Cassini spacecraft’s final planet Saturn research

This video from the USA says about itself:

Cassini‘s final orbits around Saturn | Science News

21 April 2017

In Cassini‘s last act, the spacecraft will whiz 22 times between Saturn and its rings. This animation illustrates the spacecraft’s final orbits. Read more here.

Metals discovered in atmosphere of planet Mars

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11 April 2017

MAVEN makes first direct detection of the presence of metallic ions in the ionosphere.

Mars has electrically charged high-ion metal atoms in its atmosphere, according to new results from the NASA spacecraft MAVEN.

Metal ions may reveal previously invisible activity in the mysterious atmosphere charged electrically ionosphere of Mars. MAVEN has made the first direct detection of the permanent presence of metal ions in the ionosphere of a planet other than Earth.

Because metal ions have a long shelf life and are transported away from their region of origin by neutral winds and electric fields, they can be used to infer movement in the ionosphere, similar to the way we use a fluted leaf to reveal how the wind is blowing. Grebowsky is the lead author of an article on this research appears April 10 in Geophysical Research Letters.

MAVEN (Mars Environment and volatile Mission Evolution) is exploring the upper atmosphere of Mars to understand how the planet missed most of its air, transforming a world that could have endured a billion years ago life on a cold desert planet today. The understanding of ionospheric activity is shedding light on how the atmosphere of Mars is being lost to space, according to the team.

The metal comes from a constant rain of small meteorites on the red planet. When a high-velocity meteoroid strikes the atmosphere of Mars, it vaporizes. Metal atoms in the vapor wake get some of their electrons pulled out by other atoms and molecules charged in the ionosphere, transforming the metal atoms into electrically charged ions.


MAVEN Detects Metal Ions in Martian Atmosphere

Apr 11, 2017

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission has made the first detection of the continuous presence of iron, magnesium, and sodium ions in the electrically charged upper atmosphere (ionosphere) of the Red Planet.

Sounding rockets, radar and satellite measurements have detected metal ion layers high in the atmosphere above Earth.

There’s also been indirect evidence for metal ions above other planets in our Solar System.

When spacecraft are exploring these worlds from orbit, sometimes their radio signals pass through the planet’s atmosphere on the way to Earth, and sometimes portions of the signal have been blocked.

This has been interpreted as interference from electrons in the ionosphere, some of which are thought to be associated with metal ions.

However, long-term direct detection of the metal ions by MAVEN is the first conclusive evidence that these ions exist on another planet.

“MAVEN has detected iron (Fe+), magnesium (Mg+), and sodium (Na+) ions in the upper atmosphere of Mars over the last two years using its Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer instrument, giving us confidence that the metal ions are a permanent feature,” said Dr. Joseph Grebowsky, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and his colleagues from the United States and UK.

According to the team, the metal comes from a constant rain of tiny meteoroids onto the planet.

When a high-speed meteoroid hits the Martian atmosphere, it vaporizes. Metal atoms in the vapor trail get some of their electrons torn away by other charged atoms and molecules in the ionosphere, transforming the metal atoms into electrically charged ions.

“Observing metal ions on another planet gives us something to compare and contrast with Earth to understand the ionosphere and atmospheric chemistry better,” said Dr. Grebowsky, who is the lead author of a paper on this research published online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters on April 10.

“Because metallic ions have long lifetimes and are transported far from their region of origin by neutral winds and electric fields, they can be used to infer motion in the ionosphere, similar to the way we use a lofted leaf to reveal which way the wind is blowing.”

Dr. Grebowsky and co-authors also found that the metal ions behaved differently on Mars than on Earth.

Our planet is surrounded by a global magnetic field generated in its interior, and this magnetic field together with ionospheric winds forces the metal ions into layers.

However, Mars has only local magnetic fields fossilized in certain regions of its crust, and the authors only saw the layers near these areas.

“Elsewhere, the metal ion distributions are totally unlike those observed at Earth,” Dr. Grebowsky said.

