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SpaceX launches the first south-bound rocket from Florida in decades

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This evening, SpaceX launched another rocket from Florida, but this vehicle took a very different kind of path than most flights from the East Coast. Rather than head eastward after launch as most Florida missions do, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket headed south after liftoff, skirting over Florida’s southeast coast and heading over Cuba.

That’s because this mission was headed to what is known as a polar orbit — a path that runs mostly north-to-south over the Earth’s poles. It’s a type of mission you don’t normally see taking place from Florida. In fact, this will be the first time since 1969 that a rocket taking off from Florida heads southward.

Up until now, most polar launches in the US have taken place from the southern coast of California. That way, the rockets fly over open ocean when they head southward and not over populated land. Rockets that launch from Florida head eastward toward the equator, so that they also fly over mostly open ocean before getting to space.

But back in 2016, the Air Force began studying the possibility of bringing polar launches to Florida after wildfires got significantly close to Vandenberg Air Force Base, the US’s main California launch site for all polar launches. The fire caused damage to surrounding infrastructure and delayed one launch for up to two months, according to Florida Today. The 45th Space Wing, which oversees launches out of Cape Canaveral, Florida, crunched the numbers and found that polar launches could be done — with some caveats.

As of today, only SpaceX can fly this unique path from Florida because of how its Falcon 9 rockets are designed. The company’s rocket has an automatic flight safety system, which means the vehicle can self-destruct on its own — without input from the ground — if it strays off its path or something goes wrong. That’s important for flying this polar route. Since the rockets will be flying close to populated areas, any deviation from flight must be handled swiftly to keep people safe on the ground. But it’s possible that the plumes of gas coming from the rocket’s engines could interfere with any signals that are sent from the ground to self-destruct. So the Falcon 9 has to be able to blow itself up without human help.

Future vehicles are expected to fly with these autonomous safety systems, which would allow them to fly southward from Florida, too. But for now, SpaceX is the one bringing polar launches back to the Florida coast. The company’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 7:18PM ET out of SpaceX’s launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The rocket then headed south, skimming the southeastern Florida coast near Miami and then flying over Cuba. The 45th Space Wing claims that Miami is not in any danger during these types of missions, and that Cuba should be out of harm’s way, as well. “It will overfly Cuba, but it’ll be at an altitude that we’re safe, just like when we’re going north,” Brig. Gen. Douglas Schiess, commander of the 45th Space Wing, said during a press call. “As we get up into the northern part of North America, we start to overfly some islands as well, but we’re at a safer altitude at that point.”

Schiess said that the Falcon 9 rocket followed the right path that will make sure people will be safe. “I know that we’re meeting all the safety requirements now, and it really comes down to being at the right altitude [and] speed at that time — to make sure that any debris that were to fall would be small enough, or not even impact any land, which makes this ability to launch that from a safe perspective.”

The main satellite on this launch was SAOCOM 1B, while two small satellites hitched along for a ride. SAOCOM 1B is the second of two identical Earth-observing satellites that SpaceX has contracted to launch for Argentina’s space agency. Together, the two satellites will use radar to observe the planet to hunt for disasters that could disrupt industries like agriculture, mining, fishing, and more. The satellite is going to a polar orbit known as sun-synchronous orbit. The path allows satellites to pass over the same patch of Earth at the same time each day, which is great for Earth observation satellites hoping to track changes to locations on the planet over time.

For this mission, SpaceX used a Falcon 9 rocket that’s flown to space three times before. After liftoff, the rocket successfully landed back on SpaceX’s ground landing pad near the launch site in Florida. SAOCOM 1B deployed just 14 minutes after takeoff, while the two small satellites will deploy about an hour after launch.

Source: – The Verge

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Full Moon rises tonight for this year's Harvest Moon – iNFOnews

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Full moon fever begins tonight with the first of two full moons in October, this one being the Harvest Moon, which is officially full on Oct.1. It will appear full tonight through Saturday.
Image Credit: Peter Mgr

September 30, 2020 – 7:00 PM

The next few nights promise to be clear and warmer than normal – good weather for some celestial viewing.

The next Full Moon is the Harvest Moon, which reaches its official status tomorrow.

The Harvest Moon is the first of two full moons in October, the next one being a Blue Moon on Halloween.

A Harvest Moon is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox.

According to NASA Science, the Harvest Moon normally falls in September. The moon should appear full to the naked eye tonight but isn’t technically a full moon until tomorrow and will remain full until Saturday, Oct. 3.

This year’s Harvest Moon should be easily viewable in Kamloops and the Okanagan as Environment Canada is forecasting clear night skies today, Sept. 30 through Saturday, Oct. 3.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to tips@infonews.ca and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won’t censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above.

