¶The fleet arrives at Mars. Yesterday, U.A.E’s Hope (Al Amal) orbiter arrived at Mars, firing its thrusters for 27 minutes to successfully enter Martian orbit. The U.A.E. is the first Arab country, and the fifth overall, to reach the planet. Later this year Al Amal will lower its orbit and start to study the Martian atmosphere with a focus on understanding the process through which gasses (such as water) escape into space, leaving the planet frozen and dry. Meanwhile, China's Tianwen-1 should have entered Martian orbit early this morning for a period of checkout before a planned release of its instrument-laden lander and rover sometime in May. And next week, on Thursday, February 18th, NASA's Perseverance rover will steal the spotlight as it slams into Mars’ atmosphere at hypersonic velocities and eventually finds itself sitting alone on the surface seven minutes later (hopefully all in one piece).
- Exoplanet K2-141b is a rocky world that’s a bit too close to its star. A recent study suggests that it features exotic phenomena such as “the evaporation and precipitation of rocks, supersonic winds that rage over 5,000 km/hr, and a magma ocean 100 km deep.” The day side of the tidally-locked planet is hot enough, at 3,000° C, to vaporize rocks that later precipitate as rock rain into the magma ocean. The JWST should allow an analysis of the tenuous atmosphere and possible verification of Anakin Skywalker’s presence on the planet.
- After an incredible 43 years and 22 billion kilometers, Voyager 1 and 2 are still delivering science (which takes 21 hours to reach us at the speed of light). Using data from both craft, scientists have found evidence for electrons getting reflected off of shockwaves created by our Sun’s coronal mass ejections, which then spiral along interstellar magnetic field lines while accelerating to great speeds (paper).
- White dwarfs, the degenerate remains of Sun-like stars, cannot be more than 1.4 solar masses (the Chandrasekar limit) or they will overcome quantum electron degeneracy pressure and either undergo thermonuclear explosion in the form of a Type Ia supernova or collapse into a neutron star (paper)—that is, unless they are spinning, in which case the limit is a bit higher. The XMM-Newton orbital X-ray telescope detected an object over the Chandrasekar limit in a glowing green nebula (paper). This object is likely the result of two white dwarfs merging, creating green neon in the process, and retaining enough angular momentum to be stable above the 1.4-solar mass limit, at least for a time—it’ll probably eventually undergo an electron-capture supernova and collapse into a neutron star.
- While hydrazine may be getting less common on spacecraft, it looks to be getting more common on planetary bodies (paper). Related: How to make hydrazine, which you absolutely should not do.
- The NRAO’s Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia recently completed a planetary radar test in which they created a 5-meter resolution radar image of the Apollo 15 landing site on the Moon. Data from this test will help the NRAO and Raytheon develop a planned 500 kilowatt upgrade to the observatory that will allow radar imaging of Uranus and Neptune for the first time. (The idea that we can illuminate the outer planets with radar from Earth is kind of nuts.)
| ¶News in brief. Firefly Aerospace won a NASA CLPS contract to deliver 10 payloads to the Moon in 2023 on a custom-built lander that will be launched on some other company’s vehicle (there are now 6 planned CLPS missions to the Moon in the next 3 years); another batch of 60 Starlink satellites are in LEO—the mission’s Falcon 9 vehicle flew twice in 27 days (25% better than the previous 37-day record, set last month by Transporter-1)—the second Starlink launch scheduled for the same day was scrubbed and is now targeted to launch later this week; Iran completed testing of their new Zuljanah satellite-carrying rocket with an initial launch from an unknown location; the Psyche mission to the metal asteroid of the same name entered its final phase of development ahead of an August 2022 launch; to begin Roscosmos’ 2021 launch campaign, a Soyuz rocket launched a military (probably) spy satellite; China launched the geostationary TJSW-6 communication technology experiment satellite; Bruce Blackburn, the designer of the NASA ‘worm logo’, passed away, as did Shuttle-era astronaut Millie Hughes-Fulford; NASA awarded the launch contract for the first two Lunar Gateway modules to SpaceX—the modules will launch together on a Falcon Heavy NET 2024; and, the Biden administration expressed support for Artemis, “Through the Artemis program, the United States government will work with industry and international partners to send astronauts to the surface of the Moon” (but didn’t commit to a timeline).|
- The Musk Foundation announced the largest X-Prize to date which aims to tackle permanent atmospheric carbon removal at the gigaton level. The $100M prize will be split between teams that present validated models scalable to the annual 10 gigatons of carbon removal that humanity needs by 2050. (Related: AirMiners is a thriving community of teams and individuals focused on direct air capture methods for sequestration of carbon.)
- A talk by Casey Handmer presenting a framework for the industrialization of Mars. He suggests that a fully industrialized Mars can become independent (with linear technology advances) once it reaches 1 million inhabitants. On the other hand, Mars is a second-rate backup plan.
- Jeff Bezos is stepping down as CEO of Amazon and wrote that “Blue Origin is the most important work I’m doing” because “Earth is the best planet—it is not close. This one is really good. My friends who want to move to Mars? I say, ‘Do me a favor. Go live on the top of Mount Everest for a year first and see if you like it—because it’s a garden paradise compared to Mars.’” (Related: Scott Manley digs into Blue Origin's Rockets and Rocket Engines.)
- Related to last week’s piece on SAR, SpaceNet is a machine learning training set and challenge for Earth observation data. SpaceNet6 added SAR data with the goal of mapping areas regardless of cloud cover.
- “Astronomers have found a sextuple (six-) star system where, if you watch it for a few days, every star in it will at some point undergo an eclipse.”
- A small sampling of the many community-contributed names passed over when choosing Guardians as the name for members of the US Space Force: Wookies, Homo Spaciens [sic], Rocketmen, Space Cadets, and, our favorite, Floaters.
| ¶Jobs. |