1 year after launch, NASA's Perseverance rover prepares to collect 1st sample on Mars

July 30th, 2021

It's been quite an eventful year for NASA's Perseverance rover.

The car-size robot and its little partner, the Ingenuity helicopter, launched toward the Red Planet one year ago today (July 30) and touched down inside the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater on Feb. 18.

Six weeks after landing, Ingenuity deployed from Perseverance's belly and began a monthlong technology-demonstrating flight campaign, which the rover supported and documented. The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) chopper performed so well that NASA extended its mission, and Ingenuity now has 10 Red Planet flights (and counting) under its belt.

Meanwhile, Perseverance recently wrapped up its Ingenuity-shepherding work and began focusing in earnest on its own science mission. That mission features two main tasks: hunting for signs of ancient life in Jezero, which hosted a lake and river delta long ago, and collecting and caching dozens of samples.

The pristine Mars material that Perseverance packs away will be brought to Earth by a joint NASA-European Space Agency campaign, perhaps as early as 2031. Scientists in labs around the world will then pore over the samples, looking for evidence of Mars life and clues about the Red Planet's history and evolution.

Perseverance is now gearing up to collect the very first of these samples. The rover is scouting out targets in a geologically interesting part of Jezero that the mission team calls "Crater Floor Fractured Rough."

"My first rock sampling location is just ahead. This spot will be my 'office' for the next week or two," Perseverance team members wrote Thursday (July 29) in a Twitter post that featured a photo of its current environs.

The coming sample snag will be an involved affair. Perseverance will study its chosen target in detail with a variety of instruments before actually collecting material, in a multistep process that will take about 11 days from start to finish.

NASA to design new 'Earth System Observatory' as part of national push against climate change

May 25th, 2021

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NASA will design new, Earth-focused missions to support our growing understanding of climate change and provide important information to those on Earth impacted by its effects, the agency announced May 24 as part of a new Biden administration plan to "enhance climate resilience."

The Biden administration, prior to meeting with climate and homeland security team members on May 24, announced earlier that day in a White House release that it will support the development of NASA's new "Earth System Observatory" — a series of next-generation climate data systems that will be used to better track climate change and its impact on communities around the world.

Additionally, the administration plans to allocate $1 billion in "pre-disaster mitigation resources," for communities impacted by "extreme weather events and other disasters," all as part of a new plan to "enhance climate resilience," according to a White House statement. The announcement did not include any information about budget or timelines for the observatory program.

Mars may still be volcanically active, study finds

May 12th, 2021


Evidence of what may be the youngest eruption seen yet on Mars suggests the Red Planet may still be volcanically active, raising the possibility it was recently habitable, a new study finds.

Most volcanism on Mars occurred between 3 billion and 4 billion years ago, leaving behind giant monuments such as Olympus Mons, the tallest mountain in the solar system. At 16 miles (25 km) high, Olympus Mons is about three times as tall as Mount Everest, Earth's highest mountain.

Previous research suggested the Red Planet may still have flared with smaller volcanic eruptions as recently as 2.5 million years ago. Now scientists have found evidence that Mars may still be volcanically active, with signs of an eruption within the past 50,000 years or so.

"This being the youngest documented volcanic eruption on Mars, the potential that Mars could potentially be volcanically active at present is exciting," study lead author David Horvath, a planetary scientist now at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, told Space.com.

Fireball meteor burns up over South Florida

April 13th ,2021

A sparkling fireball zoomed across the sky near West Palm Beach, Florida on Monday night (April 13), and local news teams and home security systems caught footage of its dramatic descent.

The meteor was spotted at about 10 p.m. EDT, when it tumbled from the sky and disintegrated in a sudden flash of light, NPR reported.

Soon after, Jay O'Brien, a reporter for CBS News in West Palm Beach, tweeted a video of the fireball exploding in midair. His colleague Zach Covey, a meteorologist for CBS, responded saying that the fireball was likely a "chunk of an asteroid known as 2021 GW4," a space rock that was due to pass by Earth that night.

