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How rarely do you see Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn this weekend? –



Two large worlds and the smallest planet in the Solar System appear this weekend.


Jupiter and Saturn cool off together after last month’s party as the three planets appear in the evening this weekend. Rarely great combination, Mercury, the most flying planet from the west to just above the southwest horizon. The three planets are a rare sight that can be witnessed with the naked eye shortly after sunset over the next few days, but Saturday evening offers the best chance to see all three worlds together.

Astronomy Journal It is reported that all the planets will be visible in the region of 2.3 degrees throughout that evening (when you hold the width of your pinky and ring finger together and the length of your arm from your body). Of the three celestial bodies, Mercury is the lowest, Jupiter is the brightest, and Saturn is the faintest.

Binoculars may help you get a better view, while even an inexpensive backyard telescope has the opportunity to see some of Jupiter’s larger moons. This is a good thing to try when Mercury and Saturn disappear below the horizon.

To make sure all three are caught, it is important to go outside after sunset, as Mercury and Saturn will be below the horizon within an hour. Although the planets may be closest on Saturday, they will continue to converge as they orbit over the next several nights, so you have a few shots to catch them all like a kind of cosmic game of Pokമോmon.

As always, if any amateur astronomers among you capture any great pictures of the celestial encounter, please share them with me on Twitter Ric Eric Simack.

Follow The Senate 2021 space calendar To keep up to date with all the latest space news of the year. You can add it to your own Google Calendar.

Prone to fits of apathy. Unable to type with boxing gloves on. Internet advocate. Avid travel enthusiast. Entrepreneur. Music expert.

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Former Canora resident enjoying excitement of mission to Mars – Canora Courier



As a youngster growing up on a farm near Canora, Tim Haltigin, son of Linda Osachoff, had plenty of opportunities to look up in amazement at the seemingly endless prairie sky.

Haltigin later pursued his interest in science and is now the Senior Mission Scientist in Planetary Exploration at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters in Saint Hubert, Quebec, near Montreal.

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He said he has been working on planning the Mars 2020 mission since 2014, leading the team in charge of designing the science program to bring back samples from Mars. The first step was the February 18 landing of the rover Perseverance.

“Lots of things went through my mind when the landing was successful,” said Haltigin, “including excitement, elation, relief, along with the realization that we have a lot of work ahead of us, and that work has just started.”

The Perseverance was launched in July 2020, and flew almost 500 million km (over 300 million miles) to reach Mars. Haltigin said the successful landing was a huge relief because so many different things could have gone wrong during the entry, the descent and the actual landing.

“Probably the riskiest aspect was slowing it down from 20,000 km/h to two km/h in seven minutes,” marveled Haltigin. “The craft entered the Martian atmosphere, slowed down, then the parachute slowed it down even more. It hovered about 20 m above Mars, lowered the rover on a tether and settled it on its wheels.”

The landing on Mars is only the first step in an interplanetary relay to identify and bring samples back to Earth for further, more detailed analysis. They have many different instruments to analyze the rocks on earth, instead of just the basic tools available with the mission on Mars.

“The samples will be collected by another spacecraft and returned to earth,” explained Haltigin. “I like to refer to this type of a mission as a gift that keeps on giving. For instance, scientists are still making discoveries from samples taken from the moon during Apollo missions that took place about 50 years ago.

“This mission has the potential to extend our science team to every scientist on earth for years to come. As time goes on, they’re basically learning what questions to ask.”

Following this mission, a smaller “fetch rover” rocket will launch the samples from Mars, but it’s not powerful enough to get them home to Earth. A following mission will be responsible for catching the sample rocket and bringing it back home for further analysis. If all goes according to plan, Haltigin expects the samples gathered by Perseverance to be back on Earth sometime in 2031.

“It’s exciting to think about this mission and what it means for the future,” detailed Haltigin. “We are potentially going to be answering some of the most fundamental questions in science regarding the origins of life. About four billion years ago there was a standing lake in the crater around the Perseverance landing site, over time it eventually turned to rock. Life leaves different kinds of clues in rocks. By bringing back and analyzing those rocks we could potentially find signs of life on another planet.”

“These samples could be paving the careers for generations of future scientists over the long term, including Canadians. By making samples available around the world, people that haven’t been born yet could be making major discoveries.”

A high priority has been place on planetary exploration in recent years, and now scientists have the equipment available to do it. As an added bonus, Haltigin said the planets have lined up perfectly for exploration.

