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.

What is this “Cislunar” space?

January 24, 2023
MThomas

Though definitions sometimes differ, cislunar space generally refers to the space between Earth and the moon, including the moon’s surface and orbit. Any nation or entity that aims to establish a presence on the moon, or has ambitions to explore deeper into the solar system, has a vested interest in operating in cislunar space, either with communication and navigation satellites or outposts that serve as way stations between Earth and the moon.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/space-earth-moon-get-little-crowded-rcna64333

There is actually a limited amount of orbital space available between the Earth and the Moon (note: capitalize it, NBC! grrr..).

So, expect more and more competition for satellites — communication, navigation, and way stations.

And of course military and spy stations.

And by the way, only eight nations signed the so-called “Artemis Accords” in 2020. Guess who didn’t?

Buckle up!

Webb finds rocky Earth-sized planet

January 13, 2023
MThomas

The finding demonstrates how the observatory could be used to search for potentially habitable planets in the cosmos and examine the chemical makeup of their atmospheres.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/james-webb-telescope-finds-first-exoplanet-rcna65374

LHS 475b is 41 light years away, orbiting a red dwarf star in the Octans constellation (one of a few “modern” constellations only seen in the deep southern hemisphere).

Webb can even detect the presence of atmospheres, though given LHS475b has an orbit of two days and is a “few hundred degrees warmer than Earth,” it’s unlikely it’ll find much with this exoplanet.

Still, it’s a first. The first of many, I hope.

“New” rock “found” in Somalia has two (or three) “new” minerals

January 7, 2023
MThomas

Canadian researchers said the rock was found in rural Somalia two years ago, but locals believe it is much older.

They call the stone Nightfall, and say it is documented in poems, songs and dances that stretch back five generations. It is used today to sharpen knives.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-63800879

The “new” rock is apparently a meteorite that fell to Earth at least 100 years ago (or more, depending on how you define a “generation”). The two newly-identified minerals are being called “elaliite” (after El Ali, Somalia) and “elkinstantonite” (after NASA planetary evolutionary expert Lindy Elkins-Tanton).

And there’s still one more as-yet-unidentified mineral in the 70-gram rock fragment at the U of Alberta (the original is about 15 tons, and is reported to be the 9th largest such meteorite to have survived entering the Earth’s atmosphere). These three minerals evidently do not exist naturally on Earth. Makes you wonder how many other such minerals are still floating around in space.

And of course, how they might be used to make incredibly strong yet flexible spacecraft materials. (FWIW NASA was already talking about “new” materials such as carbon nanotubes and self-healing piezoelectronic “skins” some twenty years ago…)

Now, maybe it’s just me, but I have a feeling that a 15-ton rock falling into the desert would have raised all sorts of hell. At least locally. Nothing like a 143,000 ton rock, of course. Is there really no record of this thing falling out of the sky? Maybe it’s time to talk to non-European communities and to take their oral legends a bit more seriously.

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…)

ispace is not “Japan” but “Japanese”

December 16, 2022
MThomas

Mission success would also be a milestone in space cooperation between Japan and the United States…

https://www.yahoo.com/news/japans-ispace-readies-delayed-launch-220204283.html

OK, wait…

A Japanese start-up (I.e., a small private company)…

using a SpaceX rocket (I.e., a private company owned by the world’s wealthiest pri…er, person)…

sends up a small craft made in Germany… 🇩🇪

along with the Rashid rover (made by the UAE)…

and “a two-wheeled, baseball-sized device from Japan’s JAXA space agency”…

and somehow this is cooperation between the US and Japan versus China and Russia?

I’m not seeing it. The project may have used a NASA launchpad, but the people are charge (and the ones paying for it) are not part of any national government.

And I have a feeling this is the wave of the future. More and more private companies will get involved in space projects as they realize that they can thus ignore politics and aim at profits.

I, for one, welcome our future corporate overlords…

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