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Photographer Captures ISS Passing Between Jupiter and Saturn – PetaPixel



Last night, photographers and stargazers around the world were treated to the Great Conjunction, a event in which Jupiter and Saturn appeared closer to each other in the sky than they have for hundreds of years. Countless photos were undoubtedly snapped of the rare sight, but photographer Jason De Freitas captured a particularly lucky one a few days ago showing the ISS zipping between the two planets.

While Jupiter and Saturn appear close together in the sky once every 20 years or so, the last time they were as close as during The Great Conjunction was back on March 4, 1226, or 794 years ago.

While planning to photograph the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, De Freitas realized that he could also include the ISS in the frame.

“I had the incredible luck of figuring out I could see the path of the International Space Station travelling through the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction,” De Freitas says.

After a great deal of planning, on December 17th, De Freitas drove an hour — “quite a short distance in the scheme of things,” he says — to a location where everything would be aligned perfectly for his shot.

At around 9:54pm from Jellore Lookout in New South Wales, Australia, De Freitas pointed his Pentax 67 and Takumar 600mm f/4 at the planets and captured a 10-second exposure on Fujifilm Provia 100f film. The tracking was done with a Skywatcher NEQ6 equatorial mount.

The photo above is what resulted. Here’s a closer crop in which you can more clearly see the planets and Jupiter’s moons:

De Freitas also used a Nikon D750 and Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 to capture digital video of the event:

“Probably the most unique shot I’ve ever taken,” De Freitas says. “[S]omehow everything on the night worked out. Beyond thrilled with this one.

“The timing of this was down to the second and I still can’t believe I pulled it off.”

If you’re interested in a print of this remarkable photo, you can purchase one here.

Earlier this year, De Freitas shared an inside look at how he shoots astrophotography on medium format film (and occasionally 35mm film). You can also find more of De Freitas’ work on his website and Instagram.

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NASA's crucial engine test for moon rocket forced to end prematurely – FRANCE 24 English



Issued on: 17/01/2021 – 07:13

NASA’s deep space exploration rocket built by Boeing briefly ignited all four engines of its behemoth core stage for the first time on Saturday, cutting short a crucial test to advance a years-delayed U.S. government program to return humans to the moon in the next few years.


Mounted in a test facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the Space Launch System’s (SLS) 212-foot tall core stage roared to life at 4:27 p.m. local time (2227 GMT) for just over a minute — well short of the roughly four minutes engineers needed to stay on track for the rocket’s first launch in November this year.

“Today was a good day,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a press conference after the test, adding “we got lots of data that we’re going to be able to sort through” to determine if a do-over is needed and whether a November 2021 debut launch date is still possible.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine explains NASA’s premature test end

The engine test, the last leg of NASA’s nearly year-long “Green Run” test campaign, was a vital step for the space agency and its top SLS contractor Boeing before a debut unmanned launch later this year under NASA’s Artemis program, the Trump administration’s push to return U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2024.

It was unclear whether Boeing and NASA would have to repeat the test, a prospect that could push the debut launch into 2022. NASA’s SLS program manager John Honeycutt, cautioning the data review from the test is ongoing, told reporters the turnaround time for another hot fire test could be roughly one month.

To simulate internal conditions of a real liftoff, the rocket’s four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines ignited for roughly one minute and 15 seconds, generating 1.6 million pounds of thrust and consuming 700,000 gallons of propellants on NASA’s largest test stand, a massive facility towering 35 stories tall.

Nearly $3 billion over budget

The expendable super heavy-lift SLS is three years behind schedule and nearly $3 billion over budget. Critics have long argued for NASA to retire the rocket’s shuttle-era core technologies, which have launch costs of $1 billion or more per mission, in favor of newer commercial alternatives that promise lower costs.

By comparison, it costs as little as $90 million to fly the massive but less powerful Falcon Heavy rocket designed and manufactured by Elon Musk‘s SpaceX, and some $350 million per launch for United Launch Alliance’s legacy Delta IV Heavy.

While newer, more reusable rockets from both companies – SpaceX’s Starship and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan – promise heavier lift capacity than the Falcon Heavy or Delta IV Heavy potentially at lower cost, SLS backers argue it would take two or more launches on those rockets to launch what the SLS could carry in a single mission.

Reuters reported in October that President-elect Joe Biden‘s space advisers aim to delay Trump’s 2024 goal, casting fresh doubts on the long-term fate of SLS just as SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin scramble to bring rival new heavy-lift capacity to market.

NASA and Boeing engineers have stayed on a ten-month schedule for the Green Run “despite having significant adversity this year,” Boeing’s SLS manager John Shannon told reporters this week, citing five tropical storms and a hurricane that hit Stennis, as well as a three-month closure after some engineers tested positive for the coronavirus in March.


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Scientists in Tanzania show humans used tools 2 million years ago – Quartz Africa



The ability to adapt to changing environments has deep roots. In a technology-driven world, people tend to conflate adaptability with technological change, especially when it comes to navigating adverse climates and places. But not every technological revolution is a result of environmental change.

Sometimes existing tool kits—containing, for instance, simple cutting and scraping flakes—allowed early humans to exploit new resources and thrive under changing conditions. As a species, humans are also characterized by the ability to swiftly use disrupted environments. And, as new research conducted at Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge reveals, this adaptability was already apparent millions of years ago.

