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ATLANTIC SKIES: Touchdown Mars – NASA's perseverance and ingenuity arrive on the red planet Feb. 18 – SaltWire Network

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On Thursday, Feb. 18, after a voyage of 203 days, NASA’s rover named Perseverance (part of the Mars 2020 mission), and its sidekick, a helicopter-drone dubbed Ingenuity, are scheduled to touch down in the Jezero Crater, just north of the Martian equator.

Launched on July 30, 2020 as part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, Perseverance will be only the fifth rover to land on the Red Planet. It is also the first artificial object to land on Mars since Insight Mars in 2018, and the first rover to land on the planet since Curiosity in 2012.

Its primary mission will be to roam the Martian landscape, exploring and investigating the planet’s ancient surface geological formations, while assessing the possibility of past habitability by seeking evidence of water and any biosignatures of past microbial life that might be preserved within accessible geological materials.

Another important rover objective will be to scoop up surface material samples as it traverses the planet and cache them in containers for potential retrieval by a future Mars sample-return mission, possibly in 2031.

Other duties relate to the assessment of new technologies (including precise landing technologies), as well as the planet’s environmental conditions, both critical to future manned and robotic expeditions to Mars.

Perseverance has a planned surface mission timeframe of at least one Mars year (687 Earth days). It will be the first rover to utilize all five senses: “sight” (it has 16 cameras); “touch” (its robotic arm has a “hand” with a drill and ground contact sensor); “taste” (its spectrometer uses chemistry instruments to analyze rocks); “smell” (its SuperCam’s infrared laser beam vaporises samples to analyze mineral composition); and “hearing” (its two microphones will record and transmit to Earth actual audio recordings of sounds on Mars).

Perseverance’s robotic Ingenuity helicopter-drone is a small (1.8 kilogram) autonomous aircraft, which will operate independently of the rover. Its sole purpose is experimental: to test the potential of powered flight on Mars.

The Martian atmosphere is one per cent as thick as that of Earth, and its gravity one-third that of our planet’s. Ingenuity will operate on rechargeable, solar-powered batteries, and has internal heaters to maintain operational temperatures during the long, cold Martian nights. It will make one or more test flights within its first 30 days on the planet, guided by Earth-generated commands relayed through the rover. It has two cameras – one black and white, one colour.

NASA’s Mars 2020 mission was one of three space missions launched to the Red Planet during the July 2020 Mars launch window. The other two missions were the United Arab Emirates’ ‘Hope’ orbiter (which arrived and successfully entered orbit on Feb. 9) and China’s Tianwen-1 mission (with an orbiter, lander, and rover that entered orbit on Feb. 10).

For more information about the ‘Perseverance’ landing, go to NASA’s site, or simply Google ‘NASA’s Mars 2020 mission’.


This week’s sky:

The dearth of bright planets in the night sky continues this coming week, with Mercury (just past inferior solar conjunction on Feb. 8), Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn all unobservable.

The lone planet visible throughout the night is Mars (magnitude +0.6, in Aries – the Ram). Visible around 6:20 p.m., 61 degrees above the southern horizon as dusk gives way to darkness, Mars, despite its historic notoriety on Feb. 18, quietly sets in the southwest around 1:10 a.m. Look for Mars to the upper right of the waxing moon on the evening of the 18th.

Until next week, clear skies.


Events:

  • Feb. 18 – Mars 2020 mission lands – Mars to upper right of Moon
  • Feb. 19 – First-quarter moon; Pleiades (“Seven Sisters”) star cluster to the right

Glenn K. Roberts lives in Stratford, P.E.I., and has been an avid amateur astronomer since he was a small child. He welcomes comments from readers at [email protected].

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See Pic: ESA Shares Stunning Photo Of NASA’s Perseverance Rover In Its New Home On Mars – Mashable India

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NASA’s most advanced Perseverance rover successfully touched down on Mars later last month after a 203-day journey traversing 293 million miles (472 million kilometres). And while we have already seen many footages from mars including audio from the Martian surface, the European Space Agency (ESA) has now captured another stunning image of the Perseverance rover on Mars!

SEE ALSO: Stunning Photo Shows Perseverance’s Mars Landing From Above!