WOAH! Big flash and streak across sky in West Palm Beach. Happened moments ago while we were on Facebook Live for a @CBS12 story. Working to figure out what it was.

The asteroid, estimated to be about 14 feet (4 meters) across, passed the planet about 16,300 miles (26,200 kilometers) away, according to Space.com. The asteroid will now make a two-year loop around the sun, eventually swinging back around to Earth; however, NASA predicts that it won't come nearly as close as it did on April 12 for at least another century.

Although 2021 GW4 made a relatively close pass by the planet, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, disagreed with Covey's theory, tweeting that "It's a normal fireball and nothing to do with GW4."

Generally speaking, fireballs include any meteor that shines at least as brightly as the planet Venus in the sky, according to Space.com; fireballs actually fall to Earth every day but most go unnoticed, falling over uninhabited areas, during the day or under cloud cover, according to the International Meteor Organization, an international non-profit.

NASA's Mars helicopter is slowly unfolding beneath the Perseverance rover

March 30th, 2021

NASA's Perseverance rover is slowly getting ready to deploy the first helicopter on Mars even as it takes a look back at the litter it's dropping on the Red Planet.

The rover, which was carefully sterilized on Earth to avoid contaminating Mars with microbes, dropped a protective debris shield onto the planet's surface on March 21. The shield is no longer needed as it was designed to protect Ingenuity during the "seven minutes of terror" landing in February.

An image from the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and engineering) camera on the rover's robotic arm shows the debris shield safely on the surface of Jezero Crater, between the rover's six wheels. It's the second thing Perseverance dropped in recent weeks, after an unneeded belly pan relating to its sampling system.

SpaceX may try to launch its Starship SN11 rocket prototype today

March 29th, 2021

The 5-hour launch window opens at 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT).

SpaceX may attempt to launch its newest Starship rocket prototype today (March 29) and you'll be able to watch it live if it happens.

The Starship SN11 rocket could try to launch from SpaceX's Starbase test site near Boca Chica Village in South Texas between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. EDT (1700-2200 GMT), according to Texas officials. The rocket is expected to launch to an altitude of 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) and then attempt a landing.

"Possible Starship flight tomorrow afternoon," SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk wrote on Twitter Sunday. If SpaceX does attempt a launch, you'll be able to watch it here and on the Space.com homepage, courtesy of SpaceX. You can also watch it directly from SpaceX here and on YouTube. SpaceX's webcast usually begins about 5 minutes before a Starship launch attempt.

Today's potential Starship SN11 launch follows an earlier attempt on Friday (March 26), when SpaceX test-fired the rocket's three Raptor engines but opted not to attempt a launch in order to allow time for extra checks on the vehicle.

"Doing our best to land & fully recover," Musk said at the time.

NASA Provides $45M Boost to US Small Businesses

March 29th, 2021

Small businesses are vital to NASA’s mission, helping expand humanity’s presence in space and improve life on Earth. NASA has selected 365 U.S. small business proposals for initial funding from the agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, a total investment of more than $45 million.

“At NASA, we recognize that small businesses are facing unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). “This year, to get funds into the hands of small businesses sooner, we accelerated the release of the 2021 SBIR/STTR Phase I solicitation by two months. We hope the expedited funding helps provide a near-term boost for future success.”

NASA selected 289 small businesses and 47 research institutions to receive Phase I funding this year. More than 30% of the awards will go to first-time NASA SBIR/STTR recipients. “We are excited to have a large cohort of new small businesses join the NASA family via the SBIR/STTR program,” Reuter said.

Through the program, NASA works with U.S. small businesses and research institutions to advance cutting-edge technologies. The agency provides up to $125,000 for companies to establish the merit and feasibility of their innovations. Phase I SBIR contracts are awarded to small businesses and last for six months, while Phase I STTR contracts are awarded to small businesses in partnership with a research institution and last for 13 months. Based on their progress during Phase I, companies may submit proposals to subsequent SBIR/STTR opportunities and receive additional funding.

