The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) – NASA’s eye-in-the-sky in orbit around the Moon – has found the crash site of the mystery rocket booster that slammed into the far side of the Moon back on 4 March 2022.
The LRO images, taken May 25th, revealed not just a single crater, but a double crater formed by the rocket’s impact, posing a new mystery for astronomers to unravel.
Why a double crater? While somewhat unusual – none of the Apollo S-IVBs that hit the Moon created double craters – they’re not impossible to create, especially if an object hits at a low angle. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here.
Astronomer Bill Gray, who first discovered the object and predicted its lunar demise back in January, explains that the booster “came in at about 15 degrees from vertical. So that’s not the explanation for this one.”
The impact site consists of an 18-meter-wide eastern crater superimposed on a 16-meter-wide western crater. Mark Robinson, Principal Investigator of the LRO Camera team, proposes that this double crater formation might result from an object with distinct, large masses at each end.
“Typically a spent rocket has mass concentrated at the motor end; the rest of the rocket stage mainly consists of an empty fuel tank. Since the origin of the rocket body remains uncertain, the double nature of the crater may help to indicate its identity,” he said.
So what is it?
It’s a long story. The unidentified rocket first came to astronomers’ attention earlier this year when it was identified as a SpaceX upper stage, which had launched NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) to the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrange Point in 2015.
Gray, who designs software that tracks space debris, was alerted to the object when his software pinged an error. He told The Washington Post on January 26 that “my software complained because it couldn’t project the orbit past March 4, and it couldn’t do it because the rocket had hit the Moon.”
Gray spread the word, and the story made the rounds in late January – but a few weeks later, he received an email from Jon Giorgini at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL).
Giorgini pointed out that DSCOVR’s trajectory shouldn’t have taken the booster anywhere near the Moon. In an effort to reconcile the conflicting trajectories, Gray began to dig back into his data, where he discovered that he had misidentified the DSCOVR booster way back in 2015.
SpaceX wasn’t the culprit after all. But there was definitely still an object hurtling towards the Moon. So what was it?
A bit of detective work led Gray to determine it was actually the upper stage of China’s Chang’e 5-T1 mission, a 2014 technology demonstration mission that lay the groundwork for Chang’e 5, which successfully returned a lunar sample to Earth in 2020 (incidentally, China recently announced it would follow up this sample return mission with a more ambitious Mars sample return project later this decade).
Jonathan McDowell offered some corroborating evidence that seemed to bolster this new theory for the object’s identity.
The mystery was solved.
Except, days later, China’s Foreign Minister claimed it was not their booster: it had deorbited and crashed into the ocean shortly after launch.
As it stands now, Gray remains convinced it was the Change 5-T1 booster that hit the Moon, proposing that the Foreign Minister made an honest mistake, confusing Chang’e 5-T1 with the similarly named Chang’e 5 (whose booster did indeed sink into the ocean).
As for the new double crater on the Moon, the fact that the LRO team was able to find the impact site so quickly is an impressive feat in itself. It was discovered mere months after impact, with a little help from Gray and JPL, who each independently narrowed the search area down to a few dozen kilometers.
For comparison, The Apollo 16 S-IVB impact site took more than six years of careful searching to find.
University of Calgary study examines if Mars could have once supported life – Ottawa.CityNews.ca
Was there ever life on Mars?
Using data from the Curiosity rover, a University of Calgary (UofC) scientist is studying Mars’ geology “for signs the planet could have once supported life.”
It’s part of the NASA-led Mars Science Laboratory mission to examine the rocks on the surface of Mars, as they could offer evidence of life on the Red Planet.
“Our goal is to place constraints on whether Mars was habitable,” Tutolo said. “And if Mars was habitable, then we can think about whether it actually did evolve life.”
#UCalgary scientist, Dr. Benjamin Tutolo, studies Mars’ geology for signs the planet could have once supported life, using data from the Curiosity Rover https://t.co/dQTRewP5sR @UofC_Science pic.twitter.com/PRtwOCDP3o
— U Calgary (@UCalgary) August 12, 2022
The study will be using data collected by Curiosity as it was slowly climbing Mount Sharp 10 years ago to finally land in the centre of the Gale crater.
The rover has analyzed the chemistry and minerology of 1,211 samples of rocks and soil surfaces and sent 2,659 results back to Earth.
Tutolo and his team will do experiments in the laboratory to better understand and interpret the results. They will also conduct field research in British Colombia and run numerical models on a computer.
