Sunday, February 17, 2019

Image of the Day: Lisa Simpson Isn't Even Old Enough to Vote!

Lisa Simpson is shocked at the number of potential Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential election...despite the fact that she's not old enough to vote for any of them.

I saw this illustration on the official Facebook page for The Simpsons last week. One thing's for sure: It's not gonna be hard for ME to decide who to vote for in November of next year—assuming that she's the Democratic nominee, of course (crosses fingers)...

KAMALA HARRIS, FOR THE PEOPLE!

I hope everyone is having a Happy Presidents' Day weekend! Except Donald Trump and his loyal base of mindless MAGA lackeys. Or as former(?) MAGA lackey Ann Coulter might call them: His stupid rubes. Carry on.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Happy Valentine's Day! Yet Another Update from the Surface of Mars...

An image of the InSight lander's robotic arm placing the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package on the surface of Mars...on February 12, 2019.
NASA / JPL

NASA's InSight Prepares to Take Mars' Temperature (News Release - February 13)

NASA's InSight lander has placed its second instrument on the Martian surface. New images confirm that the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3, was successfully deployed on Feb. 12 about 3 feet (1 meter) from InSight's seismometer, which the lander recently covered with a protective shield. HP3 measures heat moving through Mars' subsurface and can help scientists figure out how much energy it takes to build a rocky world.

Equipped with a self-hammering spike, mole, the instrument will burrow up to 16 feet (5 meters) below the surface, deeper than any previous mission to the Red Planet. For comparison, NASA's Viking 1 lander scooped 8.6 inches (22 centimeters) down. The agency's Phoenix lander, a cousin of InSight, scooped 7 inches (18 centimeters) down.

"We're looking forward to breaking some records on Mars," said HP3 Principal Investigator Tilman Spohn of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which provided the heat probe for the InSight mission. "Within a few days, we'll finally break ground using a part of our instrument we call the mole."

HP3 looks a bit like an automobile jack but with a vertical metal tube up front to hold the 16-inch-long (40-centimeter-long) mole. A tether connects HP3's support structure to the lander, while a tether attached to the top of the mole features heat sensors to measure the temperature of the Martian subsurface. Meanwhile, heat sensors in the mole itself will measure the soil's thermal conductivity - how easily heat moves through the subsurface.

"Our probe is designed to measure heat coming from the inside of Mars," said InSight Deputy Principal Investigator Sue Smrekar of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "That's why we want to get it below ground. Temperature changes on the surface, both from the seasons and the day-night cycle, could add 'noise' to our data."

The mole will stop every 19 inches (50 centimeters) to take a thermal conductivity measurement of the soil. Because hammering creates friction and releases heat, the mole is first allowed to cool down for a good two days. Then it will be heated up by about 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) over 24 hours. Temperature sensors within the mole measure how rapidly this happens, which tells scientists the conductivity of the soil.

If the mole encounters a large rock before reaching at least 10 feet (3 meters) down, the team will need a full Martian year (two Earth years) to filter noise out of their data. This is one reason the team carefully selected a landing site with few rocks and why it spent weeks choosing where to place the instrument.

"We picked the ideal landing site, with almost no rocks at the surface," said JPL's Troy Hudson, a scientist and engineer who helped design HP3. "That gives us reason to believe there aren't many large rocks in the subsurface. But we have to wait and see what we'll encounter underground."

However deep it gets, there's no debating that the mole is a feat of engineering.

"That thing weighs less than a pair of shoes, uses less power than a Wi-Fi router and has to dig at least 10 feet [3 meters] on another planet," Hudson said. "It took so much work to get a version that could make tens of thousands of hammer strokes without tearing itself apart; some early versions failed before making it to 16 feet [5 meters], but the version we sent to Mars has proven its robustness time and again."

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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An artist's concept of NASA's InSight lander on the surface of Mars.
NASA / JPL

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Opportunity Has Joined Spirit in the Giant Scrapyard in the Sky...

An image that NASA's Opportunity rover took of her own shadow on Mars...on July 26, 2004.
NASA / JPL

NASA's Opportunity Rover Mission on Mars Comes to End (News Release)

One of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, NASA's Opportunity rover mission is at an end after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars and helping lay the groundwork for NASA's return to the Red Planet.

