"I have looked farther into space than ever a human being did before me."

— William Herschel

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No Time To Die review: A kinder Bond takes on biochemical warfare

New Scientist Space - Cosmology - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 8:53am
Daniel Craig's final Bond film sees his character faced with a missing scientist, a man with an apocalyptic vision of the world and the return of nifty gadgets
Categories: Astronomy

No Time To Die review: A kinder Bond takes on biochemical warfare

New Scientist Space - Space Headlines - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 8:53am
Daniel Craig's final Bond film sees his character faced with a missing scientist, a man with an apocalyptic vision of the world and the return of nifty gadgets
Categories: Astronomy

Covid-19 news: Long covid symptoms reported in over a third of cases

New Scientist Space - Cosmology - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 8:09am
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic
Categories: Astronomy

Covid-19 news: Long covid symptoms reported in over a third of cases

New Scientist Space - Space Headlines - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 8:09am
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic
Categories: Astronomy

Secrets of a long and healthy life reside in your gut microbiome

New Scientist Space - Cosmology - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 8:05am
How long you live and how well you age rests on many factors beyond your control, but the discovery that gut microbes play a key role means what you eat can make a difference
Categories: Astronomy

Secrets of a long and healthy life reside in your gut microbiome

New Scientist Space - Space Headlines - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 8:05am
How long you live and how well you age rests on many factors beyond your control, but the discovery that gut microbes play a key role means what you eat can make a difference
Categories: Astronomy

Mars helicopter Ingenuity aborted latest flight attempt because of anomaly

Space.com - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 6:50am
NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity didn't get off the ground as planned earlier this month.
Categories: Astronomy

How to give a star talk

Space.com - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 6:48am
For those with a knowledge of the night sky, there's a chance to share that knowledge and appreciation of the heavens with other people by giving a star talk.
Categories: Astronomy

From poo politics to rubbish disposal: 5 big questions about the International Space Station becoming a movie set

Space.com - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 6:47am
This is an exciting — if controversial — development for the station, which orbits around 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth.
Categories: Astronomy

Who was James Clerk Maxwell? The greatest physicist you've probably never heard of.

Space.com - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 6:47am
James Clerk Maxwell is the scientist responsible for explaining the forces behind the radio in your car, the magnets on your fridge, the heat of a warm summer day and the charge on a battery.
Categories: Astronomy

'Hell heron' dinosaur is new species found on Isle of Wight

New Scientist Space - Cosmology - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 6:00am
Two new species of dinosaur have been identified from fossils found on the Isle of Wight
Categories: Astronomy

'Hell heron' dinosaur is new species found on Isle of Wight

New Scientist Space - Space Headlines - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 6:00am
Two new species of dinosaur have been identified from fossils found on the Isle of Wight
Categories: Astronomy

Drones are 'sniffing' ship exhaust for illegal fuel in European waters

New Scientist Space - Cosmology - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 4:00am
Maritime authorities in the EU are now using drones to “sniff” the exhaust fumes from ships and catch operators using illegal, sulphur-rich fuel
Categories: Astronomy

Drones are 'sniffing' ship exhaust for illegal fuel in European waters

New Scientist Space - Space Headlines - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 4:00am
Maritime authorities in the EU are now using drones to “sniff” the exhaust fumes from ships and catch operators using illegal, sulphur-rich fuel
Categories: Astronomy

Euclid telescope ready for extreme space environment

ESO Top News - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 4:00am

ESA’s Euclid mission has reached a new milestone in its development with successful testing of the telescope and instruments showing that it can operate and achieve the required performance in the extreme environment of space.

Categories: Astronomy

Equinox on a Spinning Earth

APOD - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 12:00am

When does the line between night and day become vertical?


Categories: Astronomy, NASA

NASA’s Human Space Exploration Division is Being Split in Two

Universe Today - Tue, 09/28/2021 - 11:04pm

Large government organizations require lots of people to run them.  NASA is no exception.  America’s space agency has long been under pressure to organizationally support its ongoing Artemis program to return to the moon. Now, it has taken a step in that direction by announcing that its Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate will split into two new ones: the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate and the Space Operations Missions Directorate.

