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This Week, Mars Is The Closest to Earth It'll Be For Another 15 Years – ScienceAlert

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Mars, our second closest cosmic cousin, has been in our collective imagination for decades. Between fantasies of martian visits and the promise of water under its icy surface, Mars doesn’t need to do much to be in our collective good books.

But very soon, Mars is not just going to be close to our hearts, but also nearest to our actual planet –  a mere 62.1 million kilometres (38.6 million miles) away from Earth.

This is the closest it’ll be for the next 15 years. And it means that stargazing is highly recommended as Mars will be bright, big and easy to see with or without a telescope.

We’d recommend checking out a sky chart to work out where Mars will be in the night sky in your location so you can plan for the best viewing.

But the good news is, it’ll be in a region of the night sky with very few stars, and if you’re lucky, you should also be able to catch Jupiter and Saturn shining brightly closer to the horizon.

The day we’ll be the absolute closest to Mars is the 6 October, so get a move on.

As you can see in this video below, Mars and Earth are both on slightly elliptical orbits, which means they can occasionally get very close to each other.

The closest possible encounter is when Earth is the furthest away from the Sun (aphelion) and Mars is the closest to the Sun (perihelion). At this point the two would be at the minimum 54.6 million kilometres (33.9 million miles) apart.

This configuration is called an opposition, and it happens every two years or so. But we’ve never actually recorded us hitting that perfect ‘closest’ point.

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The closest approach we’ve ever recorded happened back in 2003, with just 55.7 million kilometres separating us with Mars. Two years ago, 2018 was pretty close too, with just 57.6 million kilometres (35.8 million miles) between us.

Unfortunately though, we’re getting further and further out of alignment with our closest neighbour and won’t start getting closer again until 2029, culminating in a very close approach in 2035 – only 56.9 million kilometres (35.4 million miles) apart – so start planning your 2035 Mars watching schedule well in advance!

At the other end of the scale from an opposition is a conjunction, when the two planets are furthest from each other. They can end up a 401 million kilometres (250 miles) away from each other. This occurs when Earth and Mars are on opposite sides of the Sun and both in their aphelion.

It’s for this reason that space organisations take advantage of the short distance between our planets when these windows arise. This year was a peak opportunity for many missions to the Red Planet.

If you remember, Mars One planned to launch a Mars lander in 2020 before it um, never did that.

But three missions did successfully take off. NASA’s Perseverance rover is close to half way through its journey to the red planet after blasting off back in July, while two other missions left for Mars in the same two-week window.

The next lot of Mars missions – like the Mars Sample Return – will be travelling in 2022, but they’ll have to travel an extra 20 million kilometres, as we’ll be at a distance of 81.5 million kilometres (50.6 million miles) at our closest approach during this time.

So this week is a pretty special opportunity that we won’t have again until 2035. Make sure you wave to Mars as it goes past!

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Asteroid samples escaping from jammed NASA spacecraft – Phys.org

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In this image taken from video released by NASA, the Osiris-Rex spacecraft touches the surface of asteroid Bennu on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (NASA via AP)

A NASA spacecraft is stuffed with so much asteroid rubble from this week’s grab that it’s jammed open and precious particles are drifting away in space, scientists said Friday.

Scientists announced the news three days after the named Osiris-Rex briefly touched asteroid Bennu, NASA’s first attempt at such a mission.

The mission’s lead scientist, Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, said Tuesday’s operation 200 million miles away collected far more material than expected for return to Earth—in the hundreds of grams. The sample container on the end of the robot arm penetrated so deeply into the asteroid and with such force, however, that rocks got sucked in and became wedged around the rim of the lid.

Scientists estimate the sampler pressed as much as 19 inches (48 centimeters) into the rough, crumbly, black terrain.

“We’re almost a victim of our own success here,” Lauretta said at a hastily arranged news conference.

Lauretta said there is nothing can do to clear the obstructions and prevent more bits of Bennu from escaping, other than to get the samples into their as soon as possible.