The Opportunity rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive Opportunity Tuesday, to no avail. The solar-powered rover's final communication was received June 10.

"It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration."

Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars - Perseverance Valley.

"For more than a decade, Opportunity has been an icon in the field of planetary exploration, teaching us about Mars' ancient past as a wet, potentially habitable planet, and revealing uncharted Martian landscapes," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Whatever loss we feel now must be tempered with the knowledge that the legacy of Opportunity continues - both on the surface of Mars with the Curiosity rover and InSight lander - and in the clean rooms of JPL, where the upcoming Mars 2020 rover is taking shape."

The final transmission, sent via the 70-meter Mars Station antenna at NASA's Goldstone Deep Space Complex in California, ended a multifaceted, eight-month recovery strategy in an attempt to compel the rover to communicate.

"We have made every reasonable engineering effort to try to recover Opportunity and have determined that the likelihood of receiving a signal is far too low to continue recovery efforts," said John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) project at JPL.

Opportunity landed in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars on Jan. 24, 2004, seven months after its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Its twin rover, Spirit, landed 20 days earlier in the 103-mile-wide (166-kilometer-wide) Gusev Crater on the other side of Mars. Spirit logged almost 5 miles (8 kilometers) before its mission wrapped up in May 2011.

From the day Opportunity landed, a team of mission engineers, rover drivers and scientists on Earth collaborated to overcome challenges and get the rover from one geologic site on Mars to the next. They plotted workable avenues over rugged terrain so that the 384-pound (174-kilogram) Martian explorer could maneuver around and, at times, over rocks and boulders, climb gravel-strewn slopes as steep as 32-degrees (an off-Earth record), probe crater floors, summit hills and traverse possible dry riverbeds. Its final venture brought it to the western limb of Perseverance Valley.

"I cannot think of a more appropriate place for Opportunity to endure on the surface of Mars than one called Perseverance Valley," said Michael Watkins, director of JPL. "The records, discoveries and sheer tenacity of this intrepid little rover is testament to the ingenuity, dedication, and perseverance of the people who built and guided her."

More Opportunity Achievements

- Set a one-day Mars driving record March 20, 2005, when it traveled 721 feet (220 meters).
- Returned more than 217,000 images, including 15 360-degree color panoramas.
- Exposed the surfaces of 52 rocks to reveal fresh mineral surfaces for analysis and cleared 72 additional targets with a brush to prepare them for inspection with spectrometers and a microscopic imager.
- Found hematite, a mineral that forms in water, at its landing site.
- Discovered strong indications at Endeavour Crater of the action of ancient water similar to the drinkable water of a pond or lake on Earth.

All of the off-roading and on-location scientific analyses were in service of the Mars Exploration Rovers' primary objective: To seek out historical evidence of the Red Planet's climate and water at sites where conditions may once have been favorable for life. Because liquid water is required for life, as we know it, Opportunity's discoveries implied that conditions at Meridiani Planum may have been habitable for some period of time in Martian history.

"From the get-go, Opportunity delivered on our search for evidence regarding water," said Steve Squyres, principal investigator of the rovers' science payload at Cornell University. "And when you combine the discoveries of Opportunity and Spirit, they showed us that ancient Mars was a very different place from Mars today, which is a cold, dry, desolate world. But if you look to its ancient past, you find compelling evidence for liquid water below the surface and liquid water at the surface."

All those accomplishments were not without the occasional extraterrestrial impediment. In 2005 alone, Opportunity lost steering to one of its front wheels, a stuck heater threatened to severely limit the rover's available power, and a Martian sand ripple almost trapped it for good. Two years later, a two-month dust storm imperiled the rover before relenting. In 2015, Opportunity lost use of its 256-megabyte flash memory and, in 2017, it lost steering to its other front wheel.

Each time the rover faced an obstacle, Opportunity's team on Earth found and implemented a solution that enabled the rover to bounce back. However, the massive dust storm that took shape in the summer of 2018 proved too much for history's most senior Mars explorer.

"When I think of Opportunity, I will recall that place on Mars where our intrepid rover far exceeded everyone's expectations," Callas said. "But what I suppose I'll cherish most is the impact Opportunity had on us here on Earth. It's the accomplished exploration and phenomenal discoveries. It's the generation of young scientists and engineers who became space explorers with this mission. It's the public that followed along with our every step. And it's the technical legacy of the Mars Exploration Rovers, which is carried aboard Curiosity and the upcoming Mars 2020 mission. Farewell, Opportunity, and well done."

