Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A New Era Begins for the United States of America...

With his wife Dr. Jill Biden carrying the Bible, Joe Biden takes the oath of office as he is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States...on January 20, 2021.

At 12:00 noon (Eastern Time) today, the divisive presidency of Donald Trump came to an end when Joe Biden was officially sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. Several minutes before the new Commander in Chief took the oath of office on a stage outside the U.S. Capitol, Kamala Harris was sworn in as the 49th Vice President of the United States respectively—and became the first woman (as well as first female of African-American and South Asian descent) to hold the second highest office in the land. After a trip to Arlington National Cemetery to visit The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a brief inaugural parade to the White House, President Biden and Vice President Harris immediately went to work.

With her husband Doug Emhoff holding two Bibles, Kamala Harris takes the oath of office as she is sworn in as the 49th Vice President of the United States...on January 20, 2021.
AP Photo / Andrew Harnik

As of this Blog entry, Biden has signed several executive orders that ranged from rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement to making the wearing of face masks mandatory on federal property during the COVID-19 pandemic...while Harris swore in Jon Ossoff, Reverend Raphael Warnock and Alex Padilla (California's newest senator after Harris resigned from the post two days ago), who officially gave the Democrats majority control of the U.S. Senate. This new era in America began on a very productive note, and I am rooting for the Biden Administration to continue carrying out tasks that will help U.S. citizens and people througout the world, and undo the damage wrought by Biden's treasonous predecessor since his reign of ineptitude began on January 20, 2017. Godspeed, Joe and Kamala. And to quote Joe: "May God bless America, and may God protect our troops." Carry on.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, Vice President Kamala Harris, First Lady Jill Biden and President Joe Biden greet the crowd outside the U.S. Capitol...on January 20, 2021.
REUTERS / MIKE SEGAR

President Biden signs the first of dozens of executive orders that will undo the damage caused by Donald Trump during his four divisive years in office...on January 20, 2021.
REUTERS

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Rest In Peace to my high school friend Artie Reyna...one of the coolest people I knew at Bishop Amat.

Rest In Peace, Artie.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Perseverance Update: NASA's Next Robotic Rover Reaches a Big Milestone En Route to Mars...

A computer-generated screenshot showing the Mars 2020 spacecraft's current position from the Red Planet...on January 18, 2021.
NASA / JPL Eyes

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, everyone! Just thought I'd point out that on this holiday, NASA's Perseverance rover—with the Ingenuity helicopter riding shotgun on it—is now only one month away from touching down on Mars! The Mars 2020 spacecraft will reach the Red Planet on February 18...with landing set to take place around 12:30 PM, Pacific Standard Time (3:30 PM, Eastern Standard Time) that Thursday! So stoked. Click on this NASA page to see where Perseverance is currently located in space!

A computer-generated screenshot showing the Perseverance rover being lowered from its rocket-powered descent stage onto the surface of Mars...which will actually take place on February 18, 2021.
NASA

Friday, January 15, 2021

InSight Update: The Lander's Heat Probe Will Cease Operations on the Red Planet...

An animated GIF showing the InSight Mars lander's robotic arm pressing down on the self-digging 'mole' (not visible) as it burrows into the Martian soil...on January 9, 2021.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA InSight's ‘Mole' Ends Its Journey on Mars (News Release - January 14)

The heat probe hasn’t been able to gain the friction it needs to dig, but the mission has been granted an extension to carry on with its other science.

The heat probe developed and built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and deployed on Mars by NASA’s InSight lander has ended its portion of the mission. Since Feb. 28, 2019, the probe, called the “mole,” has been attempting to burrow into the Martian surface to take the planet’s internal temperature, providing details about the interior heat engine that drives the Mars’ evolution and geology. But the soil’s unexpected tendency to clump deprived the spike-like mole of the friction it needs to hammer itself to a sufficient depth.

After getting the top of the mole about 2 or 3 centimeters under the surface, the team tried one last time to use a scoop on InSight’s robotic arm to scrape soil onto the probe and tamp it down to provide added friction. After the probe conducted 500 additional hammer strokes on Saturday, Jan. 9, with no progress, the team called an end to their efforts.

Part of an instrument called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), the mole is a 16-inch-long (40-centimeter-long) pile driver connected to the lander by a tether with embedded temperature sensors. These sensors are designed to measure heat flowing from the planet once the mole has dug at least 10 feet (3 meters) deep.

