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NASA's Perseverance rover spots its own junk on Mars and sends back a picture of it – Interesting Engineering

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You have likely heard of the universe’s space junk problem. Now, it seems we are even polluting other planets.

On Monday, NASA’s Perseverance rover took a rare photo of a shiny silver object wedged between two rocks on the floor of Mars’ Jezero Crater and beamed it back to Earth for all to see.

Spotting something unexpected

“My team has spotted something unexpected: It’s a piece of a thermal blanket that they think may have come from my descent stage, the rocket-powered jet pack that set me down on landing day back in 2021,” Perseverance team members wrote on Twitter Wednesday.  

“That shiny bit of foil is part of a thermal blanket — a material used to control temperatures. It’s a surprise finding this here: My descent stage crashed about 2 km [1.2 miles] away. Did this piece land here after that, or was it blown here by the wind?” they added in another post.

A strange déjà vu

NASA did not have an answer for how the piece of debris got to its current location, but it is not the first time junk has ended up on the Red Planet and documented straight to our homes. In April, Mars’ chopper Ingenuity, which came to Mars at the same time as Perseverance, took aerial images of the wreckage of the descent shell and parachute. 

This spacecraft debris shows that human influence is indeed present on the Red Planet and that we should proceed with caution when exploring other planets. The debris is much too small to have any effect on the planet, but as more and more missions venture to Mars, the problem of space junk may become a larger one.

This brings us to the question: How can NASA engineers and other space enthusiasts conceive of missions that do not pollute their environment at all. Is this a possibility or just a dream?

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The Mars Perseverance rover completed a year anniversary on the Red Planet last February. On February 18, 2021, the spacecraft carrying NASA’s $2.7 billion robotic explorer named Perseverance placed the rover gently on the foreign planet. The event marked NASA’s most enthusiastic and thorough effort in decades to study if there was ever life on the Red Planet.

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My Thesis in 400 Words: Anne Boucher | Institute for Research on Exoplanets – News | Institute for Research on Exoplanets

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Anne Boucher, an iREx student at the Université de Montréal, submitted her doctoral thesis at the end of 2021. She summarises the research project she carried out as part of her Ph.D here.

During my Ph.D, I became interested in the atmosphere of gas giant exoplanets that orbit very close to their star. Thanks to a technique called transmission spectroscopy, I studied the chemical composition of their atmosphere, which gives a lot of information on their formation and evolution mechanisms. The detailed study of these exoplanets, which we sometimes call hot Jupiters or hot sub-Saturns, provides a better understanding of the physical, chemical, and dynamical processes that govern the atmosphere of these celestial objects.

I mainly used data from the SPIRou instrument, a high-resolution spectropolarimeter that operates in the near infrared and is installed at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. We first observed HD 189733 b, one of the most studied exoplanets, to build the analysis codes. By exploiting transit spectroscopy, we were able to confirm the presence of water and determine its abundance. The results obtained, consistent with previous studies, indicate that the atmosphere of HD 189733 b is relatively clear (free of clouds) and that the planet likely formed far from its star, where it is cold enough to find water in the form of ice. A strong blueshift of water absorption was observed, which could be a consequence of the presence of strong winds in the atmosphere.

Artistic representation of the exoplanet HD 189733 b, credit :  NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)

Next, we studied WASP-127 b, a less massive exoplanet, but much larger than Saturn. A recent study of data from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and the Spitzer Space Telescope could not differentiate between two atmospheric scenarios: a low carbon-to-oxygen (C/O) ratio with little carbon monoxide (CO), or a high ratio with a lot of CO. As this ratio helps to determine how a planet was formed, we decided to use SPIRou, which makes it possible to observe a band of CO not observable with HST and Spitzer. We were able to determine that there was very little CO and a very low C/O, which has rarely been observed, but which is supported by some more realistic training scenarios that vary over time. The SPIRou data also confirmed the presence of water and suggests that, if confirmed, there could even be hydroxyl (OH): an unexpected detection since the exoplanet is so cold.

