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Mars 2020 Takes a Test Drive – Universe Today

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NASA’s Mars 2020 rover has passed its driving test. The test was mostly a forward and backward maneuver, with a six-wheeled pirouette thrown in. It’s autonomous navigation system was also part of the test. Like a toddler’s first tentative steps, this is an important milestone.

This was a significant test for the rover. According to NASA, the rover passed the test and has earned its driver’s license. The next time it drives will be on the surface of Mars.

“Mars 2020 has earned its driver’s license.”

Rich Rieber, Lead Mobility Systems Engineer, Mars 2020 Rover

“Mars 2020 has earned its driver’s license,” said Rich Rieber, the lead mobility systems engineer for Mars 2020. “The test unambiguously proved that the rover can operate under its own weight and demonstrated many of the autonomous-navigation functions for the first time. This is a major milestone for Mars 2020.”

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Though not exactly autonomous, the 2020 rover is designed to make more of its own driving decisions than previous rovers. It has high-resolution, wide field-of-view navigation cameras, part of the group of 23 cameras it’s equipped with. That’s more than any previous rover. The rover has extra computer power that it’ll use to process images and make maps. It also has more sophisticated auto-navigation software.

<img src="https://www.universetoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/RoverCams-1024×553.png" alt=" An image of the 2020 rover showing all of its cameras. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech” class=”wp-image-144445″ srcset=”https://www.universetoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/RoverCams-1024×553.png 1024w, https://www.universetoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/RoverCams-580×313.png 580w, https://www.universetoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/RoverCams-250×135.png 250w, https://www.universetoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/RoverCams-768×415.png 768w, https://www.universetoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/RoverCams-1536×829.png 1536w, https://www.universetoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/RoverCams.png 1775w” sizes=”(max-width: 767px) 89vw, (max-width: 1000px) 54vw, (max-width: 1071px) 543px, 580px”>
<Click to Enlarge> An image of the 2020 rover showing all of its cameras. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The 2020 rover will cover a lot of ground during its projected 668 sol (one Martian year) mission to find evidence of past microbial life on Mars. It’ll land at Jezero Crater in February 2021, and to get around on the surface of Mars, it’ll rely on redesigned aluminum wheels, each one with its own motor.

Getting a rover to Mars is a long, complicated undertaking, involving a lot of testing. Here’s the 2020 rover getting probed in a clean room. The probe measures how much light reaches each part of the rover. Image Credit: By NASA/JPL-Caltech

“To fulfill the mission’s ambitious science goals, we need the Mars 2020 rover to cover a lot of ground,” said Katie Stack Morgan, Mars 2020 deputy project scientist.

The 2020 rover is designed to travel about 200 meters (650 ft) every Martian day. To put that into perspective, the record for the longest distance travelled by a rover in one day belongs to NASA’s Opportunity rover. It covered 214 meters (702 ft) in a single day. So 2020’s average day will be about equal to the longest distance ever travelled by a rover in one day.

“We can’t wait to put some red Martian dirt under its wheels.”

John McNamee, Mars 2020 Project Manager.

This latest test took place on Dec. 17th. It was a marathon 10 hour testing session that saw all of the rover’s systems working together. Not only did it drive and steer and turn in place, but it maneuvered over small ramps, to replicate some of the terrain it’ll face on Mars. Since Martian gravity is weaker than Earth’s—only about 3/8ths as strong—NASA expects the rover to perform well once it reaches its destination.

“A rover needs to rove, and Mars 2020 did that yesterday,” said John McNamee, Mars 2020 project manager. “We can’t wait to put some red Martian dirt under its wheels.”

The rover’s wheels are arranged on a pair of legs on each side of the rover, with three wheels per leg. The leg is made out of titanium, one of the lightest and strongest materials available. Each of the aluminum wheels has 48 grousers or cleats on them, which should provide superior traction on Mars’ surface. Each wheel also has its own drive engine, and each of the front and rear wheels also have steering engines, allowing the rover to turn in place.

Personnel attaching the starboard leg and wheel assembly on the 2020 rover. These are engineering models, used only in testing. The flight models will be attached prior to the mission. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Personnel attaching the starboard leg and wheel assembly on the 2020 rover. These are engineering models, used only in testing. The flight models will be attached prior to the mission. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The wheels also have titanium spokes, which are curved and provide springy support for the 2020 rover. Together, the wheels, legs and engines are called the mobility suspension. The sophisticated system allows the rover to drive over rocks that are about thigh-high on a person, or 1.5 times the wheel diameter. (78 cm; 31 inches)

A close-up of the 2020 Rover's aluminum wheels and curved, titanium spokes. Image Credit: By X-Javier - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64959274
A close-up of the 2020 Rover’s aluminum wheels and curved, titanium spokes. Image Credit: By X-Javier – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64959274

The 2020 rover will land in the Jezero Crater on Mars. It’s the sight of a long-gone paleo-lake. There’s an abundance of clay minerals there, as well as a fossilized river delta created by an ancient river that flowed into the crater.

