Monthly Archives: May 2020

China’s Long March 2D launches Earth observation satellite

The new colonial movement: China’s Long March 2D rocket today launched an Earth observation satellite, described as designed to study Earth resources.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

10 China
7 Russia
7 SpaceX
3 ULA

The U.S. still leads China 12 to 10 in the national rankings.

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Dragon docks with ISS; astronauts reveal its name is Endeavour

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s first manned Dragon capsule successfully docked today with ISS.

A few hours after launch the two American astronauts, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, also revealed that they had named the capsule “Endeavour.”

I know this is really old news from late last night and early this morning, but I was out on a cave trip (taking a work break to have some fun underground for the first time in three months). I post it for completion. I also know that the live stream of these events was active here all day for my readers to follow things, as they happened.

Prepare for even more increasing space excitement in the coming years. The Trump administration increasingly is shifting NASA’s gears to have private companies build its spaceships and rockets and science instruments. The more they do this, the less expensive and the more capabilities we shall have as a nation. This success will be a challenge for other nations to match, which in turn will raise the stakes and increase the competition, the excitement, and the action in space.

Yes, the 20s I hope are going to roar, at least in space.

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Another coup leader at the FBI forced to resign

More house-cleaning at the FBI: The FBI’s general counsel, Dana Boente, yesterday resigned as demanded by William Barr, the attorney general of the Justice Department, apparently due to his participation in the effort to frame former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Boente signed one of the warrants renewing the FBI’s authority to surveil Flynn. The warrants, known as FISA warrants, were renewed several times and had to be approved by a judge.

Boente also said in a recently leaked memo that material put into the public record about Flynn was not exculpatory for the former national security advisor. The memo undermines the Justice Department’s latest position that material about Flynn was mishandled by prosecutors.

The article is from NBC, so it exudes both ignorance and hostility about this resignation. The FISA warrants that Boente signed have been repeatedly proven to have been falsely obtained, dependent on unverified and outright false and fake information. His actions clearly showed he was part of the coup attempt in the FBI attempting to find by any means necessary a way to overthrown the legal election of Donald Trump. Framing Flynn was only one part of that effort.

We’ve only just begun. There are a lot of people still working at both the FBI, the Justice Department, and throughout the executive branch, who have been willing to violate the Constitution and some fundamental laws, all because they did not like how the American people voted in 2016. They all need to be shown the door, with many escorted next to a prison cell.

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SpaceX’s first manned SUCCESSFUL Dragon launch

UPDATE: I am off on a caving trip on Sunday, May 31st, so I will not be doing any updates to this post. The live feeds however will still be here and, though they are presently showing a replay of the launch today, should be covering Dragon’s rendezvous and docking with ISS on Sunday..

UPDATE: Dragon is in orbit. SpaceX has successfully used its Falcon 9 rocket to place to Americans into space, the first American launch from American soil in an American spacecraft on an American rocket in nine years.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

9 China
7 Russia
7 SpaceX
3 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 12 to 9 in the national rankings.

UPDATE: I have added NASA’s media live feed to the one provided on SpaceX’s website. There will be some hype on SpaceX’s feed, but the media feed had no commentary. Pick which you prefer.

UPDATE: NASA and SpaceX have decided to attempt a launch today. The weather remains at 50-50 for launch.

Capitalism in space: Below are the live streams of SpaceX’s first manned Dragon launch, presently scheduled for launch at 3:22 pm (Eastern) tomorrow, May 30, 2020.

First, the feed from SpaceX’s website:

Second, the media feed from NASA, with no narration:

The live coverage will begin at 11 am (Eastern), and because this presentation is a partnership of NASA and SpaceX, will be filled with a lot of hype that one normally does not see during a SpaceX live feed, though I will note that during the live feed of the May 27th scrubbed launch, the NASA hype was kept relatively tame, compared to previous events. It seemed they accepted some guidance from SpaceX on how to do this in a way that seemed less fake or propagandistic.

This time I am embedding the media feed, which might have even less hype.

This post is also set to remain at the top of the page until after the launch, or after the launch is scrubbed, whichever happens. At the moment the weather says there is a 50-50 chance of launching, so we might end up having a scrub again, like on May 27th. In fact, NASA and SpaceX have already said in the evening of May 29th that they will reassess the weather in the AM on May 30th and decide whether to continue with the countdown or scrub. If so, this link and live feed will remain for the Sunday, May 31st, launch attempt.

As I did during the first launch attempt on May 27th, I will also periodically post below the fold images captured from the live feed, with some commentary. Comments from readers are of course welcome, as always.

NOTE: You will need to refresh the post periodically to see new images and commentary.