The image of NASA’s Perseverance rover in its new home was released by the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), part of the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars program, onTwitter on February 25. “There you are Nasa Persevere! I finally got the chance to take a photo of you in your new home” states the tweet shared by the agency.

NASA’s official Perseverance Mars Rover also replied to the tweet stating “and what a home it is! Thanks, for this great image, and for helping relay my data back to Earth. Hope we’ll be working together for a long time”. The tweet shared by ESA has already received over 9000 likes and 1000 retweets where space enthusiasts are super excited to see the rover in its new home.

Talking about other images and videos of the NASA Perseverance rover, NASA released the first video of its spacecraft landing on the surface of Mars. The video from NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover documents the entry, descent and landing on the red planet. It has been recorded on different cameras from different angles and you can clearly see the enthralling touchdown at Mars’ Jezero Crater Jezero Crater, an ancient river delta.

SEE ALSO: What You Need To Know About Dr Swati Mohan, Indian American Scientist, Who Led NASA’s Mars Rover Op

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NASA's Perserverance rover to drill into Mars using part made on Vancouver Island – Yahoo News Canada

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Local Journalism Initiative

Yukon First Nations say approving mineral exploration without a land use plan violates their rights

Two Yukon First Nations are renewing calls for a regional land use plan to be completed before any new development on their traditional territories is considered, including a mineral exploration project right next door to Tombstone Territorial Park. Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation and the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun recently sent letters to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board stating that approving the quartz exploration project, called Antimony Creek, without a land use plan for the Dawson region would violate their rights. The board is in the midst of evaluating whether Ryanwood Exploration Inc., the Dawson City-based company behind the project, has provided enough information to develop the project without adversely affecting the environment. The assessment board is responsible for issuing recommendations to the Yukon and federal governments, which ultimately decide whether to greenlight a project. Regional land use plans determine what can and cannot occur in a particular region, essentially balancing conservation values, First Nations’ rights and industrial pursuits. These plans are created by independent commissions and signed off on by the Yukon government and affected First Nations. Creating them is a requirement under the Umbrella Final Agreement, which was signed by 11 First Nations in 1990 and paved the way for their self-governance. However, most First Nations have been waiting decades for these plans. Resource development in the absence of an approved land use plan “will negatively affect Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in rights under the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in final agreement,” Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in’s Jan. 14 letter states. “This is unacceptable.” Antimony Creek is on Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and Na-Cho Nyäk Dun territory and about 2.5 kilometres away from Tombstone, the territory’s flagship park that boasts towering, jagged peaks and abundant wildlife. The project is in an area of great importance to Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, whose citizens frequently harvest plants and wildlife for cultural and subsistence purposes. Traditional gravesites and heritage travelling routes are a short distance away from the project area. According to the company’s April 2020 permit application, up to 300 holes will be drilled per year, with some burrowing 10,000 metres into the earth, to find what appears to be gold and silver deposits. The 10-year project involves the construction of an access road, a network of trails and a drill pad. The company is proposing up to 883 round-trip helicopter flights on an annual basis to transport workers and supplies. According to GeoYukon, a Yukon government mapping tool, the project area covers roughly 86 square kilometres. Ryanwood Exploration Inc. didn’t return a request for comment. In its permit application, the company said First Nations haven’t been engaged, “but discussions will be conducted.” According to a 2020 assessment board report, the company intends to regularly host discussions with affected First Nations “to ensure that this project does not adversely affect surrounding local and First Nations lands, culture and people.” The Dawson Regional Planning Commission is in the process of developing a land use plan that will manage and monitor lands, waters and industry within the region — a roughly 40,000 square-kilometre area representing about 10 per cent of the territory’s land mass. According to a Jan. 26 letter the commission sent to the assessment board, permitting development before the completion of a land use plan “may impact the commission’s ability to develop recommendations for the appropriate use of land, water and other renewable and non-renewable resources within the planning region.” Sue Thomas, a spokesperson for Yukon’s Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, told The Narwhal in an email land use planning doesn’t negate tenure holders’ ability to develop their mineral claims. “Development and/or exploration projects, like any other industrial and non-industrial uses, are allowed to continue while the planning process is underway,” she said. Allowing industry to explore in a region where land use planning is underway could rule out protecting areas with high conservation values, Sebastian Jones, wildlife and habitat analyst at the Yukon Conservation Society, told The Narwhal. “It’s no secret that if projects like this can get permitted before the land use plan is in place, it will [predetermine] land use planning,” he said, adding that projects like Antimony Creek are designed to eventually result in a large mine. Jones said miners likely recognize their days are numbered to develop claims in sensitive areas, which explains why they appear to