If you visit Mars and don’t take a selfie, did the interplanetary trip even count?
NASA’s InSight lander just flexed its 6 foot (2 meter) telescopic arm, and used it to take some more pictures of its dusty Martian surroundings.
The plan is to use the arm to very gently pick up scientific instruments from the lander’s deck and place them next to it on the Martian soil.
A special camera attached to InSight’s elbow is looking for a suitable spot for each of its scientific instruments.
If it succeeds, it’ll be the first time any rover has placed an object on the surface of another planet using a robotic arm, NASA pointed out in an update.
But that process is going to take a while: the team at the Jet Propulsion Lab will deploy InSight’s instruments over a period of two to three months.
So far, the engineers have just been running the instruments through tests to find out if they’re working properly.
“We did extensive testing on Earth. But we know that everything is a little different for the lander on Mars, so faults are not unusual,” says project lead Tom Hoffman of JPL, as quoted in NASA’s update.
“They can delay operations, but we’re not in a rush. We want to be sure that each operation that we perform on Mars is safe, so we set our safety monitors to be fairly sensitive initially.”
Seeing pictures taken on the Martian surface will never get old. By next week, we’ll get an even more detailed view, so stay tuned.
Before you listen, hook up a subwoofer or put on a pair of bass-heavy headphones. Otherwise, you might not hear anything.
That’s the sound of winds blowing across NASA’s InSight lander on Mars, the first sounds recorded from the red planet. It’s all the more remarkable because InSight — which landed last week — does not have a microphone.
Rather, an instrument designed for measuring the shaking of marsquakes picked up vibrations in the air — sound waves, in other words.
Winds blowing between 10 and 15 miles per hour over InSight’s solar panels caused the spacecraft to vibrate, and short-period seismometers recorded the vibrations.
The seismometers act as the cochlea, the parts of your ears that convert the vibrations into nerve signals. They are able to record vibrations up to a frequency of 50 Hertz — audible to human ears as a low rumble.
NASA also produced a version of the recording that lifted the sounds by two octaves.
A second instrument, an air pressure sensor that is part of InSight’s weather station, also picked up sound vibrations, although at a much lower frequency that can be heard perhaps by elephants and whales, but not people.
Here is a sound recording of those pressure readings, sped up by a factor of 100, which raises the pitch by about six octaves.
The sounds are so low in part because the instruments are not sensitive to higher frequencies. But the air on Mars is also extremely thin — about 1 percent of the density of Earth’s — and that favors low-frequency sounds.
The two Viking landers that NASA sent to Mars in 1976 also carried seismometers that captured some wind noise. But Dr. Banerdt said those recordings were at much lower sampling rates and did not pick up anything at audible frequencies.
NASA’s next rover, to launch in 2020, will also carry a microphone.
This is not the first time sound has been recorded on another planet. Back in the 1980s, two Soviet spacecraft, Venera 13 and Venera 14, recorded sounds from the surface of Venus.
And Europe’s Huygens lander, which was carried to Saturn’s biggest moon, Titan, by the Cassini spacecraft, also sent back sounds picked up by a microphone.
The weird linear grooves scoring the surface of the Mars moon Phobos were likely carved by boulders knocked loose by a giant impact, a new study suggests.
That impact created Phobos’ most notable feature — the 5.6-mile-wide (9 kilometers) Stickney Crater, which is about one-third as wide as the moon itself.
“These grooves are a distinctive feature of Phobos, and how they formed has been debated by planetary scientists for 40 years,” study lead author Ken Ramsley, a planetary scientist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, said in a statement.
“We think this study is another step toward zeroing in on an explanation.”
Mars has two tiny moons — Phobos and Deimos, both of which the Red Planet may have nabbed from the nearby asteroid belt long ago.
Phobos’ parallel grooves were first spotted in the 1970s by NASA’s Mariner and Viking missions. In the decades since, researchers have advanced many hypotheses to explain their origin.
For example, they may have been carved by material blasted off Mars by powerful impacts. Or they could be strain marks showing that Mars’ gravity is tearing Phobos apart.
Or bouncing, rolling boulders freed by the Stickney-causing impact could have created the grooves. This idea was first advanced in the late 1970s by researchers Lionel Wilson and Jim Head, the latter of whom is a co-author on the new study.