For other news updates, scroll down.
» Read more

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“The Trump-Russia investigation was a politically driven fraud”

The first two paragraphs of this summing up of what we now know of the corrupt attempt to overthrow the legal election of an American president by the FBI and the Department of Justice, instigated by the Obama administration and continuing during the first two years of the Trump administration says it all, quite succinctly:

No need to build to a crescendo — let’s just say it: The Trump-Russia investigation was a politically driven fraud from beginning to end. It was opened on false pretenses, sustained by investigative abuses, and will undoubtedly end in recriminatory angst, which is what happens when the kind of accountability the victims demand does not, indeed cannot, come to pass.

Worst of all is the damage wrought, though even that isn’t fully understood. Obama administration officials exploited the awesome national security powers that we trust our government to use for counterintelligence operations that safeguard America from jihadists and other foreign hostiles. Because of the abuse, and the growing awareness that few of the abusers will be held to meaningful account, those powers have lost the solid constituency they had maintained in Congress for nearly two decades. Thus, this episode will prove to be a catastrophe for American national security.

Make sure you read it all, carefully. Andrew McCarthy outlines a truly illegal power-grab by Washington insiders, who did not want power transferred to an outsider who did not share their goals and political beliefs but who the American people had legally elected. And they were willing to toss out the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and all previous legal precedent and history to overthrow that outsider.

These crooks should all find themselves behind bars for many years. That they likely will not tells us that we are in for some very perilous times. The Constitution and Bill of Rights were specifically written to protect us, the ordinary citizen, from abuses of power by corrupt power-hungry people like this. If we are no longer honoring these documents we ordinary citizens cannot expect much justice in the coming years.

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Fuel leak in Russian rocket in French Guiana

According to French engineers in French Guiana, “systematic signals from the alarm system [have been detected] indicating the presence of oxidizer vapors” from the Fregat upper stage for a Russian Soyuz-2 rocket.

Russia is sending a team of its own engineers there to trouble-shoot what is essentially a fuel leak.

It also suggests that Russia’s systemic quality control problems in its aerospace industry have not been solved.

From my perspective, I don’t see how Russia can really eliminate what appears to be poor workmanship throughout their space industry without introducing competition, something they have banned with the consolidation of their entire aerospace industry into a single government-run corporation.

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China launches its new quick-launch Long March 11 rocket

The new colonial movement: China has successfully launched its new quick-launch Long March 11 rocket for the ninth time, placing two engineering test satellites into orbit.

The Long March-11 (Chang Zheng-11) is a small solid-fueled quick-reaction launch vehicle developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) to provide an easy to operate quick-reaction launch vehicle, that can remain in storage for long period and to provide a reliable launch on short notice.

LM-11 is a four-stage solid-fueled launch vehicle equipped with a reaction control system on the fourth stage.

It is also designed to launch smallsats, and essentially uses military missile technology to do it.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race (for the moment):

9 China
7 Russia
6 SpaceX
3 ULA

The U.S. still leads China 11 to 9 in the national rankings. That lead will widen should SpaceX successfully launch later today.

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New Zealand confisicates guns; gun crime goes up

This is par for the course: New Zealand’s April 2019 gun control law, which made almost all guns illegal and required their confiscation, has resulted in the past year in the most gun crimes in a decade.

This week the first evidence vindicating this position came in when Radio New Zealand (RNZ) published figures it had obtained from the government showing that for last year crime involving firearms was the highest it had been since 2009.

According to an RNZ article titled, “Rates of gun crimes and killings using guns at highest levels in a decade in 2019,” last year “there were 3540 occasions where an offender was found with a gun​.” The report went on to note that “in both of the last two years, the rate of deadly incidents involving a firearm was the highest it had been since 2009” and that “[t]he number of guns seized by police is also on the rise, up almost 50 percent on five years earlier at 1263 last year.​” Making clear that the figures cited in the article were not skewed by the horrific shooting in Christchurch, the report noted that “[t]he 15 March terror attacks were listed as two separate firearms-related incidents.​”

This is the pattern in Chicago, New York, Australia, Great Britain, anywhere strict gun control laws are passed. Gun crime goes up. The criminals routinely don’t obey the law, so they keep their guns, while the innocent citizens who do obey the law and turn in their guns become helpless targets for the criminals.

But what matters logic and facts. The gun control made us feel good, and feel-good gestures are the rule of modern society. God help us.

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SpaceX and NASA will reassess weather for launch in morning

Because of the 50-50 weather conditions for launching the first manned Dragon mission to ISS tomorrow at 3:22 pm (Eastern), managers at both SpaceX and NASA have decided to maintain the schedule but reassess whether they will proceed come morning.

Thus, it is possible they might scrub the launch attempt very early in the countdown, and instead focus on the Sunday, May 31st launch opportunity. We shall have to wait.

In the meantime the embed of the live stream will appear here at Behind the Black at around midnight (Eastern). If the launch proceeds, the feed begins officially at 11:00 am (Eastern) tomorrow.

