Scientists have published a treasure trove of new research from the InSight lander’s first year on Mars, showing just how active the Red Planet really is.
InSight touched down on Mars’ Elysium Planitia in November 2018. It has an impressive suite of instruments, including cameras, weather sensors, magnetic field sensors, a heat probe, and a seismometer designed to measure “marsquakes.” Today, scientists have published a host of results revealing that even without plate tectonics, the planet is constantly shuddering with quakes like those on Earth or the Moon. The new data also hints at strangeness surrounding the planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field.
The bulk of these new results come from InSight’s Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, or SEIS experiment, which the lander finished deploying last February. From then until September 30, 2019, SEIS didn’t just measure the occasional quake; it counted 174 quakes, including 150 high-frequency and low-magnitude events that propagated through the Martian crust as well as 24 deeper, higher-magnitude events. The high-frequency events looked similar to those that the Apollo mission measured on the Moon, while low-frequency events came with compression and secondary events, called P and S waves, just like quakes you might see on Earth, according to a paper published in Nature Geoscience.
“We can start to use techniques we developed on Earth to learn abut Mars’s internal structure,” Vedran Lekic, associate professor at the University of Maryland who worked on some of the new papers, told Gizmodo. “That excited me, scientifically speaking.”
Now that researches know they can use Earth-inspired methods to study the quakes, they might be able to answer more questions about the size of the planet’s core and its composition. But actually studying the core will require some stronger events, and the scientists have yet to measure a quake with a magnitude greater than 4.
Lekic explained that Mars doesn’t have plate tectonics or tidal forces from a nearby planet to act on its surface like the Earth and Moon have, respectively, so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what causes the events. However, the researchers determined that two of the largest quakes originated from the Cerberus Fossae system of fractures, which could behave like faults do on Earth. As the planet cools, it contracts, introducing stresses that can produce faults and, in turn, quakes.
The researchers were also able to use the SEIS instrument in combination with the hammering action of the mission’s troubled Heat Flow and Physical Properties Instrument to study the planet’s crust, according to another paper published in Nature Geoscience. The planet was seismically quiet at night, but activity increased during the day as heat moved around the atmosphere. This analysis also indirectly suggests that the topmost portion of the planet’s crust likely has lots of fractures and is relatively low in its volatile elements (those with low boiling points like nitrogen, ammonia, and carbon dioxide).
Another experiment, the sensor package intended simply to study the sources of extraneous noise in the SEIS measurements, has also provided a trove of insights for the researchers, according to a third Nature Geoscience paper. The magnetometer revealed that the crust’s magnetic field seems to be 10 times stronger than what spacecraft measured from Martian orbit—perhaps there are magnetized rocks near InSight’s landing site, recording a history where the planet once had a dynamo-driven magnetic field like the Earth has today. These magnetic fields also vary throughout the day as charged particles move through the Martian atmosphere, and researchers hope to use these varying magnetic fields to study the electrical properties beneath the surface.
InSight also observed a more active atmosphere than expected, measuring a local dust storm and using its cameras to measure wind speeds. The experiment revealed turbulence in the thin atmosphere similar to the turbulence on Earth, as well as a faint glow to the air, perhaps from reactions between particles in the atmosphere and sunlight. The experiment has also detected dust devils, though has yet to actually photograph one. (The Opportunity rover, however, did snap a great pic of nearby dust devil.)
The researchers hope to continue monitoring the planet’s various processes through the year and observe how they change. A radio experiment on InSight, the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE), will offer more data on the nature of the Martian interior, such as whether the planet has a solid or liquid core. And scientists are still trying to figure out how to insert the Heat Probe into the planet; most recently, they decided to try to push on the top of the probe. It’s certainly frustrating that the Heat Probe experiment hasn’t been successful so far, but at least InSight has plenty of other instruments with which to gather data.
One thing is certain: Mars will continue to surprise scientists with each new mission.
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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