In the new work, the researchers used computer models to simulate how debris set in motion by the Stickney smashup may have traveled across Phobos’ surface.
“The model is really just an experiment we run on a laptop,” Ramsley said in the same statement. “We put all the basic ingredients in, then we press the button and we see what happens.”
What happened supports the rolling-boulder idea, study team members said. In the simulations, for example, rocks set in motion by the Stickney impact tended to travel on parallel paths, matching the observed groove patterns.
In addition, some of the simulated boulders traveled all the way around Phobos, rolling over the tracks of their fellow bounders. This could explain an oddity of the actual grooves — that some of them overlay one another.
There’s another puzzling aspect of the Phobos features — a weird “dead spot” free of grooves. But the new modeling work has an answer for that, too: The dead spot is a low-elevation area just beyond a slight “lip” of rock.
“It’s like a ski jump,” Ramsley said. “The boulders keep going, but suddenly there’s no ground under them. They end up doing this suborbital flight over this zone.”
All in all, the work “makes a pretty strong case” that the “rolling-boulder model accounts for most if not all the grooves on Phobos,” Ramsley said.
The eight planets in our solar system differ in lots of ways. They are different sizes. They are different distances from the sun. Some are small and rocky, and others are big and gassy.
But they’re all nice and round. Why is that? Why aren’t they shaped like cubes, pyramids, or discs?
Planets form when material in space starts to bump and clump together. After a while it has enough stuff to have a good amount of gravity.
That’s the force that holds stuff together in space. When a forming planet is big enough, it starts to clear its path around the star it orbits. It uses its gravity to snag bits of space stuff.
A planet’s gravity pulls equally from all sides. Gravity pulls from the center to the edges like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. This makes the overall shape of a planet a sphere, which is a three-dimensional circle.
Are they all perfect, though?
While all the planets in our solar system are nice and round, some are rounder than others. Mercury and Venus are the roundest of all. They are nearly perfect spheres, like marbles.
But some planets aren’t quite so perfectly round. Saturn and Jupiter are bit thicker in the middle. As they spin around, they bulge out along the equator. Why does that happen?
When something spins, like a planet as it rotates, things on the outer edge have to move faster than things on the inside to keep up.
This is true for anything that spins, like a wheel, a DVD, or a fan. Things along the edge have to travel the farthest and fastest.
Along the equator of a planet, a circle half way between the north and south poles, gravity is holding the edges in but, as it spins, stuff wants to spin out like mud flying off a tire.
Saturn and Jupiter are really big and spinning really fast but gravity still manages to hold them together. That’s why they bulge in the middle. We call the extra width the equatorial bulge.
Saturn bulges the most of all the planets in our solar system. If you compare the diameter from pole to pole to the diameter along the equator, it’s not the same.
Saturn is 10.7% thicker around the middle. Jupiter is 6.9% thicker around the middle. Instead of being perfectly round like marbles, they are like basketballs squished down while someone sits on them.
What about the other planets?
Earth and Mars are small and don’t spin around as fast as the gas giants. They aren’t perfect spheres, but they are rounder than Saturn and Jupiter.
Earth is 0.3% thicker in the middle, and Mars is 0.6% thicker in the middle. Since they’re not even one whole percentage point thicker in the middle, it’s safe to say they’re very round.
As for Uranus and Neptune, they’re in between. Uranus is 2.3% thicker in the middle. Neptune is 1.7% thicker. They’re not perfectly round, but they’re pretty close.
Scientists have identified 24 ancient lakes on Mars that once overflowed and burst through their walls, forming steep-sided canyons — and NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will explore the neighborhood of one of these paleolakes, looking for traces of ancient life.
Jezero Crater is one of two dozen sites that a team of geologists examined for signs of how canyons formed: by massive individual flooding events or by slower flows over longer periods of time.
Their findings suggest that for the chosen canyons, the former occurred, with a sudden flood rapidly carving canyons across the Martian surface.
“These breached lakes are fairly common and some of them are quite large, some as large as the Caspian Sea,” lead author Tim Goudge, a geoscientist at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a statement.
“So we think this style of catastrophic overflow flooding and rapid incision of outlet canyons was probably quite important on early Mars’ surface.”
