Launched in July last year, NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover is now only weeks away from completing the crucial first step of its mission – landing on the planet’s desolate rusty-red surface. The project is one of the space agency’s most ambitious yet, as it is expected to help pave the way for future human expeditions to Mars.
The numbers involved in the NASA mission almost defy comprehension – the spacecraft carrying the rover has already travelled 80.03 million miles (128 million km).
This has involved the spaceship’s precious cargo travelling through space at average speeds (relative to the Sun) of 51,739mph (83,265kmh).
But the probe’s journey is fast approaching its destination, with a ‘mere’ 6.32 million miles (10.17 million km) remaining, as of Sunday, January 3.
In order to prepare the public for this historic moment in space exploration, NASA has created an interactive site where you can track Perseverance’s progress in real-time.
How will the Perseverance rover land on Mars?
The Perseverance rover mission will use the latest technology in order to maximise its chances of successfully descending and landing in the Jezero crater.
As with Perseverance’s precursor, the Curiosity rover, this latest probe will use a guided entry, descent, and landing system.
This will make use of a parachute, descent vehicle, and an approach called a ‘skycrane manoeuvre’ for lowering the rover on a tether to the surface during the final seconds before landing.
NASA said: “This type of landing system provides the ability to land a very large, heavy rover on the surface of Mars in a more precise landing area than was possible before Curiosity’s landing.
“Mars 2020 takes things one step further. It adds new entry, descent, and landing technologies, such as Terrain-Relative Navigation.
“This sophisticated navigation system allows the rover to detect and avoid hazardous terrain by diverting around it during its descent through the Martian atmosphere.
“A microphone allows engineers to analyse entry, descent, and landing.
“It might also capture sounds of the rover at work, which would provide engineers with clues about the rover’s health and operations, and would be a treat to hear.”
What is the NASA Perseverance rover’s mission?
The Perseverance rover has four science objectives that support the Mars Exploration Program’s science goals.
These include looking for habitability, seeking biosignatures, caching samples and preparing for humans.
A key function of Perseverance Rover is to search for signs of ancient alien microbial life.
The rover has been equipped with a drill for collecting core samples of Martian rock and soil.
These will then be sealed in tubes awaiting collection by a future mission, which will then return them to Earth for detailed analysis.
NASA said in a statement: “Perseverance will also test technologies to help pave the way for future human exploration of Mars.
“Strapped to the rover’s belly for the journey to Mars is a technology demonstration — the Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, may achieve a ‘Wright Brothers moment’ by testing the first powered flight on the Red Planet.
“There are several ways that the mission helps pave the way for future human expeditions to Mars and demonstrates technologies that may be used in those endeavours.
“These include testing a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, identifying other resources (such as subsurface water), improving landing techniques, and characterising weather, dust, and other potential environmental conditions that could affect future astronauts living and working on Mars.”
100-million-year old beetle fossil sheds light on family of ancient bugs – CNET
A beetle trapped in amber for over 100 million years is offering scientists clues to why the bioluminescent insects may have glowed way back during the Cretaceous period, about 145 to 66 million years ago.
In a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, scientists reveal that a Cretophengodes beetle found “preserved with life-like fidelity in amber” has a direct connection to its firefly cousins.
It’s been a bit of a mystery to scientists why ancient beetles could glow. But based on their distant relatives like fireflies, scientists believe the function could likely have been used as a defense against predators, as well as a way to attract mates — much like the modern-day beetle larvae in the same family have used light.
“The discovery of a new extinct Elateroid beetle family is significant,” study co-author Erik Tihelka from the School of Earth Sciences said in a statement, “because it helps shed light on the evolution of these fascinating beetles.”
Because this particular beetle fossil was well-preserved in amber, scientists were able to see the light organ on the abdomen of the male beetle. That provides proof adult Cretophengodes were able to produce light, some 100 million years ago.
The majority of light-producing beetles belong to the Elateroidea family, which has over 24,000 known species. The discovery of this beetle provides the missing fossil link between living families, and in doing so helps scientists understand how these beetles evolved and how they should be classified.
With the recent launch of Starlink, SpaceX set a record for rapid reuse – Sunday Vision
SpaceX continues to make strides as it pushes the boundaries of reusing the Falcon 9 first stage rocket.