NASA selected proposals to receive funding based on their technical merit and commercial potential. The selections span the breadth of NASA missions to empower the agency’s work in human exploration, space technology, science, and aeronautics. Some examples include:

  • Syrnatec Inc., a woman-owned small business and first-time NASA SBIR awardee based in Middletown, Connecticut, will develop radiation tolerant, high-voltage, high-power diodes. This power management and distribution technology could enable the next generation of efficient high-power green technology in space and on Earth.
  • Innoveering LLC, a Hispanic American-owned small business and first-time program awardee based in Ronkonkoma, New York, will use its SBIR award to develop a wind sensor to enable a flight path control system for high-altitude scientific balloon operations. Outside of NASA, this technology could aid in providing more accurate weather predictions.
  • Under an STTR award, Qubitekk of Vista, California, will partner with the University of New Mexico, a Hispanic-Serving Institution. Together, they will develop a cheaper and more compact hardware package that provides a reliable calibration tool for detectors of quantum-sized information. This technology could be applied to secure satellite communication networks, deep-space laser communications, cybersecurity, and computing.


First image of a black hole gets a polarizing update that sheds light on magnetic fields

March 24th, 2021


black hole

Following the mind-boggling release of the first image ever captured of a black hole, astronomers have done it again, revealing a new view of the massive celestial object and shedding light on how magnetic fields behave close to black holes.

In 2019, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration produced the first-ever image of a black hole, which lies at the center of the M87 galaxy 55 million light-years from Earth. The image showed a bright ring with a dark center, which is the black hole's shadow. In capturing this image, astronomers noticed a significant amount of polarized light around the black hole. Now, the collaboration has revealed a new look at the black hole, showing what it looks like in polarized light.

Polarized light waves have a different orientation and brightness compared with unpolarized light. And, just like how light is polarized when it passes through some sunglasses, light is polarized when it's emitted in magnetized and hot areas of space.

As polarization is a signature of magnetic fields, this image makes it clear that the black hole's ring is magnetized. This polarized view "tells us that the emission in the ring is most certainly produced by magnetic fields that are located very close to the event horizon," Monika Moscibrodzka, coordinator of the EHT Polarimetry Working Group and assistant professor at Radboud Universiteit in the Netherlands, told Space.com.

This is the first time that astronomers have been able to measure polarization so close to the edge of a black hole. Not only is this new view of this black hole spectacular to look at, but the image is revealing new information about the powerful radio jets shooting from M87.

"In the first images, we showed intensity only," Moscibrodzka said about the first-released image of the object. "Now, we add polarization information on the top of that original image."

"The new polarized images mark important steps towards learning more about the gas near the black hole, and in turn how black holes grow and launch jets," Jason Dexter, Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and coordinator of the EHT Theory Working Group, told Space.com in an email.

Grand Universe

Grand Uni

WESTFIELD, Ind. —  A massive development is being planned for Westfield, right next door to Grand Park. “Grand Universe” will be a state-of-the-art space center with the goal of encouraging young minds to pursue careers in science and technology.

The development is being led by Birch Dalton with EdgeRock Development, but the space center project is being launched by the Link Observatory Space Science Institute and their director Greg McCauley

“If you look right out there in the middle,” McCauley said as he pointed to an empty 55-acre plot of land, “right in the center of that field right there will be this magnificent 50,000 square foot footprint of this magnificent building.”

The massive space center will not only include the largest public planetarium in the state, but also thousands of square feet of exhibits and a massive observatory with 30-foot domes and telescopes named after Hoosier astronaut David Wolf.

“17 or 18 astronauts came from Purdue university, and yet Indianapolis remarkably is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country that doesn’t have a space center,” McCauley said

Since the Challenger Learning Center in Brownsburg closed about seven years ago, Grand Universe will fill a void left in central Indiana, launching students into STEM careers.

“We have fallen behind in science and technology,” McCauley said. “We believe Grand Universe will help us again take that leap.”

Grand Universe hopes to attract young families who are in town for events at Grand Park, and also attract families from across the state. Westfield sees the project as another reason for people to visit the area.


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