The announcement came on September 21st from Bill Nelson, NASA’s administration, who also announced a press conference to discuss the changes further.  In that press conference, NASA’s leadership team outlined some of the reasons for the change.  

Recording of the Town Hall meeting discussing the Human Spaceflight reorganization.
Credit – NASA

A big one was a “strong” recommendation from President Joe Biden.  That suggestion stemmed from politician’s frustrations in dealing with the agency’s budgetary processes.  With the same directorate handling both the Artemis program and ongoing work in the ISS, it was difficult for the people who control the purse strings to understand what that money was going towards.

Expanding a bureaucracy isn’t always the most efficient way to do something, however.  That will be no exception with this transition.  Pam Melroy, NASA’s deputy administrator, pointed out that “We’re actually not adding a whole new layer of people,” but that “the challenges that we have in coordinating across organizations is exactly the same as it is today.”

NASA’s description of the Artemis program.
Credit – NASA YouTube Channel

Those challenges include managing NASA’s increasingly complex human spaceflight programs.  With two separate directorates headed by two competent leaders, those programs will garner more specific attention.  The leaders they picked will have a significant impact how the success or failure of those programs.

NASA did select two very qualified individuals for those roles – Kathy Lueders was the current head of the predecessor directorate, where she was promoted to June of 2020. She previously had a leading role in the Commercial Crew Program, though she began her career in 1992 as a depot manager at the White Sands Test Facility after earning her B.S. in Industrial Engineering.  She’ll now lead the Space Operations Mission Directorate, taking over the ISS and other ongoing human spaceflight operations.

Kathy Lueders (right) will head the new Space Operations Mission Directorate, while Jim Free (left) will lead the new Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate.
Credit – NASA / Aubrey Gemignani

To lead the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, NASA brought back Jim Free, a former employee who had retired in 2017 as the technical deputy associate administrator for the directorate that is being separated.  After a stint in private industry, including as an Executive Vice President at Peerless Aerospace, Jim came back to the agency to help develop the Artemis program.  His career started back in 1990 as a propulsion engineer, and he has worked at a variety of NASA facilities in his almost 30-year career at the agency.  

Critics point out that the added bureaucracy will now require these two leaders to communicate effectively to maintain the same leadership present under Ms. Lueder’s leadership previously.  According to the agency, no changes will impact the various NASA centers located around the country, and the personnel switching will be primarily focused on the headquarters in Washington. With luck, this organizational shake-up will be a way to prioritize goals correctly and allow Congress and the American public to see more directly what their space exploration money is being spent on.

Learn More:
NASA – NASA Leadership Positions Agency for Future
SpaceNews.com – NASA splits human spaceflight directorate into two organizations
SpacePolicyOnline.com – NASA SPLITS HUMAN SPACEFLIGHT DIRECTORATE INTO TWO

Lead Image:
Artemis program graphic
Credit – NASA

The post NASA’s Human Space Exploration Division is Being Split in Two appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Astronomy

How Much Carbon Dioxide Snow Falls Every Winter on Mars?

Universe Today - Tue, 09/28/2021 - 10:24pm

Like Earth, Mars experiences climatic variations during the course of a year because of the obliquity of its rotational axis. This leads to the annual deposition/sublimation of the CO2 ice/snow, which results in the formation of the seasonal polar caps. Similarly, these variations in temperature result in interaction between the atmosphere and the polar ice caps, which has a seasonal effect on surface features.

On Mars, however, things work a little differently. In addition to water ice, a significant percentage of the Martian polar ice caps are made up of frozen carbon dioxide (“dry ice”). Recently, an international team of scientists used data from NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) mission to measure how the planet’s polar ice caps grow and recede annually. Their results could provide new insights into how the Martian climate varies due to seasonal change.

