M Thomas Apple Author Page

Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

“Green comet” buzzing Earth “Wednesday”

February 1, 2023
MThomas

A comet from the outer solar system is set to buzz Earth on Wednesday and skywatchers have a chance to glimpse the celestial object as it journeys through our cosmic neighborhood for the first time in 50,000 years.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/green-comet-approach-flyby-earth-rcna65202

If by “Wednesday” you mean “Wednesday in North America. There is no “on Wednesday” worldwide, thanks.

Observers in the Northern Hemisphere should look northeast just after the Moon sets and before dawn. You should be able to see it with a good pair of binoculars.

The last time Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) made a visit, Homo sapiens still had Neanderthal neighbors, so this is your one and only! ☄️

“Don’t worry,” they said, “the size of a truck,” they said…

January 26, 2023
MThomas

An asteroid is on its way to Earth, but don’t worry – the end is here Not here. The asteroid, named 2023 BU, is about the size of a van and is expected to miss our planet during Thursday’s flyby. However, according to a NASA scientist, it will be “one of the closest approaches of a known near-Earth object ever recorded.”

https://newsbeezer.com/germanyeng/a-truck-sized-asteroid-will-come-extraordinarily-close-to-earth-tomorrow/

This thing is coming closer than even some satellites, but it’s still small enough for most of it to burn up in the atmosphere.

Most of it.

Yikes.

Confirmed: We’re all here thanks to asteroids

January 26, 2023
MThomas

Since the Hayabusa2 returned with the sample from the Ryugu asteroid in December 2020, several important discoveries have been made – most notably analyzes confirming the presence of substances thought to be the building blocks of life on the asteroid, such as liquid water and organics fabrics.

https://newsbeezer.com/germanyeng/ryugu-asteroid-helps-unravel-the-origin-of-life-on-earth/

Hayabusa-2 took several years to land on Ryugu (literally “Dragon Palace”), pound out just over 5 grams of asteroid material, and bring it back to Earth (landing in Australia in late 2020).

NASA scientists have confirmed not just frozen water but liquid — inside crystals called pyrrhotites. JAXA scientists (pictured above with Prof Tsuchiyama of Ritsumeikan University, my main employer!) continue to check the density of the samples.

The water is similar to the carbon dioxide-laden water of hot springs. The research teams have already discovered over 20 amino acids, the basic protein building blocks of carbon-based life.

Another theory called “panspermia” proposes that a key mineral (boron) missing on early Earth came in an asteroid from Mars. ☄️ Hmm. Did Mars produce asteroids? Or more like asteroids hit Mars and broke off lots of tiny fragments? That somehow survived the journey to Earth?

Seems a little unlikely. But there is now evidence that at least some proteins came from space rocks.

So, sorry, Ridley. This isn’t how it happened. Cool movie, though.

The 2022 Year of Space Exploration

January 2, 2023
MThomas

Lots and lots and lots of space stories occurred in 2022.

From DART to Landsat, Sagittarius A* black hole to CAPSTONE, the Korean Pathfinder to SpaceX, and to the ISS, Moon, and Mars, here’s a summary of major space exploration projects last year.

Looking forward to 2023 and beyond!

What does a dust devil on Mars sound like?

December 21, 2022
MThomas

It was “definitely luck” that the dust devil appeared when it did, said the study’s lead author, who estimates there was just a 1-in-200 chance of capturing the audio.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/mars-rover-captures-first-sound-dust-devil-red-planet-rcna61642

Perseverance has been on Mars for almost two years now, and already recorded wind on Mars for the first time in February 2021.

This dust devil was recorded in late September 2021 (wonder why only now it’s being revealed?). The dust devil was “average size,” which is described as about 400 feet / 122 meters tall and 80 feet / 24 meters wide, traveling at 16 feet / 5 meters per second (≈ 11 mph / 18 mph).

UPDATE. NBC incorrectly reported in the above linked article that the dust devil was recorded by Perseverance. It was actually recorded by InSight, which has just fallen silent after four years of operation. Sigh. I should get science news directly from the source and not from unreliable “news” sites.

