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NASA Contacts Voyager 2 – 11.6 Billion Miles From Earth – Using Upgraded Deep Space Station – SciTechDaily

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The only radio antenna that can command the 43-year-old spacecraft has been offline since March as it gets new hardware, but work is on track to wrap up in February.

On October 29, 2020, mission operators sent a series of commands to NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft for the first time since mid-March. The spacecraft has been flying solo while the 70-meter-wide (230-foot-wide) radio antenna used to talk to it has been offline for repairs and upgrades. Voyager 2 returned a signal confirming it had received the “call” and executed the commands without issue.

The call to Voyager 2 was a test of new hardware recently installed on Deep Space Station 43, the only dish in the world that can send commands to Voyager 2. Located in Canberra, Australia, it is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN), a collection of radio antennas around the world used primarily to communicate with spacecraft operating beyond the Moon. Since the dish went offline, mission operators have been able to receive health updates and science data from Voyager 2, but they haven’t been able to send commands to the far-flung probe, which has traveled billions of miles from Earth since its 1977 launch.

Deep Space Station 43 Radio Antenna Upgrade

Crews conduct critical upgrades and repairs to the 70-meter-wide (230-foot-wide) radio antenna Deep Space Station 43 in Canberra, Australia. In this clip, one of the antenna’s white feed cones (which house portions of the antenna receivers) is being moved by a crane. Credit: CSIRO

Among the upgrades to DSS43, as the dish is known, are two new radio transmitters. One of them, which is used to talk with Voyager 2, hasn’t been replaced in over 47 years. Engineers have also upgraded heating and cooling equipment, power supply equipment, and other electronics needed to run the new transmitters.

The successful call to Voyager 2 is just one indication that the dish will be back online in February 2021.

“What makes this task unique is that we’re doing work at all levels of the antenna, from the pedestal at ground level all the way up to the feedcones at the center of the dish that extend above the rim,” said Brad Arnold, the DSN project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Southern California. “This test communication with Voyager 2 definitely tells us that things are on track with the work we’re doing.”

Worldwide Network

The Deep Space Network consists of radio antenna facilities spaced equally around the globe in Canberra; Goldstone, California; and Madrid, Spain. The positioning of the three facilities ensures that almost any spacecraft with a line of sight to Earth can communicate with at least one of the facilities at any time.

Voyager 2 is the rare exception. In order to make a close flyby of Neptune’s moon Triton in 1989, the probe flew over the planet’s north pole. That trajectory deflected it southward relative to the plane of the planets, and it has been heading in that direction ever since. Now more than 11.6 billion miles (18.8 billion kilometers) from Earth, the spacecraft is so far south that it doesn’t have a line of sight with radio antennas in the Northern Hemisphere.

Click on this interactive visualization of NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft and take it for a spin Launched in 1977, the spacecraft is now more than 11.6 billion miles (18.8 billion kilometers) from Earth. Trace its dramatic history through Eyes on the Solar System. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

DSS43 is the only dish in the Southern Hemisphere that has a transmitter powerful enough and that broadcasts the right frequency to send commands to the distant spacecraft. Voyager 2’s faster-moving twin, Voyager 1, took a different path past Saturn and can communicate via antennas at the two DSN facilities in the Northern Hemisphere. The antennas must uplink commands to both Voyagers in a radio frequency range called S-band, and the antennas downlink data from the spacecraft in a range called X-band.

While mission operators haven’t been able to command Voyager 2 since DSS43 went offline, the three 34-meter-wide (111-foot-wide) radio antennas at the Canberra facility can be used together to capture the signals that Voyager 2 sends to Earth. The probe is sending back science data from interstellar space, or the region outside our Sun’s heliosphere – the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun that surrounds the planets and the Kuiper Belt (the collection of small, icy bodies beyond Neptune’s orbit).

DSS43 began operating in 1972 (five years before the launch of Voyager 2 and Voyager 1) and was only 64 meters (210 feet) wide at the time. It was expanded to 70 meters (230 feet) in 1987 and has received a variety of upgrades and repairs since then. But the engineers overseeing the current work say this is one of the most significant makeovers the dish has received and the longest it’s been offline in over 30 years.