Orbital picture of the Jezero crater, showing its fossil river delta. Credit: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/MSSS/BROWN UNIVERSITY
Orbital picture of the Jezero crater, showing its fossil river delta. Credit: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/MSSS/BROWN UNIVERSITY

The image below shows 2020’s landing spot, as well as the landing locations of other Mars rovers and landers.

Lander and rover landing locations on Mars. Image Credit: NASA
Lander and rover landing locations on Mars. Image Credit: NASA

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is building the 2020 rover, and they’ll operate it as well. The 2020 rover is part of a larger program that aims to see humans on Mars. That program includes the Artemis Program, which intends to land humans on the Moon again by 2024, including the first woman on the Moon. NASA also plans to establish a sustained human presence there by 2028, as one of the stepping stones to a crewed mission to Mars.

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The detection of phosphine in Venus' clouds is a big deal – here's how we can find out if it really is life – The Conversation US

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On Sept. 14, 2020, a new planet was added to the list of potentially habitable worlds in the Solar System: Venus.

Phosphine, a toxic gas made up of one phosphorus and three hydrogen atoms (PH₃), commonly produced by organic life forms but otherwise difficult to make on rocky planets, was discovered in the middle layer of the Venus atmosphere. This raises the tantalizing possibility that something is alive on our planetary neighbor. With this discovery, Venus joins the exalted ranks of Mars and the icy moons Enceladus and Europa among planetary bodies where life may once have existed, or perhaps might even still do so today.

I’m a planetary scientist and something of a Venus evangelical. This discovery is one of the most exciting made about Venus in a very long time — and opens up a new set of possibilities for further exploration in search of life in the Solar System.

Venus as seen in the infrared by the Japanese Akatsuki spacecraft. The warm colors are from the hot lower atmosphere glowing through the cooler cloud layers above. Image credit: JAXA/ISAS/DARTS/Damia Bouic.
JAXA/ISAS/DARTS/Damia Bouic

Atmospheric mysteries

First, it’s critical to point out that this detection does not mean that astronomers have found alien life in the clouds of Venus. Far from it, in fact.

Although the discovery team identified phosphine at Venus with two different telescopes, helping to confirm the initial detection, phosphine gas can result from several processes that are unrelated to life, such as lightning, meteor impacts or even volcanic activity.

However, the quantity of phosphine detected in the Venusian clouds seems to be far greater than those processes are capable of generating, allowing the team to rule out numerous inorganic possibilities. But our understanding of the chemistry of Venus’ atmosphere is sorely lacking: Only a handful of missions have plunged through the inhospitable, carbon dioxide-dominated atmosphere to take samples among the global layer of sulfuric acid clouds.

So we planetary scientists are faced with two possibilities: Either there is some sort of life in the Venus clouds, generating phosphine, or there is unexplained and unexpected chemistry taking place there. How do we find out which it is?

A model of the Soviet Vega 1 spacecraft at the Udvar-Hazy Center, Dulles International Airport. Vega 1 carried a balloon to Venus on its way to visit Halley’s Comet in 1985.
Daderot

First and foremost, we need more information about the abundance of PH₃ in the Venus atmosphere, and we can learn something about this from Earth. Just as the discovery team did, existing telescopes capable of detecting phosphine around Venus can be used for follow-up observations, to both definitively confirm the initial finding and figure out if the amount of PH₃ in the atmosphere changes with time. In parallel, there is now a huge opportunity to carry out lab work to better understand the types of chemical reactions that might be possible on Venus — for which we have very limited information at present.

Antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope, on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes. The telescope was used to confirm the initial detection of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere.
ESO/C. Malin.

Once more unto the breach

But measurements on and from Earth can take us only so far. To really get to the heart of this mystery, we need to go back to Venus. Spacecraft equipped with spectrometers that can detect phosphine from orbit could be dispatched to the second planet with the express purpose of characterizing where, and how much, of this gas is there. Because spacecraft can survive for many years in Venus’ orbit, we could obtain continuous observations with a dedicated orbiter over a much longer period than with telescopes on Earth.

