At just before 9 p.m., on the night of Tuesday, January 21, 2020, southern Ontario had an unexpected visitor – a hunk of rock from space that blazed through the sky as a meteor fireball.
The meteor, which flashed overhead just to the north of Goderich, ON, was spotted from hundreds of kilometres around. The American Meteor Society received over 30 reports from various locations around southern Ontario and southern Michigan, and as far away as Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Rochester, New York, and Columbus, Ohio.
This map shows the concentration of reports for this meteor fireball, as well as the likely start, end and trajectory of its passage through the atmosphere. Credit: American Meteor Society
According to Dr. Peter Brown, from the University of Western Ontario’s Meteor Group, the meteoroid that caused this fireball was likely the size of a softball, so perhaps 10 centimetres wide, with a mass of up to 10 kilograms, and it was travelling at around 15 kilometres per second (54,000 km/h).
Yet another capture of the Kintail fireball, this time with an experimental meteor camera system near Tavistock, ON based on https://t.co/JMV1A8Nciu @westernu @IMOmeteors @amsmeteors #fireball #toomanymeteorcameras https://t.co/ZVtQ3aOqd0
As Brown posted to Twitter, the fireball flared to life roughly 80 kilometres above the ground, starting about 50 kilometres east of Goderich, and it winked out around 30 kilometres above the ground, somewhere over the waters of Lake Huron, west of Kintail.
From the path it took during its steep plunge through the atmosphere, Brown was able to trace the meteoroid back to its origin in the asteroid belt, beyond Mars.
Kintail fireball orbit from last night place origins firmly from the asteroid belt. The initial mass was somewhere between a few to ten kilograms – softball sized. Not quite as bright as the full moon. @WesternU @amsmeteors 3/3
Given the speed of this meteoroid and the height where the fireball ended, Brown said that small meteorites may have landed from this event. Unfortunately, since the end point of the fireball was over the water, any meteorites that did reach the surface are now likely lying at the bottom of Lake Huron.
Meteors are flashes of light, resulting from the passage of some object from space – a meteoroid – travelling at high speed through the atmosphere. As the meteoroid – whether it’s a speck of dust, an ice crystal or a chunk of rock or iron – flies through the air, it compresses the air molecules directly in its path, causing them to heat up until they glow.
Any meteor flash that is intense enough to rival the brightness of Venus is typically called a fireball. If the fireball includes a sudden, intense flash due to the meteoroid breaking apart, it is often called a bolide.
Although most meteor cameras simply capture in black and white, two cameras that caught the Kintail meteor managed to pick up colours as the meteor flashed overhead.
The Kintail meteor fireball, captured by an all-sky meteor camera at Elginfield Observatory, to the southeast of the meteor’s trajectory, on January 21, 2020. North is roughly towards the top of the image. Credit: Western Meteor Group
As shown above, the meteor camera at Elginfield Observatory caught the meteor flashing from red to white to blue and back to red.
According to Brown, it is possible to tell something about the composition of a meteoroid based on the colour of the meteor flash it produces. However, the meteor colour can also be influenced by the flow of air around the meteoroid, the speed at which it was travelling, and even how the meteoroid broke apart. So, without actually recovering pieces of it, or having a detailed spectrum from the light to examine, there’s no telling exactly what is causing the colours.
Did you see this fireball? Submit a report to the American Meteor Society.
Space Atomic Clocks Could Unravel the Nature of Dark Matter – AZoQuantum
Analyzing an atomic clock onboard a spacecraft within the orbit of Mercury and very close to the Sun could be the trick to revealing the nature of dark matter according to a new research article published in the December 5th issue of the journal Nature Astronomy.
Dark matter composes over 80% of the mass in the universe, but it has thus far dodged detection on Earth, regardless of decades of experimental endeavors. A core component of these hunts is a hypothesis regarding the local density of dark matter, which establishes the number of dark matter particles moving via the detector at all times and thus the experimental sensitivity.
In a few models, this density can be a lot higher than is typically supposed, and dark matter can become more intense in certain regions than in others.
One vital group of experimental searches is those using nuclei or atoms because these have realized extraordinary sensitivity to signals of dark matter. This is conceivable, in part, because when dark matter particles have extremely small masses, they prompt oscillations in the very constants of nature.
These oscillations, for example the interaction strength of the electromagnetic force or in the mass of the electron, alter the transition energies of nuclei and atoms in foreseeable ways.
An international group of scientists, Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU) Project Researcher Joshua Eby, University of California, Irvine, Postdoctoral Fellow Yu-Dai Tsai, and University of Delaware Professor Marianna S. Safronova, recognized the potential in these oscillating signals.