The team came to that conclusion by looking at the relationship between the canyon measurements and the crater rims that once enclosed all that water.
Because the canyon size increased in proportion to the size of the nearby lake, the team believes that all 24 lakes violently burst through their walls, carving the canyons in perhaps just a few weeks.
If they hadn’t seen such a correlation, they would have instead suspected that the canyons formed gradually from more gentle water flow.
And unlike geologic features here on Earth, lake beds and canyons remain etched on the surface of Mars, since there are no modern plate tectonics to shuffle crust around and destroy them.
That long-lived Martian surface offers scientists hope that they might be able to access ancient sediments that may hold the remains of any life that once existed on Mars.
That’s part of why NASA chose to send its Mars 2020 rover, due to touch down on the Red Planet in 2021, to Jezero Crater, where it can study five different types of rock and hunt for any remains of ancient life that could be hiding in such a formerly wet environment.
Flying the freeway to Mars, the robotic probe InSight nears the end of its 301-million-mile cruise with nary a hitch and hardly a hiccup.
But looming just ahead is the exit ramp—the Martian atmosphere.
“There’s a classic term for it,” says Rob Grover of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “The seven minutes of terror.”
That’s approximately the time InSight takes to land, a spooky 70-mile descent from the top of the atmosphere down to the ground. “There is very little room for things to go wrong,” says Grover.
Yet hundreds of things must go right, all without NASA’s backseat driving; during landing, there’s no joysticking.
“We can’t fly the vehicle in ourselves. The flight computer on board has to do it on its own. Everything has to work perfectly by itself.” And for those seven minutes, “our hearts will be pounding.”
InSight lands November 26, the Monday after Thanksgiving, at 11:47 AM Pacific Time (2:47 PM Eastern).
Before the clock starts, the cruise stage—its delivery done—detaches from the capsule containing the lander. Then the capsule—just before reaching the atmosphere—points itself, “tilting down 12 degrees,” says Grover.
NASA’s leeway is minuscule, only “plus or minus a quarter of a degree.” Too shallow an angle, and the spacecraft skips off the atmosphere. Too steep, and it burns up.
And now the terrifying part. InSight thunders in at 12,300 miles per hour—almost three-and-a-half miles per second. Friction roasts it. The temperature on the heat shield hits 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit.
Friction also brakes it; within two minutes, the speed of the spacecraft slows by more than 90 percent. Yet it’s still going 1,000 miles per hour.
At seven miles up—commercial airliners fly about that high—the parachute opens. Within 15 seconds, the heat shield jettisons. For the first time, the lander is exposed to Martian air.
Another 10 seconds, and the three legs deploy. One mile above the ground, the lander falls from the backshell. Descent engines turn on. Touchdown velocity is 5 miles per hour.
Much could happen. The parachute might not open properly. The falling heat shield could graze the lander. Descent engines may not shut off. A large surface rock could sit in the way. One of the legs might not release and lock.
Those scenarios, though unlikely, are not implausible. Any of them could cause an erratic landing. Right now, atmospheric dust is minimal; weather at the landing site appears normal.
On Aug. 7, 1972, in the heart of the Apollo era, an enormous solar flare exploded from the sun’s atmosphere. Along with a gigantic burst of light in nearly all wavelengths, this event accelerated a wave of energetic particles.
Mostly protons, with a few electrons and heavier elements mixed in, this wash of quick-moving particles would have been dangerous to anyone outside Earth’s protective magnetic bubble.
Luckily, the Apollo 16 crew had returned to Earth just five months earlier, narrowly escaping this powerful event.
In the early days of human space flight, scientists were only just beginning to understand how events on the sun could affect space, and in turn how that radiation could affect humans and technology.
Today, as a result of extensive space radiation research, we have a much better understanding of our space environment, its effects, and the best ways to protect astronauts—all crucial parts of NASA’s mission to send humans to Mars.
“The Martian” film highlights the radiation dangers that could occur on a round trip to Mars. While the mission in the film is fictional, NASA has already started working on the technology to enable an actual trip to Mars in the 2030s.
In the film, the astronauts’ habitat on Mars shields them from radiation, and indeed, radiation shielding will be a crucial technology for the voyage.
