A NASA robotic rover is nearing completion ahead of a journey next year to search for evidence of past life on Mars and lay the groundwork for the space agency’s mission to send humans into deep space.
The U.S. space agency on Friday showed off its Mars 2020 rover, whose official name will be chosen early next year. NASA will in February ship the rover to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center where its three sections will be fully assembled. A July launch will send the rover to a dry lake bed on Mars that is bigger than the island of Manhattan.
The four-wheeled, car-sized rover will scour the base of Mars’ Jezero Crater, an 820-foot-deep (250-metre-deep) crater thought to have been a lake the size of Lake Tahoe, once the craft lands in February 2021. The crater is believed to have an abundance of pristine sediments some 3.5 billion years old that scientists hope will hold fossils of Martian life.
“The trick, though, is that we’re looking for trace levels of chemicals from billions of years ago on Mars,” Mars 2020 deputy project manager Matt Wallace told Reuters. The rover will collect up to 30 soil samples to be picked up and returned to Earth by a future spacecraft planned by NASA.
“Once we have a sufficient set, we’ll put them down on the ground, and another mission, which we hope to launch in 2026, will come, land on the surface, collect those samples and put them into a rocket, basically,” Wallace said. Humans have never before returned sediment samples from Mars.
The findings of the Mars 2020 research will be crucial to future human missions to the red planet, including the ability to make oxygen on the surface of Mars, Wallace said. The Mars 2020 Rover is carrying equipment that can turn carbon dioxide, which is pervasive on Mars, into oxygen for breathing and as a propellant.
Lessons from curiosity
If successful, Mars 2020 will mark NASA’s fifth Martian rover to carry out a soft landing, having learned crucial lessons from the most recent Curiosity rover that landed on the planet’s surface in 2012 and continues to traverse a Martian plain southeast of the Jezero Crater.
The Soviet Union is the only other country to successfully land a rover on Mars. China and Japan have attempted unsuccessfully to send orbiters around Mars, while India and Europe’s space agency have successfully lofted an orbiter to the planet.
Researchers have effectively confirmed one of the most important theories in star physics. NBC Newsreports that a team at the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics has detected neutrinos traced back to star fusion for the first time. The scientists determined that the elusive particles passing through its Borexino detector stemmed from a carbon-nitrogen-oxygen (CNO) fusion process at the heart of the Sun.
This kind of behavior had been predicted in 1938, but hadn’t been verified until now despite scientists detecting neutrinos in 1956. Borexino’s design was crucial to overcoming that hurdle — its “onion-like” construction and ongoing refinements make it both ultra-sensitive and resistant to unwanted cosmic radiation.
It’s a somewhat surprising discovery, too. CNO fusion is much more common in larger, hotter stars. A smaller celestial body like the Sun only produces 1 percent of its energy through that process. This not only confirms that CNO is a driving force behind bigger stars, but the universe at large.
That, in turn, might help explain some dark matter, where neutrinos could play a significant role. Scientist Orebi Gann, who wasn’t involved in these findings, also told NBC that an asymmetry between neutrinos and their relevant antiparticles might explain why there isn’t much known antimatter in the universe. To put it another way, the findings could help answer some of the most basic questions about the cosmos.
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When Shafqat Zaman takes photos of the International Space Station (ISS) from Calgary, it may help that he’s about 1 kilometre closer than photographers shooting from sea level.
However, the ISS is still about 399 kilometres away, and moving at a speed of about 7.66 kilometres per second relative to the ground. However you measure it, snapping a shot of the orbiting laboratory is an incredible feat.
Zaman captured this shot on Wednesday evening. It features a clear view of the SpaceX Dragon capsule, which lifted off on Nov. 15 and docked with the station about 27 hours later. It’s the white cone-shaped object on the left side, near the middle.
This wasn’t his first snapshot of the most expensive object ever constructed. Zaman captured several images of the ISS showing different angles as it passed overhead in late September.
He also captured this stunning transit of the ISS in front of the sun.
Zaman said he uses an 8″ Meade SCT telescope with a Canon M5 camera.
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