“We’ve given it everything we’ve got, but Mars and our heroic mole remain incompatible,” said HP3’s principal investigator, Tilman Spohn of DLR. “Fortunately, we’ve learned a lot that will benefit future missions that attempt to dig into the subsurface.”

While NASA’s Phoenix lander scraped the top layer of the Martian surface, no mission before InSight has tried to burrow into the soil. Doing so is important for a variety of reasons: Future astronauts may need to dig through soil to access water ice, while scientists want to study the subsurface’s potential to support microbial life.

“We are so proud of our team who worked hard to get InSight’s mole deeper into the planet. It was amazing to see them troubleshoot from millions of miles away,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This is why we take risks at NASA – we have to push the limits of technology to learn what works and what doesn’t. In that sense, we’ve been successful: We’ve learned a lot that will benefit future missions to Mars and elsewhere, and we thank our German partners from DLR for providing this instrument and for their collaboration.”

Hard-Earned Wisdom

The unexpected properties of the soil near the surface next to InSight will be puzzled over by scientists for years to come. The mole’s design was based on soil seen by previous Mars missions – soil that proved very different from what the mole encountered. For two years, the team worked to adapt the unique and innovative instrument to these new circumstances.

“The mole is a device with no heritage. What we attempted to do – to dig so deep with a device so small – is unprecedented,” said Troy Hudson, a scientist and engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California who has led efforts to get the mole deeper into the Martian crust. “Having had the opportunity to take this all the way to the end is the greatest reward.”

Besides learning about the soil at this location, engineers have gained invaluable experience operating the robotic arm. In fact, they used the arm and scoop in ways they never intended to at the outset of the mission, including pressing against and down on the mole. Planning the moves and getting them just right with the commands they were sending up to InSight pushed the team to grow.

They’ll put their hard-earned wisdom to use in the future. The mission intends to employ the robotic arm in burying the tether that conveys data and power between the lander and InSight’s seismometer, which has recorded more than 480 marsquakes. Burying it will help reduce temperature changes that have created cracking and popping sounds in seismic data.

There’s much more science to come from InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport. NASA recently extended the mission for two more years, to Dec. 2022. Along with hunting for quakes, the lander hosts a radio experiment that is collecting data to reveal whether the planet’s core is liquid or solid. And InSight’s weather sensors are capable of providing some of the most detailed meteorological data ever collected on Mars. Together with weather instruments aboard NASA's Curiosity rover and its new Perseverance rover, which lands on Feb. 18, the three spacecraft will create the first meteorological network on another planet.

More About the Mission

JPL manages InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

A number of European partners, including France’s Centre National d’√Čtudes Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument to NASA, with the principal investigator at IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris). Significant contributions for SEIS came from IPGP; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland; Imperial College London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom; and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain’s Centro de Astrobiolog√≠a (CAB) supplied the temperature and wind sensors.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, January 14, 2021

An Exoplanet Discovery Made by the Kepler Space Telescope Has Been Confirmed by TESS...

An artist's concept of the exoplanet KOI-5Ab orbiting its parent star in the KOI-5 system.
Caltech / R. Hurt (IPAC)

Discovery Alert: A Forgotten Planet Found in a Triple-Star System (News Release - January 12)

Shortly after NASA's Kepler mission began operations back in 2009, the space telescope spotted what was thought to be a planet about half the size of Saturn in a multiple-star system. KOI-5Ab was only the second planet candidate to be found by the mission, and exciting as it was at the time, it was ultimately set aside as Kepler racked up more and more planet discoveries.

By the end of the spacecraft’s operations in 2018, Kepler had discovered a whopping 2,394 exoplanets, or planets orbiting stars beyond our sun, and an additional 2,366 exoplanet candidates that would still need confirmation.

“KOI-5Ab got abandoned because it was complicated, and we had thousands of candidates,” said David Ciardi, chief scientist of NASA's Exoplanet Science Institute. “There were easier pickings than KOI-5Ab, and we were learning something new from Kepler every day, so that KOI-5 was mostly forgotten.”

Now, after a lengthy hunt that spanned many years and many telescopes, Ciardi said he has "resurrected KOI-5Ab from the dead." Thanks to new observations from NASA’s second planet-hunting mission, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, and a number of ground-based telescopes, Ciardi was finally able to untangle all the evidence surrounding KOI-5Ab and prove its existence. There are some intriguing details about it to mull over.