Mars exploration continues unabated. NASA's InSight lander, which touched down on Nov. 26, is just beginning its scientific investigations. The Curiosity rover has been exploring Gale Crater for more than six years. And, NASA's Mars 2020 rover and the European Space Agency's ExoMars rover both will launch in July 2020, becoming the first rover missions designed to seek signs of past microbial life on the Red Planet.

JPL managed the Mars Exploration Rovers Opportunity and Spirit for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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A self-portrait of the Spirit rover taken with her Panoramic Camera.
NASA / JPL

Monday, February 11, 2019

MAVEN Update: Gettin' Ready for America's Next Mars Rover...

An infographic showing the MAVEN spacecraft's current orbit around the Red Planet, and the future orbit that it will use to communicate with the Mars 2020 rover and other Martian landers.
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

NASA’s MAVEN Spacecraft Shrinking its Mars Orbit to Prepare for Mars 2020 Rover (News Release)

NASA’s 4-year-old atmosphere-sniffing Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission is embarking on a new campaign today to tighten its orbit around Mars. The operation will reduce the highest point of the MAVEN spacecraft’s elliptical orbit from 3,850 to 2,800 miles (6,200 to 4,500 kilometers) above the surface and prepare it to take on additional responsibility as a data-relay satellite for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, which launches next year.

“The MAVEN spacecraft has done a phenomenal job teaching us how Mars lost its atmosphere and providing other important scientific insights on the evolution of the Martian climate,” said Jim Watzin, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program. “Now we’re recruiting it to help NASA communicate with our forthcoming Mars rover and its successors.”

While MAVEN’s new orbit will not be drastically shorter than its present orbit, even this small change will significantly improve its communications capabilities. “It’s like using your cell phone,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator from the University of Colorado, Boulder. “The closer you are to a cell tower, the stronger your signal.”

A strong telecommunications antenna signal is not the only benefit of a tighter orbit. Coming in nearly 1,000 miles (about 1,500 kilometers) closer also will allow the MAVEN orbiter to circle Mars more frequently — 6.8 orbits per Earth day versus 5.3 previously — and thus communicate with the Mars rovers more frequently. While not conducting relay communications, MAVEN will continue to study the structure and composition of the upper atmosphere of Mars. “We’re planning a vigorous science mission far into the future,” Jakosky said.

The MAVEN mission was designed to last two years in space, but the spacecraft is still operating normally. With the mission managing its fuel to last through 2030, NASA plans to use MAVEN's relay capability as long as possible. The MAVEN orbiter carries an ultra high-frequency radio transceiver — similar to transceivers carried on other Mars orbiters ­­— that allows it to relay data between Earth and rovers or landers on Mars. The MAVEN spacecraft already has served occasionally as NASA’s communication liaison with the Curiosity rover.

Over the next few months, MAVEN engineers will use a navigation technique known as aerobraking — like applying the brakes on a car — to take advantage of the drag of the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere to slow the spacecraft down gradually, orbit by orbit. This is the same drag you would feel if you put your hand out of the window of a moving car.

Based on the tracking of the spacecraft by the navigation team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and at Lockheed Martin in Littleton, Colorado, engineers will begin carefully lowering the lowest part of the spacecraft’s orbit into the Martian upper atmosphere over the next couple of days by firing its thrusters. The spacecraft will circle Mars at this lower altitude about 360 times over the next 2.5 months, slowing down slightly with each pass through the atmosphere. While it may seem like a time-consuming process, aerobraking is the most efficient way to change the spacecraft’s trajectory, said Jakosky: “The effect is the same as if we fired our thrusters a little bit on every orbit, but this way, we use very little fuel.”

Fortunately, the team has ample experience operating the spacecraft at these lower altitudes. On nine previous occasions throughout the mission, MAVEN engineers have dipped the orbiter into the same altitude targets for aerobraking to take measurements of the Martian atmosphere. As a result of these “deep dips” and other measurements, NASA has learned that solar wind and radiation had stripped Mars of most of its atmosphere, changing the planet’s early climate from warm and wet to the dry environment we see today. MAVEN also discovered two new types of auroras on Mars and the presence of charged metal atoms in its upper atmosphere that tell us that a lot of debris is hitting Mars that may affect its climate.