From better shielding to advanced biomedical countermeasures, NASA currently studies how to protect astronauts and electronics from radiation – efforts that will have to be incorporated into every aspect of Mars mission planning, from spacecraft and habitat design to spacewalk protocols.
Radiation, at its most basic, is simply waves or sub-atomic particles that transports energy to another entity – whether it is an astronaut or spacecraft component.
The main concern in space is particle radiation. Energetic particles can be dangerous to humans because they pass right through the skin, depositing energy and damaging cells or DNA along the way.
This damage can mean an increased risk for cancer later in life or, at its worst, acute radiation sickness during the mission if the dose of energetic particles is large enough.
Fortunately for us, Earth’s natural protections block all but the most energetic of these particles from reaching the surface. A huge magnetic bubble, called the magnetosphere, which deflects the vast majority of these particles, protects our planet.
And our atmosphere subsequently absorbs the majority of particles that do make it through this bubble.
Importantly, since the International Space Station (ISS) is in low-Earth orbit within the magnetosphere, it also provides a large measure of protection for our astronauts.
“We have instruments that measure the radiation environment inside the ISS, where the crew are, and even outside the station,” said Kerry Lee, a scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
This ISS crew monitoring also includes tracking of the short-term and lifetime radiation doses for each astronaut to assess the risk for radiation-related diseases.
Although NASA has conservative radiation limits greater than allowed radiation workers on Earth, the astronauts are able to stay well under NASA’s limit while living and working on the ISS, within Earth’s magnetosphere.
But a journey to Mars requires astronauts to move out much further, beyond the protection of Earth’s magnetic bubble.
According to astronaut Mark Kelly and plenty of other experts, Donald Trump’s Space Force is, simply put, a pretty dumb idea.
Nonetheless, last night the president’s reelection campaign released a slew of possible Space Force logos–and they’re right in line with the stupefyingly bad design Trump’s team is known for.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence announced the Space Force concept last June, proposing a new branch of the military that will be aimed at space.
“We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal,” Trump said at the time. The idea was met with widespread derision from Kelly and others, for several reasons.
The United States already has a Space Command. It’s been around since 1982. Space defense is also one of the U.S.
Air Force’s core missions, which currently involves monitoring space from natural and third-country threats, protecting military satellites, and foiling Mulder and Scully’s efforts to unveil an alien conspiracy to take over Earth.
Before we get to the logos, let’s take a moment to breathe, because these logos aren’t official in any way. They weren’t created by anyone at the Pentagon, NASA, or any other federal agency.
They were created by the Trump-Pence 2020 campaign PAC. And, as Parscale notes, they’re going to be used to “commemorate” the Space Force with a new “lineof gear.”
In other words, this is for merch. Still, let’s take a look.
The first logo is a blatant copy of the current NASA logo, aka the “meatball,” which was designed by NASA employee James Modarelli, in 1959.
The Trump knockoff replaces the classic mid-century typeface with an anachronistic 1980s font, which itself bastardizes the beautiful NASA Worm logo, from 1975.
Meanwhile, the swoop is now an inexplicable shade of mustard, and space itself is now a red state. I guess it’ll match the MAGA hats?
The second logo returns to dark blue, eliminating the delta wing but retaining the white orbital line and some of the “stars” of the NASA logo.
It features a strangely stylized 1940s novella version of a rocket, its powerful engine fumes symbolized by . . . an inverted “flammable” icon. An oddly kerned, Art Deco-tinged typeface completes this atrocity.
Here we have what looks like a poor misrepresentation of the retired space shuttle trying to escape the deadly embrace of a red space snake. Your guess is as good as mine on this one.
Perhaps the most absurd aspect of this project is the fact that the Trump-Pence 2020 campaign is asking people to choose a logo for a military branch that doesn’t exist, and probably never will.
Even if Space Force–and the further needless spending on the military-aerospace-industrial complex it would enable–is realized, its identity will be developed according to the Pentagon’s standard government-contracting processes.
From building its own space station, to capturing an asteroid and putting it in orbit around the Moon, China’s space programme is often depicted as ludicrous and unfeasible. But it would be foolish to overlook its potential.
China is quickly becoming one of the most ambitious and pioneering nations when it comes to exploring space.
