Scientists Probe Huge Crater On ‘Psyche,’ The Massive Metal Asteroid Worth More Than Our Global Economy

Does a massive crater on a weird-looking asteroid give us a way to deflect incoming asteroids?

A NASA spacecraft will depart this August on a mission to explore a metal-rich asteroid called 16 Psyche—speculated to be a highly valuable object—in an effort to determine exactly what it’s made of.

It will be NASA’s first visit to a metallic asteroid, as opposed to a rocky or icy one, though it has been studied by the Hubble Space Telescope.

16 Psyche is strange. Shaped like a potato and about 140 miles in diameter, it’s more reflective than anything else in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. So bright, in fact, that it’s presumed to be composed largely of metal‚ specifically nickel or iron.

That’s prompted claims that it could be worth about $10,000 quadrillion (the global economy is worth about $84.5 trillion) and that it could be a high priority for asteroid-mining in future.

However, theory that 16 Psyche could be the remains of a planet that never made it—the leftovers of a planet core—makes it priceless to astronomers trying to figure how the Solar System formed.

Its exact composition will be for the NASA spacecraft to determine from orbit, but a large crater on its surface is already giving scientists clues—and could provide critical intelligence for future attempts deflect a rogue object.

Asteroid-deflection is something NASA is very interested in perfecting well in advance of aa large asteroid being spotted that’s heading straight for Earth. On October 22, 2022 NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will smash a 500kg spacecraft into binary asteroid 65803 Didymos and its moonlet Dimorphos (also called “Didymoon.”)

The idea is that by creating a “kinetic deflection” on Dimorphos it will ever so slightly change the trajectory of both objects.However, what happened on 16 Psyche was something altogether more violent.

The theory goes that something smashed into 16 Psyche a few billion years ago, creating a massive crater about four miles deep and 33 miles wide. Running for a few days on up to 3,000 cores of a Los Alamos supercomputer, a new visualization by Los Alamos National Laboratory simulates what happened in the 400 seconds after 16 Psyche was struck by something.

“This is a weirdly shaped crater, shallow and wide,” said Wendy K. Caldwell, applied mathematician/planetary scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the lead author for Los Alamos simulations of Psyche. Caldwell presented the team’s research results at the 2021 AGU Fall Meeting.

The simulations shed some light on what, exactly, 16 Psyche might be made of—rubble. Radar observations indicate the asteroid is metallic, but density measurements indicate it is porous. “In our simulations, hexagonal packing in a rubble pile gave almost perfect matches to the ratio of the depth to the diameter on Psyche,” said Caldwell. “That result was really exciting, because it’s shape, not just size, that you have to understand to determine the feasibility of potential compositions.”

The simulation shows an impactor striking Psyche modeled as a hexagonally packed rubble pile. Square packing of the rubble pile material failed to accurately reproduce the actual crater shape observed on Psyche, but hexagonal packing was a very close match. The rubble that makes-up 16 Psyche is expected to be of varying sizes and shapes.

Operating under NASA’s Discovery program, the Psyche spacecraft will lift-off atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in August this year. The tennis court-sized construction with have seven scientific instruments and two solar arrays pr provide power.

The Psyche spacecraft will then conduct a gravity-assist flyby of Mars in May 2023 before finally arriving at 16 Psyche in January 2026. NASA’s spacecraft will go into orbit of 16 Psyche and attempt to determine whether or not it is a planet core, map it and age it.

“The Psyche mission will help us understand more about the early days of the solar system and how the planets formed,” said Caldwell.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website or some of my other work here.

I’m an experienced science, technology and travel journalist and stargazer writing about exploring the night sky, solar and lunar eclipses,

Source: Scientists Probe Huge Crater On ‘Psyche,’ The Massive Metal Asteroid Worth More Than Our Global Economy

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Are Supermoons Dangerous? Why This Week’s ‘Super Pink Moon’ Might Cause You Problems

Super Pink Moon in London

At dusk on Monday, April 24, 2021 right across the world the year’s second of four “supermoons” will rise. It will be ever-so slightly bigger than most full Moons because of its closeness to Earth in its egg-shaped orbit, but not so much that you’ll notice.