So, the flight team was scrambling to put the sample container into the capsule as early as Tuesday—much sooner than originally planned—for the long trip home.

“Time is of the essence,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, chief of NASA’s science missions.

This is NASA’s first asteroid sample-return mission. Bennu was chosen because its carbon-rich material is believed to hold the preserved building blocks of our solar system. Getting pieces from this cosmic time capsule could help scientists better understand how the planets formed billions of years ago and how life originated on Earth.

Scientists were stunned—and then dismayed—on Thursday when they saw the pictures coming from Osiris-Rex following its wildly successful touch-and-go at Bennu two days earlier.

A cloud of asteroid particles could be seen swirling around the spacecraft as it backed away from Bennu. The situation appeared to stabilize, according to Lauretta, once the robot arm was locked into place. But it was impossible to know exactly how much had already been lost.

The requirement for the $800 million-plus mission was to bring back a minimum 2 ounces (60 grams).

Regardless of what’s on board, Osiris-Rex will still leave the vicinity of the asteroid in March—that’s the earliest possible departure given the relative locations of Earth and Bennu. The samples won’t make it back until 2023, seven years after the spacecraft rocketed away from Cape Canaveral.

Osiris-Rex will keep drifting away from Bennu and will not orbit it again, as it waits for its scheduled departure.

Because of the sudden turn of events, scientists won’t know how much the sample capsule holds until it’s back on Earth. They initially planned to spin the spacecraft to measure the contents, but that maneuver was canceled since it could spill even more debris.

“I think we’re going to have to wait until we get home to know precisely how much we have,” Lauretta told reporters. “As you can imagine, that’s hard. … But the good news is we see a lot of material.”

Japan, meanwhile, is awaiting its second batch of samples taken from a different asteroid, due back in December.


Explore further

NASA spacecraft sent asteroid rubble flying in sample grab


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Two flights into Abbotsford have had recent COVID-19 exposures – Maple Ridge News

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Two flights to Abbotsford have each had a recent COVID-19 exposure, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (CDC).

The agency indicates on its website that the flights involved were WestJet flight 637 from Calgary to Abbotsford on Wednesday, Oct. 14 (rows nine to 15) and Swoop flight 107 from Hamilton to Abbotsford on Monday, Oct. 19 (rows 20 to 26).

The CDC advises that anyone who was on these flights should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days.

RELATED: Vancouver airport to pilot pre-flight COVID-19 tests for select WestJet passengers

Passengers on domestic flights are not required to self-isolate, but those who have travelled outside of Canada are required to self-isolate for 14 days upon their arrival.

Passengers seated on a plane with a case of COVID-19 that was later identified are no longer directly notified of their potential exposure. Instead, anyone who has travelled is asked to monitor the CDC website.

Passengers seated in the affected rows are considered to be at higher risk of exposure due to their proximity to the case.

RELATED: WestJet to offer full refunds for flights cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic



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Two flights into Abbotsford have had recent COVID-19 exposures – Surrey Now-Leader

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Two flights to Abbotsford have each had a recent COVID-19 exposure, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (CDC).

The agency indicates on its website that the flights involved were WestJet flight 637 from Calgary to Abbotsford on Wednesday, Oct. 14 (rows nine to 15) and Swoop flight 107 from Hamilton to Abbotsford on Monday, Oct. 19 (rows 20 to 26).

The CDC advises that anyone who was on these flights should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days.

RELATED: Vancouver airport to pilot pre-flight COVID-19 tests for select WestJet passengers

Passengers on domestic flights are not required to self-isolate, but those who have travelled outside of Canada are required to self-isolate for 14 days upon their arrival.

Passengers seated on a plane with a case of COVID-19 that was later identified are no longer directly notified of their potential exposure. Instead, anyone who has travelled is asked to monitor the CDC website.

Passengers seated in the affected rows are considered to be at higher risk of exposure due to their proximity to the case.

RELATED: WestJet to offer full refunds for flights cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic



vhopes@abbynews.com

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