The study that describes their findings was led by Haifeng Xiao, a research assistant with the Institute of Geodesy and Geoinformation Science at the Berlin Technical University. He was joined by researchers from Stanford University, the Université Paris-Saclay, the Institut Universitaire de France, and the German Aerospace Center’s (DLR) Institute of Planetary Research and Institute of Atmospheric Physics.

Time-lapse video showing the sublimation of the seasonal polar cap at the Martian North Pole. Credit: W.M. Calvin, et al. (2015)

What we know about the Martian polar ice caps indicates that they are composed of three parts. First, there is the Residual (or Permanent) Ice Cap, which consists of sheets of water ice several meters thick at the North Pole, and an 8-meter (~10 feet) thick sheet of frozen carbon dioxide at the South Pole. Beneath that are the Polar Layered Deposits (PLDs), which are 2 to 3 km (mi) thick and composed of water ice and dust.

Last is the Seasonal Ice Cap, a layer of frozen CO2 deposited on top of the permanent ice caps every winter. For the sake of their study, Haifeng and his colleagues focused on the Seasonal Ice Caps to reveal how they are affected by variations in seasonal temperatures and solar radiation – and how this is associated with annual variations in Mars’ climate. As Haifeng told Universe Today via email:

“Each Martian year, approximately 30% of the atmosphere’s CO2 mass is in vivid exchange with the polar surfaces through the seasonal deposition/sublimation. Temporal variations of levels and volumes of snow/ice associated with this process can put crucial constraints on the Mars climate system and volatile circulation models.

“In addition, the seasonal accumulation of the CO2 ice to form these seasonal polar caps can be affected by dust storms, cold spots, katabatic and orographic winds, and local shadowing. Thus, short and long-term variabilities of the seasonal polar caps could also indicate the variabilities of the Mars climate.”

During a Martian year, which lasts over 687 Earth days (or 668.5 Sols), seasonal changes lead to atmospheric carbon dioxide migrating from the North Pole to the South Pole (and vise versa). These seasonal actions are responsible for transporting large amounts of dust and water vapor, which leads to frosts and the formation of large cirrus clouds visible from space.

This image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shows the “spiders” emerging from the carbon dioxide ice cap at the South Pole of Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This process of sublimation and exchange between the poles is also responsible for notable geological features on Mars, such as the araneiform terrain (aka. “spiders”) near the South Pole and the way the dune fields in the northern planes become furrowed with the arrival of seasonals. As Haifeng explained, understanding the relationship between the seasonal polar caps and the formation of geological features on Mars could lead to a better understanding of the Martian environment.

Over the past two decades, measurements of the polar ice caps have been conducted using various methods – gravity variation, neutron, and gamma-ray flux – and modeled based on General Circulation and Energy Balance models. For their study, Haifeng and his colleagues relied on data obtained by the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) instrument aboard the MGS to obtain accurate measurements of the height and volume of Mars’s polar ice caps over time.

This consisted of reprocessing the MOLA Precision Experiment Data Records (PEDR) – or MOLA’s individual altimetry readings – using the latest available MGS orbit data and Mars rotational model. They then self-registered these profiles into a self-consistent Digital Terrain Model (DTM), which served as a static mean surface measurement for Mars. As Haifeng explained:

“We have proposed and validated the co-registration of local dynamic Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) profile segments to static Digital Terrain Models (DTMs) as an approach for obtaining seasonal CO2 ice cover depth variations on Mars. In addition, we have also proposed a post-correction procedure based on the pseudo cross-overs of MOLA profiles to further improve the precision of the depth variation time series.”

“Furrowed” dunes in the cratered region near the Martian North Pole. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

From this, the team obtained a series of height-change measurements obtained at a test region over the residual polar cap of the South Pole where the deepest snow/ice can be expected.

with a precision of ~4.9 cm (1.93 inches) and peak-to-peak height variations of ~2.2 m (7.2 ft). The team also extended these results to the entire South Pole, which they hope to cover in greater detail in another soon-to-be-published study. Haifeng and his colleagues also plan to compare their results with radar altimetry data obtained by the SHAllow RADar sounder (SHARAD) aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter‘s (MRO).

