Asteroid Capture!

Russia Meteorite 2013: The largest of the century!

Russia Meteorite 2013: The largest of the century!

Asteroids are an excellent source of natural resources (minerals, etc.) As stated in the U.S. fiscal year of 2014 budget, NASA requested $100 million to initiate plans to capture an asteroid, haul it into the lunar orbit, and send manned missions to the asteroid by 2025! Mining an asteroid in the future could help resupply rapidly depleting fossil fuels and natural minerals. Beside the apparent need for resources, NASA hopes to advance technological developments that will provide opportunities for “international cooperation, new industrial capabilities, and helping scientists better understand how to protect Earth if a large asteroid is every found on a collision course. You may have heard about the recent Russia Chelyabinsk meteorite incident. 1,500 injured and 7,000 buildings suffered. A small asteroid invaded Earth’s atmosphere and struck the ground in Russia. The shockwaves shattered thousands of windows!

NASA proposes identifying suitable targets, or asteroids 20 to 30 feet in diameter (extremely hard to spot) in favorable orbits (near Earth and small revolution) that would allow easy capture and transport to Earth. These desired small asteroids hit Earth on a regular basis; the asteroid that hit Russia was 50 feet in diameter. NASA’s Orion crew capsule and heavy-lift booster will send astronauts to the asteroid for sample returns. NASA has two teams working the proposed mission: one searching for suitable asteroids and developing unmanned technology to capture the asteroid, and another on future manned missions and sample collection.

In the wake of the asteroid (then meteorite) rocking Russia and a close call with an asteroid passing close to Earth on the same day, astronomers are extremely interested in asteroids.

Proposed Timeline

2017: test flight

2019: capture mission

2021: asteroid hauled back to cislunar (between Earth and moon) orbit

by 2025: astronauts sent to asteroid

References:

Harwood, William. “NASA mulls asteroid capture mission, eventual manned visits.” CBS News. CBS News, 5 Apr 2013. Web. 12 Apr 2013.

Anti-Matter vs. Dark Matter

The Collison Annihlation of Matter and Anti-matter

The Collison Annihlation of Matter and Anti-matter

What is the difference between anti-matter and dark matter? Is there anything anti-matter and dark matter have in common?

Anti-matter is the idea of negative matter, or matter with the same mass but opposite an charge and quantum spin than that of normal matter. Anti-matter is just like normal matter with different properties. The antimatter of the electron (e-)  is the positron (e+); similarly, the antimatter of the proton is the anti-proton (p-). When normal matter and anti-matter collide, the two annihilate each other. Scientists speculate that anti-matter and matter existed in equal quantities in the early Universe.  The apparent asymmetry of high quantities of matter and very low quantities of anti-matter is a great unsolved problem in physics. Anti-matter is only found through radioactive decay, lightning, and cosmic rays (high-energy particles from supernovae) and very expensive to produce. Practical uses of anti-matter include the positron emission tomography (PET) used for medical imaging and as triggers to nuclear weapons.

Dark matter cannot be seen and is hard to detect, because dark matter interacts by gravity and weak atomic force, not with strong atomic forces (nuclear force: holds subatomic particles, electrons, neutrons, and protons, together in an atom) or electromagnetism. Dark matter constitutes about 22.7% of the Universe. On April 3, 2013, the International Space Station’s Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) found the first evidence of dark matter. [AMS was carried out by the Endeavor in 2011 in one of NASA's last space shuttle flights.] Normally, detectors are blocked by Earth’s atmosphere, but by orbiting Earth above its atmosphere,  the AMS can monitor cosmos rays (have an excess of anti-matter, discovered two decades ago) without hindrance. The AMS will tell scientists whether the abundance of positrons signal the presence of dark matter.  One theory scientists are testing is supersymmetry, which speculates that the collision and annihilation of two dark matter particles could produce positrons. Another instrument that could help the dark matter hunt is the Large Underground Xenon Experiment (LUX).

References

Anderson, Natali. “Antimatter Hunter aboard International Space Station Detects Hints of Dark Matter.” Sci-News.com. Sci-News.com, 4 Apr 2013. Web. 4 Apr 2013.

Boyle, Alan. “Space station’s antimatter detector finds its first evidence of dark matter.” NBCnews.com. NBC News, 3 Apr 2013. Web. 4 Apr 2013.

Curiosity: Update 8 – Methane-less Mars

Shooting Lasers from MSL’s TLS instrument

Mars has lost at least half its atmosphere since the planet’s inception, Curiosity confirms. Mars’ atmosphere is 100 times thinner than Earth’s. Other than shielding life from harmful UV radiation, atmosphere also controls the fluctuations in climate. Because Mars’ atmosphere contains more heavier varieties of carbon dioxide than lighter ones, the ratio suggest the planet has sadly lost much of its atmosphere. Mars’ thin atmosphere has nearly untraceable amounts of methane, only a few parts of methane per billion parts of Martian atmosphere. Microbes like bacteria emit methane. In fact, 95% of methane on Earth is produced by biological processes. Though Curiosity failed to find traces of methane in Gale Crater, Mars may yet host methane elsewhere.

