The Mars 2020 rover, which sets off for the Red Planet next year, will not only search for traces of ancient life, but pave the way for future human missions, NASA scientists said Friday as they unveiled the vehicle.
The rover has been constructed in a large, sterile room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, near Los Angeles, where its driving equipment was given its first successful test last week.
Shown to invited journalists on Friday, it is scheduled to leave Earth in July 2020 from Florida’s Cape Canaveral, becoming the fifth US rover to land on Mars seven months later in February.
“It’s designed to seek the signs of life, so we’re carrying a number of different instruments that will help us understand the geological and chemical context on the surface of Mars,” deputy mission leader Matt Wallace told AFP.
Among the devices on board the rover are 23 cameras, two “ears” that will allow it to listen to Martian winds, and lasers used for chemical analysis.
Approximately the size of a car, the rover is equipped with six wheels like its predecessor Curiosity, allowing it to traverse rocky terrain.
Speed is not a priority for the vehicle, which only has to cover around 200 yards (180 metres) per Martian day – approximately the same as a day on Earth.
Fuelled by a miniature nuclear reactor, Mars 2020 has seven-foot-long (two metre) articulated arms and a drill to crack open rock samples in locations scientists identify as potentially suitable for life.
“What we’re looking for is ancient microbial life – we’re talking about billions of years ago on Mars, when the planet was much more Earth-like,” said Wallace.
Back then, the Red Planet had warm surface water, a thicker atmosphere and a magnetic force around it, he explained.
“And so it was much more conducive to the types of simple single cell life that evolved here on Earth at that time,” Wallace said.
Once collected, the samples will be hermetically sealed in tubes by the rover.
The tubes will then be discarded on the planet’s surface, where they will lie until a future mission can transport them back to Earth.
“We are hoping to move fairly quickly. We’d like to see the next mission launched in 2026, which will get to Mars and pick up the samples, put them into a rocket and propel that sample into orbit around Mars,” said Wallace.
“The sample would then rendezvous with an orbiter and the orbiter would bring the sample back to the Earth.”
Samples should reach Earth “in the course of a decade or so,” he added.
According to a new Planetary Science Journal report published by CBS News, a giant metallic asteroid, valued at around $ 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 – more than the entire earth’s economy – orbits Mars and Jupiter.
Asteroid 16 Psyche, as it is called, is possibly the remainder of a planetary core that never properly formed into an actual planet. While most asteroids are made of stone or ice, the incredibly dense psyche is mostly metal and about 140 miles in diameter, making it the size of Massachusetts.
The new study by the Planetary Science Journal found that psyche may be composed of iron and nickel, which are typically found in the cores of planets.
“We have seen meteorites made mostly of metal, but Psyche may be unique in that it is an asteroid made entirely of iron and nickel,” said lead study author Dr. Tracy Becker in a statement. “The earth has a metal core, a mantle and a crust. It is possible that when a psyche protoplanet was forming, it was hit by another object in our solar system and lost its mantle and crust. ”
NASA plans to launch an unmanned spacecraft called Psyche on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in 2022 to reach the asteroid and study its composition and history. This is the first time NASA has reached a body made entirely of metal. The spaceship will hit the psyche in January 2026.
Back in 2017, researchers told CBS News that they would not use the asteroid’s $ 10,000 trillion metal mass for business profits.
“What makes Psyche and the other asteroids so interesting is that they are seen as the building blocks of the solar system,” said Becker. “It’s fascinating to understand what really makes a planet and possibly see the inside of a planet.” Once we get to Psyche, we will truly understand whether this is the case, even if it is not what we are expect. Whenever there is a surprise, it is always exciting. ”
If you like weird and wild science stories head over to IGN’s science news hub. A rogue planet swimming through the Milky Way was also recently discovered. In addition, scientists discovered that the amusingly named “Black Widow Star” is the source of the gamma rays that give Hulk his superpowers.
Oh, and the moon is wet.
Joseph Knoop is a writer / reporter / floating crowd for IGN. Keep it circulating on Twitter.
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Not only is it Halloween, but Saturday night also marks two rare lunar events.
We are in for a blue moon and a micromoon.
According to NASA, a blue moon occurs about seven times every 19 years.
The moon will not actually be blue Saturday night, the term refers to the time when a second full moon occurs in one month.
The last full moon was on October 1.
A micromoon, opposite to a supermoon, is when the moon is at its furthest point from Earth.
Victor Arora, observatory co-ordinator at the University of Waterloo, said not only will the special moon be visible all night, but Mars will also be easy to spot.
“On this evening you’ll be looking at the confluence of these two or three different cosmic events…it makes it a little bit more meaningful…If you want to see the full moon rise just basically look towards the sun, and turn around so your back is against the sun, and that’s the direction the moon will be rising from.”
Arora added being outdoors and enjoying a unique event such as a blue moon, is a great pandemic-friendly activity.
“There has been an uptick in interest among people wanting to observe in the evenings. Things like telescope sales have gone through the roof – I’ve heard, and spending time with your close circle and getting out into nature.”
Earlier in October, NASA successfully collected rocky samples from asteroid Bennu, a relatively small, well-preserved space rock some 200 million miles from Earth. On Friday, NASA released footage of the spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx, approaching and briefly touching down on the rubbly Bennu. The events, seen in the space agency’s tweet below, show OSIRIS-REx carefully descending to Bennu’s rock-strewn surface.
The spacecraft collected some 60 grams, or about two ounces, of fine-grained material during the quicktouchdown, which lasted under 16 seconds. To planetary scientists, this asteroidal stuff is invaluable: Bennu hasn’t changed much since the formation of our solar system (4.5 billion years ago), so the samples provide a glimpse into our past, and how our planets formed.
“They are like time capsules from the beginning of our solar system,” Richard Binzel, an astronomer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a scientist working on the OSIRIS-REx mission, told Mashable. “This is like sampling the original ingredients for making planets.”
NASA called the endeavor a “Touch-And-Go (TAG) sample collection event.” The maneuver was indeed a quick “tag” of Bennu’s surface. OSIRIS-REx carefully approached the asteroid for over four hours before briefly touching down and firing nitrogen gas to stir up fragments into Bennu’s sample collector. Then, the spacecraft promptly blasted away.
OSIRIS-REx captured so much surface material that some of the fine grains even escaped before the collector was stowed away for the return trip home. The spacecraft is expected to arrive on Earth with the invaluable cargo on Sep. 24, 2023.
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