Weekly Space Hangout: March 11, 2020 – Dr. Jon Willis talks Galaxy Cluster XLSSC 122
This week we are airing Fraser’s PRERECORDED interview with Dr. Jon Willis, Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Victoria, Canada.
Asteroid Bennu is Getting Some Official Names for its Surface Features
Late last summer, NASA and the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (a.k.a WGPSN) approved the naming convention for features on Bennu, the asteroid currently being orbited and studied by the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft. The naming theme chosen was “birds and bird-like creatures in mythology.”
The first twelve features thusly named have now been announced. But more importantly, some of these features will be instrumental in helping to guide OSIRIS-REx to the surface of the asteroid later this year.
SpaceX Launches its Last Dragon 1 Mission to the ISS
On Friday, March 6th, as part of the company’s 20th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-20) mission, SpaceX launched a Dragon 1 capsule destined for the International Space Station (ISS). The mission involved the transport of supplies, as well as materials related to the more than 250 science investigations taking place aboard the ISS. More than that, it represented a milestone for the aerospace manufacturer.
OSIRIS-REx did its Closest Flyover Yet, just 250 Meters Above its Sample Site
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx is getting closer, physically and temporally, to its primary goal. The spacecraft arrived at Bennu at the end of 2018, and for just over a year it’s been studying the asteroid, searching for a suitable sampling site. To do that, it’s getting closer and closer.
Europe’s Mission to Jupiter’s Moons Just Got its First Instrument
The space agencies of the world have some truly ambitious plans in mind for the coming decade. Alongside missions that will search for evidence for past (and maybe present) life on Mars, next-generation space telescopes, and the “return to the Moon”, there are missions will which will explore Jupiter’s moons for signs of extra-terrestrial life. These include the ESA’s JUpiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE), which will launch in 2022.
As part of the agency’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 program, this spacecraft will conduct detailed observations of Jupiter and three of its large moons – Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa – to see if they could indeed harbor life in their interiors. Late last month (Feb. 25th), the first instrument that will fly aboard JUICE and aid in these efforts was delivered and began the process of integration with the spacecraft.
Every Part of Blue Origin’s New Glenn Rocket is Gigantic, Including its Nose Cone
Massive. Enormous. Huge. Gigantic. And whatever other words you find in the thesaurus all do the job when it comes to describing Blue Origin’s New Glenn Rocket. Especially its nosecone.
Artwork Inspired by Jupiter’s Great Red Spot
Artist Mik Petter has created a vibrant new piece of art based on JunoCam images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (GRS). The piece makes use of fractals, which are recursive mathematical creations; increasingly complex patterns that are similar to each other, yet never exactly the same.
Curiosity Finds Organic Molecules That Could Have Been Produced by Life on Mars
What do coal, crude oil, and truffles have in common? Go ahead. We’ll wait.
The answer is thiophenes, a molecule that behaves a lot like benzene. Crude oil, coal, and truffles all contain thiophenes. So do a few other substances. MSL Curiosity found thiophenes on Mars, and though that doesn’t conclusively prove that Mars once hosted life, its discovery is an important milestone for the rover. Especially since truffles are alive, and oil and coal used to be, sort of.
Mars 2020’s New Name is… “Perseverance”
Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity… For decades, NASA’s robotic rovers have explored the surface of Mars looking for clues about its past and subsequent evolution. With every success and discovery, their names became part of the public discourse, infiltrating our vocabulary the same way iconic figures like Armstrong, Einstein, and Hubble did. But what of the next rover that will be sent to explore Mars this summer?
NASA has serious plans for the Mars 2020 rover, the next installment in the Mars Exploration Program after its sister-rover Curiosity. But before this mission can launch and add its impressive capabilities to the hunt for life on Mars (past and present), it needed a proper name. Thanks to Alexander Mather (a grade 7 student from Burke, Virginia), it now has one. From this day forward, the Mars 2020 rover will be known as the Perseverance rover!
The Chemicals That Make Up Exploding Stars Could Help Explain Away Dark Energy
Astronomers have a dark energy problem. On the one hand, we’ve known for years that the universe is not just expanding, but accelerating. There seems to be a dark energy that drives cosmic expansion. On the other hand, when we measure cosmic expansion in different ways we get values that don’t quite agree. Some methods cluster around a higher value for dark energy, while other methods cluster around a lower one. On the gripping hand, something will need to give if we are to solve this mystery.
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