After more than a decade of development and five months of rehearsals, the Solar Orbiter has officially launched and set off on its journey to the sun.
The Solar Orbiter is a joint mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA, and it aims to give close-up views of the Sun’s polar regions and observe its magnetic activity for the first time.
Images of the poles captured by the spacecraft could help researchers investigate the heliosphere and the solar wind, as well as measure the sun’s magnetic field, which drives solar activity like flares and is also responsible for the so-called “space weather” — a phenomenon that affects both astronauts and spacecrafts in space.
The analysis of the collected data will help protect cosmonauts and the spacecrafts’ technology as they travel to the moon and beyond.
Solar Orbiter will use a ballistic trajectory to get into position – using planets to pull it onto the correct course.
“A gravity assist is flying by very close to a planet in order to use the gravitational pull of this planet to change the orbit,” explains Jose Manuel Sanchez Perez, a Solar Orbiter Mission Analyst.
“This we do repeatedly with Venus, seven times, and with the Earth one time. By doing so we can finally achieve an orbit that is elliptic, gets close to the Sun and then goes up to the ecliptic – the ecliptic is the plane in which all the planets are orbiting the Sun – and by going out of the ecliptic we get to high latitudes and can we get very clear observations of the Sun’s poles”, he continues.
In order to get a close-up view of the Sun, the spacecraft will fly to within 42 million kilometres of the sun, facing temperatures up to 600 degrees Celsius.
After sling-shotting around Venus, it’s expected to make its first close solar pass by March 2022.
Solar Orbiter launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on 9 February at 0503 (CET).
New long-necked dinosaur helps rewrite evolutionary history of sauropods in South America – University of Michigan News
A medium-sized sauropod dinosaur inhabited the tropical lowland forested area of the Serranía del Perijá in northern Colombia approximately 175 million years ago, according to a new study by an international team of researchers published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
The new species is a long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur known from a single trunk vertebra that is about a half meter tall and wide. The vertebra bears a distinct pattern of bony struts that identify it as the new dinosaur species Perijasaurus lapaz (pear-EE-hah-SOW-roos la-PAHZ)—named in recognition of the mountainous region where it was found and for the 2016 peace treaty that allowed scientists to pursue their research decades after the fossil remains were found in 1943.
Perijasaurus is the northernmost occurrence of a sauropod in South America and represents an early phase in their evolutionary history.
“This new genus and species in the paleotropics allows us to understand a little more about the origin of the sauropods in the Jurassic, as well as how they set the stage for later sauropods from the Cretaceous,” said study lead author Aldo Rincón Burbano, professor of physics and geosciences at the Universidad del Norte in Colombia.
The fossil was first discovered in 1943 during a geological mapping campaign by the Tropical Oil Company. The specimen was taken to the collections of University of California, Berkeley and preliminarily described in 1955.
University of Michigan paleontology curator and professor Jeff Wilson Mantilla examined the specimen as a graduate student in 1997 and later developed a project supported by the Fulbright Foundation to study early sauropod evolution in Colombia.
As part of that project, the Colombian specimen was loaned to U-M, where chief preparator William Sanders removed glues and plaster, greatly increasing the visibility of anatomical details and reducing the total weight of the sample.
“Following repreparation of the fossil, we were able to better visualize the delicate bony laminae that interconnect the projecting parts of the vertebra—the spine, the intervertebral articulations, the rib articulations—the architecture of those connections provides critical morphological information that identifies it as a new species and places it within the sauropod family tree,” Wilson Mantilla said.
A 3D model of the specimen is hosted on the University of Michigan Online Repository of Fossils.
A conflict since 1964 between the Colombian military forces, the FARC guerrilla group and paramilitary groups made it unsafe to conduct research in Serranía del Perijá, near the border between Colombia and Venezuela, until the peace agreements in 2016.
