DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES —
A spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates swung into orbit around Mars on Tuesday in a triumph for the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.
Ground controllers at the UAE’s space centre in Dubai rose to their feet and broke into applause when word came that the craft, called Amal, Arabic for Hope, had reached the end of its seven-month, 300-million-mile journey and had begun circling the red planet, where it will gather data on Mars’ atmosphere.
The orbiter fired its main engines for 27 minutes in an intricate, high-stakes manoeuvr that slowed the craft enough for it to be captured by Mars’ gravity. It took a nail-biting 11 minutes for the signal confirming success to reach Earth.
Tensions were high: Over the years, Mars has been the graveyard for a multitude of missions from various countries.
A visibly relieved Omran Sharaf, the mission’s director, declared, “To the people of the UAE and Arab and Islamic nations, we announce the success of the UAE reaching Mars.”
Two more unmanned spacecraft from the U.S. and China are following close behind, set to arrive at Mars over the next several days. All three missions were launched in July to take advantage of the close alignment of Earth and Mars.
Amal’s arrival puts the UAE in a league of just five space agencies in history that have pulled off a functioning Mars mission. As the country’s first venture beyond Earth’s orbit, the flight is a point of intense pride for the oil-rich nation as it seeks a future in space.
An ebullient Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE’s day-to-day ruler, was on hand at mission control and said: “Congratulations to the leadership and people of the UAE. … Your joy is indescribable.”
About 60% of all Mars missions have ended in failure, crashing, burning up or otherwise falling short in a testament to the complexity of interplanetary travel and the difficulty of making a descent through Mars’ thin atmosphere.
A combination orbiter and lander from China is scheduled to reach the planet on Wednesday. It will circle Mars until the rover separates and attempts to land in May to look for signs of ancient life.
A rover from the U.S. named Perseverance is set to join the crowd next week, aiming for a landing Feb. 18. It will be the first leg in a decade-long U.S.-European project to bring Mars rocks back to Earth to be examined for evidence the planet once harboured microscopic life.
If it pulls this off, China will become only the second country to land successfully on Mars. The U.S. has done it eight times, the first almost 45 years ago. A NASA rover and lander are still working on the surface.
For months, Amal’s journey had been tracked by the UAE’s state-run media with rapturous enthusiasm. Landmarks across the UAE, including Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower on Earth, glowed red to mark the spacecraft’s anticipated arrival. Billboards depicting Amal tower over Dubai’s highways. This year is the 50th anniversary of the country’s founding, casting even more attention on Amal.
If all goes as planned, Amal over the next two months will settle into an exceptionally high, elliptical orbit of 13,670 miles by 27,340 miles (22,000 kilometres by 44,000 kilometres), from which it will survey the planet’s mostly carbon dioxide atmosphere at all times of day and in all seasons.
It joins six spacecraft already operating around Mars: three U.S., two European and one Indian.
Amal had to perform a series of turns and engine firings to manoeuvr into orbit, reducing its speed to 11,200 mph (18,000 kph) from over 75,000 mph (121,000 kph).
The control room full of Emirati engineers held their breath as Amal disappeared behind Mars’ dark side. Then it re-emerged from the planet’s shadow, and contact was restored on schedule. Screens at the space centre revealed that Amal had managed to do what had eluded many missions over the decades.
“Anything that slightly goes wrong and you lose the spacecraft,” said Sarah al-Amiri, minister of state for advanced technology and the chair of the UAE’s space agency.
The success delivers a tremendous boost to the UAE’s space ambitions. The country’s first astronaut rocketed into space in 2019, hitching a ride to the International Space Station with the Russians. That’s 58 years after the Soviet Union and the U.S. launched astronauts.
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s science mission chief, tweeted congratulations, saying: “Your bold endeavour to explore the Red Planet will inspire many others to reach for the stars. We hope to join you at Mars soon” with Perseverance.