Most likely a gas giant planet like Jupiter or Saturn in our solar system given its size, KOI-5Ab is unusual in that it orbits a star in a system with two other companion stars, circling on a plane that’s out of alignment with at least one of the stars. The arrangement calls into question how each member in this system formed out of the same swirling clouds of gas and dust. Ciardi, who is located at Caltech in Pasadena, California presented the findings at a virtual meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Picking up the trail

After its initial detection by Kepler, Ciardi and other researchers picked up the trail on KOI-5Ab as part of a cache of planet candidates they were following up on. Using data from the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, Caltech's Palomar Observatory near San Diego, and Gemini North in Hawaii, Ciardi and other astronomers determined that KOI-5b appeared to be circling one star in a triple-star system. However, they still couldn’t tease out whether the planet signal was actually an erroneous glitch from one of the two other stars, or, if the planet was real, which of the stars it orbited.

Then, in 2018, TESS came along. Like Kepler, TESS looks for the blinking of starlight that comes when a planet crosses in front of, or transits, a star. TESS observed a portion of Kepler's field of view, including the KOI-5 system. Sure enough, TESS also identified KOI-5Ab as a candidate planet, though TESS calls it TOI-1241b. As Kepler had observed previously, TESS found that the planet orbited its star roughly every five days.

"I thought to myself, 'I remember this target,'" said Ciardi, after seeing the TESS data. “But we still couldn’t determine definitively if the planet was real or if the blip in the data came from another star in the system – it could have been a fourth star.”

Clues in the wobbles

He then went back and re-analyzed all the data, and then searched for new clues from ground-based telescopes. Deploying an alternate technique to Kepler and TESS, the Keck Observatory is often used for follow-up searches of exoplanets by measuring the slight wobble in a star as a planet circles around it and exerts a gravitational tug. Ciardi, teaming up with other scientists through an exoplanet collaboration group called the California Planet Search, looked for any wobbles in Keck’s data on the KOI-5 system. They were able to tease out a wobble produced by the inner companion star orbiting the primary star from the wobble of the apparent planet as it orbits the primary star. Together, the different collections of data from the space- and ground-based telescopes helped confirm that KOI-5Ab is, indeed, a planet orbiting the primary star.

“Bingo – it was there! If it weren't for TESS looking at the planet again, I would never have gone back and done all this detective work," he said. “But it truly did take a lot of sleuthing within data collected from many different telescopes to finally nail down this planet.”

KOI-5Ab orbits Star A, which has a relatively close companion, Star B. Star A and Star B orbit each other every 30 years. A third gravitationally bound star, Star C, orbits stars A and B every 400 years.

A skewed orbit

The combined data set also reveals that the orbital plane of the planet is not aligned with the orbital plane of Star B, the second inner star as might be expected if the stars and planet all formed from the same disk of swirling material. Astronomers are not sure what caused the misalignment of KOI-5Ab but believe that the second star gravitationally kicked the planet during its development, skewing its orbit and causing it to migrate inward. Triple-star systems make up about 10% of all star systems.

This is not the first evidence of planets in double- and triple-star systems. One striking case involves the triple-star system GW Orionis, in which a planet-forming disk has been torn into distinct, misaligned rings, where planets may be forming. Yet despite hundreds of discoveries of planets in multiple-star system, far fewer planets have been observed than in single-star systems. This could be due to an observational bias (single-star planets are easier to detect), or because planet formation is in fact less common in multiple-star systems.

“This research emphasizes the importance of NASA’s full fleet of space telescopes and their synergy with ground-based systems," said Jessie Dotson, the project scientist for the Kepler space telescope at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. "Discoveries like this one can be a long haul.”

New and future instruments, such as the Palomar Radial Velocity Instrument at the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar, the NASA and National Science Foundation’s NEID instrument in southern Arizona, and the Keck Planet Finder will open up new avenues for learning about exoplanets.

Source: NASA.Gov

****

An infographic depicting the KOI-5 triple-star system.
Caltech / R. Hurt (IPAC)

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Trump Makes History...in the Worse Way Possible!

In a 232-197 vote by the U.S. House of Representatives, Donald Trump became the first president in American history to be impeached twice...on January 13, 2021.

