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Mars will be invaded by 2020 – A race to find life

Space powers compete to find evidence of life on Mars in the year 2020.
Mars will be invaded by 2020 - want to find life
Mars. Credit: NASA

This year, for a few weeks, Mars and Earth will be aligned. The distance between the two will be the smallest – only 54 million kilometers – something that will not happen again until 2022. So by 2020 there will be an unprecedented fact since the end of the Cold War: the launch of four robotic missions to this planet. , three of them led by leading space powers, the US, Europe and China, which aim to successfully land their own exploration vehicles with the intention of being the first to find evidence of life.

Ken Farley says, chief scientific officer of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission says:

This is something never seen. The above-mentioned projects need to add India’s recently launched orbit vehicle and the “growing enthusiasm” of private companies like Space X to reach this planet.

Mars is a huge graveyard of crashed ships. One in two space missions that try to reach failure. Landing on Mars requires a complicated maneuver to brake from the 21,000 kilometers per hour the ship reaches zero in just seven minutes, largely without the help of the much finer-than-earth Martian atmosphere and at the mercy of the time of the world. day on this inhospitable planet where it is not uncommon to reach temperatures of 100 degrees below zero.

An engineer works on NASA’s Mars 2020 vehicle. NASA

In 2016, the ExoMars ship was hit by a violent gust of wind in altitude. The ship moved like a huge pendulum as it was still attached to the parachute and its altitude sensors suddenly aimed at the horizon instead of the surface. The on-board computer interpreted that the ship had landed, shut down the backstop early, and ExoMars crashed into the icy Martian soil.

This mission was a demonstration of the landing technology that is now to be used by ExoMars 2020, the mission of its counterpart European Space Agency. Those responsible for the European mission do not see the accident as a failure and think they have learned and solved the problem.

The three missions mentioned, in addition to the fourth, the United Arab Emirates Hope orbit module, developed thanks to the collaboration of US scientists, have very similar launch windows that start in mid-July and end in mid-August. It will take seven months to arrive on the red planet, so landings are scheduled for February 2021.

“Our main goal is to look for life traces on Mars over 3.5 billion years old, when liquid water covered much of the planet,” says Ken Farley. NASA’s mission will land at the bottom of an ancient lake several hundred meters deep called the Jezero crater. “In a place like this, microbes like Earth’s could have lived without problems,” says the California Institute of Technology geochemistry expert.

Another US goal is to set the stage for sending astronauts to the red planet. At this point, Spain plays an important role as it leads the MEDA instrument, the weather station aboard the exploration vehicle that measures temperature, wind, dust particles and radiation and will be used to estimate the planet’s habitability for future astronauts. Another instrument is an oxygen detector, an essential element for making Martian air breathable and for fueling rockets that will take off from Martian soil to Earth in the future.

“The most innovative of the US and European missions is that they bring a new generation of Raman spectrometers because they can detect biomarkers at a distance,” says Jorge Pla-García, an astrophysicist at the Madrid Center for Astrobiology, who is part of the northern mission. They are chemical compounds that can exist by the presence of current and past life. At this point, Europe may be at an advantage, says Pla-García. The European vehicle is the only one carrying a drill that penetrates up to two meters into Martian soil. “This is the most feasible place for anything to live, as everything on the surface is burned not only by radiation but by the abundance of chlorine salts, which is the material we use to kill microbes on Earth,” the researcher says.

China, the third Martian passenger, had never been able to travel there. The communist country’s space progress was impressive and demonstrated its ability to accomplish things it had never done before, such as landing a Rover on the moon’s hidden side. Its mission to Mars Huoxing-1 includes an orbital module, a landing module and a small Rover whose the main asset is a powerful radar that can penetrate the Martian subsoil to reveal its composition and which, on the moon, allowed to discover an ancient ocean of lava. “If it were any other country, I would think they weren’t capable, but from China I believe in anything. Just think that in 2019, for the second year in a row, it is the country that has made the most space launches in the world, ”says Pla-García.