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Explosion during test of 4th Starship prototype

Capitalism in space: SpaceX engineers experienced another explosion during testing of their fourth Starship prototype today, completely destroying the protoype.

They already have their fifth prototype almost complete, so I expect they will clean up the debris, analyze again what went wrong, and start testing again.

At a certain point however these explosions have got to end, or else the project will begin to be in trouble.

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More evidence masks are merely a symbolic gesture

A new study has found that both improvised and surgical masks are ineffective in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

They found that “neither surgical nor cotton masks effectively filtered SARS–CoV-2 during coughs by infected patients.” They also “found greater contamination on the outer than the inner mask surfaces,” suggesting that any contact with a mask worn for a long time will likely mean the mask increases the chance of spreading the virus.

Their conclusion?

[B]oth surgical and cotton masks seem to be ineffective in preventing the dissemination of SARS–CoV-2 from the coughs of patients with COVID-19 to the environment and external mask surface.

Granted the experiment only tested four individuals in a controlled situation, but what they found matches what many others have been saying. It also illustrates the uncertainty of the science. Considering that the World Health Organization (WHO) states now that healthy people should not wear masks, and that there are also health risks for those that do, it once again seems very inappropriate (I am using a very mild word here) for our leaders or anyone to now demand that we all wear them, all the time, in all situations, blindly.

If others wish to wear masks, all power to them. I however will not submit to something I consider irrational. And I suspect sadly that I am mostly alone in this, because I think that most who say they agree with me will still cooperate and put on a mask when told to do so. I will not. At the moment I am fighting with two doctors, who will not see me for regular doctors appointments unless I wear a mask. I have told them I will not, have cited the medical reasons why (I have asthma), and they so far have not bent.

If it means I no longer have any doctors to treat me, then fine. I would rather die than live in such a society. I was born free, I will die free. Or as Ronald Reagan once said:

I am no longer young. You might have suspected that. [Laughter] The house we hope to build is one that is not for my generation, but for yours. It is your future that matters. And I hope that when you’re my age, you’ll be able to say as I have been able to say: We lived in freedom, we lived lives that were a statement, not an apology.

I intend to live my life as a statement, not an apology.

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The history of the U.S.’s giant off-road land trains

Link here. These massive and very impressive working trains designed as trucks that could travel across roadless terrain, in the Arctic, is quite fascinating. This paragraph about their designer and builder however illustrates the kind of nation that made the fast building of such things possible:

Born in 1888, Robert Gilmore LeTourneau was an inventor of heavy machinery. In WWII, 70 percent of the Allies’ earthmoving equipment was created by LeTourneau Technologies, Inc. Having very little formal education, LeTourneau began his working career as an ironmonger. By the time he died in 1969 he was tremendously wealthy and personally held nearly 300 patents. He is buried on the campus of the University he founded in his name, where his gravestone reads “MOVER OF MEN AND MOUNTAINS.” Just a little character development for you.

Our country can still such a place, where we are not afraid and allow anyone to do anything, if they have the courage and the brains and the commitment. It requires however that we be both free and brave. Wearing masks for symbolic reasons and out of fear is certainly not a path to such a nation.

Hat tip Tom Biggar.

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Chandra captures black hole outburst over eight months

Four-frame movie of black hole outburst

Astronomers using the Chandra X-ray space telescope have documented the motion of two blobs moving away from a stellar-mass black hole over a period of eight months, producing a four-frame movie from their images and estimating the speed of those blobs to be 80% that of the speed of light.

The gif animation to the right shows that short movie.

The black hole and its companion star make up a system called MAXI J1820+070, located in our Galaxy about 10,000 light years from Earth. The black hole in MAXI J1820+070 has a mass about eight times that of the Sun, identifying it as a so-called stellar-mass black hole, formed by the destruction of a massive star. (This is in contrast to supermassive black holes that contain millions or billions of times the Sun’s mass.)

The companion star orbiting the black hole has about half the mass of the Sun. The black hole’s strong gravity pulls material away from the companion star into an X-ray emitting disk surrounding the black hole.

While some of the hot gas in the disk will cross the “event horizon” (the point of no return) and fall into the black hole, some of it is instead blasted away from the black hole in a pair of short beams of material, or jets. These jets are pointed in opposite directions, launched from outside the event horizon along magnetic field lines. The new footage of this black hole’s behavior is based on four observations obtained with Chandra in November 2018 and February, May, and June of 2019, and reported in a paper led by Mathilde Espinasse of the Université de Paris.

Hubble has produced similar movies of the activity around the Crab Nebula. Sadly, we don’t have enough space telescopes like these in orbit to monitor such objects more frequently and thus photograph their behavior more completely. If we did we’d be able to get a much better understanding of their ongoing activity. We would also be able to produce more movies such as this, with much higher resolution and more continuous coverage.