In developing Amal, the UAE chose to collaborate with more experienced partners instead of going it alone or buying the spacecraft elsewhere. Its engineers and scientists worked with researchers at the University of Colorado, the University of California at Berkeley and Arizona State University.
The spacecraft was assembled at Boulder, Colorado, before being sent to Japan for launch last July.
The car-size Amal cost $200 million to build and launch; that excludes operating costs at Mars. The Chinese and U.S. expeditions are considerably more complicated — and expensive — because of their rovers. NASA’s Perseverance mission totals $3 billion.
The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, is looking for Amal to ignite the imaginations of the country’s scientists and its youth, and help prepare for a future when the oil runs out.
“Today you have households of every single age group passionate about space, understanding a lot of science,” said al-Amiri, the chair of the space agency. “This has opened a broad realm of possibilities for everyone in the UAE and also, I truly hope, within the Arab world.”
Associated Press writer Malak Harb contributed to this report.
Asteroid twice the size of the CN Tower to make fastest flyby of Earth this month – CTV News
The biggest and fastest known asteroid of 2021 is expected to make a flyby of Earth later this month.
The space rock, officially called asteroid 231937 (designated 2001 FO32), will zoom past Earth on March 21 travelling at a speed of 123,887 kilometres per hour or 34.4 kilometres per second, according to NASA.
The asteroid is an estimated 1.1 kilometres wide, which is roughly twice the size of the CN Tower. Of the approximately 25,000 near-Earth asteroids that scientists know about, NASA says only about 3.5 per cent of them are larger than a kilometre.
Due to its size and proximity to Earth, asteroid 231937 has been classified as “potentially hazardous” by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) and is being tracked by the space agency.
NEOs are defined as space objects, such as asteroids or comets, that come within 1.3 astronomical units (195 million kilometres) of the sun. If the object is larger than 140 metres across, it is considered a potentially hazardous object (PHO).
Nearly one hundred known asteroids are set to fly past Earth before the end of 2021, NASA says, but asteroid 231937 is set to be the largest and fastest.
However, NASA says the asteroid’s orbit is well known and poses no threat to humans.
According to the space agency, the asteroid will make is closest approach at 16:03 UTC (11:03 a.m. EST), at over two million kilometres away from Earth. NASA notes that this is nearly five times farther than the distance the moon orbits Earth.
Despite being two million kilometres away, NASA says this will be the asteroid’s closest encounter on record. According to NASA’s records dating as far back as the early 1900s, the space rock has not come closer to Earth and won’t do so again for 200 years.
Asteroid 231937 was discovered on March 23, 2001, by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program in New Mexico, according to NASA. It orbits the sun every 810 days and is classified as an Apollo asteroid as it travels from inside Mercury’s orbit to the asteroid belt and back, crossing Earth’s orbit in an elliptical pattern.
While those interested in catching a glimpse of the asteroid won’t be able to do so with their eyes, EarthSky reports that stargazers may be able to see it using a telescope 20 centimetres or larger in diameter to detect the asteroid’s motion in real time.
The asteroid will be relatively low in the southern sky, but EarthSky said observers might spot it moving between the constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius just before dawn.
Lambton public health warns of COVID-19 vaccine scams – The Beacon Herald
Public health officials are cautioning residents to be wary of COVID-19 vaccine-related scams circulating throughout the Sarnia area.
Public health officials are cautioning residents to be wary of COVID-19 vaccine-related scams circulating throughout the Sarnia area.
Lambton public health officials said Friday they’ve heard “several reports” of seniors being contacted since the local online booking system and call centre opened Thursday to residents age 90 and older.
Donna Schmidtmeyer, the health unit’s supervisor of health promotion, said they don’t charge fees to register or to get the vaccine.
“We will not ask you for any financial information whatsoever,” she said in a statement. “And, unless you have called (public health) to pre-register for the vaccine directly or signed up for the pre-registration using our online platform, no one should contact you and ask for any personal information.”
The health unit urged people to check the source of COVID-19 information they’re receiving.