In the minds of the three countries is the idea of ​​bringing a piece of Mars to Earth. The US Rover carries an instrument that can encapsulate the most interesting samples and preserve them so that a future mission yet to be organized can pick them up and bring them back to Earth. Both the US and China want to try to accomplish this before the end of the decade, and Europe and the US are already collaborating on such a mission to be launched in 2026, says Ken Farley. Everyone is aware that in these samples the first known Martians can travel.



Voyager 2 has discovered something amazing: Denser space outside the solar system

In November 2018, after a 41-year voyage, Voyager 2 crossed the boundary beyond which the Sun’s influence ends, and entered interstellar space. But the mission of the little probe is not yet complete – it continues to make amazing discoveries

Perhaps the probes have found some kind of traffic jam at the edge of the solar system. The Voyager flight continues and we will soon find out what it was.

Voyager 2 discovered something amazing: as the distance from the Sun increases, the density of space increases.

Voyager 1, which entered interstellar space in 2012, transmitted similar indicators to Earth. New data have shown that the increase in density may be a feature of the interstellar medium.

The solar system has several boundaries, one of which, called the heliopause, is determined by the solar wind, or rather by its significant weakening. The space inside the heliopause is the heliosphere, and the space outside is the interstellar medium. But the heliosphere is not round. It looks more like an oval, in which the solar system is at the leading edge, and a kind of tail stretches behind it.

Both Voyagers crossed the heliopause at the leading edge, but within 67 degrees heliographic latitude and 43 degrees longitude apart.

Interstellar space is usually considered a vacuum, but this is not entirely true. The density of matter is extremely small, but it still exists. In the solar system, the solar wind has an average density of protons and electrons from 3 to 10 particles per cubic centimeter, but it is lower the further from the Sun.

The average concentration of electrons in the interstellar space of the Milky Way is estimated to be about 0.037 particles per cubic centimeter. And the plasma density in the outer heliosphere reaches approximately 0.002 electrons per cubic centimeter. When the Voyager probes crossed the heliopause, their instruments recorded the electron density of the plasma through plasma oscillations.

Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause on August 25, 2012 at a distance of 121.6 astronomical units from the Earth (121.6 times the distance from Earth to the Sun – about 18.1 billion km). When he first measured plasma oscillations after crossing the heliopause on October 23, 2013 at a distance of 122.6 astronomical units (18.3 billion km), he found a plasma density of 0.055 electrons per cubic centimeter.

After flying another 20 astronomical units (2.9 billion kilometers), Voyager 1 reported an increase in the density of interstellar space to 0.13 electrons per cubic centimeter.

Voyager 2 crossed the heliopause on November 5, 2018 at a distance of 119 astronomical units (17.8 billion kilometers. On January 30, 2019, it measured plasma oscillations at a distance of 119.7 astronomical units (17.9 billion kilometers), finding that the density plasma is 0.039 electrons per cubic centimeter.

In June 2019, Voyager 2’s Instruments showed a sharp increase in density to about 0.12 electrons per cubic centimeter at a distance of 124.2 astronomical units (18.5 billion kilometers).

What caused the increase in the density of space? One theory is that the lines of force of the interstellar magnetic field become stronger with distance from the heliopause. This can cause electromagnetic ion cyclotron instability. Voyager 2 did detect an increase in the magnetic field after crossing the heliopause.

Another theory is that the material carried away by the interstellar wind should slow down in the heliopause, forming a kind of plug, as evidenced by the weak ultraviolet glow detected by the New Horizons probe in 2018, caused by the accumulation of neutral hydrogen in the heliopause.

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NASA has banned fighting and littering on the moon

New details of the agreement signed by representatives of a number of countries on the development of the moon and the extraction of minerals within the framework of the Artemis program have appeared. Reported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

So, astronauts involved in the mission are prohibited from littering and fighting on the territory of a natural satellite of the Earth.

So, we present to you the new rules for being on the Moon:

Everyone comes in peace;

Confidentiality is prohibited, all launched objects must be identified and registered;

All travel participants agree to help each other in case of emergencies;

All received data is transferred to the rest of the participants, and space systems must be universal;

Historic sites must be preserved and all rubbish must be disposed of;

Rovers and spacecraft should not interfere with other participants.