IMPEACHED AGAIN! Thanks to months-long behavior caused by his inability to accept that Joe Biden won last November's election and lying to his rabid supporters about it, Donald Trump was impeached for the second time in a little over a year by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier today. Under the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House voted 232-197 to charge Trump for 'Incitement to Insurrection'...after a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop lawmakers from certifying the election results in Biden's favor on January 6, leaving five people dead in the process. Trump is the only president in American history to have been impeached twice during a single term of office. Wow.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shows the article of impeachment against Donald Trump after she signed it on January 13, 2021.
REUTERS

It remains to be seen when the Senate will begin the impeachment trial for Trump. If it starts after Biden is sworn in as president a week from today (Woohoo!), then the Democrats will preside over this as they will officially control the Senate under the guidance of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on January 20. When that happens, the likelihood to convict Trump and prevent him from running for government office again increases dramatically. But this is assuming that 17 Republicans will join the 50 Democrats (excluding Vice President Kamala Harris—who would provide the 51st Democratic vote as tie-breaker) in stripping Trump of all the perks, such as a six-figure monthly pension, that comes with having led the Executive Branch. 10 House Republicans chose country over party when they voted to impeach Trump today... We'll see if members of the Senate GOP will follow suit. Happy Hump Day! Unless you're a MAGA supporter.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in as the 46th president and 49th vice president of the United States, respectively, a week from today.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Curiosity Update: America's First Nuclear-Powered Robotic Rover Has Reached a Big Milestone on the Red Planet...

A panorama taken by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on November 18, 2020.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Reaches Its 3,000th Day on Mars (News Release)

As the rover has continued to ascend Mount Sharp, it’s found distinctive benchlike rock formations.

It’s been 3,000 Martian days, or sols, since Curiosity touched down on Mars on Aug. 6, 2012, and the rover keeps making new discoveries during its gradual climb up Mount Sharp, the 3-mile-tall (5-kilometer-tall) mountain it has been exploring since 2014. Geologists were intrigued to see a series of rock “benches” in the most recent panorama from the mission.

Stitched together from 122 images taken on Nov. 18, 2020, the mission’s 2,946th sol, the panorama was captured by the Mast Camera, or Mastcam, which serves as the rover’s main “eyes.” Toward the center of the panorama is the floor of Gale Crater, the 96-mile-wide (154 kilometer-wide) bowl that Mount Sharp sits within. On the horizon is the north crater rim. To the right is the upper part of Mount Sharp, which has rock layers that were shaped by lakes and streams billions of years ago.

The curved rock terraces that define the area can form when there are harder and softer layers of rock on a slope. As the softer layers erode, the harder layers form small cliffs, leaving behind the benchlike formations. They can also form during a landslide, when huge, curved slabs of bedrock slide downhill. Curiosity’s team has seen benches before in Gale Crater, but rarely forming such a scenic grouping of steps.

“Our science team is excited to figure out how they formed and what they mean for the ancient environment within Gale,” said Curiosity’s project scientist, Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which built and manages the rover.

But don’t expect a rover this busy to stay put: Soon after capturing the new panorama, it was off for higher ground. This year, the rover has been driving across a clay-bearing region called “Glen Torridon.” After making a pit stop at a location nicknamed “Mary Anning,” it’s continued toward the next major layer, called “the sulfate-bearing unit.”

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Photos of the Day: An American Hero in Action...

U.S. Capitol police officer Eugene Goodman potentially saved countless of lives during the MAGA terrorist attack in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021.

Just thought I'd give a shout-out to United States Capitol police officer Eugene Goodman...who was responsible for potentially saving the lives of numerous people during the MAGA terrorist attack in Washington, D.C., on January 6. As seen in the Twitter video that I shared at the bottom of this Blog entry, Officer Goodman intentionally lured a group of Trump-supporting rioters away from a hallway bearing the entrance to the Senate chamber (where Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly presided during that time). What makes Goodman's deeds so heroic is that he's an African-American officer confronting a mob of white supremacists bent on hurting (and possibly killing) countless of people last Wednesday. The fact that he would risk his life like this is why Goodman needs to be recognized for his brave actions as soon as possible.

U.S. Capitol police officer Eugene Goodman deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom, President-elect Joe Biden.

If President-elect Joe Biden or Vice President-elect Kamala Harris manage to read this entry (or my own tweet that's also posted below), let it be known that Officer Goodman should be one of the very first recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the Biden Administration. Happy Sunday.