be racing to get permits before land use plans are completed. “It’s very likely that developing a mine will not be one of the approved activities in the project area,” he said. If mineral deposits are located, several mines could crop up, leading to cumulative impacts on an otherwise undisturbed area, Jones said. In a Jan. 8 letter to the assessment board, the Yukon Conservation Society recommended the project not proceed, saying access roads and the eventual building and operation of mines would cause cumulative impacts on the region. The Antimony Creek project area is in a region that’s of very high cultural value to Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in citizens, according to the First Nation’s letter. The region, known as the “cultural integrity area,” which contains roughly 88 per cent of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in’s settlement land, provides critical habitat for caribou, moose, sheep and salmon. It is also home to mineral licks, rare plants and old-growth forests, all of which help sustain wildlife and, in turn, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in harvesters. “The whole ecosystem contributes to our lifestyle and our culture,” Chief Roberta Joseph told The Narwhal. “It’s not only about food value — it’s about ensuring our connection and our spirituality with the land, it’s about bonding and passing on traditional teachings through stories and teaching about harvesting.” There are also significant heritage sites in the area. The project is located about 300 metres away from a settlement land parcel that was originally selected to protect traditional gravesites, according to the letter. The letter suggests there are likely even more burial sites, as not all heritage areas have been mapped by the First Nation. “It is concerning that there could be potential impacts on our ancestors who may have been buried in the area near the proposed application,” Joseph said. “There needs to be regard and consideration on the burials of our ancestors, wherever they’re buried throughout our traditional territory.” “It’s just a matter of ensuring that our heritage as First Nations people of this land, since millennia, is being respected in accordance to our final agreements and the spirit and intent of our final agreements.” The area is considered so important to Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in citizens because it has yet to be disturbed by industry, the letter states. “Until a land use plan is in place that takes into account Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in rights under the final agreement, the cultural integrity area must remain intact in order for land and wildlife to thrive and for traditional pursuits to continue,” the letter states. Staking should be off-limits in the Dawson region until a land use plan is in place, according to a Jan. 20 letter Na-Cho Nyäk Dun sent to the assessment board. The letter said completion of the plan is “an essential prerequisite of any further permitting in this area.” Chief Simon Mervyn didn’t reply to a return for comment. According to the letter, land use planning helps facilitate development because it provides certainty “for all.” “It will allow for Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, other Indigenous nations, public government and industry to make decisions together respecting priorities, values and criteria for development and minimize future land use conflicts by making clear where development can and cannot be pursued,” the letter states. “Most importantly, it will ensure that development respects and supports, rather than undermines, the Treaty Rights of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun.” Former vice-chair of the Dawson land use planning commission Art Webster also recently called for a halt on staking in the Dawson area. “By allowing the staking of mineral claims, it basically sends out a message saying, ‘This is the highest value of this land, the extraction of minerals’ … at the expense of considering any other values for that land,” Art Webster told The Narwhal in an interview. According to Na-Cho Nyäk Dun’s letter, the First Nation has been waiting for a completed land use plan in its traditional territory since it signed its final agreement 25 years ago. This would be separate from the Dawson land use plan. While Na-Cho Nyäk Dun is not an official party to the land use planning process in the Dawson region, it has observer status, as its territory overlaps with that of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. The nations have an agreement in place to settle possible disputes linked to overlapping traditional territories. “In the view of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, public government’s failure to initiate a land use planning process for the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun traditional territory is a fundamental breach of a key commitment enshrined in our treaty, and is flatly inconsistent with the honour of the Crown,” the letter states. The Antimony Creek project is only one mining application on Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in’s traditional territory, Joseph said. “There are many of them every year,” she said. A similar quartz exploration project, called Coal Creek (Monster) located roughly 85 kilometres north of Dawson City is making its way through the environmental assessment process. The Vancouver-based proponent, Go Metals, is searching for battery metals such as copper, gold and silver, according to the project proposal. According to a letter Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in sent to the assessment board, the First Nation continues “to strongly oppose” any development in the northern reaches of its traditional territory, which is relatively intact and undisturbed wilderness. Go Metals spokesperson, Scott Sheldon, told The Narwhal in an email, “We’re committed to continuing our conversations with local First Nations and we look forward to progress being made by the Dawson Regional Planning Commission to help us create better exploration plans for our battery metals project.” The Coffee Gold project, a proposed hard rock mine in a remote corner of Yukon, is also on the traditional territories of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. Yukoners can submit feedback on that project until March 26. If this proposal is approved, the mine would be the largest in Yukon’s history. Julien Gignac, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Narwhal

