Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, February 17, 2021 2:56PM EST
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Spacecraft aiming to land on Mars have skipped past the planet, burned up on entry, smashed into the surface, and made it down amid a fierce dust storm only to spit out a single fuzzy gray picture before dying.
Almost 50 years after the first casualty at Mars, NASA is attempting its hardest Martian touchdown yet.
The rover named Perseverance is headed Thursday for a compact 5-mile-by-4-mile (8-kilometre-by-6.4-kilometre) patch on the edge of an ancient river delta. It’s filled with cliffs, pits, sand dunes and fields of rocks, any of which could doom the $3 billion mission. The once submerged terrain also could hold evidence of past life, all the more reason to gather samples at this spot for return to Earth 10 years from now.
While NASA has done everything possible to ensure success, “there’s always this fear that it won’t work well, it won’t go well,” Erisa Stilley, a landing team engineer, said Tuesday. “We’ve had a pretty good run of successful missions recently and you never want to be the next one that isn’t. It’s heartbreaking when it happens.”
A look at NASA’s latest mission:
NASA has nailed eight of nine landing attempts, making the U.S. the only country to achieve a successful touchdown. China hopes to become the second nation in late spring with its own life-seeking rover; its vessel entered orbit around Mars last week along with a United Arab Emirates spacecraft. The red planet’s extremely thin atmosphere makes it hard to get down safely. Russia has piled up the most lander losses at Mars and moon Phobos, beginning in the early 1970s. The European Space Agency also has tried and failed. Two NASA landers are still humming along: 2012’s Curiosity rover and 2018’s InSight. Launched last July, Perseverance will set down some 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometres) away at Jezero Crater, descending by parachute, rocket engines and sky crane. The millions of lines of software code and hundreds of thousands of electric parts have to work with precision. “There’s no go-backs. There’s no retries,” deputy project manager Matt Wallace said Wednesday.
TOUGHEST LANDING YET
NASA has equipped the 1-ton Perseverance – a beefier version of Curiosity – with the latest landing tech to ace this touchdown. A new autopilot tool will calculate the descending rover’s distance to the targeted location and release the massive parachute at the precise moment. Then another system will scan the surface, comparing observations with on-board maps. The rover could detour up to 2,000 feet (600 metres) while seeking somewhere safe, Neil Armstrong style. Without these gizmos, Jezero Crater would be too risky to attempt. Once down, the six-wheeled Perseverance should be the best driver Mars has ever seen, with more autonomy and range than Curiosity. “Percy’s got a new set of kicks,” explained chief engineer Adam Steltzner, “and she is ready for trouble on this Martian surface with her new wheels.”
LOOKING FOR SIGNS OF LIFE
Where there was water, there may have been life. That’s why NASA wants Perseverance snooping around Jezero Crater, once home to a lake fed by a river. It’s now bone dry, but 3.5 billion years ago, this Martian lake was as big and wet as Nevada and California’s Lake Tahoe. Perseverance will shoot lasers at rocks judged most likely to contain evidence of past microscopic life, analyzing the emitted vapour, and drill into the best candidates. A few dozen core samples – about a pound’s worth (one-half kilogram) of rock and dust – will be set aside in sealed titanium tubes for future pickup.
Scientists have wanted to get hold of Mars rocks ever since NASA’s Mariners provided the first close pictures a half-century ago. NASA is teaming up with the European Space Agency to do just that. The bold plan calls for a rover and return rocket to launch to Mars in 2026, to retrieve Perseverance’s stash of samples. NASA expects to bring back the rocks as early as 2031, several years before the first astronauts might arrive on the scene. The rover’s super sterilized sample tubes are the cleanest components ever sent into space, according to NASA, to avoid any contaminating traces of Earth.
Speaking of clean, NASA’s Mars Mission Control has never been so spotless. Instead of passing around jars of peanuts right before Perseverance’s landing – a good luck tradition going back decades – masked flight controllers will get their own individual bags. It’s one of many COVID-19 precautions at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The landing team will be spread over multiple rooms, with NASA bigwigs and journalists watching remotely. Launched last July, the aptly named Perseverance bears a plaque honouring health care workers battling the virus over the past year.
Asteroid twice the size of the CN Tower to make fastest flyby of Earth this month – CTV Toronto
The biggest and fastest known asteroid of 2021 is expected to make a flyby of Earth later this month.
The space rock, officially called asteroid 231937 (designated 2001 FO32), will zoom past Earth on March 21 travelling at a speed of 123,887 kilometres per hour or 34.4 kilometres per second, according to NASA.
The asteroid is an estimated 1.1 kilometres wide, which is roughly twice the size of the CN Tower. Of the approximately 25,000 near-Earth asteroids that scientists know about, NASA says only about 3.5 per cent of them are larger than a kilometre.
Due to its size and proximity to Earth, asteroid 231937 has been classified as “potentially hazardous” by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) and is being tracked by the space agency.
