¶The Al Amal is leading the caravan to Mars. 🚀🚀🚀 Al Amal—Arabic for “Hope”—will study the Martian atmosphere. It will look at the interaction of the upper and lower atmosphere, characterize and map weather on the planet, and study how oxygen and hydrogen interact in the upper atmosphere and escape into space (mission overview video). This week, the hexagonal, 1,350 kg probe lifted off (launch video) from Tanegashima Space Centre, Japan, aboard a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA rocket to become the Arab world’s first deep space mission—targeting arrival in time for the UAE’s 50th anniversary. The UAE space agency will become just the fifth agency to (hopefully) successfully send a spacecraft to Mars where it will join the ESA/Russian ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, ESA’s Mars Express, the Indian Mangalyaan, and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey, and MAVEN orbiters. Hope will fly in an elliptical orbit, observing the red planet’s atmosphere using its three science instruments for a full Martian year (687 Earth days), with the possibility of a second Martian year mission extension. Al Amal also carries a high resolution imager, capable of 12 megapixel monochrome images (with discrete RGB filters) at 180 fps, creating an opportunity for the first 4K video from another planet—just not in anywhere near real-time since the probe sports 250 kbps - 1.6 Mbps of bandwidth depending on distance to Earth. Hopefully, this month will also see the launch of NASA’s Perseverance (now attached to its Atlas V) and China’s Tianwen-1 Mars mission (it’s Long March 5 just rolled out for launch on the 23rd).
¶JUICE. The poorly-acronymed Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) ESA mission to the Jovian system has entered final integration for a 2022 launch and 2029 arrival. Jupiter, a planet so large that it almost got to be a star, has a complex moon system, with Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto likely harboring internal oceans. JUICE will characterize these potentially habitable icy worlds by mapping their surfaces, magnetic fields, and any subsurface water. JUICE will also study Jupiter as an archetypical gas giant as comparison to the many exoplanets we’ve discovered. Related: re-analysis of a Galileo flyby of Europa suggests evidence of water leaking into space from its subsurface ocean.
- Bose-Einstein condensates were created in space for the first time, aboard the ISS (paper). Studying this state of matter, in which a collection of ultra cold atoms start to behave as a quantum mechanical object—a matter wave, will allow novel direct probing of quantum mechanical behaviors and the potential creation of ultra-sensitive atom interferometry-based inertial sensors (paper).
- Venus’s atmosphere rotates up to 60 times faster than the planet’s surface: while the planet takes 243 Earth days to rotate, the atmosphere takes just 4. The reason for this “super-rotation” has been a mystery. A new study (paper) uses ultraviolet and infrared data from Japan’s Akatsuki spacecraft to estimate wind velocities and finds that thermal tidal waves—atmospheric waves “excited by the solar heating contrast between the dayside and the nightside”— maintain the speedy rotation.
- The LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave detectors spotted an approximately 2.6 solar mass object merging with a black hole. The estimated maximum mass for a neutron star is 2.5 solar masses, so if this is a neutron star, it will require revising our models. On the other hand, the least massive known black hole is ~5 solar masses. Until now, we’ve never seen anything in this mass gap. "We don't know if this object is the heaviest known neutron star, or the lightest known black hole, but either way it breaks a record." Somewhat related: strong evidence of exotic quark matter inside of the largest neutron stars, where ‘the nuclei themselves no longer exist.’
- Forecasting supernovae days ahead by watching for their neutrinos (paper). Supernovas are preceded (and caused by) a wave of escaping neutrinos, which have been detected ahead of any other evidence of an explosion. The SuperNova Early Warning System continues to watch for these events. The concept of anything being hurt by neutrinos—100 trillion of which pass through your body every second—feels pretty fantastical, but “if you observed a supernova from 1 AU away—and you somehow avoided being being incinerated, vaporized, and converted to some type of exotic plasma—even the flood of ghostly neutrinos would be dense enough to kill you.”
¶News in brief. Spaceflight debuted Sherpa-FX, their next-gen orbital transfer vehicle to deliver rideshare customers to their final orbits—akin to Rocket Lab’s Photon; the Falcon 9 rocket that will carry Crew-1, the next crewed launch NET late September, has arrived in Florida (meanwhile Demo-1 is scheduled to depart the ISS on August 1); a Minotaur 4 successfully launched four NRO spy satellites last week using solid-fueled rocket engines that were extracted from decommissioned Peacekeeper nuclear missiles—their solid fuel maintained stability for 30 years (!), much of that time in a silo; JWST has completed its final comprehensive systems test, even as it is delayed another 7 months, to Oct 2021; SpaceX launched the Korean ANASIS-II satellite on the ‘flight-proven’ Demo-2 booster (setting a new 51-day booster turnaround record), stuck the landing, and caught both fairing halves (video) for the very first time; and, Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights movement icon and sometime space station savior, passed away.
- An update from Ars Technica on all the big rockets that were supposed to fly this year, but aren’t.
- ESA is working on a technique to extract oxygen and metals from lunar dust (similar to what we mentioned in Issue 34), which, based on Apollo samples, can be up to 45% oxygen. The process uses molten salt electrolysis, where regolith is placed in a hot metal basket containing molten calcium chloride salt electrolyte. When a current is passed through it, the oxygen migrates to an anode for collection, and what’s left contains metal alloys. Related: Robots that “harvest” (eat) available metal to provide energy (paper). Step 2: grey goo.
- Neutrino oscillations, anomalous results, and the hunt for a possible fourth type of neutrino—the “sterile” neutrino—that might help explain dark matter.
- The first data and images from ESA’s Solar Orbiter are in, showing the Sun covered in tiny flares (a detail we haven’t been able to see before).
- Political analysis of why China is going to Mars.
- A Wired article about air breathing engines and why they’re so hard to make. We talked about SABRE all the way back in Issue 4 (and then again in Issue 36).
- More about the race to manufacture ZBLAN optical fibers in space.
- Using declassified black-and-white film photos from the KH-9 Hexagon spy satellites to study the Earth’s changes.
- Space videos: a video of Mars’ moon Phobos eclipsing the Sun (as seen by Curiosity) and a video of the Sun taken over 10 years.
- Comet NEOWISE from the ISS in 4K (it rises at about 3min in). Hopefully, you’ve already been able to see it, but if not, today is its closest approach to Earth. It will now start to quickly diminish in brightness—so get out there!
- Could you make a snowball of neutrinos? Nope.