Deep Space Station 23 Dish

NASA is adding a new dish to its Deep Space Network. This artist’s concept shows what Deep Space Station-23, a new antenna dish capable of supporting both radio wave and laser communications, will look like when completed at the Deep Space Network’s Goldstone, California, complex. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“The DSS43 antenna is a highly specialized system; there are only two other similar antennas in the world, so having the antenna down for one year is not an ideal situation for Voyager or for many other NASA missions,” said Philip Baldwin, operations manager for NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Program. “The agency made the decision to conduct these upgrades to ensure that the antenna can continue to be used for current and future missions. For an antenna that is almost 50 years old, it’s better to be proactive than reactive with critical maintenance.”

The repairs will benefit other missions, including the Mars Perseverance rover, which will land on the Red Planet Feb. 18, 2021. The network will also play a critical role in Moon to Mars exploration efforts, ensuring communication and navigation support for both the precursor Moon and Mars missions and the crewed Artemis missions.

The Deep Space Network is managed by JPL for the SCaN Program, located at NASA Headquarters within the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. The Canberra station is managed on NASA’s behalf by Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

The Voyager spacecraft were built by JPL, which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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Beaver moon eclipsed by Earth's shadow tonight | Georgia Straight Vancouver's News & Entertainment Weekly – Straight.com

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November’s full moon will undergo a partial eclipse after midnight Sunday (November 29) when it slides across the outer (penumbral) edge of Earth’s shadow during the early hours of November 30.

This moon—sometimes called the beaver moon because it comes at a time when beavers are stepping up activities to prepare for the cold winter months ahead—will rise in the east and climb the night sky until the start of the eclipse.

Because the full moon will not cross into the darkest part of our planet’s shadow (the umbra), the eclipse—which will affect about 83 percent of the satellite’s surface—will be seen as a darkening of the affected area.

The partial eclipse will start at 1:42 a.m., when the moon should be high overhead and to the southwest. The moon will take more than four hours to traverse the Earth’s penumbra.

When the moon sets, at 6:56 a.m. Vancouver time, it should be coloured orange.

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NOAA scientists discover new species of gelatinous animal near Puerto Rico – CTV News

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Scientists have discovered a new species of ctenophore, or comb jelly, near Puerto Rico.

The newly named Duobrachium sparksae was discovered two and a half miles below sea level by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries research team. It was found during an underwater expedition using a remotely operated vehicle in 2015 and filmed by a high-definition camera.

NOAA Fisheries scientists Mike Ford and Allen Collins spotted the ctenophore and recognized it as a new species. This is the first time NOAA scientists have identified a new species using only high-definition video, according to NOAA.

“The cameras on the Deep Discoverer robot are able to get high-resolution images and measure structures less than a millimeter. We don’t have the same microscopes as we would in a lab, but the video can give us enough information to understand the morphology in detail, such as the location of their reproductive parts and other aspects,” Collins said.

The scientists also said there was another unique quality to the discovery. During the expedition, they were not able to gather any samples, so the video evidence is all they have.

“Naming of organisms is guided by international code, but some changes have allowed descriptions of new species based on video — certainly when species are rare and when collection is impossible,” Ford said. “When we made these observations, we were 4,000 metres down, using a remote vehicle, and we did not have the capabilities to take a sample.”

There are between 100 and 150 species of comb jellies, and despite their name, they are not related to jellyfish at all, according to the NOAA. The species is carnivorous, and many are highly efficient predators that eat small arthropods and many kinds of larvae.

The researchers said that there did not initially get a long look at the animal, so there is still a lot about this new species that they do not know yet. Their findings were recently published in the journal Plankton and Benthos Research.

“We’re not sure of their role in the ecosystem yet,” Ford said.

“We can consider that it serves similar roles to other ctenophores near the ocean floor and it also has some similarities to other ctenophores in open ocean areas,” he said.

The videos are now part of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Collection and publicly accessible.

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You might want to stay up late: lunar eclipse to coincide with November’s Beaver full moon early Monday morning – Toronto Star

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A special celestial event is set to grace Toronto skies early Monday morning.

The November full moon, which is traditionally called the Beaver moon, will coincide with a penumbral lunar eclipse.

This kind of eclipse event happens when the moon crosses Earth’s outer shadow, or penumbra, giving it a reddish brown hue.

Those in Toronto will be able to observe the phenomenon starting 2:29 a.m. ET. The eclipse will be at its peak at 4:42 a.m. ET.

Environment Canada predicts partly cloudy skies at that time, but stargazing enthusiasts may be able to get a glimpse of the moon.

Although the Canadian Space Agency notes lunar eclipses are usually among the most observable because you can see them — quite safely — with the naked eye, with the more subtle penumbral eclipse they recommend using binoculars or a small telescope for the best viewing experience.

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