Space

Mars Opportunity rover is dead, NASA confirms

NASA has finally plugged the plug on its Mars Opportunity rover, which has been silent on the Red Planet’s surface for eight months. “I declare the Opportunity mission is complete,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate during a press conference on Wednesday. “I have to tell you, this is an emotional time,” he added. The rover reached Mars in 2004, but NASA lost contact with the vehicle last year following an epic dust storm that enveloped the red planet and prevented sunlight from reaching its surface. The last signal received from the $400 million solar-powered rover was on June 10, 2018. NASA made its last planned attempts to communicate with Opportunity late on Tuesday, but did not receive any response back. “I heard this morning that we had not heard back,” said Zurbuchen, explaining that the “beloved” rover remains silent. The missing vehicle was spotted three months later. On Sept. 20, the HiRISE high-resolution camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured an image of the rover in Mars’ Perseverance Valley. However, scientists were still unable to talk to the vehicle. Opportunity landed on Mars on Jan. 24, 2004 PST, just three weeks after its identical twin, Spirit, reached the Red Planet’s surface. Both outlived and outperformed expectations, on opposite sides of Mars. The golf-cart-sized rovers were designed to operate as geologists for just three months, after bouncing onto our planetary neighbor inside cushioning airbags. They rocketed from Cape Canaveral a month apart in 2003. Spirit was pronounced dead in 2011 a year after it got stuck in sand and communication ceased. “This is a celebration of so many achievements,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, during Wednesday’s press conference at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Opportunity set records on the Red Planet. Rolling along until communication ceased last June, Opportunity roamed a record 28 miles around Mars and worked longer than any other lander. Its greatest achievement was discovering, along with Spirit, evidence that ancient Mars had water flowing on its surface and might have been capable of sustaining microbial life. Contact with Opportunity was lost during the fiercest Martian dust storm in decades. The storm was so intense that it darkened the sky for months, preventing sunlight from reaching the rover’s solar panels. The storm may have scrambled the rover’s internal clock, NASA explained on Wednesday, meaning that the rover would not know when to sleep, wake up, or receive commands. NASA has two other probes operating on Mars. The Curiosity rover, which reached the Red Planet in August 2012, has more than 12 miles on its odometer. NASA’s Insight Mars Lander reached the surface of the Red Planet in November 2018, ending a journey that lasted six months and more than 300 million miles. In November 2018, NASA announced that it has selected the location where its Mars 2020 rover will land on the Red Planet. The rover is expected to land on Mars Feb. 18, 2021.

Harvard prof doesn’t back down from claims that alien spacecraft may be zipping past Jupiter orbit

A distinguished Harvard University professor is not backing down from his claims that a piece of extraterrestrial spacecraft technology may be flying past the orbit of Jupiter at this moment. Avi Loeb, one of the top astronomy professors in the world, boasting of decades of Ivy League professorships and hundreds of publicized works in respected astronomy publications, is remaining defiant that the space object – dubbed as “Oumuamua” – first noticed by Hawaiian astronomers in 2017 could be from another civilization. “Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that ‘Oumuamua is a lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment,” Loeb and his colleague Shmuel Bialy wrote in Astrophysical Journal Letters in November, according to the Washington Post. Since making the shock claim last year, many scientists have criticized Loeb for offering, in their view, the most sensationalist theory of what the object is. “Oumuamua is not an alien spaceship, and the authors of the paper insult honest scientific inquiry to even suggest it,” Ohio State University astrophysicist Paul M. Sutter wrote in a tweet. Other scientists are more diplomatic and haven’t publicly countered Loeb’s claims, only saying that the object is likely just some sort of rock, whether it’s a piece of an asteroid or a comet. But Loeb remains stubborn on this theory, and dismisses the claims that it’s a rock, noting that it’s moving too fast for an inert rock. He told the Post that the object is long yet no more than one millimeter thick, and that it’s so light that sunlight is moving the object out of the solar system. “Many people expected once there would be this publicity, I would back down,” Loeb says. “If someone shows me evidence to the contrary, I will immediately back down.” “It changes your perception on reality, just knowing that we’re not alone,” he continued.