Study focuses on geological transition of rocks
The team will focus on examining the geological transition of rocks from the oldest layers of sediments to the younger layers “deposited in the crater and which formed Mount Sharp around 3½ billion years” ago.
Tutolo’s study suggests the oldest rocks in the crater are from a lake that is river-fed – “fluviolacustrine environment” –while the younger sediments contain extremely soluble salts – magnesium sulphate salts – such as Epsom salt that can be used for bathing. As these salts are extremely soluble, precipitating them requires all the water to be evaporated.
“We think that it must have been drier on Mars in order to precipitate those minerals. What we’re exploring is how that transition is recorded in the rocks,” Tutolo said.
The research is also taking advantage of the “rare-on-Earth” Basque Lakes near Cache Creek, B.C., that contain magnesium sulphate where the same sulphate minerals found on Mount Sharp on Mars are actively precipitating.
Tutolo is trying to answer this question: “Is there a point where it gets so salty that nothing could live there?”
Since Mars is red as a result of all the iron on its surface where its atmosphere doesn’t have similar levels of oxygen to Earth’s atmosphere, the team is using special tools in the lab to examine sensitive substances in the absence of oxygen, such as an anaerobic chamber that simulates conditions on Mars.
Mars’ geology helps understand Earth’s evolution
Understanding the geological transition on Mars will provide information on whether the planet’s environment would still be habitable in drier and colder environments and whether there’s a potential that life evolved and existed on Mars’ surface at that time. If life did evolve, what evidence can we get from the rocks?
“There was probably a period of time when Mars was getting warm and having water again, and going back and forth (from warmer to colder),” said Tutolo.
He explained that the Earth has experienced ice ages and greenhouse climates as a result of the slight variations in its movement through space, whereas Mars’ movement changes a bit more dramatically, making those cycles more enhanced.
Tutolo also adds that the geological history of early Mars helps understand the history of early Earth as there’s limited access to its geological record from that time.
The limited access to early Earth’s geology is attributed to “plate tectonics whereby, over the eons, the surface gets subsumed into the planet’s mantle as continent-sized slabs of rock collide.”
“But on Mars, all of those rocks have been there since they were deposited, some 3½ billion years or more ago,” Tutolo said. “So we can see those rocks on Mars and understand how life evolved on our planet, going from totally abiotic, or without life at all, to what it is today.”
Blaxtair Inc. embedded pedestrian detection system – Canadian Occupational Safety
Blaxtair is an embedded pedestrian detection system for industrial vehicles, designed to prevent collisions between vehicles and pedestrians in co-activity zones. It has a smart 3D camera able to distinguish a person from other obstacles in real time and alerts operators in case of danger, without unnecessary alarms.
Blaxtair can be equipped to any industrial vehicle, including but not limited to forklifts and wheel loaders, and is perfect for sites within any industry where co-activity between pedestrians and vehicles poses a safety threat (logistics, warehousing, recycling, mining, construction, etc.)
Blaxtair is made up of 3 main parts:
Starburst galaxy shines in new 'whirlpool of gold' photo – Space.com
A mesmerizing new photo captures bright, golden swirling clouds of gas that generate an exceptionally high rate of star formation.
This stellar nursery, a spiral galaxy known as NGC 4303 or Messier 61, is located 50 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo. NGC 4303 is one of the largest galactic members of the Virgo Cluster — a large, nearby grouping of galaxies.
NGC 4303 is considered a starburst galaxy, where an unusually high amount of stars are born. In turn, studying this type of galaxy helps astronomers to better understand star formation across the universe, according to a statement from the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
“Stars form when clouds of cold gas collapse,” ESO officials wrote in the statement. “The energetic radiation from newly born stars will heat and ionize the surrounding remaining gas.”
The photo, taken using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, shows bright swirling clouds of the ionized gas, appearing as a “whirlpool of gold.” The swirling clouds are like cosmic breadcrumbs, tracing the path of new stars being born, according to the statement.
Astronomers using the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument on the VLT observed NGC 4303 at different wavelengths of light to create this “jewel-like” image. Combining their observations revealed a glowing golden whirlpool, speckled with gas clouds of ionized oxygen, hydrogen and sulfur shown in blue, green and red, respectively.
The recent observations were collected as part of a project called the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby Galaxies (PHANGS), which aims to uncover nearby galaxies across all wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, according to the statement.
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