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NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will search for evidence of ancient life on Mars – Digital Trends

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NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover is shown off to journalists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on December 27 2019. NASA/JPL-Caltech

After years of work, NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is ready to explore an alien world. With construction and testing at NASA’s clean room facility now completed, the rover will be packed up and shipped to Florida ahead of final testing before it is strapped to a rocket and launched on its journey to Mars in a few months’ time.

The rover has an ambitious mission: To search for evidence that life once existed on the red planet. “Mars 2020 is looking for signs of ancient life,” Zach Ousnamer, a Mechanical Engineer on the Mars 2020 Rover project at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in an interview posted by NASA. “We’re going to land in the Jezero Crater which is an ancient river delta, and here on Earth, we know those are hot spots for life. So we’re going to go to one on Mars in hopes of finding life there.”

NASA already has a number of instruments on and around Mars, including the Curiosity rover, the InSight lander, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. But the Mars 2020 rover will have new tools and updated instruments which allow it to perform tasks which existing explorers can’t.

When Ousnamer was asked how the instruments on the Mars 2020 rover compare to those on Curiosity, he pointed to several new features on the latest rover. “We’re flying seven new instruments,” he said. “Some of them are similar to those flown on Curiosity but upgraded. We have, for instance, a new instrument MOXIE, which is generating oxygen on the surface of Mars.”

Being able to generate oxygen on the planet is a vital part of preparing for an eventual manned mission to the surface, both for breathing and creating fuel, and MOXIE should be able to produce around 10 grams of oxygen per hour by converting the carbon dioxide which is abundant in the Martian atmosphere.

Other tools in the rover are focused on scientific discovery. “We have SuperCam on the top of the head of the remote sensing mast, doing laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy,” Ousnamer explained. That will allow scientists to identify the chemical composition of rocks and soil that the rover encounters in the Martian environment.

“And then the big thing that is different from Curiosity is that inside the rover is the Adaptive Caching Assembly. That’s a whole suite which takes samples of Mars, puts them in a canister, hermetically seals them, and leaves those on the surface in the hope that in a future mission, we can bring them back to study here on Earth.”

The Mars 2020 mission is set to launch between July 17 and August 5 next year.

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Asteroid twice the size of Big Ben to skim past Earth today – Khaleej Times

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Published on January 20, 2020 at 10.36

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NASA is closely monitoring an asteroid with an estimated diameter of about 755 feet – larger than the Golden Gate Bridge tower or more than twice the height of London’s Big Ben – that is currently heading towards Earth and is expected to skim past the planet on Monday. Flying towards the planet at a speed of over 61,500 miles per hour, the Near-Earth Object (NEO) is big enough to destroy an entire city if collides with the Earth. The approaching asteroid has been identified as 2020 AQ1.

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Earlier in 2019, three huge asteroids flew dangerously close to the Earth on November 10, NASA had revealed.

The biggest of the three space rocks, dubbed 2018 VR1, was predicted to measure up to 30 metres wide – as big as a blue whale.

The first asteroid, dubbed 2018 VS1, passed our planet at around 14:03 GMT (6:03pm Dubai time) and was 861,700 miles away from Earth during its closest approach. Scientists estimated it to be between 13-28 metres wide, five times as tall as a giraffe.

In March of last year, extremely bright fireballs were spotted in UAE skies.

Eng Mohammed Shawkat, Director of the International Astronomy Centre in Abu Dhabi, told Khaleej Times that the appearance of the fireball has been filmed by a special network of astronomical cameras.

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Another bright fireball, the second in March, was spotted in UAE skies late night on March 12 at around 11:50pm, local time.

This was actually the second fireball to be spotted in the UAE skies in one week, after the first one appeared on March 5, at exactly 7:40:11, according to a senior official.

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According to Express.co.uk, the asteroid will make its closest Earth approach on January 20 at around 2.54 am EST (11.54am UAE time, 1.24 pm India time). The European Space Agency (ESA) has identified 21,655 NEO asteroids and 109 NEO comets. The asteroid will hurtle past the planet on what astronomers have described as a close approach trajectory.

Last September, a pair of asteroids flew past the Earth.

Both of these asteroids are passing at about 14 lunar distances from the Earth, or about 3.5 million miles away, but small asteroids pass by Earth this close all the time, said NASA’s Planetary Defence Officer Lindley Johnson.

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Photos: SpaceX purposely fails rocket to test crew capsule safety system – Spaceflight Now

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Credit: Katie Darby

SpaceX simulated an in-flight emergency Sunday to verify the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft has the capability to catapult itself away from a failing Falcon 9 rocket.

The in-flight abort test demonstrated the human-rated capsule can safely and rapidly fly away from a Falcon 9 rocket experiencing a failure.

As intended, the Falcon 9’s engines prematurely shut down around 84 seconds after liftoff Sunday from the Kennedy Space Center. The automated Crew Dragon capsule fired its own thrusters to escape the rocket before it disintegrated in an orange fireball high over Florida’s Space Coast.