On Wednesday morning, the company plans to launch the next batch of 60 Starlink satellites, and reuse the booster number 1051. This will in fact be the eighth flight of this Falcon 9 rocket – setting a new record for the number of uses for any single rocket core. SpaceX expects to reach 10 uses of at least one stage of the Falcon 9 later this year.
The next launch attempt is also noteworthy as it would mark a rapid turnaround for this first phase. The missile last flew on December 13, launching the Sirius XM-7 mission in geostationary transport orbit. This 38-day period will significantly eclipse the previous Falcon 9 Phase 1 transformation margin, which is 51 days. This indicates that the company’s engineers and technicians are continuing to learn best practices for recovering and refurbishing the missiles.
The Starlink mission is scheduled to launch at 8:02 AM EST (13:02 UTC) on Wednesday from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Its launch was originally delayed by 24 hours from Monday due to unfavorable weather conditions in the offshore recovery area, where Just read the instructions Will wait for the return of the first stage. Then the important company delayed an additional day, say More time was needed for “pre-launch inspections”. It is not clear if this refers to the missile or the payload.
This will be the sixteenth launch of “operational” Starlink satellites, in addition to an earlier launch of experimental satellites. This mission is already the largest satellite operator in the world, and will bring the total number of Starlink satellites launched by SpaceX to over 1,000. Some of these satellites are no longer operational, are in the process of exiting orbit, or have already done so.
In starting to build this constellation, SpaceX owns it Introducing a public beta To define the regions of North America and is expected to offer broader coverage later this year. First impressions It was generally positive.
At the same time, SpaceX is also working to address the concerns of scientists who are concerned that large constellations of satellites transmitting the Internet from space will distort the night sky and damage astronomical observations. Last year, the company started adding “masks” to reduce the reflection of its satellites. However, Recent analysis From these “DarkSats” they indicate that more effort may be required.
Weather conditions for launch on Wednesday appear favorable for the mission, both at the launch site and in the recovery area. SpaceX should start live 15 minutes before take off.
All-purpose dinosaur opening reconstructed – Science Daily
For the first time ever, a team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol, have described in detail a dinosaur’s cloacal or vent — the all-purpose opening used for defecation, urination and breeding.
Although most mammals may have different openings for these functions, most vertebrate animals possess a cloaca.
Although we know now much about dinosaurs and their appearance as feathered, scaly and horned creatures and even which colours they sported, we have not known anything about how the vent appears.
Dr Jakob Vinther from the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, along with colleagues Robert Nicholls, a palaeoartist, and Dr Diane Kelly, an expert on vertebrate penises and copulatory systems from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, have now described the first cloacal vent region from a small Labrador-sized dinosaur called Psittacosaurus, comparing it to vents across modern vertebrate animals living on land.
Dr Vinther said: “I noticed the cloaca several years ago after we had reconstructed the colour patterns of this dinosaur using a remarkable fossil on display at the Senckenberg Museum in Germany which clearly preserves its skin and colour patterns.
“It took a long while before we got around to finish it off because no one has ever cared about comparing the exterior of cloacal openings of living animals, so it was largely unchartered territory.”
Dr Kelly added: “Indeed, they are pretty non-descript. We found the vent does look different in many different groups of tetrapods, but in most cases it doesn’t tell you much about an animal’s sex.
“Those distinguishing features are tucked inside the cloaca, and unfortunately, they’re not preserved in this fossil.”
The cloaca is unique in its appearance but exhibits features reminiscent to living crocodylians such as alligators and crocodiles, which are the closest living relatives to dinosaurs and other birds.
The researchers note that the outer margins of the cloaca are highly pigmented with melanin. They argue that this pigmentation provided the vent with a function in display and signalling, similar to living baboons and some breeding salamanders.
The authors also speculate that the large, pigmented lobes on either side of the opening could have harboured musky scent glands, as seen in living crocodylians.
Birds are one the few vertebrate groups that occasionally exhibit visual signalling with the cloaca, which the scientists now can extend back to the Mesozoic dinosaur ancestors.
Robert Nicholls said: “As a palaeoartist, it has been absolutely amazing to have an opportunity to reconstruct one of the last remaining features we didn’t know anything about in dinosaurs.
“Knowing that at least some dinosaurs were signalling to each other gives palaeoartists exciting freedom to speculate on a whole variety of now plausible interactions during dinosaur courtship. It is a game changer!”
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