“If you’re unsure or your gut is telling you something is off, it probably is,” the health unit said.
People are encouraged to call Lambton public health at 519-383-8331 for accurate information.
The warning came amid the province releasing details Friday on the second phase of its vaccine distribution plan. A larger list of Ontarians – people between the ages of 60 and 79 and those with specific health conditions or who can’t work from home – will be included as officials aim to vaccinate nine-million residents between April and July.
More than 4,300 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed to Sarnia-area residents – mainly into the arms of seniors and front-line health-care workers and caregivers – as of Wednesday. That figure is expected to climb as fixed-site clinics and mobile teams continue to distribute doses.
The number of COVID-19 cases also climbed Friday, with 122 considered active – nearly double from two days ago – while the overall caseload climbed 24 to 2,187.
A recent spread of the virus at Kettle and Stony Point has contributed to the sudden spike as the community had 26 active cases as of Thursday. Lambton public health’s top medical official said they’re working closely with the First Nation to trace close contacts and to set up a vaccine clinic there.
But a health unit spokesperson said Friday via email the situation is not officially classified as an outbreak. An emergency shelter, the jail, a retirement home and a long-term care facility in Sarnia as well as an unidentified local business and a retirement home in Lambton Shores were all dealing with official outbreaks. The number of cases connected to those facilities has held steady in recent days.
Eight Lambton Kent District and five St. Clair Catholic District school board schools had at least one case linked to them Friday, but they were all still open.
Ontario said Friday it will shift some health units to different colours in its colour-coded restriction system starting next week, but Lambton will stay in red.
Mars rover travels 6.5 metres in ‘flawless’ first drive – Al Jazeera English
Perseverance rover can travel 200 metres a day, but scientists need to conduct tests and safety checks before it ventures further.
NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance has taken its first, short drive on the surface of the red planet, two weeks after the robot science lab’s picture-perfect touchdown on the floor of an enormous crater, mission managers said on Friday.
The Perseverance rover first ventured from its landing position Thursday, two weeks after landing on the Red Planet to seek signs of past life.
Taking directions from mission managers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles, the rover rolled four metres (13.1 feet) forward, turned about 150 degrees to its left and then drove backwards another 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) for a total of 6.5 metres (21.3 feet) during its half-hour test within Jezero Crater, site of an ancient, long-vanished lake bed and river delta on Mars.
“It went incredibly well,” Anais Zarifian, a JPL mobility test engineer for Perseverance, said during a teleconference briefing with reporters, calling it a “huge milestone” for the mission.
The roundabout, back and forth drive lasted just 33 minutes and went so well that the six-wheeled rover was back on the move Friday.
Perseverance is capable of averaging 200 metres of driving a day.
NASA displayed a photo taken by the rover showing the wheel tread marks left in the reddish, sandy Martian soil after its first drive.
Another vivid image of the surrounding landscape shows a rugged, ruddy terrain littered with large, dark boulders in the foreground and a tall outcropping of rocky, layered deposits in the distance – marking the edge of the river delta.
I’m on the move! Just took my first test drive on Mars, covering about 16 feet (5 meters). You’re looking at the very beginning of my wheel tracks. Many more to make. pic.twitter.com/7tFIwWFfJ4
— NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) March 5, 2021
So far, Perseverance and its hardware, including its main robot arm, appear to be operating flawlessly, according to Robert Hogg, deputy mission manager.
But JPL engineers still have additional equipment checks to run on the rover’s many instruments before they will be ready to send the robot on a more ambitious journey as part of its primary mission to search for traces of fossilised microbial life.
The team has yet to conduct post-landing tests of the rover’s sophisticated system to drill and collect rock samples for return to Earth via future Mars missions.
As soon as the system checks on Perseverance are complete, the rover will head for an ancient river delta to collect rocks for return to Earth a decade from now.
Scientists are debating whether to take the smoother route to get to the nearby delta or a possibly tougher way with intriguing remnants from that once-watery time three to four billion years ago.
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