“Our overall goal is that, by around 2030, China will be among the major space powers of the world,” Wu Yanhua, deputy chief of the National Space Administration, said in January. So what are its plans?
Dark side of the Moon
One of China’s nearest goals is the plan to land a rover on the dark side of the Moon in 2018.
China’s Chang’e 4 mission is the next in line after Chang’e 3, which saw the popular Jade Rabbit lunar rover named after the Chinese Moon goddess. The plan is to study the geology of the Moon’s far side.
As the Moon orbits Earth, it is tidally locked, meaning the same side always faces us.
The far side of the Moon is not always dark, it is illuminated when the side facing the Earth is in darkness; it is just called the dark side of the Moon because we never see it.Landing there would be a significant first.
China made headlines earlier this year when its plans to capture an asteroid were revealed, and somewhat mocked.
The idea of taking an asteroid and putting it in orbit around the Moon was reported by state media, but a detailed description of those specific plans is yet to be published.
However, a new study has revealed what China does plan to do in terms of asteroid chasing.
China’s latest proposal involves studying a chaotic asteroid.
A pair of Chinese researchers has published a paper in Advances in Space Research, outlining a plan to send a spacecraft to the asteroid 2010 TK7, which is on a bizarrely eccentric orbit around the Sun.
The mission will follow in the footsteps of NASA’s Rosetta spacecraft, which had a rendezvous with a comet. The plan is to launch the spacecraft in November 2021, with the manoeuvre happening in August 2025.
Not content with sending humans to asteroids, the Moon and Mars, China also plans on building its very own space station.
The first part of the Chinese large modular space station is expected to go into orbit around Earth in 2019 with the final sections in place by 2022.
The station will host three crew members, unlike previous efforts which could not support any crew.
The first Chinese space station, Tiangong-1 or ‘Heavenly Place’ launched in 2011, was only supposed to stay in orbit for two years.
Seven years later, and we are being told the satellite is out of control, and will crash into our planet in the next few months.
In 2011 it was decided China was not allowed to be part of the International Space Station (ISS) collaboration, when the US Congress passed a law saying it was concerned about national security.
The ISS is a joint mission between the US, Canada, Japan, Russia and Europe. Plans to collaborate are continuing, as Nasa and Russia announced a deal to work together building a new space station around the Moon.
But this doesn’t rule China out of the picture completely. “The US-Russian agreement is in principle only,” Logsdon sats. “Neither country has a funded program for such a station yet.
“If the Trump administration does fund such a US station, partnerships with many countries, not just Russia, will be sought. The issue then is whether Congress will allow Nasa to work with China.”
The future of China’s space exploration is diverse and exciting. With many ambitious plans, and a few failures under its belt, it remains to be seen whether China will meet its ambitious goals.
What is clear, however, is the country is not wasting any time trying to become the leader of the next space race.
If you look at the sky tonight and spot a very bright star, it may well be a planet. Mars is the closest it has been to Earth for 15 years – and therefore the brightest.
“Mars shines through reflected light,” says Robert Massey, the deputy executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society.
“That means that when it’s closer to the Earth it appears brighter, because its apparent size is bigger.” It won’t be this visible again until 2035.
So, how best to see it? First, make sure tall trees or buildings are not obscuring the view. Ideally, you want a clear horizon. Then, look south.
“It will be obvious, because it’s bright, it doesn’t twinkle and it has a distinct reddish tinge,” says Massey, who suggests Somerset, Devon and Dorset as good locations for spotting it.
The best Mars-gazing time is 1am, but it rises earlier in the evening.
“You can see Mars with the naked eye, but a pair of binoculars would help,” says Massey. “If you have a small telescope, you may be lucky to see a polar ice cap.”
If you are an amateur with good equipment, the details to look out for are two polar ice caps, mountains or volcanoes, and sunken, crater-like features. Massey suggests contacting your local astronomical society about public viewing events.
When is the best time to see Mars?
According to NASA, Mars Opposition begins Friday, July 27 around midnight.
Mars will be visible between Friday, July 27 and Monday, July 30, making its closest approach — 35.8 million miles to be exact — on Tuesday, July 31 at around 4 a.m. E.T.
Mars will be at its brightest Friday night due to an opposition surge that is affected by the planet’s angle of the sun — giving you the clearest view of the Red Planet.