It will still look spectacular at it appears on your eastern horizon at dusk—as all full Moons do—but while the effect on you will be slight, the effects of Monday’s “supermoon” on the natural world will be dramatic.

Routinely derided astronomers they may be, but geographers know only too well that “supermoons” are actual physical phenomenons with consequences for the natural world.

The most recent published research reveals that, according to a 25-year study, “supermoons” cause bigger tidal ranges, higher water levels and more severe erosion.

A “supermoon” is a full moon that appears much larger than a normal full Moon. Technically they’re known as perigee full Moons by astronomers. The Moon’s orbital path around Earth is a slight ellipse, so each month there’s a near-point (perigee) and a far-point (apogee). At perigee it appears a little larger than the average apparent size (a “supermoon”), and at apogee, a little smaller (a “micromoon”).

The second of four “supermoons” or “perigee full Moons” of 2021, April’s full Moon will appear about 6% larger than an average full Moon.

The daily rise and fall of sea levels are called tides. They are caused by the Moon’s gravitational pull on the oceans as it orbits Earth, but also the Sun’s gravitational pull. They combine during a New Moon and a full Moon.

The main physical effect of a supermoon is a king tide, which increases the risk of coastal inundation. A king tide is an unusually high tide that results from a stronger lunar gravitational force than normal.

It’s also known as a perigean spring tide and is an entirely predictable astronomical tide.

Although the effect is magnified the closer the Moon is to the Earth, a supermoon can occur at both New Moon and full Moon. In practice, a supermoon at New Moon is barely mentioned in the media, though its physical effects are just as strong.

That’s because the Moon aligns with the Sun and the Earth every 14 days. At full Moon the Earth is in between the Sun and the Moon, while at New Moon the Moon is between the Sun and the Earth. At both times of the month the resulting alignment causes a tidal force. When the Moon is closer to the Earth than normal during a New Moon or a full Moon—so, during a supermoon—that tidal force is increased.

The distance to the Moon from Earth’s center changes from 406,000 km at apogee to about 357,000 km at perigee.

The research showed a long-term correlation between erosion across the beach and the Moon’s cycles, and suggested that a supermoon increases the risk of more severe beach erosion near the shoreline. These supermoon-driven king tides are more likely to cause coastal disasters when they occur simultaneously with storm surges and high waves.

So as you gaze at the beautiful “supermoon” appearing in the east on Monday evening, bear in mind that its greater gravitational force is what really makes it an important event for our planet. As rising sea levels kick-in, supermoons and the king tides they bring could mean even worse flooding for coastal communities.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes. 

I’m an experienced science, technology and travel journalist and stargazer writing about exploring the night sky, solar and lunar eclipses, moon-gazing, astro-travel, astronomy and space exploration. I’m the editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com and the author of “A Stargazing Program for Beginners: A Pocket Field Guide” (Springer, 2015), as well as many eclipse-chasing guides.

Source: Are Supermoons Dangerous? Why This Week’s ‘Super Pink Moon’ Might Cause You Problems

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of EarthSky:

Some astronomers complain about the name supermoon. They like to call supermoons hype. But supermoons aren’t hype. They’re special. Many people now know and use the word supermoon. We notice even some diehards are starting to use it now. Such is the power of folklore.

Before we called them supermoons, we in astronomy called these moons perigean full moons, or perigean new moons. Perigee just means near Earth.

The moon is full, or opposite Earth from the sun, once each month. It’s new, or more or less between the Earth and sun, once each month. And, every month, as it orbits Earth, the moon comes closest to Earth, or to perigee. The moon naturally swings farthest away once each month, too; that point is called apogee.

No doubt about it. Supermoon is a catchier term than perigean new moon or perigean full moon. That’s probably why the term supermoon has entered the popular culture. For example, Supermoon is the title track of Sophie Hunger’s 2015 album. It’s a nice song! Check it out.

The hype aspect of supermoons probably stems from an erroneous impression people had when the word supermoon came into popular usage … maybe a few decades ago? Some people mistakenly believed a full supermoon would look much, much bigger to the eye. It doesn’t. Full supermoons don’t look bigger to the eye than ordinary full moons, although experienced observers say they can detect a difference.

