transit of the sun until 2032.
Planetary transits occur when a planet moves between Earth and the sun, and provide Earth-bound astronomers the opportunity to study the atmosphere of a world like Mercury, however thin it may be. To get in-depth observations like this, astronomers require the orbits of both worlds to line up precisely, a relatively rare occurrence.
Astronomers used ground-based telescopes, as well as other space-based instruments to document and study the historic event.
UPI Almanac for Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020 – UPI News
Today is Sunday, Sept. 27, the 271st day of 2020 with 95 to follow.
The moon is waxing. Morning stars are Jupiter, Mars, Neptune, Saturn, Uranus and Venus. Evening stars are Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Neptune, Saturn and Uranus.
Those born on this date are under the sign of Libra. They include statesman Samuel Adams in 1722; political cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1840; magician Harry Blackstone Sr. in 1885; actor Jayne Meadows in 1919; filmmaker Arthur Penn in 1922; actor William Conrad in 1920; actor Wilford Brimley in 1934; golf Hall of Fame member Kathy Whitworth in 1939 (age 81); rock musician Randy Bachman in 1943 (age 77); singer Meat Loaf, born Michael Lee Aday, in 1947 (age 73); baseball Hall of Fame member Mike Schmidt in 1949 (age 71); actor/singer Shaun Cassidy in 1958 (age 62); gold medal-winning speed skater Beth Heiden in 1959 (age 61); actor Gwyneth Paltrow in 1972 (age 48); rapper Lil Wayne, born Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., in 1982 (age 38); actor Anna Camp in 1982 (age 38); singer Avril Lavigne in 1984 (age 36); actor Thomas Mann in 1991 (age 29); actor Jenna Ortega in 2002 (age 18).
On this date in history:
In 1540, the Society of Jesus, known as the Jesuits, was chartered by the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1825, in England, George Stephenson operated the first locomotive to pull a passenger train.
In 1930, golfer Bobby Jones won the U.S. Amateur Championship, capturing the era’s Grand Slam. Earlier in the year, he won the British Amateur, British Open and U.S. Open.
In 1938, Queen Elizabeth christened the world’s largest ocean liner with her own name during a ceremony in Scotland. The Queen Elizabeth was the sister ship of the Queen Mary, which was christened four years earlier.
In 1939, after 19 days of heavy air raids and artillery bombardment, Polish defenders of Warsaw surrendered to German forces.
In 1954, The Tonight Show made its television debut with host Steve Allen.
In 1964, the Warren Commission report on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was released after a 10-month investigation, concluding that there was no conspiracy and that Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin, acted alone.
In 1998, Gerhard Schroeder led Germany’s Social Democratic Party to victory in parliamentary elections, bringing to an end 16 years of power by Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his Christian Democratic Party.
In 2008, Zhai Zhigang left the Shenzhou VII spacecraft and became the first Chinese astronaut to take a space walk.
In 2010, Jimi Heselden, 62, manufacturer of the upright Segway scooter, was killed when he apparently lost control of one of the two-wheeled, self-balancing machines and ran over a cliff into a river.
In 2014, Mount Ontake, Japan’s second highest volcano, erupted in a cloud of ash, killing 63 people, many of them hikers.
In 2017, Thailand’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously to sentence former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to five years in prison for failing to report false and corrupt government-to-government sales in a rice-pledging scheme.
In 2018, India’s top court said a colonial-era law that criminalized adultery was unconstitutional and discriminatory in a landmark ruling hailed by women’s rights groups.
A thought for the day: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story … The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity.” — Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
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Jupiter and Saturn to make a triangle with the moon – Met Office forecast and when to see them – Gloucestershire Live
The moon, Jupiter and Saturn are lining up to form a triangle of astronomical delight in the skies above Gloucestershire again on Saturday.
On Friday, the two planets were clearly seen near the Moon and if the skies are clear, you should be able to see them again tonight.
Dara Ó Briain, the comedian, presenter and keen stargazer was one of those to tweet their delight at the sight on Friday, saying: “The Moon, Jupiter and Saturn making a gorgeous triangle right now.”
Many tweeted their own pictures of the night show
According to the experts at Earth Sky, the triangle will be visible tonight and the best time to see it is from around 9pm.
It said it’s hard to miss the two gas giants as they are so near and can be identified by their closeness to the moon.
The Met Office, in its latest forecast, is suggesting a partly cloudy night between 8pm and 11pm with temperatures around 11C.
The moon today is in its waxing gibbous phase, which lasts until the full moon due on Thursday, October 1.
Good places to go stargazing in Gloucestershire include Windsor Drive in Tuffley, Gloucester; Leckhampton Hill in Cheltenham, Painswick Beacon and Cranham Common in Stroud; Edge, in between Gloucester and Stroud’ Minchinhampton Common, in between Stroud and Nailsworth and the top of Cleeve Hill in the Cotswolds.
If you’ve got any images of the three celestial bodies, share them with us at email@example.com
The Moon is rusting, and researchers want to know why – Pattaya Mail
While our Moon is airless, research indicates the presence of hematite, a form of rust that normally requires oxygen and water. That has scientists puzzled.