After a one-day delay due to rough seas in the splashdown zone — and a two-and-a-half-hour hold Sunday to wait for improved winds — the Crew Dragon spacecraft lifted off on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 10:30 a.m. EST (1530 GMT) Sunday from pad 39A at Kennedy, the same launch pad once used by NASA’s Saturn 5 moon rockets and space shuttles.

The 215-foot-tall (65-meter) rocket flew off the launch pad powered by nine kerosene-fueled Merlin 1D engines and pitched on an easterly trajectory from the Florida spaceport.

The Falcon 9 surpassed the speed of sound in less than a minute, and the Crew Dragon’s pre-programmed escape sequence initiated around 84 seconds after liftoff, when the rocket was at an altitude of roughly 62,000 feet (19 kilometers).

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster disintegrated in a fireball — as expected — seconds after the Crew Dragon capsule fired away from the top of the rocket in an in-flight escape demonstration Sunday. Credit: Spaceflight Now

The abort was triggered soon after the point in the launch sequence where the booster and capsule experience the most extreme aerodynamic pressures.

While the nine Merlin engines on the Falcon 9 rocket cut off in response to the escape command, nearly 130,000 pounds of thrust from eight SuperDraco engines pushed the Crew Dragon rapidly away from the top of the launcher.

The rocket disintegrated in a fireball high over the Atlantic Ocean — as officials expected — as the crew capsule sped away from the top of the launcher with a powerful boost from the eight escape engines.

SpaceX said the capsule, and two mannequins seated inside, accelerated at about 3.5Gs during the abort, a relatively gentle ride for astronauts in good physical condition.

The capsule later deployed parachutes and splashed down in the Atlantic for recovery by SpaceX vessels.

Read our full story for details on the abort test.

Additional photos of the Falcon 9’s liftoff and the Crew Dragon abort are posted below.

The Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft lifted off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 10:30 a.m. EST (1530 GMT) Sunday. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now
Credit: Katie Darby
Credit: Katie Darby
Credit: Katie Darby
Credit: Katie Darby
Credit: Spaceflight Now
Debris from the Falcon 9 booster plunges toward the Atlantic Ocean. Credit: Spaceflight Now

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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Physicists Finally Observe a Link Between Quantum Criticality And Entanglement – ScienceAlert

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We know that the realm of quantum physics is science operating at a mind-bogglingly small scale, thus watching quantum interactions happen is always exciting. Now, physicists have managed to observe billions upon billions of entangled electrons passing through a metal film.

The film is a mix of ytterbium, rhodium and silicon, and is what’s known as a ‘strange metal’, one that doesn’t act as expected at very low temperatures.

“With strange metals, there is an unusual connection between electrical resistance and temperature,” explained physicist Silke Bühler-Paschen from Vienna University of Technology in Austria.

“In contrast to simple metals such as copper or gold, this does not seem to be due to the thermal movement of the atoms, but to quantum fluctuations at the absolute zero temperature.”

These fluctuations represent a quantum criticality – that point between quantum states which are the equivalent of transition between liquids, solids and gases in classical physics; the team says this cascade of electrons is the best evidence yet of a link between quantum criticality and entanglement.

The terahertz spectrometer used to measure entanglement. (Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

“When we think about quantum entanglement, we think about small things,” says physicist Qimiao Si, from Rice University. “We don’t associate it with macroscopic objects.”

“But at a quantum critical point, things are so collective that we have this chance to see the effects of entanglement, even in a metallic film that contains billions of billions of quantum mechanical objects.”

The experiments Bühler-Paschen, Si and colleagues ran were incredibly challenging from many levels – from the highly complex materials synthesis required to create the strange metal, to the delicate terahertz spectroscopy required to observe the electrons.

Ultimately, after a painstaking process, the team found what they were looking for: the tell-tale sign of quantum criticality known as frequency over temperature scaling.

“Conceptually, it was really a dream experiment,” says Si. “Probe the charge sector at the magnetic quantum critical point to see whether it’s critical, whether it has dynamical scaling.”

“If you don’t see anything that’s collective, that’s scaling, the critical point has to belong to some textbook type of description. But, if you see something singular, which in fact we did, then it is very direct and new evidence for the quantum entanglement nature of quantum criticality.”

What all of this high-level physics means is a lot of potential: potential quantum advancements in computing, communications and more. Scientists have hypothesised about a link between quantum entanglement and quantum criticality before, but now it’s been observed.

The study of quantum states is still in its very early stages, but it could hold the key to all kinds of weird science, like high-temperature superconductivity – which is also believed to be underpinned by quantum criticality.

Understanding how these quantum phases switch gives us a better chance of being able to control them in the future – and although that’s still a long way off, it just got a little closer.

“Our findings suggest that the same underlying physics – quantum criticality – can lead to a platform for both quantum information and high-temperature superconductivity,” says Si. “When one contemplates that possibility, one cannot help but marvel at the wonder of nature.”

The research has been published in Science.

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