Monthly Archives: April 2019

Fragment of a long dead planet’s iron core found orbiting white dwarf

Astronomers have identified the fragment of a long dead planet’s iron core orbiting a white dwarf star 410 light years away.

The [data] suggested its source was a solid object some 600 kilometers across—a suspected planetary core, with a density between 7.7 and 39 grams per cubic meter, comparable to the pure iron found within Earth’s core. “The density of the piece of rock is consistent with what we think the cores of planets [are],” says Luca Fossati of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, who was not involved in the paper.

It orbits the star every two hours, the fastest exoplanet orbit yet found. This alone should rip it apart, providing further evidence that the object’s density is very high.

The astronomers theorize that this object is likely the remains of a planet that existed when this star was young, and was destroyed as the star aged to become a red giant, expanding to swallow it. Later, when the star collapsed to become a tiny white dwarf, the core remained, its density allowing it survive as the planet’s outer crust was torn away.

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Falcon Heavy dress rehearsal countdown and static fire today

Capitalism in space: SpaceX hopes to complete today its standard prelaunch dress rehearsal countdown for the second Falcon Heavy launch, now likely scheduled for April 9.

The launch had previously been set for April 7.

The article provides a nice overview of the Falcon Heavy. It also included this tidbit:

Unlike most past missions, the two side boosters are already booked for a second launch. They – in addition to the brand new center core B1057 – will help launch the Air Force’s STP-2 mission, currently No Earlier Than (NET) June.

That they have already scheduled reuse of the side boosters for the next Falcon Heavy launch indicates just how confident they have become about recovering those boosters.

UPDATE: Dress rehearsal countdown and static fire have been completed. According to an Elon Musk tweet, the data looks good, but he cautioned that as this will be the first Falcon Heavy launch using Block 5 boosters, the launch date might change as they review the data.

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Hayabusa-2’s successfully bombs Ryugu

impact on Ryugu

Japan’s Hayabusa-2 probe yesterday successfully impacted an explosive charge on the surface of the asteroid Ryugu, creating a crater for observing the interior geology.

The image to the right was taken by a camera that has separated from Hayabusa-2 and stayed closer to the impact. It shows material flying off the asteroid’s surface, at the horizon line.

Hayabusa-2 — which moved to the other side of the asteroid to stay clear of any ejecta — will next arc around and get close to this impact site to study it. They first need to make sure the ejecta has cleared.

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Monitoring the ice scarps on Mars for changes

Scarp #1 in 2011
Click for full image.

Scarp #1 in 2018
Click for full image.

Back in January 2018 planetary scientists released a paper announcing the discovery of a number of Martian cliff faces, or scarps as they called them, that all appeared to expose an underground layer of ice.

Those cliffs were mostly located to the southeast of Hellas Basin, the basement of Mars that is also advantageous for human colonization because its lower elevation means its atmosphere is thicker. (For example, that thicker atmosphere would make air transportation more practical.)

The two images to the right show what they listed as scarp #1 in their paper, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here. The first image was taken in May 2011, with the second taken in December 2018, and was part of the March image release from the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The December 2018 image was taken almost a year after the paper release, and was titled “Scarp Monitoring.” I therefore wondered whether the scientists had identified any changes. They theorize that these scarps form when the exposed ice slowly sublimates to gas into the atmosphere, causing the cliff face to collapse and retreat, which in the case of scarp #1 would be a retreat to the north. The terraces below the scarp suggest previous cliff locations. In their paper they noted evidence of some changes in the studied scarps, including some fallen boulders, as well as color changes that suggest some evolution.

The rate of that retreat is not known with precision, but based on the facts presently at hand, the scientists have estimated that it took about a million years to form this scarp. Whether any evidence of this retreat would be visible in only seven years is the purpose of these scarp monitoring images.