But supermoons do look brighter than ordinary full moons! The angular diameter of a supermoon is about 7% greater than that of the average-size full moon and 14% greater than the angular diameter of a micro-moon (year’s farthest and smallest full moon). Yet, a supermoon exceeds the area (disk size) and brightness of an average-size full moon by some 15% – and the micro-moon by some 30%. For a visual reference, the size difference between a supermoon and micro-moon is proportionally similar to that of a U.S. quarter versus a U.S. nickel.

So go outside on the night of a full supermoon, and – if you’re a regular observer of nature – you’ll surely notice the supermoon is exceptionally bright!

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  1. What Is a Supermoon?
  2. The Moon Illusion
  3. The Moon Phases
  4. The Moon’s Effect on Tides
  5. What Is a Micro Moon?
  6. How Can Full Moon Be in the Daytime?
  7. Is a Blue Moon Blue?
  8. The Moon’s Orbit
  9. The Far Side of the Moon
  10. What Is a Black Moon?
  11. What Are Moonbows?
  12. Full Moon Names
  13. Taking pictures of the Moon

 

Newly Discovered Ghostly Circles In The Sky Cant Be Explained By Current Theories And Astronomers Excited

In September 2019, my colleague Anna Kapinska gave a presentation showing interesting objects she’d found while browsing our new radio astronomical data. She had started noticing very weird shapes she couldn’t fit easily to any known type of object.

Among them, labelled by Anna as WTF?, was a picture of a ghostly circle of radio emission, hanging out in space like a cosmic smoke-ring. None of us had ever seen anything like it before, and we had no idea what it was. A few days later, our colleague Emil Lenc found a second one, even more spooky than Anna’s.

Anna and Emil had been examining the new images from our pilot observations for the Evolutionary Map of the Universe (EMU) project, made with CSIRO’s revolutionary new Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope.

EMU plans to boldly probe parts of the Universe where no telescope has gone before. It can do so because ASKAP can survey large swathes of the sky very quickly, probing to a depth previously only reached in tiny areas of sky, and being especially sensitive to faint, diffuse objects like these.

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I predicted a couple of years ago this exploration of the unknown would probably make unexpected discoveries, which I called WTFs. But none of us expected to discover something so unexpected, so quickly. Because of the enormous data volumes, I expected the discoveries would be made using machine learning. But these discoveries were made with good old-fashioned eyeballing.


Read more: Expect the unexpected from the big-data boom in radio astronomy


Hunting ORCs

Our team searched the rest of the data by eye, and we found a few more of the mysterious round blobs. We dubbed them ORCs, which stands for “odd radio circles”. But the big question, of course, is: “what are they?”

At first we suspected an imaging artefact, perhaps generated by a software error. But we soon confirmed they are real, using other radio telescopes. We still have no idea how big or far away they are. They could be objects in our galaxy, perhaps a few light-years across, or they could be far away in the Universe and maybe millions of light years across.

When we look in images taken with optical telescopes at the position of ORCs, we see nothing. The rings of radio emission are probably caused by clouds of electrons, but why don’t we see anything in visible wavelengths of light? We don’t know, but finding a puzzle like this is the dream of every astronomer.


Read more: The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder finally hits the big-data highway


We know what they’re not

We have ruled out several possibilities for what ORCs might be.

Could they be supernova remnants, the clouds of debris left behind when a star in our galaxy explodes? No. They are far from most of the stars in the Milky Way and there are too many of them.

Could they be the rings of radio emission sometimes seen in galaxies undergoing intense bursts of star formation? Again, no. We don’t see any underlying galaxy that would be hosting the star formation.

Could they be the giant lobes of radio emission we see in radio galaxies, caused by jets of electrons squirting out from the environs of a supermassive black hole? Not likely, because the ORCs are very distinctly circular, unlike the tangled clouds we see in radio galaxies.

Could they be Einstein rings, in which radio waves from a distant galaxy are being bent into a circle by the gravitational field of a cluster of galaxies? Still no. ORCs are too symmetrical, and we don’t see a cluster at their centre.

A genuine mystery

In our paper about ORCs, which is forthcoming in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia, we run through all the possibilities and conclude these enigmatic blobs don’t look like anything we already know about.