Since then, the research team has been working to determine with higher precision where the fossil was found. A satellite image of the region was superimposed upon a hand-drawn map from 1955 showing the location of the fossil. A further clue was provided by sediment removed from the vertebra itself during the preparation process—allowing the team to determine the specific layer from which the bone was
collected. Fieldwork at the site and neighboring localities helped to reconstruct the paleoenvironment the dinosaur inhabited.
“Perijasaurus lived in an environment of low slopes associated with a river and a forested area. We found fine sand and leaf debris in the sediment deposited in the area where the vertebra was originally found, and it is consistent with the sediment within the neural arch of the vertebra, which are only preserved near a floodplain, i.e., near the slopes of a river, a wooded area,” said Daniel Raad, a former geology student at the Universidad del Norte.
Most of the discoveries of dinosaurs in South America come from rocks from the Cretaceous period located in Argentina and Brazil. Dinosaurs from the northern part of South America are much rarer, particularly during the Jurassic and Triassic periods, during the initial radiation of dinosaurs, when landmasses were still substantially interconnected.
“Although Perijasaurus is represented by a single vertebra, that region of the skeleton provides the most information in sauropods, due to a series of laminae and other structures,” said Martín Ezcurra, a paleontologist and associate researcher of the CONICET (Argentina’s National Council for Scientific and Technical Research) and head curator of paleovertebrates at the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences.
The researchers were able to determine the evolutionary relationships of Perijasaurus through a computational analysis focusing on Early and Middle Jurassic sauropods.
“Perijasaurus is part of the early radiation of sauropods, which includes species from southern South America, Africa, Asia and Europe,” said Harold Jiménez Velandia, a geologist at the University of Caldas.
The presence of Perijasaurus in the paleotropics of South America, together with its close phylogenetic relationship with geographically widespread species that inhabited low latitudes, suggests that sauropods diversified and dispersed fairly rapidly following a major anoxic event at the end of the Lower Jurassic, when portions of the oceans were depleted of oxygen over large geographic areas.
“What we see in the Early Jurassic, both in high latitudes and in the most tropical areas, is that sauropod species were evolutionarily and geographically interconnected, which is something that had also been seen with other groups of carnivorous and herbivorous dinosaurs,” Ezcurra said.
Sauropods are the largest animals to have walked on land, some reaching estimated lengths of 49 meters and weights of up to 57 metric tons. Their ability to support their weight and move their bodies efficiently stems from a series of adaptations to reduce weight and increase bony support.
An anatomical hallmark of sauropods is vertebral pneumaticity. Essentially, extensions of the air-sac system of the lungs extend into the vertebral column and actually remove internal bone, effectively lightening the skeleton.
“By the Late Jurassic, sauropods had evolved highly pneumatic vertebrae riddled with air spaces that removed one-half to three-quarters the bone weight. Perijasaurus represents an evolutionary antecedent in which the pneumatic invasions are much simpler and more limited in extent, removing less than a quarter of bone volume,” Wilson Mantilla said.
He said the team will continue to focus on regions of Colombia that have exposures of Jurassic sediments.
“Colombia is emerging as a country with great potential to contribute to the paleontology of the continent and the world,” Wilson Mantilla said.
Perijasaurus is permanently stored at the University of California Museum of Paleontology in Berkeley, California. The research was funded by the Fulbright Foundation, Universidad del Norte, Sam Welles Fund and CONICET.
STEVE appears over Canada during 'surprise' solar storm – Livescience.com
In the dark of Sunday night and Monday morning (Aug. 7 and 8), a surprise solar storm slammed into Earth, showering our planet in a rapid stream of charged particles from the sun. The resulting clash of solar and terrestrial particles in Earth‘s atmosphere caused stunning auroras to appear at much lower latitudes than usual — and, in southern Canada, triggered a surprise cameo from the mysterious sky phenomenon known as STEVE.
Alan Dyer, an astronomy writer and photographer based in southern Alberta, Canada, caught the wispy ribbons of green and violet light on camera as they shot through the sky.