News from © iNFOnews, 2020

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‘Extreme planet’ orbits star in three Earth days, has temperatures of 3120 degrees Celsius

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TORONTO —
Research on data from a new satellite is revealing strange new details about one of the “most extreme planets” in our known universe, and the blue, oddly-shaped star it orbits.

WASP-189b is 322 light years away from Earth in the constellation of Libra, has a permanent dayside and night side, and takes less than three Earth days to fully orbit its star — far faster than our 365 days.

“It is 20 times closer to [its star] than Earth is to the Sun,” Monika Lendl, lead author of the study from the University of Geneva, said in a press release.

WASP-189b is a gas giant, but it’s not any old gas giant. It is around one and a half times as large as Jupiter, and is part of a group called “ultra-hot Jupiters,” which are gas giants that are much larger and hotter than any planet we see in our solar system.

And this planet is even hotter than most other ultra-hot exoplanets scientists have identified. A paper published in the Astronomy & Astrophysics journal last week which detailed the new research described WASP-189b as “one of the most highly irradiated planets known thus far.”

It not only orbits incredibly close to its star, but the star itself, known as HD 133112, is one of the hottest stars we know of that has its own planetary system, at around 2,200 degrees Celsuis hotter than our Sun.

“Because it is so hot, the star appears blue and not yellow-white like the sun,” Willy Benz, professor of astrophysics at the University of Bern and head of the CHEOPS consortium, said in the release.

The dayside of the WASP-189b — the side that faces the star — is roughly 3,400 Kelvin, which is more than 3,120 degrees Celsius. It’s so hot that if there were iron present in the planet’s makeup, it would be gaseous.

In our solar system, the way that our planets spin while they rocket around the sun in their orbit gives them a night and day and allows multiples sides of the planet to get some face time with the sun. This isn’t the case for planetary objects like WASP-189b.

“They have a permanent day side, which is always exposed to the light of the star, and, accordingly, a permanent night side,” Lendl explained.

These details were discovered using data from the CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite (CHEOPS), the first European Space Agency (ESA) mission dedicated solely to extra-solar planets. The mission was launched in partnership with Switzerland, and benefitted from contributions from numerous European countries.

The satellite, with its mounted telescope, was launched in December of 2019, and has been orbiting 700 km above Earth ever since. Unlike many previous exoplanet-focused missions, CHEOPS is not interested in identifying new exoplanets, but was designed to peer closely at systems where we already knew an exoplanet is present.

Exoplanets — or extrasolar planets — are planets orbiting stars outside of our solar system, and because they’re so far away, we identify them not by finding a coloured speck in the sky, but by measuring dips in the light from stars.

When a star dims, it means something has passed in front of it, blocking some of the light from reaching the Earth. Using this “transit method,” researchers can figure out how large exoplanets are, how big or long their orbit is, and even what materials they are likely composed of.

There is also a change in light when a particularly bright planet goes behind its star, something called an “occultation.”

“Only a handful of planets are known to exist around stars this hot, and this system is by far the brightest,” Lendl said in an ESA release. “WASP-189b is also the brightest hot Jupiter that we can observe as it passes in front of or behind its star, making the whole system really intriguing.

“As the planet is so bright, there is actually a noticeable dip in the light we see coming from the system as it briefly slips out of view.”

While CHEOPS was pointed at WASP-189b, cataloguing all of its strange properties, researchers discovered that the star was unusual for more than just its bright blue colour.

It is spinning so rapidly that it is actually thicker at the equator, distorting the shape itself.

“The star itself is interesting — it’s not perfectly round, but larger and cooler at its equator than at the poles, making the poles of the star appear brighter,” said Lendl. “It’s spinning around so fast that it’s being pulled outwards at its equator! Adding to this asymmetry is the fact that WASP-189 b’s orbit is inclined; it doesn’t travel around the equator, but passes close to the star’s poles.”

This misaligned orbit implies that the planet had been formed further away from the star, and then been somehow pushed closer to it. Lendl suggested that this could mean the planet had interacted with other planets, or even other stars that had changed its orbital path.

According to the research, the planetary and star system is fairly young, which means researchers will be able to use this system to track the “atmospheric evolution of close-in gas giants.”

The new research is exciting to scientists not only for what it reveals about this planet and star, but for what it reveals about the telescope that provided such clear information.

“This first result from Cheops is hugely exciting: it is early definitive evidence that the mission is living up to its promise in terms of precision and performance,” Kate Isaak, CHEOPS project scientist at ESA, said in the ESA release.

Researchers point out in the paper that CHEOPS allowed them to refine and correct the size of the planet, which had been estimated incorrectly years earlier when the exoplanet’s existence was discovered by telescopes on the ground on Earth.