Do you see any difference? I don’t, but because I also don’t trust my expertise I decided to email the paper’s lead author, Colin Dundas of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center. His emailed comments are most interesting.
» Read more

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Arianespace successfully launches four commercial communications satellites

Capitalism in space: Using a Russian-built Soyuz rocket Arianespace today successfully placed four O3b communications in orbit.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

4 China
4 Europe (Arianespace)
3 SpaceX
3 Russia

The U.S. now leads China and Europe 6 to 4 in the national rankings.

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Telescope store sues Asian telescope manufacturers for fixing prices

A San Francisco store that sells telescopes to the public is suing two Asian telescope manufacturers — who make almost all recreational telescopes sold in the U.S. — for conspiring together to fix prices and create that monopoly.

Orion Telescopes and Binoculars, which is headquartered in Watsonville and has stores there and in Cupertino, is seeking more than $180 million in damages in a lawsuit. A federal court in Northern California said the complaint against telescope maker Ningbo Sunny, filed in 2016, can go to trial. A subsidiary of Ningbo Sunny, a Chinese company, bought Irvine telescope maker Meade Instruments in 2013.

In the complaint, Orion alleges that Ningbo Sunny and a Taiwanese telescope manufacturer, Synta Technology, shared confidential information that competitors normally would not share, including product pricing, order forecasts and credit arrangements.

My question is this: Why are no American telescope manufacturers competing in this market? Are our labor costs too high? Our government regulations too restrictive? A little bit of competition could easily end this collusion by these Asian manufacturers, assuming it is happening.

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Amazon to build its own giant satellite constellation

Capitalism in space: Amazon has officially joined the race to build own giant satellite constellations for providing internet access worldwide.

[They] plan to put 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit — including 784 satellites at an altitude of 367 miles (590 kilometers); 1,296 satellites at a height of 379 miles (610 kilometers); and 1,156 satellites in 391-mile (630-kilometer) orbits.

In response to GeekWire’s inquiries, Amazon confirmed that Kuiper Systems is actually one of its projects. “Project Kuiper is a new initiative to launch a constellation of low Earth orbit satellites that will provide low-latency, high-speed broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world,” an Amazon spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

The competition now includes Amazon, SpaceX, OneWeb, and others, each of which will provide a lot of business for the launch industry. All told, more than 15,000 satellites will need to be launched by these companies before the middle of the next decade.

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Curiosity films partial solar eclipses by both Phobos and Deimos

Phobos partial eclipse of Sun

Last week Curiosity successfully captured partial solar eclipses by both Phobos and Deimos as the Martian moons crossed the face of the Sun.

The movie on the right shows Phobos eclipsing the Sun. The speed is ten times faster than real time.

The press release can be seen here. It notes how these observations, of which 8 in total have been made since Curiosity arrived on Mars, have helped pin down the orbits of both moons.

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Scientists in Japan claim that cats can learn their name!

Science does important research! Scientists in Japan now claim that cats can learn their name!

Japanese scientists played recordings of a cat’s owner saying four words with lengths and accents similar to its name before saying the feline’s actual name. The word hihu (Japanese for “skin”), for example, might proceed the name “Kari.” As the random words—all nouns—played, the cats became less and less interested. But as soon as they heard their name, most moved their ears and heads; a few even got up (above). The scientists saw similar responses when the cat’s name came after the names of other felines he lived with, or when a stranger spoke the words.

Any cat owner could have told these scientists this. More significant is the fact that cats in the wild normally do not use meowing as a communications tool. Only with humans do they meow, indicating that they learn that humans respond to sound, and they then adapt to use the knowledge to gain what they want from their human staff.

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Air Force confirms more Rocket Lab launches

Capitalism in space:: With the successful launch of a DARPA satellite by Rocket Lab last week, the Air Force yesterday confirmed the purchase of several more launches on the company’s Electron Rocket.

Three satellites will be launched to low Earth orbit later this month from Mahia, New Zealand, using Rocket Lab USA’s Electron rocket.