Friday, January 08, 2021

InSight and Juno Have Received a New Lease on Life...

A composite image of the InSight lander that was taken with a camera on its robotic arm after the spacecraft touched down on Mars in late November of 2018.
NASA / JPL

NASA Extends Exploration for Two Planetary Science Missions (News Release)

The missions – Juno and InSight – have each increased our understanding of our solar system, as well as spurred new sets of diverse questions.

As NASA prepares to send astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars, the agency’s quest to seek answers about our solar system and beyond continues to inform those efforts and generate new discoveries. The agency has extended the missions of two spacecraft, following an external review of their scientific productivity.

The missions – Juno and InSight – have each increased our understanding of our solar system, as well as spurred new sets of diverse questions.

An independent review panel, composed of experts with backgrounds in science, operations, and mission management, found the Juno and InSight missions have “produced exceptional science” and recommended NASA continue both missions.

The Juno spacecraft and its mission team have made discoveries about Jupiter’s interior structure, magnetic field, and magnetosphere, and have found its atmospheric dynamics to be far more complex than scientists previously thought. Extended through September 2025, or its end of life (whichever comes first), the mission will not only continue key observations of Jupiter, but also will expand its investigations to the larger Jovian system including Jupiter’s rings and large moons, with targeted observations and close flybys planned of the moons Ganymede, Europa, and Io.

The InSight mission is extended for two years, running through December 2022. InSight’s spacecraft and team deployed and operated its highly sensitive seismometer to expand our understanding of Mars’ crust and mantle. Searching for and identifying Marsquakes, the mission team collected data clearly demonstrating the robust tectonic activity of the Red Planet, and enhanced our knowledge of the planet’s atmospheric dynamics, magnetic field, and interior structure. InSight’s extended mission will focus on producing a long-duration, high quality seismic dataset. Continued operation of its weather station and burial of the seismic tether using the spacecraft’s Instrument Deployment Arm (IDA), will contribute to the quality of this seismic dataset. The extended mission may continue deployment (at low priority) of the spacecraft’s Heat Probe and Physical Properties instrument (HP3), which remains close to the surface.

“The Senior Review has validated that these two planetary science missions are likely to continue to bring new discoveries, and produce new questions about our solar system,” said Lori Glaze, director of the planetary science division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “I thank the members of the Senior Review panel for their comprehensive analysis and thank the mission teams as well, who will now continue to provide exciting opportunities to refine our understanding of the dynamic science of Jupiter and Mars."

Extended missions leverage NASA’s large investments, allowing continued science operations at a cost far lower than developing a new mission. In some cases, the extensions allow missions to continue to acquire valuable long-duration datasets, while in other cases, they allow missions to visit new targets, with entirely new science goals.

NASA’s Planetary Science Division currently operates more than a dozen spacecraft across the solar system.

Source: NASA.Gov

****

An artist's concept of NASA's Juno spacecraft (which launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on August 5, 2011) orbiting Jupiter.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Thursday, January 07, 2021

A New Dawn Is About to Rise in America...

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will soon become the 46th president and 49th vice president of the United States, respectively.

As mentioned in this Blog entry, I was originally gonna devote this post to me recalling how I lost my favorite job through a phone call on this day in 2011, but considering the events that transpired in Washington, D.C., yesterday, I obviously felt that I should focus on that instead. Congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris for sealing their election victory earlier this morning! It was around midnight that the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives certified the 270th electoral vote for Biden...confirming that he and Harris will officially be sworn into office on Wednesday, January 20th.

Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock will soon give the Democrats control of the U.S. Senate.

This week, riots aside, was also a great one in that the Democrats regained control of the Senate with the much-needed election victories of Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock in Georgia. Congratulations, gentlemen! Much thanks go out to Stacey Abrams—who might run for Georgia governor in 2022 (and hopefully win)—as well as the millions of awesome voters who turned Georgia blue through the victories of Joe Biden and these new senators. It's an amazing day for America...unless you're one of those treasonous MAGA bastards who prompted security to draw their guns on the House floor yesterday. The 25th Amendment still needs to be invoked by Vice President Mike Pence. Carry on.

Security guards point their guns at a MAGA terrorist inside the U.S. Capitol...on January 6, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite / The Associated Press