MAVEN’s principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, Boulder. The university provided two science instruments and leads science operations, as well as education and public outreach, for the mission. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the MAVEN project and provided two science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. The University of California at Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory also provided four science instruments for the mission. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, provides navigation and Deep Space Network support, as well as the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept of NASA's Mars 2020 rover studying the surface of the Red Planet.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Friday, February 08, 2019

New Horizons Update: Ultima Thule Is A Pancake...

An animated GIF showing the night side of Ultima Thule as NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew past the Kuiper Belt object on January 1, 2019 (Eastern Time).
NASA / Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute / National Optical Astronomy Observatory

New Horizons’ Evocative Farewell Glance at Ultima Thule (News Release)

An evocative new image sequence from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft offers a departing view of the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) nicknamed Ultima Thule – the target of its New Year’s 2019 flyby and the most distant world ever explored.

These aren’t the last Ultima Thule images New Horizons will send back to Earth – in fact, many more are to come -- but they are the final views New Horizons captured of the KBO (officially named 2014 MU69) as it raced away at over 31,000 miles per hour (50,000 kilometers per hour) on Jan. 1. The images were taken nearly 10 minutes after New Horizons crossed its closest approach point.

“This really is an incredible image sequence, taken by a spacecraft exploring a small world four billion miles away from Earth,” said mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of Southwest Research Institute. “Nothing quite like this has ever been captured in imagery.”

The newly released images also contain important scientific information about the shape of Ultima Thule, which is turning out to be one of the major discoveries from the flyby.

The first close-up images of Ultima Thule – with its two distinct and, apparently, spherical segments – had observers calling it a “snowman.” However, more analysis of approach images and these new departure images have changed that view, in part by revealing an outline of the portion of the KBO that was not illuminated by the Sun, but could be “traced out” as it blocked the view to background stars.

Stringing 14 of these images into a short departure movie, New Horizons scientists can confirm that the two sections (or “lobes”) of Ultima Thule are not spherical. The larger lobe, nicknamed “Ultima,” more closely resembles a giant pancake and the smaller lobe, nicknamed “Thule,” is shaped like a dented walnut.

“We had an impression of Ultima Thule based on the limited number of images returned in the days around the flyby, but seeing more data has significantly changed our view,” Stern said. “It would be closer to reality to say Ultima Thule’s shape is flatter, like a pancake. But more importantly, the new images are creating scientific puzzles about how such an object could even be formed. We’ve never seen something like this orbiting the Sun.”

The departure images were taken from a different angle than the approach photos and reveal complementary information on Ultima Thule’s shape. The central frame of the sequence was taken on Jan. 1 at 05:42:42 UT (12:42 a.m. EST), when New Horizons was 5,494 miles (8,862 kilometers) beyond Ultima Thule, and 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth. The object’s illuminated crescent is blurred in the individual frames because a relatively long exposure time was used during this rapid scan to boost the camera’s signal level – but the science team combined and processed the images to remove the blurring and sharpen the thin crescent.

Many background stars are also seen in the individual images; watching which stars “blinked out” as the object passed in front them allowed scientists to outline the shape of both lobes, which could then be compared to a model assembled from analyzing pre-flyby images and ground-based telescope observations. “The shape model we have derived from all of the existing Ultima Thule imagery is remarkably consistent with what we have learned from the new crescent images,” says Simon Porter, a New Horizons co-investigator from the Southwest Research Institute, who leads the shape-modeling effort.

“While the very nature of a fast flyby in some ways limits how well we can determine the true shape of Ultima Thule, the new results clearly show that Ultima and Thule are much flatter than originally believed, and much flatter than expected,” added Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. “This will undoubtedly motivate new theories of planetesimal formation in the early solar system.”

The images in this sequence will be available on the New Horizons LORRI website this week. Raw images from the camera are posted to the site each Friday.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Photo of the Day: Kepler's Final Glimpse of the Cosmos...