Bubbles may put mysterious fizz in [Saturn moon] Titan’s polar sea, by Ashley Yeager. 11:00am, April 18, 2017: here.

Astronomical news update

This video says about itself:

The Event Horizon Telescope Update 02/19/17

An overview of the coming attempt to directly image the event horizon of a black hole using the The Event Horizon telescope.

Event Horizon Telescope to try to capture images of elusive black hole edge; by Emily Conover. 5:00am, April 5, 2017: here.

Massive red, dead galaxy spotted in young universe. Findings suggest need to reassess ideas about galaxy formation. By Ashley Yeager, 1:00pm, April 5, 2017: here.

Spacecraft halfway from Pluto to dwarf planet 2014 MU69

This video says about itself:

3 April 2017

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has now traveled half the distance from Pluto – its storied first target – to 2014 MU69, the Kuiper Belt object it will fly past on Jan. 1, 2019.


NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Halfway from Pluto to Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69

Apr 4, 2017 by Enrico de Lazaro

Continuing on its path through the outer regions of our Solar System, New Horizons has now traveled half the distance from the dwarf planet Pluto to its next target, the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69.

New Horizons is currently 486.19 million miles (782.45 million km) from 2014 MU69 and approximately 3.5 billion miles (5.7 billion km) from Earth.

“It’s fantastic to have completed half the journey to our next flyby,” said New Horizons principal investigator Dr. Alan Stern, from the Southwest Research Institute.

“That flyby will set the record for the most distant world ever explored in the history of civilization.”

2014 MU69 was discovered on June 26, 2014 by astronomers using the NASA/ ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Also known as 1110113Y, it orbits the Sun once every 293 years.

According to NASA scientists, 2014 MU69 is a relatively small Kuiper Belt object (KBO).

It is estimated to have a diameter of 30 miles (48 km) — that’s more than 10 times larger and 1,000 times more massive than typical comets, but only about 0.5 to 1% of the size (and about 1/10,000th the mass) of Pluto.

The surface of this KBO is just as red as, if not redder than, Pluto’s surface.

New Horizons’ planned rendezvous with 2014 MU69 is January 1, 2019.

“The January 2019 MU69 flyby is the next big event for us, but New Horizons is truly a mission to more broadly explore the Kuiper Belt,” said New Horizons project scientist Dr. Hal Weaver, from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

“In addition to 2014 MU69, we plan to study more than two-dozen other KBOs in the distance and measure the charged particle and dust environment all the way across the Kuiper Belt.”

Racism and anti-racism in NASA history

This video from the USA says about itself:

The African American Women Behind NASA’s Early Launches

20 January 2017

Segregated bathrooms & rampant workplace sexism didn’t stop these highly educated African American women from helping NASA reach the stars.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

How Jim Crow failed to win the space race

Friday 31st March 2017

PETER FROST looks at the start of the 1960s when the Space Race was being played out in black and white

SIXTY years ago this year the Soviet Union launched the first artificial object into space. As Sputnik 1 bleeped its signal back to Earth, it put Soviet technology firmly ahead in what would become known as the Space Race. In Washington panic set in.

Just a month later things got worse for US space boffins when the USSR launched Sputnik 2 with the dog Laika onboard.

By early in 1958 the US was fighting back. It launched three satellites. But in April 1961 the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin became the first man in space.

Just weeks later Alan Shepard became the first American in space and three more weeks later president John F Kennedy pledged that the US would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.

In 1963 cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman in space. The US had no plans for female astronauts.

It might have been the space age but that didn’t stop the US still practicing strict racial segregation. The obscene Jim Crow laws would not start to be swept away until the mid- 1960s Civil Rights Act.

In Nasa’s offices, workshops and laboratories across the land of the free there were signs designating separate work areas, kitchens, lavatories and even drinking fountains for “coloured” and white workers.