Curiosity used its SAM instruments (Sample Analysis at Mars) and TLS (Tunable Laser Spectrometer). In the near future, SAM will analyze its first solid sample to search for organic compounds in rocks.

In addition, air samples from Curiosity match ones from trapped air bubbles in meteorites found on Earth. Ergo, those meteorites definitely originated from Mars. 1 billion years ago, a large asteroid collided into Mars and split into fragments.

References

 “NASA Rover Finds Clues to Changes in Mars’ Atmosphere.” JPL Caltech. JPL, 2 Nov 2012. Web. 5 Nov 2012. <http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/news/whatsnew/index.cfm?FuseAction=ShowNews&NewsID=1388&gt;.

Vergano, Dan. “NASA’s Curiosity rover confirms Mars lost atmosphere.” USA Today. USA Today, 2 Nov 2012. Web. 5 Nov 2012. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/sciencefair/2012/11/02/curiosity-rover-mars-methane/1678033/&gt;.

Curiosity: Update 7 – Fingerprinting Martian Materials

X-Ray View of Martian Soil

The latest of Curiosity’s analyses show that the Martian minerals is similar to “weathered basaltic salts of volcanic origin in Hawaii.”  Curiosity’s CheMin (Chemistry and Mineralogy) instrument refines and identifies minerals in X-ray diffraction analysis on Mars. X-ray diffraction records hows minerals’ internal structures’ crystals react with X-rays. Identifying minerals in rocks and soil is crucial in assessing past environmental conditions. Each mineral has evidence of its unique formation. These minerals have similar chemical compositions but different structures and properties. The samples taken at “Rocknest” were consistent with scientists’ initial ideas of the deposits in Gale Crater. Ancient rocks suggest flowing water, while minerals in younger soil suggest limited interaction with water.

References

“NASA Rover’s First Soil Studies Help Fingerprint Martian Minerals First X-ray View of Martian Soil” JPL Caltech. JPL, 30 Oct 2012. Web. 5 Nov 2012.

The “Zombie” Planet Rises

The Zombie Planet

World War Z? Certainly looks like it. A planet though to be buried has come back alive… undead, some might say. Coincidentally, the analysis of Hubble Space Telescope’s observations came  right before Halloween. The massive alien zombie planet, called the Fomalhaut b (the name even sounds creepy, if you ask me), orbits the star Fomalhaut, which is 25 light years from the constellation Piscis Austrinus. These recent discoveries, however, contradict conclusions in November 2008 that indicated Fomalhaut b as a giant dust cloud. Fomalhaut b, three times smaller than Jupiter, was the first planet directly imaged in visible light. The planet seems to be inside a vast debris ring. Because the scientists did not discover any brightness variations in the 2004 and 2006 Hubble observations, they concluded that Fomalhaut b must be a massive planet. Watch the Halloween-themed video below on the Zombie Planet!

References

Space.com. “Massive ‘zombie’ alien planet rises from the dead.” NBCNews.com. NBCNews.com, 28 2012. Web. 28 Oct 2012.

Orionid Meteor Shower This Weekend

The Orionids

This weekend, from Saturday night into Sunday morning (10/21-10/22), you may observe the annual Orionid meteor showers streaking across the sky. Dozens of meteors will scorch the sky every hour.(Of course, the sky must be clear and dark, which, unfortunately, is not for me.) Fortunately, the moon is only in its crescent phase, so its light does not interfere with observing the meteor shower. The Orionid meteor shower happens every year in late October when Earth cross through debris left by Halley’s comet. Halley’s comet last passed through our solar system in 1986, and will not come back until 2061. When Halley’s comet neared the Sun, the heat melted the comet to form gas and dust. Though the comet leaves the solar system, that gas and debris continues to orbit the Sun. Most of the particles that form meteors are only the size of a few grains of sand, but comets have high kinetic energy as they hit Earth’s atmosphere— over 50,000 miles per hour! As the grains, or debris meteoroids, contact Earth’s atmosphere, they ionize molecules in the atmosphere, forming a bright trail across the sky known as a meteor or shooting star. Small meteoroids burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. A meteoroid must be bigger than the size of your fist to survive and hit Earth’s surface. Meteorites are usually found in deserts or Antarctica, where their black coloration stick out easily against the ground. Most meteorites land in the ocean, so no harm done there! In fact, 800 meteorites heavier than 100 grams strike the Earth every day; during meteor showers the frequency is higher.