“As the next step, We will try the SHARAD radar altimetry to cross-validate the MOLA measurements and to derive the long-term seasonal depth evolution of the seasonal polar caps of Mars, which will also be important for assessing the long-term stability of the underlying Martian Residual Polar Caps, especial the Residual South Polar Cap that is considered to be in a quasi-stable state,” said Haifeng.

These measurements will allow planetary scientists to learn a great deal more about the Martian climate and the annual changes it goes through. They will also help prepare future robotic and human exploration missions to the Red Planet, which are still anticipated for some time in the next decade.

Further Reading: arXiv

The post How Much Carbon Dioxide Snow Falls Every Winter on Mars? appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Astronomy

Vera Rubin Observatory Should Find 5 Interstellar Objects a Year, Many of Which we Could Chase Down With Spacecraft

Universe Today - Tue, 09/28/2021 - 9:15pm

In a year (perhaps two), the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile will become operational and commence its 10-year Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST). Using its 8.4-meter (27 foot) mirror and 3.2 gigapixel camera, this observatory is expected to collect 500 petabytes of images and data. It will also address some of the most pressing questions about the structure and evolution of the Universe and everything in it.

One of the highly-anticipated aspects of the LSST is how it will allow astronomers to locate and track interstellar objects (ISOs), which have become of particular interest since `Oumuamua flew through our system in 2017. According to a recent study by a team from the University of Chicago and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), the Rubin Observatory will detect around 50 objects during its 10-year mission, many of which we will be able to study up-close using rendezvous missions.

Their paper that describes their findings, which is being reviewed for publication in the Planetary Science Journal, was led by Devin Hoover, a researcher with the Dept. of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago. He was joined by Darryl Seligman, a T.C. Chamberlin Postdoctoral Fellow with the University of Chicago’s Dept. of Geophysical Sciences; and Matthew Payne, an SAO research scientist with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Ever since humanity got its first glimpse of an interstellar object on Oct. 19th, 2017, astronomers have contemplated the possibility of rendezvousing with future visitors. While astronomers had already theorized that our Solar System is visited by interstellar objects (ISOs) a few times a year, `Oumuamua the first such object ever observed. Moreover, the way it defied classification quickly led to the realization that this object was the first of its type ever to be observed.

This spawned no shortage of speculation of what it could be, with possibilities ranging from a hydrogen iceberg, a piece of a Pluto-like body, an interstellar “bust bunny,” and even an extraterrestrial solar sail. Regardless of its true nature, `Oumuamua’s mere existence confirmed that ISOs are statistically significant in our galaxy, which was bolstered by the detection of a second ISO (2I/Borisov) almost two years later.

As lead author Devin Hooper explained to Universe Today via email, the prospect of studying an ISO is extremely promising, given what they represent:

“Interstellar objects represent the building blocks and leftovers from the planet formation process in extrasolar systems. Just as the comets and asteroids in the Solar System have told us more about its formation than the planets themselves, interstellar objects will tell us more about planet and star formation than exoplanets and stars. Since these objects are passing through the Solar System, we can gain insights into the building blocks of extra-solar planets without traveling to other planetary systems.”

`Oumuamua (left) and 2I/Borisov (right) are the only two ISOs we know of for certain. Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser; NASA, ESA, and D. Jewitt (UCLA)

For these reasons, the astronomical community is looking forward to the discovery of more interstellar objects. Several studies have already shown how new instruments will detect several such objects a year, which will allow astronomers to constrain the properties of this type of object and determine how `Oumuamua and 2I/Borisov fit into the overall population.

For instance, researchers have indicated that the Vera C. Rubin Observatory will detect several ISOs a year once the LSST begins. Similarly, there are proposals for rapid intercept missions capable of rendezvousing with some of these objects. To determine how many objects would be detectable and reachable, Hoover and his colleagues ran a series of computer simulations that generated an entire population of ISOs entering the Solar System.