…The upcoming Rocket Lab launch is one of five planned in 2019. … Five small launches will send 21 experimental satellites to space by the end of December, said Lt. Col. Andrew Anderson, chief of the DoD Space Test Program Branch.

One of the five will be by Vox Space later this year. The company will use Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket that is air launched from a Boeing 747 mothership.

Anderson said there is possibly another vendor in the mix but only Rocket Lab and Vox Space so far can be identified.

I suspect that the unnamed vendor is Vector, but the Air Force is likely not going commit to this until Vector gets farther along in its test program.

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Chandrayaan-2’s new delay is due to damage during test

The new colonial movement: It appears the reason for the new delay in the launch of India’s Chandrayaan-2 lunar lander is that the spacecraft suffered minor damage during a landing test.

A source in the know, said: “The rover and orbiter are in good health and tests met all the parameters. However, after the ‘Lander Drop Test’, we found that Vikram (the lander) needed to be strengthened in its legs. Prima facie, it appears that not all parameters were set correctly before the test, it could also be that the additional mass—a result of the new configuration—caused the problem.”

They still seem determined to launch in May, though I suspect this is not realistic. It depends on exactly when this test occurred. The article does not say, and if it occurred several months ago then the May date might make sense. Otherwise, expect further delays.

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Starhopper completes first tethered hop

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s prototype vehicle for testing vertical takeoff and landing for its Starship spacecraft, now dubbed Starhopper, successfully completed its first tethered hop yesterday.

The company and Elon Musk have revealed few details, other than it was tethered, lasted only a very short time, and involved only one Raptor engine. More tests are certain to follow.

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Beresheet enters lunar orbit

The privately-built lunar lander Beresheet today successfully entered lunar orbit.

They achieved this by completing an engine burn that changed their Earth orbit to an elliptical lunar one.

At 5:18 p.m. Israel time on April 4, the spacecraft’s engine activated for six minutes and reduced its speed by 1,000 km/hour, from 8,500 km/hour to 7,500 km/hour, relative to the moon’s velocity. The maneuver was conducted with full communication between Beresheet’s control room in Israel and the spacecraft, and signals in real time match the correct course. In the coming week, with expected intense engineering activities, many more maneuvers will take Beresheet from an elliptical to a round orbit, at a height of 200 km. from the moon. The maneuvers will aim to reduce the spacecraft’s distance from the moon and reach the optimal point to conduct an autonomic landing in the Sea of Serenity in the evening Israel time, April 11.

You can see a video of their mission control at the completion of this burn here.

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Progress freighter launches and docks with ISS

Russia today successfully launched a Progress freighter to ISS, docking two orbits later.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

4 China
3 SpaceX
3 Europe (Arianespace)
3 Russia

The U.S. still leads the pack in the national rankings 6 to 3.

This list will change, as there is a Arianespace Soyuz commercial launch scheduled for later today.

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Future of InSight’s heat probe dim

Blocked after drilling down only one foot instead of fifteen, engineers are increasingly worried that they will not be able to get InSight’s heat probe past whatever is blocking to so it can begin getting data of Mars’s inner thermal environment.

They are considering a bunch of options, including using InSight’s robot arm to either give the probe a nudge to help it get past the obstruction, or even use the arm to push the probe.

None of the options are encouraging it seems.

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A decade of changes at the Martian south pole

A decade of changes at the Martian south pole
Click for full image.

The image above, cropped, reduced, and annotated to post here, was released this week by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) team. It shows the changes that have occurred at one location at the Martian south polar cap in the past decade. As planetary geologist Alfred McEwen wrote,

The south polar residual cap of carbon dioxide ice rapidly changes. This image was planned as an almost exact match to the illumination and viewing angles of a previous one we took in August 2009.

The pits have all expanded and merged, and we can just barely see the patterns in the 2009 image compared to this January 2019 picture. The 2009 image is also brighter and bluer, with more seasonal frost and/or less dust over the surface. These images were both taken in late southern summer, but our 2019 picture is slightly later in the Martian season by about two weeks.

