Friday, February 12, 2021

🚀 February 12, 2021: Perseverance is Almost at Mars, Habitable Planet at Alpha Centauri? Plasma Thruster And More...

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Perseverance Will Make Sure it has a Safe Landing

Are you ready for the big event? No, not that sports ball game that happened last week. I'm talking about the arrival of NASA's Perseverance Rover at Mars. Assuming everything goes well, the spacecraft will enter the atmosphere of Mars on February 18, 2021, and experience the 7 minutes of terror as it descends down to the surface. After deploying an aeroshell, parachute, and sky crane, Perseverance will set down gently in Jezero Crater, an ancient dried up paleo lakebed that seems to have been shaped by lakes and rivers. The perfect place to search for evidence of ancient (or current) life.

Perseverance is equipped with programming to guide the landing, making sure it touches down in a region that's safe, flat, and free of dangers. It has to do this because roundtrip communications take several minutes to reach Mars and back.

You'll be able to watch the landing live on the Internet.

Read the full story by Evan Gough


Fraser Cain
Universe Today

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Q&A 134: Could Tethered Starships Provide Artificial Gravity? And More...

In this week's Q&A show, I answer questions about Starship might be able to provide artificial gravity, whether I'd prefer to have LUVOIR or the Overwhelmingly Large Telescope, and if nuclear-powered rockets will work in space.

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Possible Super-Earth in the Habitable Zone at Alpha Centauri

This could be huge news or turn out to be nothing more than a spot of dust in a telescope sensor. Astronomers working with the Very Large Telescope think they've seen a hint of a planet orbiting around nearby Alpha Centauri. Better yet, this planet might actually be orbiting within the star's habitable zone. Wow. Even if the discovery doesn't hold up to more in-depth scrutiny, astronomers have developed powerful new techniques to push their telescopes to observe fainter and fainter objects.

Read the full story by Evan Gough

InSight is Going to Try and "Hear" Perseverance Land on Mars From 3,452 km Away

When Perseverance arrives at Mars on February 18th, NASA's Mars Insight will be listening carefully to see if it can detect the moment the spacecraft enters the Martian atmosphere. Even though InSight is located 3,452 kilometers away, it's equipped with a seismometer that should be able to sense it. This is very useful because scientists will be able to use this event to calibrate its instruments for the other times when it's detecting meteorites falling nearby.

Read the full story by Nancy Atkinson

Three Storms Have Dumped Snow on Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea

Once a year or so, the twin Hawaiian peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa get a dusting of snow. This year, three separate storms passed the Island of Hawaii, dropping more of the white stuff than normal. In this image from Landsat 8, you can see huge patches of snow on the peaks. Apparently, it's enough that Hawaiians have taken their skis and snowboards up the mountain.

Read the full story by Nancy Atkinson

Plasma Thruster Could Dramatically Cut Down Flight Times to the Outer Solar System

The Solar System is enormous, and journeys to the outer planets can take half a decade or more. If we want to shorten travel times, we need new propulsion systems. One idea is a plasma engine, using electricity to accelerate plasma out the back of a spacecraft to give it a kick in the opposite direction. The Sun might already hold the key since it channels plasma up from its surface along magnetic field lines, releasing it at enormous velocities when the fields reconnect. A prototype engine could expel plasma at 500 km/s, a dramatic increase over chemical rockets.

Read the full story by Matthew Cimone

What Are Extrasolar Planets?

We now know of thousands of extrasolar planets orbiting nearby stars. But what is an extrasolar planet, and how do astronomers find them? This article will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about worlds orbiting other stars.

Read the full story by Matt Williams

Jupiter's Trojan Asteroids Offer Surprises Even Before NASA's Lucy Mission has a Chance to Visit Them.

Jupiter's Trojan regions offer a convenient collection for NASA's Lucy Mission to examine up close. Scientists had already chosen various targets for the spacecraft to visit, but a new study shows that the Trojan Belts might have even more variety than previously believed. It appears that the L4 region has a larger population of asteroids and has had more collisions, and the asteroids will be battered into more eccentric shapes. We'll have to wait for Lucy to arrive in 2027 to learn more.

Read the full story by Scott Alan Johnston

Nearby Ancient Dwarf Galaxies Have a Surprising Amount of Dark Matter

The Milky Way is surrounded by dozens of dwarf galaxies, slowly being broken up and added to the mass of our galaxy. In fact, the Milky Way has been doing this for billions of years, consuming countless galaxies. In a recent survey of the dwarf galaxies on the menu, astronomers were surprised to see that one of them had much more dark matter than astronomers were expecting, leading to the possibility that ancient galaxies were rich in dark matter. It's gotten stripped away over time.

Read the full story by Matt Williams

If Dark Matter is Made of Sterile Neutrinos, a new Survey has Narrowed Down What to Look for

Astronomers have suggested that the hypothetical "sterile neutrino" might explain the mysterious phenomenon of dark matter. Unlike the regular flavors of neutrinos that have already been detected, this type would only interact with regular matter through gravity, providing a good explanation. But could we observe sterile neutrinos? In theory, they could be discovered as they decay into other particles. A recent survey tried to see any evidence of this decay.