“STEVE lasted about 40 minutes, appearing as the … aurora to the north subsided,” Dyer wrote on Twitter (opens in new tab) on Aug. 8. “STEVE was ‘discovered’ here so he likes appearing here more than anywhere else!”
As Dyer noted, the strange sky glow called STEVE was first described by citizen scientists and aurora hunters in northern Canada in 2017. STEVE is typically composed of an enormous ribbon of purplish light, which can hang in the sky for an hour or more, accompanied by a “picket fence” of green light that usually disappears within a few minutes.
The glowing river of light may look like an aurora, but it’s actually a unique phenomenon that was considered “completely unknown” to science upon its discovery. Today, scientists have a slightly better idea of what’s going on.
STEVE (short for “strong thermal velocity enhancement”) is a long, thin line of hot gas that slices through the sky for hundreds of miles. The hot air inside STEVE can blaze at more than 5,500 degrees Fahrenheit (3,000 degrees Celsius) and move roughly 500 times faster than the air on each side of it, satellite observations have shown.
Whereas the northern lights occur when charged solar particles bash into molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere, STEVE appears much lower in the sky, in a region called the subauroral zone. That likely means solar particles aren’t directly responsible for STEVE, Live Science previously reported. However, STEVE almost always appears during solar storms like Sunday’s, showing up after the northern lights have already begun to fade.
One hypothesis suggests that STEVE is the result of a sudden burst of thermal and kinetic energy in the subauroral zone, somehow triggered by the clash of charged particles higher in the atmosphere during aurora-inducing solar storms. However, more research is needed to uncover the true secrets of STEVE. In the meantime, we can simply bask in its otherworldly glow and wave back at its twinkling green fingers.
Originally published on Live Science.
Perseid meteor shower: when to catch it in Manitoba | CTV News – CTV News Winnipeg
The peak of a spectacular space light show is expected to happen by the end of the week.
The Perseid meteor shower is expected to be at its best and brightest the night of Aug. 12 going into the morning of Aug. 13.
Scott Young, an astronomer at the Manitoba Museum, said this is an annual event that will produce dozens of shooting stars throughout the night.
“Every meteor is a piece of dust from outer space that is crashing into the earth at tremendous speed and basically vaporizing in a poof and a flash of light, and that it is what we see as a meteor,” he said. “On certain nights of the year, the earth in its orbit around the sun actually goes through a cloud of dust, sort of like an interplanetary dust bunny, essentially, and all that dust hits on the same night … and so we are basically crashing through the dust left behind by a comet.”
The cloud of dust was left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle, which last passed by the earth in 1992. Since then, the meteor shower has reached its peak between Aug. 11 and 13.
For those who are looking to enjoy the meteor show, Young suggests people get away from city lights, especially this year as the shower also coincides with a full moon.
“The moon can wash out those fainter meteors, and also if you are in the city, city lights will also wash out those fainter meteors. If you want to see the best show, you want to go late Friday after midnight, into the early morning hours of Saturday.”
If people can’t see the shower that night, Young says not to worry as the Perseid meteor shower is already happening right now and will continue to the end of August. As long as people are away from bright lights, Young says they should be able to see some shooting stars.
He recommends going to places like Birds Hill Provincial Park to enjoy the shower, but noted if people can find a place that is away from direct light, whether that be a park within the City of Winnipeg, or even a person’s backyard, he suggests people will be able to see something.
Once the meteor shower is over, however, Young does have a cautionary tale to share.
“We get dozens calls of people seeing an interesting rock on the ground and thinking that they’ve found a meteorite. There are no meteorites that will fall and actually land on the ground from this shower. These are little pieces of dust and they completely vaporize in the atmosphere. You might find meteorites out there, but they are very, very rare and so don’t get all excited about every rock that you find after this. The odds are it’s a meteor-wrong and not a meteorite.”
Young said weather-permitting, the Manitoba Museum will livestream the shower on its social media channels.
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