Click on the link below to hear the dust devil

https://jirafeau.isae-supaero.fr/f.php?h=2JWSkdJR&p=1

There are a lot of dust devils on Mars. A whole lot. Any settlement would have to be extremely prepared to deal with dust all the time, everywhere. If it ever got into equipment that regulated, say, breathable air inside habitats…

From nothing to Mars in 6 years

December 20, 2022
MThomas

In 2020, the UAE’s space agency launched its first Mars mission, less than a decade after it was created. How did they manage it?

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20221206-how-the-uae-got-a-spacecraft-to-mars-on-the-first-try

This is a great story about how true international cooperation rather than competition can result in scientific progress.

Thanks to their efforts, despite nearly being derailed thanks to the pandemic, we will soon have a complete picture of an entire year of Mars weather.

Not bad for a country whose space agency is so small “you could probably lose it in the car park of Nasa’s giant Johnson Space Centre in Houston.”

(Of course, the project’s findings may mean I have to rewrite some of my novel in progress, but why not? All in the name of science fiction…)

Why do all the planets orbit the sun in the same direction?

December 11, 2022
MThomas

Note: not to scale (duh). Thanks, Getty. Uh, is this really the best way to show the solar system? (There…are…NINE..planets!)

Think of pizza dough flattening into an enlarging disk as it’s tossed. Because the cloud had an initial rotation, this same direction of spin has persisted…

https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/solar-system/a39729213/why-do-all-the-planets-orbit-in-the-same-direction/

So basically the answer is simply that that’s the way they all started out.

Some moons, however, do have retrograde orbits. I.e., they orbit in the opposite direction around their respective planets. Some small asteroids and comets also have retrograde orbits due to their small mass being easily affected by larger cosmic objects.

But I bet now you’re all thinking of pizza… 🍕

DART did it! 🎯

October 12, 2022
MThomas

“For the first time ever, humanity has changed the orbit of a planetary body,” said NASA planetary science division director Lori Glaze.

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/dart-mission-deflected-asteroid-for-planetary-defense

A change of 32 minutes in orbit — but only 4% of the total orbital period. To deflect an asteroid away from Earth, it’d better be done several years in advance. 🌏

Still, it can be done. An amazing first.

Spectacular image of Jupiter’s auroras and moons

August 23, 2022
MThomas

Courtesy NASA. Note that the blue, white, green, yellow, and orange colors are artificial, only added to make features revealed by infrared stand out for human eyes. You can see the planet’s rings, aurora, and two “tiny” moons (at left; they’re not really that tiny!).

“We’ve never seen Jupiter like this. It’s all quite incredible,” said planetary astronomer Imke de Pater, of the University of California, Berkeley, who helped lead the observations.

“We hadn’t really expected it to be this good, to be honest,” she added in a statement.

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/james-webb-space-telescope-shows-jupiters-auroras-tiny-moons

The above is supposed to be in “quote” format, but WP really messed up this feature when they switched to so-called “block” mode (which I can’t stand).

Anyway, the image is fairly spectacular, from the new James Webb Space Telescope which is positioned 1 million miles away from Earth (i.e., in the second LaGrange point, or L2).

Bringer of Light, Chapter 35: United Mars Colonies (pt 3)

August 13, 2022
MThomas

Previously, in Bringer of Light

The crew of the Artemis have admitted that the water brought from Ceres was contaminated. And yet they deny it was dangerous. Only different. And requiring training…that may stretch the rationality and scientific understanding of the current “United” Mars colonists…


“Delegates,” Martin began. 

No response.

“Delegates, we must accept the help of the Artemis crew. We have little alternative. We must face the facts. The UN, our home countries, our home planet has abandoned us.”

“How can we survive?” another delegate asked, voice quivering. “Captain, how can we feed ourselves? Maintain heat, power?”

“These are legitimate questions,” she replied. “Coop, a small demonstration?”

He nodded and looked back and forth. Spotting a cup on a small table to the side of the console desk, he raised it above his head.

“Empty now. See?”

He stooped and scooped up a handful of regolith from the chamber floor. Dropped it to the cup. In an instant, water appeared.

“Sorcery,” a delegate whispered.

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