Orionids Crossing Betelgeuse

Blazin’ Facts

  • Why “Orionid”? The meteors seem to intersect at Betelgeuse in the Orion constellation (but it’s just an optical illusion).
  • The Orionids historically have only produced 20 meteors at its peak, but in the last decade, scientists have observed more than 60 meteors per hour!
  • Meteors travel in space; meteoroids fall though the atmosphere; meteorites strike the surface
  • Did you know Halley never saw Halley’s comet? Halley suggested that the comet spotted in 1682 was the same one in 1531 and 1607. Halley’s observations led to the conclusion that comets orbit the sun. In 1705, he predicted the comet would appear in 1758, but died before he actually saw the comet.
  • Aside from Orionids, the other annual meteor shower is the Eta Aquarids that peaks early May.

References

Pereira, Pablo. “Meteor Shower Created by Halley’s Comet Peaks Tonight.” FOX News. FOX News, 20 Oct 2012. Web. 21 Oct 2012.

Curiosity: Update 5 – First Scoop, “Rocknest”

Rocknest on Mars

One hundred yards before its destination, Glenelg, Mars Rover Curiosity scoops samples of rock and soil above and below Mars’ surface for two weeks of instrument cleaning and calibrating. Curiosity must “rinse and spit” to rid its instruments of Earth residue. In a nest littered with rocks, appropriately named “Rocknest,” the rover will scoop four times the ordinary Mars material in preparation for samples at Glenelg. According to NASA, “The end of the rover’s 220-pound arm will shake ‘at a nice tooth-rattling vibration level’ for eight hours, like a Martian martini mixer gone mad. That heavy shaking will vibrate the fine dust grains through the rover chemical testing system to cleanse it of unwanted residual Earth grease.” Before Curiosity can scoop material, it must analyze the grain-size distribution and tread the surface with its wheel to expose new material. It will be two weeks before the rover scoops its first analytical sample, or sample number three (the first two are for cleansing) and even more time to analyze the sample composition. The CheMin instrument will identify minerals and the SAM instrument will identify chemical ingredients in sample three and four.

References

Larlham, Chuck. “NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity—Welcome To “Rocknest” Where Real Science Begins.” Technology.gather.com. Gather.com, 7 Oct 2012. Web. 8 Oct 2012.

Hubbard, Amy. “Curiosity to scoop up Martian soil: First, it must rinse and spit.” LA Times. LA Times, 5 Oct 2012. Web. 8 Oct 2012.

Curiosity: Update 3 – H2O Traces on Mars

Ancient Martian Stream, Bedrock

On September 27, 2012, the rover Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory) snapped and sent back images of Martian bedrock possibly once home to a fast-moving stream. Curiosity founded rounded pebbles, probably due to erosion by water. The rocks ranging in size from sand grains to golf balls could not have been carried into the Gale Crater by wind, but carried water for a 20 to 25 miles and smoothed out. At one point in the past lasting thousands to millions of years, Mars may have been overflowing with liquid water, but present-day Mars is a barren desert with nothing but remnants of rock carved by water. Curiosity made this remarkable discovery when driving to Glenelg, the point where three types of terrain meet. Finding water is only the first step to discovering a once-habitable environment for microbial life. However, the dried-up stream didn’t preserve organic carbon. Carbon is necessary for life, so Curiosity will head to the foothills of Mount Sharp to find organic materials. Instead of “following the water,” scientists will now “follow the carbon.”

References

” Curiosity finds signs of ancient stream on Mars.” FOX News. Fox News, 27 Sep 2012. Web. 27 Sep 2012.

Kaufman, Mark. “Curiosity rover’s Mars landing site was once covered with fast-moving water, NASA says.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 27 Sep 2012. Web. 27 Sep 2012.

Curiosity: Update 2 – Images and Voices

Mount Sharp, Gale Crater, Mars

On August 27, 2012, the Mars Rover Curiosity beamed back images of Gale Crater’s 3-mile high Mount Sharp, whose layered terrain may reveal further details of Mars’ geological history. Curiosity will eventually travel to Mount Sharp to analyze its rocks by collecting samples. Curiosity also broadcasted a voice recording of NASA administrator Charles Bodin congratulating the Mars Rover team on the successful August 5 landing. In the recording, Bodin said: “This is an extraordinary achievement. Landing a rover on Mars is not easy. Others have tried; only America has fully succeeded.” Mars’ Sample Analysis at Mars instrument (SAM), which passed tests, is in working order and will digest and analyze rocks. In addition, Curiosity will drive to depressions on Mars’ surface where the spacecraft’s landing engines left their mark. These holes will allow Curiosity to image Mars’ interior without drilling. In the next few days, Curiosity will head over 1,300 feet to its first drilling target, Glenelg.