But even orbital data can’t tell us the whole story. To fully get a handle on what’s happening at Venus, we have to actually get into the atmosphere. And that’s where aerial platforms come in. Capable of operating above much of the acidic cloud layer – where the temperature and pressure are almost Earthlike – for potentially months at a time, balloons or flying wings could take detailed atmospheric composition measurements there. These craft could even carry the kinds of instruments being developed to look for life on Europa. At that point, humanity might finally be able to definitively tell if we share our Solar System with Venusian life.

A concept for an aerial platform at Venus. Two connected balloons could take turns to inflate, allowing the balloon to control the altitude at which it floats. An instrument package would then hang from below the balloons.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

A new dawn for Venus exploration?

Thirty-one years have elapsed since the United States last sent a dedicated mission to Venus. That could soon change as NASA considers two of four missions in the late 2020s targeting Venus. One, called VERITAS, would carry a powerful radar to peer through the thick clouds and return unprecedented high-resolution images of the surface. The other, DAVINCI+, would plunge through the atmosphere, sampling the air as it descended, perhaps even able to sniff any phosphine present. NASA plans to pick at least one mission in April 2021.

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I have argued before for a return to Venus, and will continue to do so. Even without this latest scientific discovery, Venus is a compelling exploration target, with tantalizing evidence that the planet once had oceans and perhaps even suffered a hellish fate at the hands of its own volcanic eruptions.

But with the detection of a potential biomarker in Venus’ atmosphere, we now have yet another major reason to return to the world ancient Greek astronomers called Phosphorus — a name for Venus that, it turns out, is wonderfully prescient.

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Texas youth hockey coach, 29, dies from coronavirus complications days after feeling sick – Fox News

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A 29-year-old North Texas youth hockey coach died late last month from coronavirus complications after feeling sick for just three days, according to reports.

Tyler Amburgey was a “loving husband and a loving father” who had played hockey since he was 7 years old, his wife, Aimee Amburgey, told WFAA-TV in Dallas. Their daughter, Rylee, is 8 years old.

She said her husband first thought he had caught a cold traveling from rink to rink like he usually did in late summer.

“It started out like originally…with him getting like all…normal cold symptoms,” she told the station.

He then started to suffer from nausea, sleeplessness, shortness of breath, fatigue and migraines, FOX 4 in Dallas reported.

UNITED KINGDOM SEES SPIKE IN CORONAVIRUS CASES, SECOND LOCKDOWN MAY BE LOOMING 

By the third day, Aug. 29, his wife said he finally canceled his hockey practice, where some players had already tested positive, and went to bed at their home in Lavon, Texas, north of Dallas.

Soon after, she found him unresponsive in bed. She called 911 but it was too late, she told WFAA.

The medical examiner said a sleeping pill Amburgey took combined with the virus to slow his heart until it stopped, his grandfather, Paul Hinds, told the Journal Star in Peoria, Illinois. Amburgey was a former Peoria Rivermen hockey player.

“He told us sleeping pills slow your heart rate, and in combination with COVID-19, which also slows your heart, Tyler’s heart stopped,” he said. “We were unaware he had COVID-19. No one knew that when he gathered to see him.”

Amburgey played for several minor league teams before becoming a coach, The New York Times reported.

FAUCI WOULD BET ON EFFECTIVE AND SAFE CORONAVIRUS VACCINE BY NOVEMBER OR DECEMBER 

He suffered several concussions and had five hip surgeries during his career. It’s unclear if any of that made him more vulnerable to the virus.

He only tested positive for the virus after his death, Hinds told the Journal Star.

“Hockey meant everything to him,” Aimee Amburgey told The Times. “When he got a new pair of skates, he was like a kid at Christmas. You never saw anyone so pumped up about new equipment, even shin guards.”

“I just want him to be remembered for more than just a person that… passed away from COVID,” she added.

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Nearly 30 youth players and coaches have tested positive for the virus this month, which could be linked to a recent tournament in the area, the Dallas County Health and Human Services said, FOX 4 reported.

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How to spot a Starlink satellite in the night sky – Trading U

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There are hundreds of SpaceX satellites in the sky. A successful sighting just requires a bit of luck, writes Abigail Beall

Space


16 September 2020

Denise Taylor/Getty Images

What you need

The Find Starlink website or something similar

A spot of sky viewed away from light pollution

OUR skies are filling up with satellites. Starting in May 2019, the firm SpaceX has deployed around 700 Starlink satellites into Earth orbit over 11 launches. SpaceX plans to deploy 12,000, and perhaps later 42,000, satellites with the aim of providing internet access to the entire world.

These satellites have the potential to change the way that the night sky looks. For comparison, there are only around 2600 satellites currently orbiting Earth. These days, …

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