After more than a decade of observations using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers discovered that, for some mysterious reason, the winds around the Great Red Spot are speeding up!
Swirling in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere for hundreds of years so far, the Great Red Spot is a giant anticyclonic storm, larger than our planet Earth. In meteorological terms, that means it is an immense high-pressure cell – the same kind of weather system we see here on Earth that is characterized by winds that become lighter the closer you get to the core.
This image of Jupiter was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope during the planet’s opposition in August of 2020. Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon, M.H. Wong, M. Kornmesser
Astronomers have been studying the Great Red Spot for well over 100 years now. In that time, they have confirmed that the Spot follows those same basic wind patterns. Specifically, they have identified two different ‘rings’ of winds, with lighter winds along the inner ring and stronger winds along the outer ring.
In just the past 10 years or so, however, something new and unexpected was discovered.
As detailed in a new study published this week, a team of astronomers has found that images from the Hubble Space Telescope show that winds in the outer band of the Great Red Spot are accelerating!
Analysis of Hubble Space Telescope images from 2009 to 2020 reveals that the average wind speed around the outer ring of the Great Red Spot, which can exceed 640 kilometres per hour, has been increasing. Credit: NASA, ESA, Michael H. Wong (UC Berkeley)
“When I initially saw the results, I asked ‘Does this make sense?'” Michael Wong, the lead researcher from the University of California, Berkeley, said in a Hubble press release.
“No one has ever seen this before,” Wong said, “but this is something only Hubble can do. Hubble’s longevity and ongoing observations make this revelation possible.”
It was the high-resolution imagery that Hubble captured that allowed Wong to use computer software to track the motion within the Spot. By carefully plotting wind vectors — notations of wind speed and direction — this software was able to pick out the changes in velocity over time.
“Since we don’t have a storm chaser plane at Jupiter, we can’t continuously measure the winds on site,” co-author Amy Simon, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, added. “Hubble is the only telescope that has the kind of temporal coverage and spatial resolution that can capture Jupiter’s winds in this much detail.”
This image of Jupiter from the Hubble Space Telescope was captured in 2019. NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center) and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley)
According to the study, the winds in the core of the Great Red Spot remain relatively constant. Between 2009 and 2020, though, Hubble observations showed that winds in the outer ring had accelerated by up to 8 per cent.
“We’re talking about such a small change that if we didn’t have eleven years of Hubble data, we wouldn’t know it had happened,” Simon explained. “With Hubble we have the precision we need to spot a trend.”
As for the reason for this acceleration, there’s no way to know at this time.
“That’s hard to diagnose, since Hubble can’t see the bottom of the storm very well,” said Wang. “Anything below the cloud tops is invisible in the data, but it’s an interesting piece of the puzzle that can help us understand what’s fueling the Great Red Spot and how it’s maintaining its energy.”
NASA’s Juno spacecraft, currently in orbit around Jupiter, captured the Great Red Spot on Feb. 28, 2019. To the storm’s left edge, a region of the 400-year-old storm is seen mixing with the surrounding cloud of gases. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Björn Jónsson)
In the past few years, astronomers have noticed other changes with the Great Red Spot. For example, recent observations have shown that the anticyclone is shrinking. Once, it was wide enough to fit three Earths across it. Now, it is only around 16,000 km across, or about 25 per cent wider than Earth.
DUBAI, U.A.E. — The head of Roscosmos says he is now satisfied that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is safe enough to carry Russian cosmonauts, clearing a major obstacle for an agreement to exchange seats between Soyuz and commercial crew vehicles.
Dmitry Rogozin, director general of the Russian space agency, said in a press conference during the 72nd International Astronautical Congress here Oct. 25 that he no longer had reservations about flying cosmonauts on Crew Dragon as that spacecraft nears the end of its second long-duration mission at the International Space Station.
“In our view, SpaceX has already acquired enough experience for us to be able to put our cosmonauts on Crew Dragon,” he said through a translator.
He said the topic would come up during a meeting with NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy scheduled for Oct. 26 during the conference. “I believe we will be in a position to discuss candidates who may be flying to the space station on board the Crew Dragon—Russian cosmonauts, and American astronauts who will be flying to the space station on Russian spacecraft.”
Rogozin and others at Roscosmos had previously said they needed more evidence that Crew Dragon was safe enough for Russian cosmonauts, even after the spacecraft successfully carried NASA astronauts on the Demo-2 mission in mid-2020 and the subsequent Crew-1 and Crew-2 missions. Crew Dragon has also flown a commercial mission, Inspiration4, with four people on board.
Rogozin’s comments were welcome news to Melroy, who was also participating in the press conference. “I think they’ve been very clear from the beginning that they feel strongly, and we understand completely, that because they don’t have as much insight as we do,” she said in an interview after the press conference, “they have an expectation that there should be several flights before they feel confident in the performance of the vehicle. At this point, we’re having that conversation.”
That confidence, though, doesn’t mean an agreement between NASA and Roscosmos to barter seats is a done deal. “The important thing is that an agreement has to work for both of us,” she said. “There are considerations that we have and they have as well.”
NASA has sought to barter seats to create “mixed crews” of at least one NASA astronaut and one Roscosmos cosmonaut on each mission. That would ensure both countries would have a presence on the station, and ability to maintain their separate systems, if either Soyuz or commercial crew vehicles are grounded for an extended period.
The earliest a Russian cosmonaut could fly on a Crew Dragon would be the Crew-5 mission in the second half of 2022. Similarly, the next time a NASA astronaut could fly on a Soyuz would be in the fall of 2022, since NASA has decided not to acquire a seat on the Soyuz MS-21 launching in March 2022.