Haltigin has fond memories of growing up on the family farm outside Canora, and recognizes that it definitely had an effect on his future career choice.

“Absolutely. I would go outside at night and look up at the blanket of stars and wonder how we could explore it. And now, all these years later, we’re actually exploring one of those dots. It’s incredible.”

Haltigin continues to enjoy his chosen career. He encourages any Canora and area students who read his story and are interested in the Mars mission, and space exploration in general, to explore those interests further.

“Never stop asking questions. In science it’s not about always being right, it’s about always asking questions. If I can do this, you can too.”


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These sea slugs cut off their own heads and grow an entirely new body – CNET



This image shows the head and body of an Elysia cf. marginata sea slug one day after separation.

Sayaka Mitoh

Most animals can’t lose their bodies and still survive. Two species of sacoglossan sea slugs aren’t most animals. A team of researchers observed sea slugs that severed their own heads and then regrew their bodies complete with hearts and other internal organs. The action of shedding a body part is called autotomy. It’s what lizards do when they lose a tail for self-preservation.

Dropping an entire body is much more dramatic than losing a tail. “We thought that it would die soon without a heart and other important organs, but we were surprised again to find that it regenerated the whole body,” Sayaka Mitoh of Nara Women’s University in Japan said in a Cell Press statement Monday. Mitoh is lead author of a study on the sea slugs published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.

The severed sea slug heads were able to feed within hours.

Sayaka Mitoh

The regenerating sea slugs were younger individuals. It took about a week to regrow the heart and they had completely regenerated their bodies within three weeks. The researchers suggest there may be “stem-like cells” where the neck severs that allow for the regrowth.

The younger sea slug heads were able to move and feed on algae shortly after separation, which seems to have been the key to their survival. Older slug heads didn’t feed.    

The unusual animals take a cue from plants. “The sea slugs in question already were unique in that they incorporate chloroplasts from algae they eat into their own bodies, a habit known as kleptoplasty,” said Cell Press. “It gives the animals an ability to fuel their bodies by photosynthesis.”    

The ability to regrow a body isn’t unheard of. Some species of jellyfish can regenerate after an injury. The self-decapitation part of the sea slugs’ process adds to the mystery though. The researchers suggest the action may be a way to get rid of internal parasites, but the impetus is unclear.

The surprising body regeneration process is already giving scientists ideas for further studies. Said Mitoh, “As the shed body is often active for months, we may be able to study the mechanism and functions of kleptoplasty using living organs, tissues, or even cells.”

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NASA is Considering a Radio Telescope on the Far Side of the Moon – Universe Today



The University of Colorado Boulder and Lunar Resources Inc. have just won NASA funding to study the possibility of building a radio telescope on the far side of the Moon. The project, called FarView, would harvest building materials from the Lunar surface itself, and use robotic rovers to construct a massive, intricate network of wires and antennas across 400 square kilometers. When complete, FarView would allow radio astronomers to observe the sky in low-frequency radio wavelengths with unprecedented clarity.

Radio telescopes work best in isolation. On Earth, if radio telescope operators want to ‘hear’ the sky without interference, they need to establish enormous exclusion zones around the telescope where cellphones, wi-fi, and even the spark-plugs from gasoline cars are banned. FarView proposes to put a telescope in the quietest place we can think of, away from Earthlings and our noisy gadgets. With this Lunar observatory, astronomers would be able to listen to the Universe more clearly than ever before, allowing them to go deeper back in time and space, perhaps even to the cosmic dark ages when the first stars were forming.

The Green Bank Radio Telescope, West Virginia, requires a large ‘Quiet Zone’ surrounding it to avoid interference. Credit: Geremia, Wikipedia Commons.

It just might work, although the plan is still in the earliest stages. FarView is funded by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, which works with entrepreneurs to fund ideas that are innovative and technically sound, but largely untried and still in their infancy. NIAC projects are a glimpse at the possibilities of space exploration a decade or more in the future. It will be a long road yet to create the proposed Moon-based observatory.

Dr. Alex Ignatiev, Chief Technology Officer of Lunar Resources, is confident they can pull it off, and do so without breaking the bank. “We could build FarView at about 10% of the James Webb Telescope cost and operate for more than 50 years,” he said. It is an impressive goal.