Things that make you go, “hmmmm”   For more, click on the text above.      🙂

January’s ‘super blood Moon’ eclipse will be visible to millions: Where and how to watch the rare event

Millions of people across the world will witness a partially red-tinted night sky as a rare celestial event arrives this weekend: a “super wolf blood Moon” eclipse. North America hasn’t had a decent view of this special scene in at least three years and another total lunar eclipse — which occurs when the entire Moon enters Earth’s shadow — isn’t expected to happen again until 2021, NASA predicts. “There is a little less than one total lunar eclipse per year on average. A lunar eclipse can only happen during a full moon when the Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun,” Walter Freeman, an assistant teaching professor in the Physics Department at Syracuse University, said…

Very cool!!  For more, click on the text above.      🙂

Astronomers discover radio signal from galaxy billions of light-years away, report says

Canadian astronomers have reportedly discovered a repetitive radio signal some 2.5 billion light-years away from Earth — only the second example known to mankind. A telescope in British Columbia, otherwise known as Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), detected 13 pulses — or fast radio bursts (FRBs) — in July and August, according to a Monday report from Nature, a British scientific journal. The findings were announced by Deborah Good, an astronomer at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington on Wednesday. “Look! We see FRBs,” she said of the cosmic flashes, which remain a mystery to astronomers. Before they were spotted over the summer, astronomers reportedly found between 50 and 60 examples of the radio bursts. Good said that “if we had 1,000 examples, we would be able to say many more things about what FRBs are like.” The CHIME telescope found, as phrased by Nature.com, “the second known FRB that repeats, meaning that the radio flashes re-appear at the same point in the sky.” The first FRB that repeats was detected in 2012. The majority of the FRBs discovered by the telescope showed signs of “scattering,” Phys.org reported — which led the CHIME team to believe the radio bursts are “powerful astrophysical objects.” “That could mean in some sort of dense clump like a supernova remnant,” Cherry Ng, an astronomer at the University of Toronto, told the news outlet. “Or near the central black hole in a galaxy. But it has to be in some special place to give us all the scattering that we see.” Astronomers’ studying of FRBs can teach those who study more about where the bursts come from, and whether that region in its galaxy is home to turbulent gas. “Until now, there was only one known repeating FRB.,” astronomer Ingrid Stairs, also a member of the CHIME team, said. “Knowing that there is another suggests that there could be more out there. And with more repeaters and more sources available for study, we may be able to understand these cosmic puzzles — where they’re from and what causes them.”

Fascinating!!   🙂

NASA puts return to moon in crosshairs with ambitious timetable

NASA is buzzing with excitement these days about its ambitious new mission to return to the moon — this time to stay. The agency set an aggressive timetable to have the Gateway space station orbiting the moon by 2024, then begin ferrying astronauts from the station to the lunar surface sometime after 2026. And that is just the beginning. Gateway also will serve as an outpost for deep space science and exploration, including a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s, according to NASA. The timeline, which some scientists say is overly optimistic, isn’t fast enough for President Trump, who dreams of sending humans on the 33.9-million mile journey to the red planet during his administration. “We want to try to do it during my first term or at worst during my second term. So we’ll have to speed that up a little bit, OK?” he quipped in a video call last year with NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The president likely will have to make do with getting astronauts aboard Gateway before the end of a potential second term. Just hitting the 2024 goal will take major technical feats and a bunch of cash. So far, the Trump administration and Congress have kept the money flowing, with $19.5 billion in 2018 and $19.9 billion teed up for 2019. NASA has spent years drafting plans for Gateway, officials known as Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway or LOP-G, but the space agency has not yet built any of it. The design for the 55-ton orbiting station consists of several components: a power and propulsion unit, a habitat module to house astronauts, an airlock section where spacecraft will dock and a massive robotic arm. The first section NASA wants to finish is the power and propulsion element, currently scheduled to deploy in 2022. If everything goes according to plan, the next pieces — habitat and airlock modules — would quickly follow. They would be delivered by the agency’s new deep space rocket, the Space Launch System or SLS. Heralded as the world’s most powerful rocket, SLS has been under development for a decade and is scheduled for its debut flight in 2020. The flight, code named EM-1, is supposed to send the empty Orion crew capsule on a three-week voyage around the moon.