You can get a better idea how much is changed by seeing the full image from which the above small area was cropped.
» Read more

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The Viking landers and its possible discovery of extraterrestrial life

Link here. One of the scientists involved in the Viking project has written a memoir of her experience, and the article interviews her.

Patricia Straat served as co-experimenter on one of the most controversial experiments ever sent to Mars: the Labeled Release instrument on the Viking Mars landers. The experiment’s principal investigator, Gilbert Levin, insists to this day that the project found extraterrestrial life. Most scientists doubt this interpretation, but the issue has never been fully settled.

Read it. It illustrates how uncertain science can be, even when an experiment produces a result that everyone involved dreamt of. As Straat notes,

The results met the pre-mission definition of a positive life response. But of course as soon as we got it everyone came up with alternative proposals to account for the results nonbiologically.

The problem was that though their experiment found evidence of life, none of the other Viking experiments did. Most significant was the apparently complete lack of organic material (based on carbon) in the soil.

To this day, no one has a good explanation for these results on Viking. The results remain a mystery, one that really will only be solved when we can return to Mars in force, and find out what it is really like.

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Global map of Bennu

Global map of Bennu

The OSIRIS-REx science team today released a global map of Bennu, compiled from images taken in December.

The map is above. It was released with no commentary. In comparing it with this global map of Ryugu, created by the Japanese probe Hayabusa-2, I am struck by how much both asteroids resemble each other.

This fact is in many ways a first. Since the first planetary probes left Earth in the 1960s the one reliable expectation that has consistently proven true is that no planetary object, be it planet, dwarf planet, moon, asteroid, or comet, was going to resemble any other planetary object. Each has been entirely unique, and unique in very startling and obvious ways.

Ryugu and Bennu represent the first planetary objects that actually look pretty much the same. Scientist will of course be able to note differences, but overall these objects clearly belong to a specific class of asteroids, which in this case is the rubble pile.

In a sense, this similarity marks a significant advancement in our knowledge. Up until now, we had observed so few objects that our knowledge base wasn’t large enough to start seeing patterns within our general classifications of planet, asteroid, or comets. That is now finally changing.

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Boeing confirms delay till August for first unmanned Starliner launch

No surprise here: Boeing today confirmed that it is delaying until August for first unmanned Starliner test launch.

A statement issued by Boeing on Tuesday confirmed previous reports that the company’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, designed and built under a $4.2 billion contract from NASA, would miss its previous target launch date for an unpiloted test flight to the International Space Station in April. NASA and industry sources have said for months that an April launch date was not feasible, but NASA and Boeing had not officially published a revised schedule since early February.

The first Starliner test flight with astronauts on-board was previously scheduled for August. In Boeing’s schedule update released Tuesday, the company only said it expects the Crew Flight Test to occur “later this year,” but sources said the Starliner could fly with astronauts in November, at the earliest.

It appears that the fuel leak during a thruster test in June of last year has been the main cause of the delay.

None of this should effect SpaceX, which is primed to fly its mission during the summer. It does however cause more problems for Boeing, which is now also faced with pressure to finish NASA’s SLS rocket, bogged by years of delays and cost overruns.

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How not to fall for modern news propaganda

Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist yesterday posted a very cogent and honest essay entitled, “Here’s Why I Didn’t Fall For The Russia-Trump Conspiracy.”

To preface, during the past two years Hemingway, along with a small cadre of honest Washington reporters, maintained their objectivity and did not fall for the Russian collusion scam. Instead, they documented the absurdity of the mainstream press’s claims and its never-ending “bombshells” (all of which ended up to be duds).