So we need to explore things that might exist but haven’t yet been observed, such as a vast shockwave from some explosion in a distant galaxy. Such explosions may have something to do with fast radio bursts, or the neutron star and black hole collisions that generate gravitational waves.


Read more: How we closed in on the location of a fast radio burst in a galaxy far, far away


Or perhaps they are something else entirely. Two Russian scientists have even suggested ORCs might be the “throats” of wormholes in spacetime.

From the handful we’ve found so far, we estimate there are about 1,000 ORCs in the sky. My colleague Bärbel Koribalski notes the search is now on, with telescopes around the world, to find more ORCs and understand their cause.

It’s a tricky job, because ORCS are very faint and difficult to find. Our team is brainstorming all these ideas and more, hoping for the eureka moment when one of us, or perhaps someone else, suddenly has the flash of inspiration that solves the puzzle.

It’s an exciting time for us. Most astronomical research is aimed at refining our knowledge of the Universe, or testing theories. Very rarely do we get the challenge of stumbling across a new type of object which nobody has seen before, and trying to figure out what it is.

Is it a completely new phenomenon, or something we already know about but viewed in a weird way? And if it really is completely new, how does that change our understanding of the Universe? Watch this space!

By: Ray Norris Professor, School of Science, Western Sydney University

NASA Goddard

A new study using observations from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope reveals the first clear-cut evidence that the expanding debris of exploded stars produces some of the fastest-moving matter in the universe. This discovery is a major step toward meeting one of Fermi’s primary mission goals. Cosmic rays are subatomic particles that move through space at nearly the speed of light. About 90 percent of them are protons, with the remainder consisting of electrons and atomic nuclei.

In their journey across the galaxy, the electrically charged particles become deflected by magnetic fields. This scrambles their paths and makes it impossible to trace their origins directly. Through a variety of mechanisms, these speedy particles can lead to the emission of gamma rays, the most powerful form of light and a signal that travels to us directly from its sources. Two supernova remnants, known as IC 443 and W44, are expanding into cold, dense clouds of interstellar gas.

This material emits gamma rays when struck by high-speed particles escaping the remnants. Scientists have been unable to ascertain which particle is responsible for this emission because cosmic-ray protons and electrons give rise to gamma rays with similar energies. Now, after analyzing four years of data, Fermi scientists see a gamma-ray feature from both remnants that, like a fingerprint, proves the culprits are protons. When cosmic-ray protons smash into normal protons, they produce a short-lived particle called a neutral pion.

The pion quickly decays into a pair of gamma rays. This emission falls within a specific band of energies associated with the rest mass of the neutral pion, and it declines steeply toward lower energies. Detecting this low-end cutoff is clear proof that the gamma rays arise from decaying pions formed by protons accelerated within the supernova remnants. This video is public domain and can be downloaded at: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?11209 Like our videos? Subscribe to NASA’s Goddard Shorts HD podcast: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/iTunes/f… Or find NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/NASA.GSFC Or find us on Twitter: http://twitter.com/NASAGoddard

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NASA Finally Contacts Voyager 2 After Unprecedented Seven-Month Silence

In the history of spaceflight, only five spacecraft ever launched by humanity possess enough energy to leave the gravitational pull of our Solar System. While thousands upon thousands of objects have been launched into space, overcoming the gravitational pull of planet Earth, the Sun is more than 300,000 times as massive as our home planet, and is far more difficult to escape from. A combination of fast launch speeds and gravitational assists from other planets were required to leave our Solar System, with only Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyager 1 and 2, and New Horizons attaining “escape velocity” from our Sun.

While Pioneer 10 and 11 are now inactive, New Horizons and both Voyager spacecrafts remain operational, powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators. Voyager 1 has overtaken all other spacecrafts and is now the most distant: 22 billion km away, pulling away from the slightly slower Voyager 2 at “only” 18.8 billion km distant. Since the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March, NASA has had no contact with Voyager 2, but an upgraded deep space network dish made a successful call on October 29. Here’s the fascinating science that keeps us in touch with the most distant objects ever launched from Earth.