They stated that in a specific region of the Solar System, between the orbit of Mercury and the Sun, the dark matter’s density could be exceptionally large, which would mean extraordinary sensitivity to the oscillating signals.
These signals could be captured by atomic clocks, which work by meticulously measuring the frequency of photons discharged in transitions of various states in atoms. Ultralight dark matter in the region of the clock experiment could alter those frequencies as the oscillations of the dark matter marginally increase and decrease the photon energy.
The more dark matter there is around the experiment, the larger these oscillations are, so the local density of dark matter matters a lot when analyzing the signal.
Joshua Eby, Project Researcher, Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe
While the accurate density of the dark matter near the Sun is not established, the scientists debate that even a comparatively low-sensitivity search could deliver crucial information.
The density of dark matter is just constrained in the Solar System by information concerning planet orbits. In the region between the Sun and Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun, there is nearly no constraint. Therefore, a measurement onboard a spacecraft could rapidly expose world-leading restrictions on dark matter in these models.
The technology to test their theory is already present. Eby says the NASA Parker Solar Probe, which has been functioning since 2018 with the help of shielding, has moved closer to the Sun than any manmade craft in history and is at present working within the orbit of Mercury, with plans to travel even closer to the Sun in a year.
Atomic clocks in space are already established for numerous reasons other than hunting for dark matter.
Long-distance space missions, including possible future missions to Mars, will require exceptional timekeeping as would be provided by atomic clocks in space. A possible future mission, with shielding and trajectory very similar to the Parker Solar Probe, but carrying an atomic clock apparatus, could be sufficient to carry out the search.
Joshua Eby, Project Researcher, Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe
Tsai, Y-D., et al. (2022) Direct detection of ultralight dark matter bound to the Sun with space quantum sensors. Nature Astronomy. doi.org/10.1038/s41550-022-01833-6.
After lunar flyby, NASA’s Orion spacecraft is set to splashdown on Sunday – Ars Technica
The Orion spacecraft swung by the Moon on Monday, flying to within 130 km of that world’s surface as it set course for a return to Earth this weekend.
In making this “powered flyby burn” to move away from the Moon, Orion’s service module performed its longest main engine firing to date, lasting 3 minutes and 27 seconds. After successful completion of the maneuver, NASA’s mission management team gave the “go” to send recovery teams out into the Pacific Ocean, where Orion is due to splashdown on Sunday, during the middle of the day.
By getting into an orbit around the Moon, and back out of it again during its deep space mission, Orion has now completed four main propulsive burns. This completes a big test of the spacecraft and its propulsive service module, which was built by the European Space Agency. Although a boilerplate version of Orion made a flight in 2014, it did so without a service module.
As part of this Artemis I mission, NASA is now three weeks into a 25.5-day test flight of the Orion spacecraft. The goal is to validate the spacecraft’s capabilities ahead of a human flight of the vehicle in about two years’ time, the Artemis II mission.
Orion has met most of its main objectives to date, with only the entry, descent, and splashdown part of its mission ahead of it. The spacecraft’s heat shield must demonstrate its ability to survive reentry at a velocity of 39,400 kph. This big test will come Sunday during a fiery reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.
A minor power issue
So far, Orion’s test flight has gone remarkably well. Typically, with new spacecraft, there are issues with thrusters, navigation, or onboard avionics and more. However, Orion has had no major issues. The only real troubleshooting has involved a problem with power systems on the vehicle.
The issue has occurred with four “latching current limiters” that help route power to propulsion and heating systems on Orion. For some reason, automated controllers on Orion commanded the four current limiters to “open” when no such command was supposed to be sent. “We’re not exactly sure on the root cause of the problem, but teams are doing tests on the ground,” said Debbie Korth, the Orion Program deputy manager, during a briefing on Monday evening at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
This system is somewhat like a circuit breaker box in a home, and for some reason four of the breakers were opened when they were not supposed to be. This did not pose a threat to Orion, as there are backup power systems. Had a crew been on board it would have required a minor procedure to account for the problem.
In an interview after the news briefing, Korth said she did not think the glitch would have an impact on the service module that will be used for the Artemis II mission. This hardware is already built and being tested in the United States.
“I think it’s probably too early to say for sure, but ideally we will not want to perturb the Artemis II service module,” she said. “This may very well be something we can handle with software.”
Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft aced its test flight but still hasn't tested life support – Space.com
The Europe-built service module powering the Orion spaceship during the Artemis 1 mission is nailing its debut lunar round trip, but a key system for keeping future human crews alive is not being tested during the flight.