A final image of the cosmos that was taken by NASA's Kepler spacecraft on September 25, 2018.
NASA / Ames Research Center

Kepler’s Final Image Shows A Galaxy Full Of Possibilities (News Release)

NASA’s Kepler space telescope may be retired, but the discoveries continue to rack up for this historic planet-hunting mission. Kepler rang in the new year with several new planet discoveries, including a previously overlooked planet of an unusual size, as well as a super Earth and a Saturn-sized world orbiting a Sun-like star.

In the meantime, the Kepler mission has released its final record of the spacecraft’s full field of view before the depletion of fuel permanently ended its work. NASA retired the spacecraft on Oct. 30, 2018, to a safe orbit.

The “last light” image taken on Sept. 25 represents the final page of the final chapter of Kepler’s remarkable journey of data collection. It bookends the moment of intense excitement nine and a half years earlier when the spacecraft first opened its eye to the skies and captured its “first light” image. Kepler went on to discover more than 2,600 worlds beyond our solar system and statistically proved that our galaxy has even more planets than stars.

The blackened gaps in the center and along the top of the image are the result of earlier random part failures in the camera. Due to the modular design, the losses did not impact the rest of the instrument.

For this final field of view, Kepler’s last observation campaign in its extended mission, the telescope was pointed in the direction of the constellation Aquarius. It caught a glimpse of the renowned TRAPPIST-1 system with its seven rocky planets, at least three of them believed to be temperate worlds. Another target was the GJ 9827 system, a nearby bright star that hosts a planet that is considered an excellent opportunity for follow up observations with other telescopes to study an atmosphere of a faraway world.

Fortuitously, Kepler’s field of view also slightly overlapped with NASA’s new planet-hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, affording astronomers the chance to compare and improve their understanding of the data received from the two spacecraft. Although Kepler’s transmitters have been turned off and it is no longer collecting science, its data will be mined for many years to come.

NASA's Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operated the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Farewell, WALL-E and EVE...

An animated GIF showing Mars as the Mars Cube One spacecraft known as 'WALL-E' gets closer to the Red Planet on November 25-26, 2018.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Beyond Mars, the Mini MarCO Spacecraft Fall Silent (News Release)

Before the pair of briefcase-sized spacecraft known collectively as MarCO launched last year, their success was measured by survival: If they were able to operate in deep space at all, they would be pushing the limits of experimental technology.

Now well past Mars, the daring twins seem to have reached their limit. It's been over a month since engineers have heard from MarCO, which followed NASA's InSight to the Red Planet. At this time, the mission team considers it unlikely they'll be heard from again.

MarCO, short for Mars Cube One, was the first interplanetary mission to use a class of mini-spacecraft called CubeSats. The MarCOs - nicknamed EVE and WALL-E, after characters from a Pixar film - served as communications relays during InSight's landing, beaming back data at each stage of its descent to the Martian surface in near-real time, along with InSight's first image. WALL-E sent back stunning images of Mars as well, while EVE performed some simple radio science.

All of this was achieved with experimental technology that cost a fraction of what most space missions do: $18.5 million provided by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which built the CubeSats.

WALL-E was last heard from on Dec. 29; EVE, on Jan. 4. Based on trajectory calculations, WALL-E is currently more than 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) past Mars; EVE is farther, almost 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers) past Mars.

The mission team has several theories for why they haven't been able to contact the pair. WALL-E has a leaky thruster. Attitude-control issues could be causing them to wobble and lose the ability to send and receive commands. The brightness sensors that allow the CubeSats to stay pointed at the Sun and recharge their batteries could be another factor. The MarCOs are in orbit around the Sun and will only get farther away as February wears on. The farther they are, the more precisely they need to point their antennas to communicate with Earth.

The MarCOs won't start moving toward the Sun again until this summer. The team will reattempt to contact the CubeSats at that time, though it's anyone's guess whether their batteries and other parts will last that long.

Even if they're never revived, the team considers MarCO a spectacular success.

"This mission was always about pushing the limits of miniaturized technology and seeing just how far it could take us," said Andy Klesh, the mission's chief engineer at JPL. "We've put a stake in the ground. Future CubeSats might go even farther."

A number of the critical spare parts for each MarCO will be used in other CubeSat missions. That includes their experimental radios, antennas and propulsion systems. Several of these systems were provided by commercial vendors, making it easier for other CubeSats to use them as well.