A logarithmic chart of distances, showing the Voyagers, our Solar System, and more.
At distances of 148 and 125 Astronomical Units, respectively, both Voyager 1 and 2 have passed the … [+] NASA / JPL-Caltech

When it comes to sending and receiving signals across astronomical distances, there are three enemies you have to overcome:

  1. distance,
  2. time,
  3. and power.

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The farther away a spacecraft is from you, the farther a signal that you send has to travel before it reaches it, the longer it takes to get there, and the lower in power that signal is when it arrives. If a spacecraft is twice as distant as another, the distance to it is twice as great, the time it takes a light signal to travel to it is twice as great, and the signal power that it receives is only one-fourth as great, since light signals spread out in the two dimensions perpendicular to the spacecraft’s line-of-sight. The farther away a spacecraft is, it’s harder to contact, it takes longer to contact it, and it requires more energy to send-or-receive the same signal.

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Illustration of the relationship between distance and how flux spreads out.
The way that sunlight, or any form of electromagnetic radiation, spreads out as a function of … [+] Wikimedia Commons user Borb

The way an electromagnetic signal works — whether you’re detecting it with a refracting lens, a reflecting dish, or a linear antenna — is straightforward: it spreads out in a spherical shape from its source. Because there’s a certain amount of inherent background noise to any observation you’d make, from both terrestrial and celestial sources, you need your signal to cross a certain threshold to be detectable, rising above the noise background. On the receiving end, that means larger detectors are better, while on the transmitting end, that means a higher-powered transmitter is better.

Unfortunately, the spacecraft that have already been launched cannot have their hardware upgraded in any way; once they’re launched, they’re simply stuck with the technology they’ve been outfitted with. To make matters worse, the spacecraft themselves are powered by radioactive sources, where specially chosen material, such as plutonium-238, radioactively decays, emitting heat that gets converted into electricity. As time goes on, more and more of the material decays away, decreasing the power available to the spacecraft for both transmitting and receiving signals.

A pellet of Plutonium Oxide, which is warm to the touch and glows under its own power.
A pellet of Plutonium Oxide, which is warm to the touch and glows under its own power. Pu-238 is a … [+] Public Domain / Los Alamos National Laboratory

As the amount of heat energy produced by radioactive material decreases, the conversion from heat energy into electrical energy becomes less successful: the thermocouples degrade over time and lose efficiency at lower powers. As a result, the power available to the spacecraft through radioisotope thermoelectric generators has decreased precipitously. As of 2020, the plutonium-238 onboard is producing just 69% of the initial heat energy, and that translates into only about ~50% of the original output power.

Even though Voyager 1 and 2 are now 43 years old and farther from Earth than any other operating spacecraft in history, however, they’re not lost to us yet. The reason is simple: as we improve our transmission and receiving capabilities back here on Earth, we can both send out more powerful signals to be received by these distant spacecraft, and we can do a better job of detecting the spacecrafts’ responses even at low powers. The key is through NASA’s Deep Space Network: a collection of radio antennae designed to communicate with humanity’s most distant spacecraft.

Repairs being conducted to the 70-meter dish that's part of NASA's Deep Space Network.
Crews conduct critical upgrades and repairs to the 70-meter-wide (230-foot-wide) radio antenna Deep … [+] CSIRO

There are three major radio antenna facilities around the world: one in Canberra, Australia, one in Madrid, Spain, and one in Goldstone, California. These three facilities are spaced roughly equidistant around the globe; for almost any location that you can imagine putting a spacecraft, at least one of the antennae will have a direct line-of-sight to that spacecraft at any given time.

Almost, of course. You might recognize that the facility in Canberra, Australia, is the only one located in Earth’s southern hemisphere. If a spacecraft is very far south — so far south that it’s invisible from locations like California or Spain — then the Australian dish would be the only one capable of communicating with it. While both Pioneers, New Horizons, and the Voyager 1 spacecraft could all be contacted (in theory) by all three of these facilities, Voyager 2 is the exception for one major reason: its 1989 flyby of Neptune and its giant moon, Triton.