Mars has long been known for its rust. Iron on its surface, combined with water and oxygen from the ancient past, give the Red Planet its hue. But scientists were recently surprised to find evidence that our airless Moon has rust on it as well.
A new paper in Science Advances reviews data from the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 orbiter, which discovered water ice and mapped out a variety of minerals while surveying the Moon’s surface in 2008. Lead author Shuai Li of the University of Hawaii has studied that water extensively in data from Chandrayaan-1’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument, or M3, which was built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. Water interacts with rock to produce a diversity of minerals, and M3 detected spectra – or light reflected off surfaces – that revealed the Moon’s poles had a very different composition than the rest of it.
Intrigued, Li homed in on these polar spectra. While the Moon’s surface is littered with iron-rich rocks, he nevertheless was surprised to find a close match with the spectral signature of hematite. The mineral is a form of iron oxide, or rust, produced when iron is exposed to oxygen and water. But the Moon isn’t supposed to have oxygen or liquid water, so how can it be rusting?
The mystery starts with the solar wind, a stream of charged particles that flows out from the Sun, bombarding Earth and the Moon with hydrogen. Hydrogen makes it harder for hematite to form. It’s what is known as a reducer, meaning it adds electrons to the materials it interacts with. That’s the opposite of what is needed to make hematite: For iron to rust, it requires an oxidizer, which removes electrons. And while the Earth has a magnetic field shielding it from this hydrogen, the Moon does not.
“It’s very puzzling,” Li said. “The Moon is a terrible environment for hematite to form in.” So he turned to JPL scientists Abigail Fraeman and Vivian Sun to help poke at M3’s data and confirm his discovery of hematite.
“At first, I totally didn’t believe it. It shouldn’t exist based on the conditions present on the Moon,” Fraeman said. “But since we discovered water on the Moon, people have been speculating that there could be a greater variety of minerals than we realize if that water had reacted with rocks.”
After taking a close look, Fraeman and Sun became convinced M3’s data does indeed indicate the presence of hematite at the lunar poles. “In the end, the spectra were convincingly hematite-bearing, and there needed to be an explanation for why it’s on the Moon,” Sun said.
Three Key Ingredients
Their paper offers a three-pronged model to explain how rust might form in such an environment. For starters, while the Moon lacks an atmosphere, it is in fact home to trace amounts of oxygen. The source of that oxygen: our planet. Earth’s magnetic field trails behind the planet like a windsock. In 2007, Japan’s Kaguya orbiter discovered that oxygen from Earth’s upper atmosphere can hitch a ride on this trailing magnetotail, as it’s officially known, traveling the 239,000 miles (385,00 kilometers) to the Moon.
That discovery fits with data from M3, which found more hematite on the Moon’s Earth-facing near side than on its far side. “This suggested that Earth’s oxygen could be driving the formation of hematite,” Li said. The Moon has been inching away from Earth for billions of years, so it’s also possible that more oxygen hopped across this rift when the two were closer in the ancient past.
Then there’s the matter of all that hydrogen being delivered by the solar wind. As a reducer, hydrogen should prevent oxidation from occurring. But Earth’s magnetotail has a mediating effect. Besides ferrying oxygen to the Moon from our home planet, it also blocks over 99% of the solar wind during certain periods of the Moon’s orbit (specifically, whenever it’s in the full Moon phase). That opens occasional windows during the lunar cycle when rust can form.
The third piece of the puzzle is water. While most of the Moon is bone dry, water ice can be found in shadowed lunar craters on the Moon’s far side. But the hematite was detected far from that ice. The paper instead focuses on water molecules found in the lunar surface. Li proposes that fast-moving dust particles that regularly pelt the Moon could release these surface-borne water molecules, mixing them with iron in the lunar soil. Heat from these impacts could increase the oxidation rate; the dust particles themselves may also be carrying water molecules, implanting them into the surface so that they mix with iron. During just the right moments – namely, when the Moon is shielded from the solar wind and oxygen is present – a rust-inducing chemical reaction could occur.
More data is needed to determine exactly how the water is interacting with rock. That data could also help explain another mystery: why smaller quantities of hematite are also forming on the far side of the Moon, where the Earth’s oxygen shouldn’t be able to reach it.
More Science to Come
Fraeman said this model may also explain hematite found on other airless bodies like asteroids. “It could be that little bits of water and the impact of dust particles are allowing iron in these bodies to rust,” she said.
Li noted that it’s an exciting time for lunar science. Almost 50 years since the last Apollo landing, the Moon is a major destination again. NASA plans to send dozens of new instruments and technology experiments to study the Moon beginning next year, followed by human missions beginning in 2024 all as part of the Artemis program.
JPL is also building a new version of M3 for an orbiter called Lunar Trailblazer. One of its instruments, the High-resolution Volatiles and Minerals Moon Mapper (HVM3), will be mapping water ice in permanently shadowed craters on the Moon, and may be able to reveal new details about hematite as well.
“I think these results indicate that there are more complex chemical processes happening in our solar system than have been previously recognized,” Sun said. “We can understand them better by sending future missions to the Moon to test these hypotheses.”
UPI Almanac for Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020 – UPI News
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