The number density of the objects was based on what the detection of `Oumuamua and 2I/Borisov implied – i.e., 1026 in our galaxy, and one passing through the inner Solar System at any given time. To see which would be detectable by the LSST, said Hoover, they developed three detectability criteria:

“First, the ISO must have a minimum apparent magnitude below 24; in other words, it must be bright enough to be observed by the LSST. Second, the ISO must achieve an altitude above +30 degrees; in other words, it must be high enough in the sky… Finally, the Sun must have an altitude below -18 degrees; in other words, the Sun is below the horizon to make the sky sufficiently dark at the time of observation. The second and third criteria ensure that detectable ISOs are significantly distant from the Sun in the sky.”

An artist’s overview of the mission concept for the Comet Interceptor spacecraft, which will fly from the vicinity of Earth to rendezvous with a long-period comet or interstellar object inbound from the outer solar system. Credit: ESA

If any ISO passing through the inner Solar System satisfies all three of these criteria at any point along its trajectory (coincident with the LSST’s 10-year observation campaign), then it was considered detectable. They found that of their simulation ISO population, roughly 20% of those detectable by the LSST would also be reachable with a dedicated ISO rendezvous mission. This amounts to about one ISO being reachable per year between 2022/23 – 2032/33.

Looking to the near future, these results will allow researchers to devise observation strategies that will maximize the likelihood of detecting ISOs and help determine which future rendezvous missions are feasible. As Hoover put it:

“Specifically, 1.69% of the ISOs in our sample are both detectable and reachable by a rendezvous mission given 30 km/s of delta-v. We require both criteria because we know only the trajectories of detected ISOs, making it possible to send intercept missions to them. This, of course, hinges on the discovery of more ISOs. As the astronomical community enhances its detection capabilities, we will probe a vastly greater number of ISOs, allowing us to choose from a wider range of targets for a rendezvous mission.”

Right now, there are two missions in development – ESA’s Comet Interceptor mission and the NASA BRIDGE concept – both of which were considered in this study by Hoover and his colleagues. As Hoover indicated, these missions will have a delta-v of 15 km/s (54,000 km/h; 33,554 mph) and 2 km/s (7,200 km/h; 4,474 mph) respectively. This falls short of the delta-v requirements specified in their study, which narrows the population of reachable ISOs considerably.

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory is under construction at Cerro Pachon in Chile. Credit: Wil O’Mullaine/LSST

In fact, the results obtained by Hoover and his colleagues indicate that with these two missions, the percentage of reachable ISOs dwindled to 0.471% and 0.003% of their sample, respectively. Given the number density of ISOs in their simulation, this amounts to about 1 ISO per year that would be detectable and reachable with NASA’s BRIDGE concept. However, there are many proposals for intercept missions with higher delta-v capabilities, such as lightsails and directed-energy arrays. Even slower missions still stand a chance of making a rendezvous.

“Due to technological limitations, the delta-v capabilities of current missions are limited, but this does not make a rendezvous mission with an ISO impossible,” said Hoover. “Given the current estimate for the number density of ISOs within the Solar System, ~100 are within the 5 AU sphere at any given time. Given the time it takes for a typical ISO to cross the 5 AU sphere, we calculated that the LSST should detect ~10 reachable targets for BRIDGE within its 10-year observational campaign. Thus, I would not rule out the possibility of low delta-v intercept missions.”

Looking ahead, the results of this study will be of considerable use to astronomers and space agencies. Beyond offering updated estimates on how many ISOs will be detectable soon, these results will also allow researchers to devise observation strategies that maximize the likelihood of detecting ISOs. Furthermore, they underline the need for dedicated intercept missions capable of keeping up with ISOs that buzz our system!

Further Reading: arXiv

The post Vera Rubin Observatory Should Find 5 Interstellar Objects a Year, Many of Which we Could Chase Down With Spacecraft appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Astronomy