Hemingway outlines how, living deep within that Washington press culture, she at first found it difficult to resist peer pressure to accept the anti-Trump claims. She then describes how she did come to resist, and concludes as follows:

I didn’t fall for the Russia hoax that CNN and other media outlets did because I worked hard at understanding the appeal of his candidacy even before the Russia narrative started. At the same time, I recognized how disruptive he was to the established order and the livelihoods of those who had grown comfortable in D.C. Unlike many reporters, I knew and loved many people who voted for Trump. My background as a media critic made me aware of information campaigns and how to resist them. My dislike of the interventionist foreign policy made me less susceptible to scaremongering about realist foreign policy.

Her essay is worth reading because it provides a nice summary of the dishonesty rampant the past two years in the leftist press and Washington culture.

Reading her essay, however, made me wonder why I never fell for the Russia-Trump conspiracy. The answer was obvious. Hemingway, seeped in that mainstream press culture, as a Washington reporter, found increasingly she had to check what that press was telling her, and repeatedly found what it was saying was a lie.

I however long ago realized how dishonest and untrustworthy that mainstream press is, and thus have not relied on it for information, in the slightest, for about two decades. When a news source routinely gets its story wrong and then does nothing to correct the problem, I then decide that news source is not a source I will rely on for information.

For the past two years I have routinely ignored the anti-Trump claims and “bombshells” put forth by the NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, and all the other mainstream news sources. I simply don’t go to them for information. I knew from much experience that information would be wrong, and not worth the electrons that broadcast it.

Thus, I found it easy to dismiss as hogwash their claims that Trump was an agent for Russia. I already knew the people making the claim were clowns not to be listened to.

Does that make me uninformed or close-minded? No. Instead, I avoid being misinformed, as the facts I dig up from many other news sources, checked against each other, generally turn out to be trustworthy.

Everyone in the U.S., going forward, should keep this in mind. These leftist news sources are merely propaganda operations for the Democratic Party. If you rely on them for information you will definitely not know what is going on. Instead, you will be a puppet for that political party, someone unfit to call themselves a free citizen of a free nation.

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CNN reporter advocates censorship by the FBI

Words fail me: In an interview of former FBI head James Comey, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour actually had to have the first amendment explained to her by Comey after she suggested that the FBI should act to censor speech it considers “hate speech.”.

“Of course, ‘lock her up’ was a feature of the 2016 Trump campaign,” Amanpour said. “Do you in retrospect wish that people like yourself, the FBI, I mean, the people in charge of law and order, had shut down that language — that it was dangerous potentially, that it could’ve created violence, that it’s kind of hate speech. Should that have been allowed?

Comey explained the First Amendment to Amanpour, replying, “That’s not the role for government to play. The beauty of this country is people can say what they want, even if it’s misleading and it’s demagoguery.” [emphasis mine]

I am no fan of Comey, as I think he was a willing participant in the effort at the FBI to illegally overturn the 2016 election of Trump. However, he at least has a basic understanding of the Constitution, the fundamental law of the land. For a reporter at a national cable network to not understand this is horrifying.

The video of Amanpour’s comments is posted below the fold. The clip begins with Amanpour giving Comey a platform to condemn any possible investigation into the FBI’s abuse of power. Not surprising, as he and others remain very vulnerable in this matter.

Amanpour then wonders why that the FBI didn’t shut down free speech she and Comey didn’t like. Also not surprising, coming from an employee of a network whose sole purpose these past two years has been to overthrow the legal election of Trump, in league with that corrupt FBI.

And CNN wonders why Trump calls them “fake news”.
» Read more

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More Martian Pits!

More pits on Mars!

As I said in my last post in February showing recent pit discoveries on Mars, I could almost make this a monthly series. In the March image download from the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) were three (maybe four) more pits, all likely skylights above lava tubes and all located near the giant volcano Arsia Mons in the region dubbed the Tharsis Bulge. The image to the right shows all three, with a possible fourth just northwest of pit #2 and visible in its full image. For the full images of the other two pits go here (#1) and here (#3). In all three cases, click on the “black & white map projected” link to see the full image with scale.