Building with Lunar Soil

The key to keeping costs down is to build FarView using materials already available on the Moon, otherwise known as in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). ISRU has become a buzzword in recent years with regard to Lunar and Martian exploration, as it is will be necessary to sustain long-duration human activity on the Moon and Mars. In this instance, ISRU will allow FarView to reduce the expensive costs of escaping Earth’s pesky gravity well by building the telescope out of Lunar regolith.

The exact manufacturing process for FarView relies on two techniques. The first is molten regolith electrolysis (melting Lunar soil to separate the metals from the oxygen), and the second is vacuum deposition (laying down thin foil-like films of material). Lunar Resources has experience in both techniques on a small scale; they will need to be ramped up to create the enormous FarView observatory.

During a Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon presentation last December, Ignatiev explained that the regolith across the Moon is a mix of metallic oxides, with more iron in the Mares and more aluminum in the Highlands, and elements like silicon and magnesium available throughout. “Our challenge then in terms of doing manufacturing on the moon with raw materials,” he said, “is to break that regolith-oxygen bond…and obtain the raw elements from that regolith” using electric currents.

Artist’s depiction of a rover laying down antennas on the far side of the Moon. Credit: Lunar Resources.

A small robotic processing factory would extract these metals from the soil, and deposit them into a rover. FarView’s Principal Investigator, Ronald Polidan, told FISO that as the rover drives along, it “melts the regolith surface into a glass, then lays the metal antennas on that, with connecting wires and all the other necessary infrastructure.” Using this method, it would take 26 months to fabricate the 100,000 ten-meter-long dipoles required for the telescope. The rover would only be able to work during the Lunar days (about two Earth weeks long) and have to hibernate during the nights.

Challenges and Opportunities

Building a Lunar telescope sounds complicated, but its principles are fairly straightforward once the materials are extracted. Laying strips of metal foil across the surface of the Moon shouldn’t be too hard, and no large-scale load-bearing construction is necessary for it to work. The best part is that, in theory, the metal dipoles are serviceable and repairable, giving FarView a lengthy lifespan.

To begin operations, however, some other infrastructure will probably be required first. The team plans to build solar panels and batteries from regolith as well, providing power sources for the telescope. They hope ISRU techniques like these will be tested and proven in conjunction with the Artemis program in the coming years.

Finally, for FarView to succeed, some consideration will have to be given to communications. When China landed their Chang’e 4 lander on the far side of the Moon in 2019, they first had to put a communications satellite (Queqiao) at the Earth-Moon L2 Lagrange point, to allow the lander to talk to Earth. NASA has no such satellite available yet – and cooperation with China in space has been politically difficult in recent years. A Lunar far side observatory is going to require some innovation: either in engineering, or in diplomacy.

Are Lunar Observatories the Future of Astronomy?

With new mega-constellations like Starlink coming online in the next few decades, Earth-based astronomy is becoming more and more challenging. These low-flying satellite swarms create bright streaks of light which pollute telescope imagery. Lunar observatories might seem like a promising alternative to sidestep this problem. But the fact is that for most types of telescopes, you just can’t beat the cost and convenience of building them on Earth, even if Starlink gets in their way occasionally. As such, it seems likely that Lunar observatories like FarView will only supplement Earth-based observatories, not replace them, at least not anytime soon. Not even with ISRU.

Streaks across Earth-based telescope imagery, caused by an early batch of Starlink satellites in November 2019. Image Credit: NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory/CTIO/AURA/DELVE/Clara Martínez-Vázquez and Cliff Johnson.

FarView is exciting not because it solves the Starlink problem (which mostly affects optical telescopes anyways), but rather because FarView offers a unique opportunity for low-frequency radio astronomy, something not viable on Earth due to all of the radio noise we create. With FarView, we could learn things about the cosmic dark ages that just aren’t possible with Earth-based infrastructure. Its scientific value is huge. Just don’t count on it to act as a substitute for mega-constellation regulations, or streak-reducing brightness mitigation techniques. We’re still going to need those to ensure Earth-based astronomy can coexist with mega-constellations, because neither of them are going anywhere any time soon.

New ground-based telescopes like the Vera Rubin Observatory and the Extremely Large Telescope are going to do amazing things in the next decade. If and when FarView joins them, it might just ring in a new golden age of astronomy, with Earth, space, and Moon telescopes alike working together to understand our place in the Universe. It’s a goal worth pursuing, and with a little cooperation and ingenuity, it just might come sooner than we think.

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