It also meant that schools, high schools, colleges, universities and training facilities were in general only open to white students and all too often only to white men.

Yet, as in every other aspect of US life, black women and men were not content with their lot. Be it blacks registering to vote, demanding a place for their sons and daughters in white-only schools, sitting at Woolworths lunch counters or refusing to ride at the back of the bus.

All over the land, black women and men were marching and demanding their civil rights. It is a battle that still goes on today.

Black women were striving to do their bit within the US space industry. Three in particular made a major contribution to US space exploration.

The incredible untold story of Katherine G Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson has recently reached the big screen in a film entitled Missing Figures, alongside a book with the same title. Johnson was a physicist and mathematician who played a significant part in the US aeronautics and space programs with the early application of digital electronic computers at Nasa.

She calculated the trajectories, launch windows and emergency backup return paths for many flights, including the early missions of John Glenn and Shepard and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon as well as the Space Shuttle programme.

Johnson was born in 1918, in West Virginia, the youngest of four children. Even though she showed an amazing talent for maths from an early age, local schools did not offer places for black students past the eighth grade; she and her family had to travel many miles to school.

After high school, she began attending the all-black West Virginia State College. In 1937 she left with the highest honours.

In 1939, she became one of three African-American students and the only woman selected to attend one of the graduate schools that the US Supreme Court had desegregated.

She decided on a career as a research mathematician. In 1952, she heard that the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (Naca) was hiring mathematicians at Hampton, Virginia. In 1953 she became part of pool of black women performing complicated calculations.

Johnson’s knowledge of analytic geometry was spotted by the male bosses. From 1953 to 1958, Johnson worked in a team of black women supervised by mathematician Dorothy Vaughan.

Then she was moved to the otherwise totally white male Guidance and Control Division. She could work with white men but was required to eat and use lavatories separate from her white colleagues.

She calculated the trajectory for the May 5 1961 space flight of Shepard. She married twice and had three daughters and sang in her church choir for 50 years.

President Barack Obama presented Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on May 5 2016. The Computational Research Facility at Langley now bears her name.

Dorothy Johnson Vaughan was another black female mathematician. She too worked for Naca and then Nasa. In 1949 she became acting supervisor of the West Area Computers, the first African-American woman to supervise a Nasa department.

She applied at her local public library for a book on computers but blacks were not allowed to borrow books. She stole one and taught herself and her staff the programming language Fortran. This would lead to her later heading the programming section Nasa Langley.

Born Dorothy Johnson in 1910 in Kansas City, Missouri, she graduated from high school in 1925 and then in mathematics from Wilberforce University, a historically black college in Ohio.

She became a teacher and married Howard S Vaughan Jnr in 1932.

In 1943, she began what developed into a 28 year-career as a mathematician and programmer at Nasa. Vaughan specialised in calculations for flight paths and computer programming.

In 1949, she was made the acting head of her black department, taking over from a white woman who had died. She was the first black supervisor at Naca and one of few female supervisors. She led a group composed entirely of African-American female mathematicians. Vaughan served for years in an acting role before being promoted officially.

Mary Winston Jackson was yet another African-American mathematician. She had a lifelong ambition to become a qualified aerospace engineer but that career was closed to both women and blacks.

It would take 34 years, a complicated court case and years of part-time and evening study for her to earn the most senior engineering title available.

Jackson was a Girl Scout leader for 30 years. In the 1970s, she and her group of black children created an amazing miniature wind tunnel for testing model airplanes. She was married with two children and died aged 83 on February 11 2005.

Donald Trump once famously pronounced: “Laziness is a trait in blacks.”

I wonder if those three brave and clever women who gave the United States such a leg up into space would agree with his judgement.

Astronomy discoveries update

This video from the USA says about itself:

29 March 2017

One of Jupiter‘s asteroid companions shares the planet‘s orbit around the sun but travels in the opposite direction. Planets and asteroids in this video have been enlarged to make them visible. Read more here.