Our new study, published in Nature Communications, is the result of a true team and multidisciplinary effort. Principal investigators from Canada and Tanzania worked with partners in Africa, North America, and Europe to describe a large assemblage of stone tools, fossil bones, and chemical proxies from dental and plant materials. We also examined the microscopic bits of silica left behind by plants, ancient pollen, and airborne charcoal from natural fires retrieved from ancient riverbed and lake outcrops in the Serengeti plains.

Taken together, the data we gathered presents the earliest evidence for human activity in the Olduvai Gorge: about 2 million years ago. It also shows that early humans used a great diversity of habitats as they adjusted to constant change.

East Africa is among the world’s prime regions for human origins research. It boasts extraordinary records of extinct species spanning several million years. Over more than a century, paleo-anthropologists have explored the sedimentary outcrops and unearthed hominin fossils in surveys and digs. But the link between these fossils and their environmental context remains elusive. That’s because there aren’t many paleoecological datasets directly linked to the cultural remains left by extinct early humans. Our study is an important step in filling that gap.

Varied artifacts and data

The dataset was obtained during a recent survey of the unexplored western portion of the ancient basin. The locality is called Ewass Oldupa; in the Maa language spoken by local residents, this means “the way to the Gorge”. It’s an appropriate name: the site straddles the path that links the canyon’s rim with its bottom. Here, the exposed canyon wall reveals 2 million years of history.

The team worked closely with Maasai scholars and communities when excavating the site. The research group employed a large group of participants, male and female, selected by the local community. And in addition to community outreach in the national language, Swahili, we are delivering college education opportunities for two Maasai scholars interested in archaeology and heritage, along with several other Tanzanians.

The stone tools uncovered belong to the “culture” archaeologists identify as the Oldowan. This is a landmark representing early humans that interacted with their environment in novel ways, for example, by dietary innovations combining meat and plants. In East Africa, the Oldowan started about 2.6 million years ago.

The concentration of stone tools and animal fossils is evidence that both humans and fauna gathered around water sources. We also learned that Oldowan hominins cast their net wide for resources. Our data reveals that early humans carried with them rocks for tools that they obtained from distant sources across the basin, 12 kilometers east. They also developed the flexibility to use various changing environments.

Our research reveals that the geological, sedimentary, and plant landscapes around Ewass Oldupa changed a lot, and quickly. Yet humans kept coming back here to use local resources for over 200,000 years. They used a great diversity of habitats: fern meadows, woodland mosaics, naturally burned landscapes, lakeside palm groves, steppes. These habitats were regularly blanketed by ash or reworked by mass flows associated with volcanic eruptions.

Thanks to past and ongoing radiometric work—using the Argon method, which dates the deposition of volcanic materials that sandwich the archaeological finds—we were able to date these artifacts to a period known as the Early Pleistocene, 2 million years ago.

What’s not clear is which hominin species made the tools. We did not recover hominin fossils, but the remains of Homo habilis have been found in the younger sediments from another site just 350 meters away. It’s likely that either Homo habilis or a member of the genus Paranthropus—remains of which have also been found at Olduvai Gorge previously—was the tool maker. More research will be needed to be sure.


One of the reasons this research is so important is that it shows, again, the value of collaboration. Archaeologists, geoscientists, biologists, chemists, and material scientists were all involved in the study at Ewass Oldupa.

It’s thanks to the multiple samples and artifacts these experts gathered and analyzed that we also now know the adaptation to major geomorphic and ecological transformations did not have an impact on the technology hominins used. They roamed many habitats but used only one tool kit, amid unpredictable environments.

This is a clear sign that 2 million years ago humans were not constrained technologically and already had the capacity to expand geographic range, as they were ready to exploit a multitude of habitats within Africa—and, possibly, beyond.

Julio Mercader Florin, Professor, University of Calgary

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 Sign up to the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief here for news and analysis on African business, tech, and innovation in your inbox

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NASA declares Mars digger dead after two years – Mashable



Image: IPGP/Nicolas Sarter/nasa

NASA announced on Thursday that a “mole” on Mars has ended its mission after landing on the Red Planet nearly two years ago.

The mole — also called a digger, drill, and probe — was built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and deployed by NASA’s InSight lander. Its purpose was to drill 16 feet into Martian soil to take its temperature and…well, it never managed to do that. 

The digger had drilled down merely 14 inches before getting stuck in the first month of its mission. Months later in Oct. 2019, NASA engineers made a plan to put the digger back on track by using a robotic scoop to help refill the 14 inches and support the digger in its next attempt at burrowing down 16 feet. The team at NASA was confident that the probe was finally ready to go, but they were wrong.

NASA’s next idea, in Feb. 2020, was to direct the InSight lander to push on the probe with its robotic arm.

That didn’t work, either. After attempting to use the scoop on InSight’s robotic arm once again on Jan. 9, 2021, the probe made 500 additional hammer strokes with no progress. At that point, the team declared the probe dead. 

“We’ve given it everything we’ve got, but Mars and our heroic mole remain incompatible,” said DLR’s Tilman Spohn in NASA’s announcement. 

There is good news, however. Spohn said that the work on this probe will benefit future missions, as they’ve learned a lot about the surface of Mars. 

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA’s Washington headquarters, said he was proud of the mission’s team — and that their work was purposeful. “This is why we take risks at NASA — we have to push the limits of technology to learn what works and what doesn’t,” he said.

“In that sense, we’ve been successful: We’ve learned a lot that will benefit future missions to Mars and elsewhere,” Zurbuchen continued, “and we thank our German partners from DLR for providing this instrument and for their collaboration.”

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