Overview map

The overview map on right shows where these three pits are located. If you compare this map with my previous overview maps from November 12, 2018 and February 22, 2019 you can see that while these pits are all found on the volcanic slopes surrounding Arsia Mons, they are all different pits. Moreover, the ten pits listed in these three posts are only a small sampling of the more than hundred already found.

Whether these pits are deadend sinks or skylights into underground lava tubes that connect is at this point unknown. It would be a reasonable speculation to assume that some are deadends, and some link to extensive tubes of varying lengths. It would also be dangerous. Mars is alien. While the geology will be based on the same physical laws found on Earth, the lighter gravity is going to produce things differently.

The three images above however do show some intriguing details.
» Read more

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Professor fired for challenging new fad of letting children pick their sex

They’re coming for you next: A University of Louisville (Kentucky) professor, fired for saying it is a bad idea to allow children to pick their sex, is suing the university.

The guy was chief of the university’s Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology. and merely said that it is a mistake to pump drugs into little kids just because they express confusion about sex.

Young children have nowhere near the life experience necessary to ‘decide’ they want to be a different sex. “When you think of it, children don’t know much about anything — and I say this with respect — I’ve raised three…but they don’t know anything at the age of 7, 8, or 9. Why should we listen to a 9-year-old about what time they’re going to bed?” Josephson said. “We don’t let them vote, we don’t let them drive, and so are we going to let them at the age of 8 or 9 decide they are no longer male or female? Unbelievable!”

…Instead of just putting young children on meds that block puberty development and cross-sex hormones, Josephson recommends a ‘go-slow’ approach (to, you know, let the kid grow up a little and get some more life experience). “In actuality, Dr. Josephson never refuted the existence of gender dysphoria; he simply advocated a different method for treating individuals experiencing it,” says the lawsuit.

Josephson, according to the lawsuit, has warned that trying to change one’s sex “often involves permanent social, medical, psychiatric, and other consequences that cannot be fully appreciated until adulthood (e.g., psychopathology, suicidal behavior, peer rejection, and permanent sterility).” He also noted that some kids and even teens who go through gender dysphoria will cease to experience it by late adolescence.

It appears the gay studies community at the university, upon hearing this professor’s opinions, then rallied to get him removed, with the full cooperation of university’s management.

Note that they aimed to get him fired because he expressed an opinion dissenting from the current gay agenda. How dare he! Such things are not allowed in today’s America. Doesn’t he know that the first amendment was designed to provide free speech only to some people, who have the right opinions. All others must shut up.

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India’s Chandrayaan-2 lunar lander delayed until May

The new colonial movement: India has once again delayed the launch of its Chandrayaan-2 lunar lander, pushing the launch back to May.

Previously they had said they’d launch in mid-April.

The article implies that the month delay has to do with scheduling the lander’s arrival so that it arrives at the best time during the long lunar day.

This mission was originally set to launch in April 2018, then October 2018, then January 2019. Because of these delays, Israel’s Beresheet lunar lander leap-frogged them to the Moon, and now stands poised to make Israel the fourth nation to achieve a lunar landing, beating India.

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Hayabusa-2 to make crater on Ryugu later this week

The new colonial movement: Hayabusa-2’s planned attempt to blast a crater on the surface of the rubble pile asteroid Ryugu is now set for later this week.

Hayabusa2 is scheduled to start its descent from 20,000 meters above Ryugu at around 1 p.m. Thursday, Japan time.

The probe is to continue to move down slowly and, at 500 meters above the surface, release a device called an impactor at around 11 a.m. Friday. The impactor is designed to explode 40 minutes later to fire a metal object into the asteroid’s surface at a speed of 7,200 kilometers per hour.

The original point of creating this crater was to allow visual access to the asteroid’s interior for geological study. Now it will also tell us exactly how cemented together this rubble pile is. The cobble might be held together tightly, or loosely. We shall see later this week.

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