Video credit: © 2017 Western Univ., Athabasca Univ., Large Binocular Telescope Observatory

This video from the USA says about itself:

23 March 2017

The Hubble Space Telescope captured an image of a quasar named 3C 186 that is offset from the center of its galaxy. Astronomers hypothesize that this supermassive black hole was jettisoned from the center of its galaxy by the recoil from gravitational waves produced by the merging of two supermassive black holes.

Read more here.

Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Katrina Jackson

Music credit: “Stealth Car” by Tom Sue [GEMA] and Zac Singer [GEMA]; Ed. Berlin Production Music/Universal Publishing Production Music GmbH GEMA; Berlin Production Music; Killer Tracks Production Music

See also here.

Dwarf planet Pluto news

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22 March 2017

Researchers investigating Pluto think they have determined how the dwarf planet gets its red spots.

According to scientists with NASA‘s New Horizons mission, the hazy atmosphere is filled with particles that settle onto the surface.

In some areas, where the atmosphere has collapsed, the particles on the surface are exposed to more radiation from space that darkens them.

The researchers used data from a flyby mission in 2015.

Instruments onboard the New Horizons spacecraft found that the haze of particles reaches about 200 kilometers above the surface with 20 distinct layers.

From Science News:

How Pluto’s haze could explain its red spots

Collapse of atmosphere may influence blotchy surface colors

By Ashley Yeager

9:41am, March 22, 2017

Pluto may get its smattering of red spots from the fallout of its hazy blue skies, researchers say.

Haze particles from the dwarf planet’s atmosphere settle onto all of Pluto’s surface. But some regions may become redder and darker than others because parts of the atmosphere collapse, exposing those spots to more surface-darkening radiation from space, researchers report March 22 at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.

“The atmospheric haze on Pluto was a spectacular surprise,” says NASA New Horizons mission scientist Andrew Cheng, a physicist at Johns Hopkins University. When the New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto in 2015, scientists weren’t expecting to see haze reaching at least 200 kilometers above the dwarf planet’s surface; nor were they expecting to see the haze divided into about 20 delicate and distinct layers (SN Online: 10/15/15).

These discoveries led researchers to suspect that the layers formed as a result of weak winds blowing across Pluto’s surface and over its mountains. Cheng and colleagues describe how the winds would shape the haze layers in a paper accepted in Icarus and posted online February 24 at The team also explains how the atmosphere may affect the color of the dwarf planet’s surface features.

“Haze particles continually fall out onto the surface and rapidly build up,” Cheng says. This process should effectively “paint” the entire surface a uniform color — but Pluto isn’t a single color. It has strikingly bright and dark terrains, with some of the highest contrast found in the solar system. These dark and light regions form because portions of Pluto’s atmosphere periodically collapse, with air freezing and falling onto the dwarf planet’s surface, he and colleagues suggest.

When a section of the atmosphere collapses, parts of the surface are exposed directly to radiation from space, which would darken the surface particles there, Cheng explains. The richness of the reds, the team says, cannot be explained without some kind of collapse of the atmosphere, which does eventually redevelop.

Observations from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft also support the idea that Pluto’s atmosphere collapses. In fact, as Pluto moves away from the sun, most, if not all, of its atmosphere may collapse onto the dwarf planet’s surface, reported Carey Lisse, also of Johns Hopkins University, at the conference.

Exactly how much of Pluto’s atmosphere freezes out during its year, which lasts for 248 Earth years, isn’t clear. But that is currently being monitored, says Timothy Dowling, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, who was not involved in the new work. Pluto, he notes, won’t complete the first lap that humans have watched it make around the sun until 2178.

MAKE PLUTO A PLANET AGAIN A group of scientists have boarded the cause, as they know it’s pretty great. [HuffPost]

It’s time to redefine what qualifies as a planet, scientists propose. Redefinition would add Pluto back to the list, plus about 100 more. By
Ashley Yeager, 9:00am, March 23, 2017: here.