“”It is important not only to go to the moon with our astronauts, but also that we bring our values ​​with us,” said Mike Gold, acting head of NASA’s international and inter-agency relations.

According to him, violators of the above rules will be asked to “just leave” the territory of the moon.

The effect of these principles so far applies to eight signatory countries of the agreement: the USA, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. Countries other than China can join if they wish.

 It should be noted that at the moment NASA is prohibited from signing any bilateral agreements with the PRC leadership.

The first NASA mission to the moon, known as “Artemis 1”, is scheduled for 2021 without astronauts, and “Artemis 2” will fly with a crew in 2023.

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Methane snow found on the tops of Pluto’s equatorial mountains

Scientists believe that it arose as a result of the accumulation of large amounts of methane at an altitude of several kilometers above the surface of the planet.

In the images of the Cthulhu region – a dark region in the equatorial regions of Pluto – planetary scientists have found large reserves of methane snow that covers the peaks of local mountains and hills. It formed quite differently from how snow forms on Earth, astronomers write in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

“The white caps on the tops of Pluto’s mountains did not arise from the cooling of air currents that rise along the slopes into the upper atmosphere, as it happens on Earth, but from the accumulation of large amounts of methane at an altitude of several kilometers above Pluto’s surface. This gas condensed on the mountain tops, “the scientists write.

We owe almost everything we know about Pluto to the New Horizons interplanetary station. It was launched in January 2006, and in mid-July 2015 the station reached the Pluto system. New Horizons flew just 13 thousand km from the dwarf planet, taking many photographs of its surface. 

New Horizons data indicated an interesting feature of Pluto – in its depths, a giant subglacial ocean of liquid water can be hidden. It can be a kind of engine of those geological processes, traces of which can be seen on the surface of a dwarf planet. Because of this discovery of New Horizons, many discussions began among planetary scientists. Scientists are trying to understand how such a structure could have arisen, as well as to find out the appearance of Pluto in the distant past.

Members of the New Horizons science team and their colleagues from France, led by planetary scientist from NASA’s Ames Research Center (USA) Tanguy Bertrand, have discovered another unusual feature of Pluto. They studied the relief of one of the regions of the dwarf planet – the Cthulhu region. This is what astronomers call a large dark region at Pluto’s equator, which is whale-like in shape and is covered in many craters, mountains and hills.

Snow in Pluto’s mountains

By analyzing images of these structures taken by the LORRI camera installed on board New Horizons, astronomers have noticed many blank spots on the slopes of the highest mountain peaks. Having studied their composition, scientists have found that they consist mainly of methane.

Initially, planetary scientists assumed that these are deposits of methane ice. However, Bertrand and his colleagues found that the slopes and even the tops of Pluto’s equatorial mountains are actually covered not only with ice, but also with exotic methane snow that forms right on their surface.

Planetary scientists came to this conclusion by calculating how methane behaves in Pluto’s atmosphere. In doing so, they took into account how the molecules of its gases interact with the sun’s rays and other heat sources. It turned out that at the equator of Pluto, at an altitude of 2-3 km from its surface, due to the special nature of the movement of winds, unique conditions have formed, due to which snow is formed from methane vapor.

Unlike Earth, where such deposits are formed as a result of the rise of warm air into the upper atmosphere, on Pluto this process goes in the opposite direction – as a result of contact of the cold surface of the peaks and slopes of mountains with warm air masses from the relatively high layers of the dwarf planet’s atmosphere.

Previously, as noted by Bertrand and his colleagues, scientists did not suspect that this was possible. The fact is that they did not take into account that due to the deposition of even a small amount of methane snow and ice, the reflectivity of the peaks and slopes of mountains in the Cthulhu region increases. As a result, their surface temperature drops sharply, and snow forms even faster.

Scientists suggest that another mysterious feature of Pluto’s relief could have arisen in a similar way – the so-called Tartarus Ridges, located east of the Sputnik plain. A distinctive feature of this mountainous region is strange peaks that are shaped like skyscrapers or blades. Bertrand and his colleagues suggest that these peaks are also methane ice deposits that grow “from top to bottom.”

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