Exciting!!  For more, click on the text above.     🙂

Virgin Galactic flies its first astronauts to the edge of space, taking one step closer to space tourism

Virgin Galactic completed its longest rocket-powered flight ever on Thursday, taking a step ahead in the nascent business of space tourism. The two pilots on board Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft Unity became the company’s first astronauts. Virgin Group founder Richard Branson was on hand to watch the historic moment. Virgin Galactic said the test flight reached an altitude of 51.4 miles, or nearly 83 kilometers. The U.S. military and NASA consider pilots who have flown above 80 kilometers to be astronauts. Test pilots in 2004 were awarded a commercial astronaut badge by the Federal Aviation Administration for flying a previous, experimental iteration of Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft design. Lifted by the jet-powered mothership Eve, the spacecraft Unity took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in the California desert. Upon reaching an altitude above 40,000 feet, the carrier aircraft released Unity. The two-member crew of Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay then piloted the spacecraft in a roaring burn which lasted 60 seconds. The flight pushed Unity to a speed of Mach 2.9, nearly three times the speed of sound, as it screamed into a climb toward the edge of space. After performing a slow backflip in microgravity, Unity turned and glided back to land at Mojave. This was the company’s fourth rocket-powered flight of its test program. Unity is the name of the spacecraft built by The Spaceship Company, which Branson also owns. This rocket design is officially known as SpaceShipTwo (SS2). Unity also carried four NASA-funded payloads on this mission. The agency said the four technology experiments “will collect valuable data needed to mature the technologies for use on future missions.” “Inexpensive access to suborbital space greatly benefits the technology research and broader spaceflight communities,” said Ryan Dibley, NASA’s flight opportunities campaign manager, in a statement. The spacecraft underwent extensive engine testing and seven glide tests before Virgin Galactic said it was ready for a powered test flight — a crucial milestone before the company begins sending tourists to the edge of the atmosphere. Each of the previous three test flights were successful in pushing the spacecraft’s limits farther.

Very cool!!  For more, click on the text above.     🙂

Voyager 2 probe moves into interstellar space

Eleven billion miles from Earth, NASA’s long-lived Voyager 2 probe, still beaming back data 41 years after its launch in 1977, has finally moved into interstellar space, scientists revealed Monday, joining its sister ship Voyager 1 in the vast, uncharted realm between the stars. Voyager 2 moved past the boundary of the heliosphere, the protective bubble defined by the sun’s magnetic field and electrically charged solar wind, on Nov. 5. The transition was marked by a sharp decline in the number of charged particles detected by the spacecraft’s plasma science experiment, or PLS. The instrument has not detected any signs of the solar wind since then. Three other instruments measured corresponding changes in cosmic rays, low-energy particles and magnetic field strength. At Voyager 2’s enormous distance from the sun, it took 16-and-a-half hours for the data to make its way back to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Voyager 1 crossed the boundary of the heliosphere, a transition zone known as the heliopause, in 2012. But Voyager 1’s plasma detector stopped working in 1980, and the new data from Voyager 2 provides fresh insights into the nature of the boundary between interstellar space and the sun’s magnetic and electrical influence. “Working on Voyager makes me feel like an explorer, because everything we’re seeing is new,” John Richardson, principal investigator for the PLS instrument at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, said in a statement. “Even though Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause in 2012, it did so at a different place and a different time, and without the PLS data. So we’re still seeing things that no one has seen before.” Voyager 2 was launched in August 1977, 16 days before Voyager 1, which explored Jupiter, Saturn and Saturn’s large moon Titan before heading out into the depths of the solar system. Voyager 2 flew past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune before it, too, left the realm of the major planets. “Voyager has a very special place for us in our heliophysics fleet,” Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters, said in a NASA statement. “Our studies start at the sun and extend out to everything the solar wind touches. To have the Voyagers sending back information about the edge of the sun’s influence gives us an unprecedented glimpse of truly uncharted territory.” While both Voyagers have now departed the sun’s heliosphere, they are still inside the solar system as it’s currently defined. That boundary is the outer edge of the Oort Cloud, a vast collection of rocky debris left over from the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago that is held in place by the sun’s gravity. At its current velocity, it will take Voyager 2 another 300 years or so to reach the inner boundary of the Oort cloud and possibly 30,000 years to move beyond it.

Fascinating!!     🙂