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Little Foot fossil scan sheds light on human origins – CBC.ca

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Sophisticated scanning technology is revealing intriguing secrets about Little Foot, the remarkable fossil of an early human forerunner that inhabited South Africa 3.67 million years ago during a critical juncture in our evolutionary history.

Scientists said on Tuesday they examined key parts of the nearly complete and well-preserved fossil at Britain’s national synchrotron facility, Diamond Light Source. The scanning focused upon Little Foot’s cranial vault — the upper part of her braincase — and her lower jaw, or mandible.

The researchers gained insight not only into the biology of Little Foot’s species but also into the hardships that this individual, an adult female, encountered during her life.

Little Foot’s species blended ape-like and human-like traits and is considered a possible direct ancestor of humans. University of the Witwatersrand paleoanthropologist Ron Clarke, who unearthed the fossil in the 1990s in the Sterkfontein Caves northwest of Johannesburg and is a co-author of the new study, has identified the species as Australopithecus prometheus.

High-resolution imaging of the skull was carried out at at the U.K.’s national synchrotron science facility Diamond Light Source in Oxford. (Diamond Light Source Ltd. via Reuters)

“In the cranial vault, we could identify the vascular canals in the spongious bone that are probably involved in brain thermoregulation — how the brain cools down,” said University of Cambridge paleoanthropologist Amélie Beaudet, who led the study published in the journal e-Life.

“This is very interesting as we did not have much information about that system,” Beaudet added, noting that it likely played a key role in the threefold brain size increase from Australopithecus to modern humans.

Little Foot lived in a tropical forested area, “and for some reason, she fell into the cave,” said Clarke.

Beaudet told the BBC that it’s believed Little Foot fell through an opening in the floor of the cave where she was found.

Teeth ‘quite worn’

Little Foot’s teeth also were revealing.

“The dental tissues are really well preserved. She was relatively old since her teeth are quite worn,” Beaudet said, though Little Foot’s precise age has not yet been determined.

The researchers spotted defects in the tooth enamel indicative of two childhood bouts of physiological stress such as disease or malnutrition.

“There is still a lot to learn about early hominin biology,” said study co-author Thomas Connolley, principal beamline scientist at Diamond, using a term encompassing modern humans and certain extinct members of the human evolutionary lineage. “Synchrotron X-ray imaging enables examination of fossil specimens in a similar way to a hospital X-ray CT-scan of a patient, but in much greater detail.”

The skeleton of Little Foot is seen in Sterkfontein, South Africa in this undated handout photo. Researchers brought the complete skull of the skeleton from South Africa to the U.K. in June 2019 for further study. (R.J. Clark via Reuters)

Little Foot, whose moniker reflects the small foot bones that were among the first elements of the skeleton found, stood roughly 4-foot-3-inches (130 centimetres) tall. Little Foot has been compared in importance to the fossil called Lucy that is about 3.2 million years old and less complete.

Both are species of the genus Australopithecus but possessed different biological traits, just as modern humans and Neanderthals are species of the same genus – Homo – but had different characteristics. Lucy’s species is called Australopithecus afarensis.

“Australopithecus could be the direct ancestor of Homo – humans – and we really need to learn more about the different species of Australopithecus to be able to decide which one would be the best candidate to be our direct ancestor,” Beaudet said.

Our own species, Homo sapiens, first appeared roughly 300,000 years ago.

The synchrotron findings build on previous research on Little Foot.

The species was able to walk fully upright, but had traits suggesting it also still climbed trees, perhaps sleeping there to avoid large predators. It had gorilla-like facial features and powerful hands for climbing. Its legs were longer than its arms, as in modern humans, making this the most-ancient hominin definitively known to have that trait.

“All previous Australopithecus skeletal remains have been partial and fragmentary,” Clarke said.

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