Will.i.am

On August 28, 2012, Curiosity transmitted to Earth (JPL in La Cañada Flintridge) artist will.i.am’s new song titled “Reach for the Stars.” The first music to be broadcasted from another planet, will.i.am’s song traveled 700 million miles to Earth. Will.i.am is an advocator of science and math education. NASA had broadcasted the Beatles’ song “Across the Universe” on the group’s 40th anniversary in 2008.

Mars Science Laboratory/ Curiosity sure is gaining ground in Mars research. What will it discover? What mysteries will Curiosity uncover? Was Mars once habitable for microorganisms? Perhaps only time will tell.

References

” Curiosity rover beams new will.i.am song from Mars.” FOX News. Fox News, 28 Aug 2012. Web. 28 Aug 2012.

Khan, Amina. “Curiosity rover broadcasts message from Mars.” LA Times. LA Times, 27 Aug 2012. Web. 28 Aug 2012.

Curiosity to Land on the Red Planet

Curiosity: A model at the Discovery Science Center

The Mars Rover Curiosity will land on the Red Planet on August 5, 2012 (Pacific Time).

A collaboration between JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and NASA, Mars Rover Curiosity (SUV), otherwise known as Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), has technology that succeeds its predecessors, Spirit and Opportunity (golf carts) and Sojourner (microwave). NASA launched Curiosity on November 26, 2011 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Curiosity is expected to land on August 5, 2012 on the Aeolis Palus region of the Gale crater. Curiosity‘s four objectives are: 1) determine whether Mars is suitable for life; 2) study Mars’ climate; 3) study Mars’ climate; 4) plan future human mission to Mars.

THE BASICS

  • Weight: 2,000 lbs.
  • Length: >9.8 ft.
  • Distance Covered (per day): ~600 ft
  • Lifetime: >687 Earth days (1 Martian year)

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Power: Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) – uses the decay of plutonium-238 to generate 2.5 kilowatt hours per day
  • Heat Rejection System: To keep Curiosity at optimal temperatures since temperatures on Mars vary dramatically (30°C  to -127°C)
  • Computers: “Rover Compute Element” – tolerates extreme radiation from space; Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) – rover navigation
  • Communications: X band transmitter – communicate directly with Earth; UHF Electra-Lite software defined radio – communicate with Mars orbiters
  • Mobility: 6 wheels in rocker-bogie suspension – serve as landing gear

COOL GADGETS

  • Cameras: 1. MastCam – multiple spectra and true color imaging; 2. Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) – microscopic images of rock and soil; 3. MSL Descent Imager (MARDI) – color images to map the  surrounding terrain and landing location
  • ChemCam: laser to vaporize samples up to 7 meters away for analysis, with the laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) and micro-imager (RMI)
  • Alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS): map the spectra of X-rays to elemental composition of samples
  • Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin): identify and quantify abundance of minerals on Mars
  • Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM): analyze organics and gases from atmospheric and solid samples
  • Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN): measure hydrogen, ice, and water at and near Martian surface
  • Rover Environmental Monitoring System (REMS): measure atmospheric pressure, humidity, wind currents and direction, air and ground temperature, UV levels
  • MSL Entry Descent and Landing Instrumentation (MEDLI): measure aerothermal environments, sub-surface heat shield response, vehicle orientation, atmospheric density; detect heat shield separation
  • Hazard Avoidance Cameras (HazCams): use light to capture 3-D image to protect the rover from crashing
  • Navigation Cameras (Navcams): use visible light to capture 3-D images for navigation

LANDING

Landing Sequence

  • EDL (Entry, Descent, Landing): also called the “7 minutes of Terror,” because any malfunction or any misstep means failure of the mission
  • Landing Sequence: “6 vehicles, 76 pyrotechnic devices, 500,000 lines of code, zero margin of error”; from 13,000 miles an hour to 0 miles and hour; 1,600 degrees upon entry
  • Mar’s atmosphere is 100 times thinner than Earth’s so it is harder for MSL to slow down
  1. Guided Entry: control the craft to approximate landing site region
  2. Parachute Descent: supersonic parachute (can withstand 65,000 lbs of force but only weighs 100 lbs.) deploys at 10 km altitude
  3. Powered Descent: cut parachute off and rocket thrusters (Mars Lander Engine, MLE) extend out and slow the descent
  4. Sky Crane: lower the rover with a 21-foot tether wheels down onto the Martian crater to prevent the rockets from making dust clouds; the bridle is cut and the rock thrusters fly away to a safe distance

INTERESTING FACTS

  • Each wheel on Curiosity has a specific traction pattern that is Morse code for “JPL”
  • It takes 13 minutes and 46 seconds to relay signals from Earth to Curiosity

References

Grecius, Tony, ed. “Mars Science Laboratory.” NASA. NASA, July 2012. Web. 27 July 2012.