The Orion capsule, which commenced the return leg of its groundbreaking journey on Thursday (Dec. 1), is currently not filled with breathable air, European aerospace giant Airbus told Space.com. According to Airbus, which built Orion’s service module, the capsule’s life support system will only be fully put through its paces in ground-based labs before the first flight with astronauts in 2024.
The Europe-built service module, responsible for propulsion and navigation, is the part of the spacecraft that sustains livable conditions inside Orion’s crew compartment. The service module carries water the astronauts will need during the flight and generates breathable air by mixing oxygen and nitrogen that are stored in separate tanks.
During the Artemis 1 mission, however, engineers are only testing the nitrogen delivery system, but fortunately, neither Shaun the Sheep, the plush toy sent for the mission by the European Space Agency (ESA), nor the three dummies occupying the Orion cockpit, mind this fact.
“The oxygen and nitrogen delivery systems are very similar,” Airbus spokesperson Ralph Heinrich told Space.com in an email. “We carry nitrogen on board Artemis 1 and will be testing the nitrogen delivery system during the flight that’s ongoing at the moment. As the oxygen and nitrogen systems carry the same components, the test on the nitrogen distribution system will cover by similarity the oxygen delivery system. Furthermore, the oxygen system is being tested extensively on ground.”
For Airbus, the Artemis 1 mission represents a major victory. The company was awarded a contract to develop the service module, a key component of the Orion spacecraft, by ESA, based on their previous experience building the Automated Transfer Vehicle, a cargo spacecraft which used to supply the International Space Station between 2008 and 2014. During its lunar sorties in the late 1960s and early 1970s, NASA built all of the required technology at home in the United States and didn’t include any international partners.
The Artemis 1 service module is a culmination of ten years of work, and the Airbus team is delighted to see the craft performing with flying colors. So far, the service module has completed all of its key tasks flawlessly, including three engine burns, which first helped Orion to enter orbit around the moon, and then to subsequently leave lunar orbit to head back to Earth.
In a post-launch press conference, NASA admitted it detected 13 anomalies during the early phase of Orion’s flight, including erratic readings from star trackers that the space capsule uses to navigate.
“Engineers will be looking into the data that’s coming back from Orion so that every single system, every single component on board of the spacecraft can be tested in one way or another before the next mission,” Sian Cleaver, the European Service module project manager at Airbus told Space.com in an interview. “So far, everything is going well. Of course, there’ll be things that can be improved or changed. There were a few things that didn’t work exactly as planned, but none of them were major issues.”
Airbus engineers are receiving a stream of data from the spacecraft including “pressure, temperature, valve position data and currents and voltages” to monitor its health, Airbus wrote in an email.
“We look at all the data throughout the whole mission, and especially during major events, like main engine firings,” Airbus wrote. “[We] make sure the system is operated within its expected and qualified range. The data is also being stored continuously, to allow post flight analyses and prepare for the next Artemis missions.”
Airbus has already delivered the next service module to NASA for testing and mating with the crew compartment for the Artemis 2 mission,which will take humans to orbit around the moon for the first time since the final Apollo flight in 1972. That mission is expected to launch no earlier than 2024, if all goes according to plan. The company has also nearly completed the assembly of the third service module, which will power the Artemis 3 mission that is expected to involve a lunar landing no earlier than 2025.
The bones of the fourth service module have also been put together and plans are in place to begin work on the fifth specimen later this month. These service modules will cover Artemis missions 4 and 5, which are expected to take off to the moon toward the end of this decade. By that time, the Lunar Gateway space station will be put together in orbit around the moon, opening a new era of regular human visits to Earth’s companion.
“It really feels like a bit of a production line going on now at our facility,” Cleaver said. “It’s really exciting. The program is really, really moving now. We have a plan for the next 10 years, and there are also clear messages from NASA and ESA that the moon is only the first step and that the technology will be used to eventually go to Mars.”
Airbus is under contract to build the service module number six and is currently negotiating another batch of three. The service modules are single-use only and will detach from the crew capsule before it enters Earth’s atmosphere during its return.
The Artemis 1 mission lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 16. The mission was a debut not only for Orion, but also for the Space Launch System mega rocket that lofted it into space. During the mission, Orion passed only 80 miles (130 kilometers) above the moon’s surface, and also broke a record for the greatest distance from Earth ever achieved by a human-rated spacecraft. By getting as far as 270,000 miles (435,000 km) from the planet, Orion surpassed the previous maximum held by the Apollo 13 mission. That mission, however, only got that far as part of a rescue operation designed to bring it back home after an onboard explosion crippled the spacecraft.
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