Read the full story by Brian Koberlein

A New Supernova Remnant Found From an Exploding White Dwarf Star

Astronomers have found an extremely rare type of supernova remnant located near the center of the Milky Way. Classified as a Type 1ax supernova, it's the result of an exploding white dwarf star. You might be familiar with Type 1a supernovae, which are used as standard candles to measure the size of the Universe. Type 1ax are far rarer, never seen in the Milky Way before, but believed to have seeded the Universe with many of its heavier elements.

Read the full story by Evan Gough

A New Technique to Find Cold Gas Streams That Might Make up the Missing (Normal) Matter in the Universe

Not only is dark matter a mystery component to the Universe, but astronomers are also actually having trouble locating all the regular matter in the Universe. One idea is that there are streams of cold gas flowing in the intergalactic void. It's tough to spot because it is so cold and barely gives off any light. One idea is to scan the sky for the bright flash of radio bursts and then measure how much gas the light passed through before reaching our detectors.

Read the full story by Scott Alan Johnston

Here's the Best Place for Explorers to Harvest Martian Ice

Living on Mars is going to require water. You can drink it, obviously, but you can also split it up and use the hydrogen and oxygen for breathable air, other chemicals, and even rocket fuel. What's the best place to find water on Mars? Unfortunately, the water is probably deep down under the regolith across much of the planet, but scientists have narrowed down a few spots where water could be easily accessible to thirsty explorers.

Read the full story by Andy Tomaswick

February 7th Was the Start of a New Year on Mars

A year on Mars is almost twice as long as a year on Earth. So how do you measure when the year begins? Astronomers have decided that the beginning of a year on Mars starts with the northern equinox. And they started counting in 1956. If you do the math, it means that there have been a total of 36 Martian years since then, with the most recent new year on February 7th, 2021.

Read the full story by Andy Tomaswick

Super-Earth Conditions Simulated in the Lab to Discover if They're Habitable

A significant portion of the new exoplanets being discovered by astronomers have been classified as "super-earths." These are larger and more massive worlds than Earth but probably still made out of rocky materials. Obviously, we can't sample these worlds directly, but scientists have mimicked the conditions of a super-earth world in an Earth laboratory. Are they able to generate the same kind of magnetic field that protects life on Earth?

Read the full story by Matt Williams

It's Starting to Look Like Super-Earths Really are Just Great big Terrestrial Planets

The more planets we find, the more variety we're discovering. One common type of world that doesn't exist in the Solar System is the "super-earth", or "mini-neptune". These are larger and more massive planets than Earth and probably made of rocks and metal like the terrestrial planets. But are these planets really just gas planets that had their atmospheres stripped away by the star's solar wind?

Read the full story by Brian Koberlein

Quantum Theory Proposes That Cause and Effect Can Go In Loops

When an event causes another event, they have a causal relationship. First, one thing happens, and then it causes the other thing to happen. Makes sense. But in the quantum realm, things are much more complicated, with scenarios like entanglement, which seem to evade this whole concept of causality. Is there an explanation? According to a new theory, it might be possible for cause and effect to go in cycles. Whoa...

Read the full story by Andy Tomaswick

The Crab Nebula Seen in 3-Dimensions

The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant from a star that exploded almost 1,000 years ago. When it went off, the object was visible in the daytime for weeks, seen by astronomers worldwide. Researchers have used new techniques to create a 3D image of the crab nebula, allowing us to fly through the object and look at its delicate structure from different angles.

Read the full story by Andy Tomaswick

ESA's Solar Orbiter 'Hides' Behind the Sun

A deep-space mission is about to pull a 'vanishing act,' through mid-February, as the European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter (affectionately known as 'SolO' to mission controllers) makes a crucial pass behind the Sun.

Read the full story by David Dickinson

Emirates Mars Mission Arrives at the Red Planet

There are three spacecraft arriving at Mars within a couple of weeks of each other. The first of these is the United Arab Emirates' Hope MIssion. The spacecraft arrived safely at Mars on February 9th, going into orbit around the Red Planet. It will now conduct a two-year mission gathering science about the Martian atmosphere.

Read the full story by Matt Williams

Other Interesting Space Stuff

Amazing Astrophotography on @universetoday

The Moon by Tomás Andonie

Today I'd like to share an image from Tomás Andonie, a 16-year old photographer in Chile. He's been taking pictures for about 4 years now, focusing his efforts on astrophotography. This is a combined image, with multiple exposures of both the Moon and the clouds combined into this single image. Nice work, Tomás!

We have featured thousands of astrophotographers on our Instagram page, which has more than 200,000 followers. Want to do a takeover? Use the hashtag #universetoday and I'll check out your photos.

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