The paper concludes that the levels of the precision in the data shows that CHEOPS will be an invaluable tool in studying more exoplanets.

“We are expecting further spectacular findings on exoplanets thanks to observations with CHEOPS,” Benz said. “The next papers are already in preparation.”

Source: orbits star

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Buried lakes of salty water on Mars may provide conditions for life – MENAFN.COM

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(MENAFN – The Conversation) In 2018 a team of Italian scientists announced to the world that there was a lake on Mars . Using satellite radar data, the team detected a very bright area approximately 20 kilometres across located about 1.5 kilometres deep under the ice and dust of the south polar cap.

After analysis, they concluded that the bright area was a subglacial lake filled with liquid water. The discovery raised some fundamental questions.

Was this the only lake hidden beneath the ice on Mars? How could liquid water exist in the extreme cold of the Martian south polar region, where the average surface temperatures are lower than -100 °C?

After acquiring additional satellite data, my colleagues and I have discovered three more distinct ‘lakes’ near the one found in 2018 and confirmed that all four bodies contain liquid water.

Read more: Mars: mounting evidence for subglacial lakes, but could they really host life?

How can we see lakes under the ice on Mars?

The radar sounder MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) is one of eight instruments on board the European Space Agency orbiter Mars Express. This scientific spacecraft has been circling the red planet since December 2003.

The orbiting radar directs radio ‘chirps’ toward the planetary surface. These signals are partly reflected back by the surface, and partly penetrate deeper, where they may be absorbed, scattered, or reflected back to the radar. Liquid water reflects radar signals better than many other materials, so the surface of a body of liquid water shines brightly in a radar image.

Radar sounders are used on Earth to detect subglacial lakes in Antarctica, Greenland and Canada. Here, a technique called radio-echo sounding (RES) is commonly used to analyse the signals.

There are some obvious differences between how radar sounding is used on Earth and on Mars. For a start, MARSIS operates from altitudes between 250 km and 900 km above the surface, it has a 40-metre long antenna, and it operates at much lower frequencies (1.8-5 MHz) than Earth-based radar sounders.




An illustration of the Mars Express satellite with the 40-metre MARSIS radar antenna. NASA / JPL / Corby Waste

These differences meant we had to do some work to adapt standard radio-echo sounding techniques for use with signals from MARSIS. However, we were able to analyse data from 134 MARSIS tracks acquired between 2010 and 2019 over an area 250 km wide and 300 km long near the south pole of Mars.

In this area, we identified three distinct bright patches around the lake already ‘seen’ in 2018. We then used an unconventional probabilistic method to confirm that the bright patches really do represent bodies of liquid water.

We also obtained a much clearer picture of the shape and extent of the lake discovered in 2018. It is still the largest of the bodies of water, measuring 20 km across on its shortest axis and 30 km on its longest.

How could liquid water exist beneath the Martian ice?

The surface temperatures in our study area are around -110 °C on average. The temperatures at the base of the ice cap may be slightly warmer, but still way below the freezing point of pure water.

So how can bodies of liquid water exist here, let alone persist for periods of time long enough for us to detect them?

After the first lake was found in 2018, other groups had suggested the area might be warmed from below by magma within the planet crust. However, there is to date no evidence this is the case, so we think extremely high salt levels in the water are a more likely explanation.

Read more: What on Earth could live in a salt water lake on Mars? An expert explains

Perchlorate salts, which contain chlorine, oxygen, and another element, such as magnesium or calcium, are everywhere in the Martian soil. These salts absorb moisture from the atmosphere and turn to liquid (this process is termed ‘deliquescence’), producing hypersaline aqueous solutions (brines), which crystallise at temperatures far below the freezing point of pure water. Furthermore, laboratory experiments have shown that solutions formed by deliquescence can stay liquid for long periods even after temperatures drop below their own freezing points.

We therefore suggested in our paper that the waters in the south polar subglacial lakes are ‘salty’. This is particularly fascinating, because it has been shown that brines like these can hold enough dissolved oxygen to support microbial life.

Could conditions be right for life beneath the ice?

Our discoveries raise new questions. Is the chemistry of the water in the south polar subglacial lakes suitable for life? How does this modify our definitions of habitable environments? Was there ever life on Mars?

To address these questions new experiments and new missions must be planned. In the meantime, we are gearing up to continue acquiring MARSIS data to collect as much evidence as possible from the Martian subsurface.

Each new piece of evidence brings us one step closer to answering some of the most fundamental scientific questions about Mars, the solar system and the universe.

Read more: Mars: mounting evidence for subglacial lakes, but could they really host life?

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