NEOs are defined as space objects, such as asteroids or comets, that come within 1.3 astronomical units (195 million kilometres) of the sun. If the object is larger than 140 metres across, it is considered a potentially hazardous object (PHO).
Nearly one hundred known asteroids are set to fly past Earth before the end of 2021, NASA says, but asteroid 231937 is set to be the largest and fastest.
However, NASA says the asteroid’s orbit is well known and poses no threat to humans.
According to the space agency, the asteroid will make is closest approach at 16:03 UTC (11:03 a.m. EST), at over two million kilometres away from Earth. NASA notes that this is nearly five times farther than the distance the moon orbits Earth.
Despite being two million kilometres away, NASA says this will be the asteroid’s closest encounter on record. According to NASA’s records dating as far back as the early 1900s, the space rock has not come closer to Earth and won’t do so again for 200 years.
Asteroid 231937 was discovered on March 23, 2001, by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program in New Mexico, according to NASA. It orbits the sun every 810 days and is classified as an Apollo asteroid as it travels from inside Mercury’s orbit to the asteroid belt and back, crossing Earth’s orbit in an elliptical pattern.
While those interested in catching a glimpse of the asteroid won’t be able to do so with their eyes, EarthSky reports that stargazers may be able to see it using a telescope 20 centimetres or larger in diameter to detect the asteroid’s motion in real time.
The asteroid will be relatively low in the southern sky, but EarthSky said observers might spot it moving between the constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius just before dawn.
Organic matter was discovered on an asteroid – The Saxon
In both interesting and important news in the field of space research, researchers have just discovered water and organic matter in a sample of an asteroid in our solar system. The asteroid in question is called Itokawa and the sample, which is actually a single grain, was taken during the first Hayabusa mission carried out by Jaxa or Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in 2010.
According to the results, the water and organic matter detected did not come from outside but from the asteroid itself. Researchers at the University of London’s Royal Holloway thus suggest that the space object evolved over a period of billions of years by incorporating water and organic matter in the same way it did. is happening on Earth. According to scientists, the asteroid went through phases of extreme heat, dehydration, but also phases where it broke. He was, however, able to reform and rehydrate using the materials he was able to collect.
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It is known that this study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, also shows that S-type asteroids, that is, those which are most common among those that come to Earth, may contain the primordial components of life. According to specialists, this could change everything we know about the history of life on Earth. Indeed, research has so far focused on type C asteroids.
The Hayabusa mission
According to the explanation of Dr Queenie Chan of the Department of Earth Sciences at the Royal Holloway, the Hayabusa mission was a robotic mission developed by JAXA. Its goal was to bring back samples from a small asteroid close to Earth called Itokawa in order to analyze them in laboratories on Earth.
Dr Chan said that the in-depth study of the sample, dubbed “Amazon”, showed the preservation of primitive organic matter, that is to say that was not heated, but also of organic matter. having been heated, in a space measuring 10 micrometers in length. The part that has been heated indicates that the asteroid has been exposed to a temperature above 600 ° C in the past. But the presence of primitive organic matter nearby shows that it arrived on the surface of Itokawa after the space object cooled.
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A basis for future research
Compared to these results, Dr Chen said these were very interesting since they reveal the most intricate details in the history of an asteroid. These results also show that the evolution of the asteroid is very similar to that of the prebiotic Earth.
Scientists hope that these first results will serve as a basis for the analysis of other samples. The Haybusa 2 mission has just brought back samples of another asteroid named Ryugu last year. We can thus hope for other equally important discoveries in the weeks or months to come.
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A large asteroid known as Apophis zipped silently past the Earth – SlashGear
On Friday, a large asteroid roughly the size of the Eiffel Tower zipped past the Earth. The asteroid posed no hazard to the Earth on this flyby as it was more than 40 times as far away from Earth as the moon. However, on April 13, 2029, Apophis will get much closer to the Earth.
Scientists considered this week’s flyby a dress rehearsal for 2029, when Apophis will get incredibly close to the Earth. That year, Apophis will get closer to the Earth than some of the highest-orbit satellites surrounding the planet. The asteroid measures 1120 feet wide and is made of rock, iron, and nickel.
Scientists believe it’s shaped roughly like a peanut and its near pass by the Earth on Friday gave them a closer opportunity to inspect the asteroid. Apophis was too far away to be seen by the naked eye so scientists used the NASA Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia to image the asteroid it flew by.
The planetary radar study was meant to give researchers a baseline for the significantly closer flyby in 2029. Apophis is expected to get as close as 19,800 miles to Earth on its next pass. Scientists say that Apophis has a very complicated spin state that sees the asteroid spinning and tumbling simultaneously.
Interestingly, during its closest approach in 2029, Apophis will be briefly visible by the naked eye over Western Australia. In that area, the asteroid will be as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper. Its closest pass to Earth will happen at 6 PM EDT on April 13, 2029. It won’t hit the Earth in 2029 or on its next pass in 2036. However, there is a slight chance the asteroid hit the Earth in 2068.
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