This work has allowed to develop the expertise of the Université de Montréal in high resolution near-infrared transit spectroscopy, in particular with SPIRou, allowing to explore the atmospheric conditions of hot Jupiters and sub-Saturns. This first joint analysis made on high and low resolution transmission data allowed to obtain better constraints on the atmospheric parameters. This method is proving to be a very powerful tool for the study of atmospheres and will be even more so with the revolutionary capabilities of JWST.

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Anne worked on her Ph.D. at the Université de Montréal between 2016 and 2022, under the supervision of David Lafrenière. Her thesis will soon be available.

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Nicolas Cowan, Finalist for the 2021 Relève scientifique Prize – News | Institute for Research on Exoplanets

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Nicholas Cowan. Credit: McGill University.

Nicolas Cowan, Professor at McGill University and a member of both iREx and the McGill Space Institute, is one of the finalists for the Relève Scientifique du Québec 2021 Prize, an award which aims to highlight the commitment and excellence in research of a person 40 years of age or younger.

Nick has been a Professor in the Departments of Physics and Earth and Planetary Sciences at McGill University since 2015. He specialises in astrobiology and mainly studies the surface and atmosphere of exoplanets. He is particularly interested in the climate of these planets found outside of our Solar System.

The researcher mainly uses space- and ground-based telescopes to collect and analyse data which he uses to study the characteristics of various exoplanets. More specifically, the data seeks to measure the reflection of clouds, detect the presence of greenhouse gases via the infrared signature of the atmosphere, and heat transport, i.e. the winds. These data are used to create maps of the surface and the temperature of exoplanets, a method commonly referred to as exo-cartography. The study of the exoplanets’ climate also allows us to learn a lot about that of our planet, Earth.

Nick’s commitment to the research community is illustrated in particular by his participation in numerous NASA and Canadian Space Agency committees to promote the study of planetary climates and to contribute to the planning of future space missions to study exoplanets.

In addition to his work as a researcher, Nick is also involved in the Astronomy in Indigenous Communities program, which aims to attract Indigenous youth to pursue a career in STEM.

It is with pride that the iREx congratulates Nicolas Cowan for this distinction.

About the Relève scientifique du Québec Prize

The Relève scientifique du Québec prize is awarded to a person aged 40 or under who has distinguished themselves by the excellence of their research and who demonstrates the ability to establish and maintain constructive and lasting links with the research community. All disciplines are recognised for this award. Each year one recipient and two finalists are selected.

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NASA: Contact lost with spacecraft on way to test moon orbit – Phys.org

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Rebecca Rogers, systems engineer, left, takes dimension measurements of the CAPSTONE spacecraft in April 2022, at Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, Inc., in Irvine, Calif. NASA said Tuesday, July 5, that it has lost contact with a $32.7 million spacecraft headed to moon to test out a lopsided lunar orbit, but agency engineers are hopeful they can fix the problem. Credit: Dominic Hart/NASA via AP

NASA said Tuesday it has lost contact with a $32.7 million spacecraft headed to the moon to test out a lopsided lunar orbit, but agency engineers are hopeful they can fix the problem.

After one successful communication and a second partial one on Monday, the said it could no longer communicate with the spacecraft called Capstone. Engineers are trying to find the cause of the communications drop-off and are optimistic they can fix it, NASA spokesperson Sarah Frazier said Tuesday.

The spacecraft, which launched from New Zealand on June 28, had spent nearly a week in Earth orbit and had been successfully kick-started on its way to the moon, when contact was lost, Frazier said.

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The 55-pound satellite is the size of a microwave oven and will be the first spacecraft to try out this oval orbit, which is where NASA wants to stage its Gateway outpost. Gateway would serve as a staging point for astronauts before they descend to the .

The orbit balances the gravities of Earth and the moon and so requires little maneuvering and therefore fuel and allows the satellite—or a —to stay in constant contact with Earth.


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NASA satellite breaks from orbit around Earth, heads to moon


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