Crew-3 ready for launch
Hours after Rogozin offered his endorsement of Crew Dragon, NASA and SpaceX managers approved plans for the next launch of the spacecraft. NASA said late Oct. 25 that the Crew-3 mission had passed its flight readiness review ahead of its launch Oct. 31 from the Kennedy Space Center.
At a briefing, NASA and SpaceX officials said they were still wrapping up some open items on the spacecraft linked to a minor issue with the waste management system on Crew Dragon during the Inspiration4 mission. A tube came disconnected in a storage tank for urine, allowing liquid to leak into a fan system, said Bill Gerstenmaier, SpaceX vice president for build and flight reliability.
He said that didn’t cause a problem during the flight itself, but during inspections after landing technicians found contamination underneath the floor of the capsule, caused by a chemical in the waste storage tank called Oxone. Inspections of the Crew-2 Crew Dragon spacecraft, currently docked to the station, also showed evidence of corrosion, but that corrosion does not grow over time based on lab tests in similar environmental conditions. Final checks to confirm there are no safety issues will be completed before the final launch readiness review Oct. 29.
While this is not a major issue, Gerstenmaier said it’s evidence of the need to avoid complacency that could result in more significant safety lapses. He said that, after finding the root cause of an improperly glued tube in a waste management system, workers not only corrected that problem but also looked at interfaces that could have similar problems.
“It’s one way of challenging people to stay hungry, stay paranoid,” he said, “and don’t ever assume you know what’s going to happen with the vehicle.”
According to Space Adventures President Tom Shelley, a seat on the Russia spacecraft is in the range of $50 million to $60 million
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In February 2020, the Virginia-based space tourism company Space Adventures announced a contract with Elon Musk’s SpaceX for a joint project, mission Crew Dragon, that would send four space tourists on a mission to a ‘relatively high Earth orbit’.
With experience in flying private individuals to the International Space Station (ISS), the company announced that its planned mission, scheduled for late 2021 to early 2022, would set a new “world altitude record for private citizen spaceflight” by flying at least twice as high as the station.
Earlier this month during a visit to Moscow, however, Space Adventures President Tom Shelley told AFP “ultimately our reservation with SpaceX expired and that’s not a mission that we are going to be executing in the immediate future.”
In an interview with Space News confirming the statement, company spokesperson Stacey Tearne said “the mission was marketed to a large number of our prospective customers, but ultimately the mix of price, timing and experience wasn’t right at that particular time.”
Meanwhile, Space Adventures was working on another project with Russian space agency Roscosmos. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, known for buying a SpaceX Starship flight around the moon in 2023, will be the first to travel to the ISS on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, set to launch on December 8 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
According to Shelley, a seat on the Russia spacecraft is said to cost in the range of $50 million to $60 million.
The race to space is not a thing of the past. This now privatized business has created a competitive industry between multi-billion dollar companies and countries. Although Moscow and Washington’s relationship has been severed over a number of political issues, Shelley says that space was an exception.
“Cooperation in space in particular seems to somewhat transcend the political difficulties that exist between the United States and Russia,” he said.
Conflicting sentiments are abound concerning space tourism and exploration.
Days after Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, claimed to the BBC that “great brains and minds should be trying to repair this planet, not trying to find the next place to go and live,” director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs Simonetta Di Pippo suggests differently.
While visiting Dubai’s Expo 2020, Di Pippo told The National that “space tourism has a lot of positives and can help inspire humanity to protect their planet. It’s really the attempt of bringing space closer to humanity and humanity closer to space.”
Glass barriers will be installed between the desks of Lambton County councillors in the council chambers in Wyoming ahead of January when the council is expected to begin meeting again in person.
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Glass barriers will be installed between the desks of Lambton County councillors in the council chambers in Wyoming ahead of January, when in-person meetings are expected to resume.
The barriers are expected to cost $12,000 but will free county councillors from having to wear face masks during the meetings.
“It maybe is a little bit of overkill” but “we want to make sure all of council is comfortable and feeling secure,” said Warwick Township Mayor Jackie Rombouts, chairperson of the county council committee reviewing a staff report that recently outlined steps being taken for the resumption of in-person meetings.
The report noted the barriers are required under regulations, given the layout of the council chambers where members sit close together.
“If people are going to be in close proximity to each other without a mask, current regulations would require that impermeable partition,” said Stephane Thiffeault, the county’s general manager of corporate services.
County council and its committees have been meeting online since the pandemic began but decided in September to plan for a return to in-person meetings in January, subject to changes in public-health guidelines.
Lambton Shores Mayor Bill Weber noted everyone attending in-person meetings will be vaccinated.
When “you can fill a stadium with people cheering on a team, it seems silly that 17 of us need to have partitions between us,” he said.
County council voted recently to require that councillors show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination, or a recent test, to attend in-person meetings when they resume. Councillors can also continuing attending meetings “virtually.”
County councillors will also be required to “self-screen” for COVID-19 symptoms before attending meetings and use hand sanitizer on the way into council chambers. They will be required to wear a mask and maintain social distances when not seated at their desk.
A limited number of county staff will attend the meetings while others will participate virtually, the report said.
Limited space will be available in the gallery for the public, who will be required to sign in. A total of 38 members of the public can be accommodated in the gallery, allowing for social distancing, the report said.
Members of the public will also be able to watch from a committee room overlooking the chambers, and the meetings will continue to broadcast online for the public.
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