The illuminated crescents of Neptune (foreground) & its largest moon Triton (background).
The illuminated crescents of Neptune (foreground) and its largest moon Triton (background) showcase … [+] NASA / Jet Propulsion Lab

The trip to Neptune still, even to this day, represents the only close encounter humanity has ever had with our Solar System’s eighth and final (for now) planet, as well as with Triton, the largest known object to originate in our Kuiper belt. The discoveries from that flyby were spectacular, as a number of fantastic features were discovered: Neptune’s ring system, a number of small, inner moons, and a series of features on Triton, including cryovolcanoes and varied terrain similar to what we’d discover some 26 years later when New Horizons flew past Pluto.

In order to have a close encounter with Triton, however, Voyager 2 needed to fly over Neptune’s north pole, deflecting Voyager 2’s trajectory far to the south of the plane in which the planets orbit the Sun. Over the past 31 years, it’s continued to follow that trajectory, rendering it invisible to every member of the Deep Space Network except for the one dish in Australia. And since mid-March, 2020, that dish — which includes the radio transmitter used to talk to Voyager 2 — has been shut down for upgrades.

NASA's Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43) radio telescope is massive: 70 meters in size.
This image of NASA’s Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43) radio telescope belies its massive size. At 70 … [+] NASA/CSIRO

The dish itself is a spectacular piece of technology. It’s 70 meters (230 feet) across: a world-class radio antenna. The instruments attached to it include two radio transmitters, one of which is used to send commands to Voyager 2. That instrument, as of early 2020, was 47 years old, and hadn’t been replaced in all that time. Additionally, it was using antiquated heating and cooling equipment, old and inefficient electronics, and a set of power supply equipment that limited any potential upgrades.

Fortunately, the decision was made to upgrade all of these, which should enable NASA to do what no other facility can do: send commands to Voyager 2. While the spacecraft is still operating — including sending health updates and science data that can be received by a series of smaller dishes also located in Australia — it has been unable to receive commands, ensuring that it will just keep doing whatever it was last doing until those new commands are received.

With its close flyby of Neptune and Triton, Voyager 2's trajectory was severely altered.
With its close flyby of Neptune and Triton, Voyager 2’s trajectory was severely altered, plunging it … [+] Image: Phoenix7777/Wikimedia Commons; Data: HORIZONS System, JPL, NASA

On October 29, 2020, enough of the upgrades had been executed that mission operators for Voyager 2 decided to perform a critical test: to send a series of commands to Voyager 2 for the first time since the upgrades began. According to the project manager of the Deep Space Network for NASA, Brad Arnold:

“What makes this task unique is that we’re doing work at all levels of the antenna, from the pedestal at ground level all the way up to the feedcones at the center of the dish that extend above the rim.”

Although it takes about 36 light-hours for a signal to travel round-trip from Earth to Voyager 2, NASA announced on November 2 that the test was successful. Voyager 2 returned a signal that confirmed the call was received, followed by a successful execution of the commands. According to Arnold, “This test communication with Voyager 2 definitely tells us that things are on track with the work we’re doing.”

Triton, at left, as imaged by Voyager 2, and Pluto, at right, as imaged by New Horizons.
Triton, at left, as imaged by Voyager 2, and Pluto, at right, as imaged by New Horizons. Both worlds … [+] NASA/JPL/USGS (L), NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI (R)

The upgrades to this member of the Deep Space Network are on track for completion in early 2021, where they will not only be critical for the continued success of the Voyager 2 mission, but will prepare NASA for a series of upcoming missions. The upgraded infrastructure will play a critical role in any upcoming Moon-to-Mars exploration efforts, will support any crewed missions such as Artemis, will provide communication and navigation infrastructure, and will also assist with communications to NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover, scheduled to land on Mars on February 18, 2021.

This particular dish was constructed in 1972, where it had an original size of 64 meters (210 feet). It was expanded to 70 meters (230 feet) 15 years later, but none of the subsequent repairs or upgrades compare to the work being done today. According to NASA, this is “one of the most significant makeovers the dish has received and the longest it’s been offline in over 30 years.”