More small spacecraft are on the way. NASA is set to launch a variety of new CubeSats in coming years.

"There's big potential in these small packages," said John Baker, the MarCO program manager at JPL. "CubeSats - part of a larger group of spacecraft called SmallSats - are a new platform for space exploration that is affordable to more than just government agencies."

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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An artist's concept of the two MarCO CubeSats, 'WALL-E' and 'EVE,' flying through deep space.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Monday, February 04, 2019

InSight Update: It's Time to Listen for Those Marsquakes!

The Wind and Thermal Shield dome is placed atop the seismometer by the InSight lander's robotic arm...on February 2, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

InSight's Seismometer Now Has a Cozy Shelter on Mars (News Release)

For the past several weeks, NASA's InSight lander has been making adjustments to the seismometer it set on the Martian surface on Dec. 19. Now it's reached another milestone by placing a domed shield over the seismometer to help the instrument collect accurate data. The seismometer will give scientists their first look at the deep interior of the Red Planet, helping them understand how it and other rocky planets are formed.

The Wind and Thermal Shield helps protect the supersensitive instrument from being shaken by passing winds, which can add "noise" to its data. The dome's aerodynamic shape causes the wind to press it toward the planet's surface, ensuring it won't flip over. A skirt made of chain mail and thermal blankets rings the bottom, allowing it to settle easily over any rocks, though there are few at InSight's location.

An even bigger concern for InSight's seismometer - called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) - is temperature change, which can expand and contract metal springs and other parts inside the seismometer. Where InSight landed, temperatures fluctuate by about 170 degrees Fahrenheit (94 degrees Celsius) over the course of a Martian day, or sol.

"Temperature is one of our biggest bugaboos," said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. JPL leads the InSight mission and built the Wind and Thermal Shield. "Think of the shield as putting a cozy over your food on a table. It keeps SEIS from warming up too much during the day or cooling off too much at night. In general, we want to keep the temperature as steady as possible."

On Earth, seismometers are often buried about four feet (1.2 meters) underground in vaults, which helps keep the temperature stable. InSight can't build a vault on Mars, so the mission relies on several measures to protect its seismometer. The shield is the first line of defense.

A second line of defense is SEIS itself, which is specially engineered to correct for wild temperature swings on the Martian surface. The seismometer was built so that as some parts expand and contract, others do so in the opposite direction to partially cancel those effects. Additionally, the instrument is vacuum-sealed in a titanium sphere that insulates its sensitive insides and reduces the influence of temperature.

But even that isn't quite enough. The sphere is enclosed within yet another insulating container - a copper-colored hexagonal box visible during SEIS's deployment. The walls of this box are honeycombed with cells that trap air and keep it from moving. Mars provides an excellent gas for this insulation: Its thin atmosphere is primarily composed of carbon dioxide, which at low pressure is especially slow to conduct heat.

With these three insulating barriers, SEIS is well-protected from thermal "noise" seeping into the data and masking the seismic waves that InSight's team wants to study. Finally, most additional interference from the Martian environment can be detected by InSight's weather sensors, then filtered out by mission scientists.

With the seismometer on the ground and covered, InSight's team is readying for its next step: deploying the heat flow probe, called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), onto the Martian surface. That's expected to happen next week.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Sunday, February 03, 2019

The Cheatriots Prevail Again...

Tom Brady won his sixth championship ring after the New England Cheatriots defeated the L.A. Rams, 13-3, in Super Bowl 53...on February 3, 2019.

Two straight World Series losses by the Dodgers and now the Super Bowl (and the Lakers potentially missing the playoffs due to LeBron James' groin injury)... Keep tauntin' Los Angeles and kissin' Boston's ass, sports gods.

If there's a silver lining to tonight's disappointing loss, it's that the Rams are one of three teams to have faced the New England Cheatriots (yes, I know that isn't their real name) twice in the Big Game since 2001...which is the year Tom Brady won his first NFL title, against the St. Louis Rams. (The other two teams being the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants.) The Rams can do it a third time in Super Bowl LIV next year—assuming, of course, Jared Goff improves his game dramatically or the Rams actually get a new quarterback. We'll see what happens.

PS: Screw you, Cheatriots.

Thanks, Jared Goff.