Position and trajectory of Voyager 1 and the positions of the planets on 14 February 1990.
Position and trajectory of Voyager 1 and the positions of the planets on 14 February 1990, the day … [+] Wikimedia Commons / Joe Haythornthwaite and Tom Ruen

As Voyager 2 and the other escaping spacecraft continue to recede from the Sun, their power levels will continue to drop and it will become progressively more difficult to issue commands to them as well as to receive data. However, as long as they remain functional, even at incredibly low and inefficient power levels, we can continue to upgrade and enlarge the antennae that are a part of NASA’s Deep Space Network to continue to conduct science with them. As long as these spacecraft remain operational in some capacity, simply continuing to upgrade our facilities here on Earth will enable us to gather data for years, and likely even decades, to come.

Voyager 1 and 2 are already the most distant operational spacecraft ever launched from Earth, and continue to set new records. They’ve both passed the heliopause and entered interstellar space, probing different celestial hemispheres as they go. Each new piece of data they send back is a first: the first time we’ve directly sampled space outside of our Solar System from so far away. With these new upgrades, we’ll have the capacity to see what we’ve never seen before. In science, that’s where the potential for rich, new discoveries always lies. Follow me on Twitter. Check out my website or some of my other work here

Ethan Siegel

Ethan Siegel

I am a Ph.D. astrophysicist, author, and science communicator, who professes physics and astronomy at various colleges. I have won numerous awards for science writing since 2008 for my blog, Starts With A Bang, including the award for best science blog by the Institute of Physics. My two books, Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive, Beyond the Galaxy: How humanity looked beyond our Milky Way and discovered the entire Universe, are available for purchase at Amazon. Follow me on Twitter @startswithabang.

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V101 Science

Part 2 – The Voyager two space probe was the second human-made object to reach interstellar space. But what did it see during its historic 42 year trip out of the solar the system? If you haven’t watched part 1, which follows Voyager 1 on its journey then here is the link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Du5he… I would like to say a massive thank you to my generous Patrons. Every donation helps me improve the channel, by purchasing better software and equipment. I will always strive to make V101 Science as good as it can possibly be. Thank you so much. My Patreon *Star* list – Silverfleur LunaGirl (aka Claire) Want to help support my channel and also get added benefits? Then why not become a Patron today? https://www.patreon.com/V101Science Or maybe purchase some of our awesome merchandise! T-shirts, hoodies, mugs, Phone cases, it’s all available now on YouTube! Also, check out our Amazon store! Just click on the link below to find loads of awesome items – https://www.amazon.com/shop/v101science (US Version) https://www.amazon.co.uk/shop/v101sci… (UK Version) **REMEMBER TO SUBSCRIBE FOR MUCH MORE TO COME** Subscribe – https://www.youtube.com/c/V101Science Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/V101Science Twitter – https://twitter.com/V101Science Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/v101__science/ Music attribution – Ambient-wave-13 – Erokia Sound Design All content is Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

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What Is ‘Panspermia?’ New Evidence For The Wild Theory That Says We Could All Be Space Aliens

Imagine if NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover—now on its way to the red planet—discovered microbial life there.

It would change everything we know about life in the Solar System and far beyond.

Or would it? What if we accidentally transported life to Mars on a spacecraft? And what if that is how life moves around the Universe?

A new paper published this week in Frontiers in Microbiology explores the possibility that microbes and extremophiles may migrate between planets and distribute life around the Universe—and that includes on spacecraft sent from Earth to Mars.

What is ‘panspermia?’

It’s an untested, unproven and rather wild theory regarding the interplanetary transfer of life. It theorizes that microscopic life-forms, such as bacteria, can be transported through space and land on another planet. Thus sparking life elsewhere.

It could happen by accident—such as on spacecraft—via comets and asteroids in the Solar System, and perhaps even between star systems on interstellar objects like ʻOumuamua.

However, for “panspermia” to have any credence requires proof that bacteria could survive a long journey through the vacuum, temperature fluctuations, and intense UV radiation in outer space.

Cue the “Tanpopo” project.

The bacterial exposure experiment took place from 2015 to 2018 using the Exposed Facility located on the exterior of Kibo, the Japanese Experimental Module of the International Space Station.
The bacterial exposure experiment took place from 2015 to 2018 using the Exposed Facility located on … [+] JAXA/NASA

What is the ‘Tanpopo’ mission?

Tanpopo—dandelion in English—is a scientific experiment to see if bacteria can survive in the extremes of outer space.

The researchers from Tokyo University—in conjunction with Japanese national space agency JAXA—wanted to see if the bacteria deinococcus could survive in space, so had it placed in exposure panels on the outside of the International Space Station (ISS). It’s known as being resistant to radiation. Dried samples of different thicknesses were exposed to space environment for one, two, or three years and then tested to see if any survived.

They did, largely by a layer of dead bacteria protecting a colony beneath it. The researchers estimate that a colony of 1 mm of diameter could potentially survive up to 8 years in outer space conditions. MORE FROM FORBESThe Brightest Star In The Night Sky Rises Today (And No, It’s Not The North Star)By Jamie Carter

What does this mean for ‘panspermia?’

“The results suggest that deinococcus could survive during the travel from Earth to Mars and vice versa, which is several months or years in the shortest orbit,” said Akihiko Yamagishi, a Professor at Tokyo University of Pharmacy and Life Sciences and principal investigator of Tanpopo.

That means spacecraft visiting Mars could theoretically carry microorganisms and potentially contaminate its surface.

However, this isn’t just about Earth and Mars—the ramifications of panspermia, if proven, are far-reaching.

“The origin of life on Earth is the biggest mystery of human beings (and) scientists can have totally different points of view on the matter,” said Dr. Yamagishi. “Some think that life is very rare and happened only once in the Universe, while others think that life can happen on every suitable planet.”

“If panspermia is possible, life must exist much more often than we previously thought.” MORE FROM FORBESA Waxing Moon Visits Jupiter And Saturn: What To Watch For In The Night Sky This WeekBy Jamie Carter

What is ‘lithopanspermia?’

This is bacteria surviving in space for a long period when shielded by rock—typically an asteroid or a comet—which could travel between planets, potentially spreading bacteria and biologically-rich matter around the Solar System.

However, the theory of panspermia goes even further than that.

What is ‘interstellar panspermia’ and ‘galactic panspermia?’

This is the hypothesis—and it’s one with zero evidence—that life exists throughout the galaxy and/or Universe specifically because bacteria and microorganisms are spread around by asteroids, comets, space dust and possibly even interstellar spacecraft from alien civilizations.

In 2018 a paper concluded that the likelihood of Galactic panspermia is strongly dependent upon the survival lifetime of the organisms as well as the velocity of the comet or asteroid—positing that the entire Milky Way could potentially be exchanging biotic components across vast distances.

Such theories have gained credence in the last few years with the discovery of two extrasolar objects Oumuamua and Borisov passing through our Solar System.

However, while the ramifications are mind-boggling, panspermia is definitely not a proven scientific process.

There are still many unanswered questions about how the space-surviving microbes could physically transfer from one celestial body to another.

Illustration of NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover studying a Mars rock outcrop (not to scale). Mars 2020 is targeted for launch in July/August 2020 aboard an Atlas V-541 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Illustration of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover studying a Mars rock outcrop (not to scale). … [+] NASA/JPL-Caltech

How will Perseverance look for life on Mars?

NASA’s Perseverance rover is due to land on the red planet on February 18, 2021. It will land in a nearly four billion-year-old river delta in Mars’ 28 miles/45 kilometers-wide Jezero Crater. 

It’s thought likely that Jezero Crater was home to a lake as large as Lake Tahoe more than 3.5 billion years ago. Ancient rivers there could have carried organic molecules and possibly even microorganisms.

Perseverance’s mission will be to analyze rock and sediment samples to see if Mars may have had conditions for microorganisms to thrive. It will drill a few centimeters into Mars and take core samples, then put the most promising into containers. It will then leave them on the Martian surface to be later collected by a human mission in the early 2030s. 

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes. Follow me

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Jamie Carter

 Jamie Carter

I’m an experienced science, technology and travel journalist interested in space exploration, moon-gazing, exploring the night sky, solar and lunar eclipses, astro-travel, wildlife conservation and nature. I’m the editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com and the author of “A Stargazing Program for Beginners: A Pocket Field Guide” (Springer, 2015), as well as many eclipse-chasing guides.

Source: FORBES

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