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That Jupiter Trojan comet-like asteroid was neither an asteroid nor a Trojan

Astronomers have now found that the asteroid that had suddenly become active, like a comet, and they had thought was part of the asteroids in Jupiter orbit called Trojans, was neither an asteroid nor a Trojan.

Instead, it is an actual comet captured in a strange unstable orbit around Jupiter.

[W]hen amateur astronomer Sam Deen used software on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s solar-system dynamics website to calculate the object’s orbit, he found P/2019 LD2 recently had a close encounter with Jupiter that left its orbit unstable. The model showed that the comet had likely been a Centaur, part of a family of outer solar system asteroids, with an orbit reaching out to Saturn. Then, on February 17, 2017, it passed about 14 million kilometers from Jupiter, an encounter that sent the comet on a wild ride and inserted it into an odd Jupiter-like orbit.

Yet although the swing past Jupiter put P/2019 LD2 into a Jupiter-like orbit, it didn’t move it near to one of the two Lagrange points where the combination of gravitational forces from Jupiter and the Sun hold Trojan asteroids. Instead of being 60° — one-sixth of the giant planet’s orbit — from Jupiter, P/2019 LD2 is only 21° ahead of Jupiter.

The orbit is unstable. It will bring the comet to within 3 million miles of Jupiter in 2063, but beyond that predictions are impossible. The exact closeness of that approach cannot be predicted with much precision, partly because of the chaotic nature of the orbit, and partly because of the random orbital changes that can occur because the comet is venting.

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China reveals its space station launch schedule

The new colonial movement: According to its chief designer, China will complete the assembly of its first multi-module space station over a two year period beginning in early 2021.

The first module for the Chinese space station will launch next year, said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s human spaceflight program, on the sidelines of a political conference in Beijing Tuesday. Launch of the Tianhe core module on a Long March 5B could take place at Wenchang in early 2021. This will be followed by a crewed Shenzhou flight, from Jiuquan, and a Tianzhou cargo mission. The first of two experiment modules will then launch for docking with Tianhe.

In total 11 launches will be conducted to complete the construction of the space station by around 2023, Zhou said (Chinese). These will be the launch of the core and two experiment modules, as well as four crewed spacecraft and four cargo spacecraft. The intensive launch plan was revealed following the successful test flight of the Long March 5B heavy-lift rocket May 5. The missions will be conducted using Long March 5B, Long March 2F and Long March 7 launch vehicles.

They will first launch in 2020 their Mars Tianwen-1 orbiter/lander/rover and their Chang’e-5 lunar sample mission, both using the Long March 5B rocket.

Unless they experience a launch failure along the way, I expect this schedule to occur, as outlined.

Let’s fantasize: If SpaceX can get Starship/Super Heavy operational by 2023 (the company’s present somewhat unrealistic goal), they could send it up to swallow the station whole and bring it back to Earth, just like a James Bond movie.

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New Starship engine test; launch license issued

Capitalism in space: Yesterday SpaceX completed a new static fire engine test of its fourth Starship prototype while also obtaining a two-year launch license from the FAA for a future short up-and-down test hops

SpaceX briefly fired up the single Raptor engine of Starship SN4, the latest prototype of the company’s Mars-colonizing spaceship. The Raptor blazed for a few seconds while the SN4 remained tethered to the ground at SpaceX’s facilities near the South Texas village of Boca Chica. It was the fourth “static fire” test for the SN4, and the second with this particular Raptor engine. The previous static fire blazed a little hot, scorching the base of the spacecraft, but the flames seemed to behave themselves this time around.

Musk has said he wants to take the SN4 out for a spin soon, on an uncrewed test flight to a target altitude of about 500 feet (150 meters). With four static fires now in the books, SN4 seems poised to take that leap. But the prototype won’t get off the ground before Demo-2 does. “I have redirected SpaceX’s priorities to be very focused on the crew launch,” Musk told Aviation Week & Space Technology’s Irene Klotz recently. “As a rough guess, I think we’re a few weeks away from a hop.”

SpaceX has its paperwork in order to take Starship prototypes pretty high up, by the way. Today [now yesterday], the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation issued the company a two-year license to launch suborbital flights from the Boca Chica site.

Note that whatever caused the fire that occurred in the previous static fire test has apparently been identified and quickly resolved.

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Rocket Lab to resume launches in June

Capitalism in space: With the New Zealand government finally lifting some of the Wuhan panic restrictions it imposed on its population, Rocket Lab has announced that it will resume launches in June.

The company announced May 28 it has rescheduled an Electron launch for June 11 local time from its launch site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. That launch was previously scheduled for March 30 but postponed because of a lockdown imposed by the New Zealand government in response to the pandemic.

The launch, called “Don’t Stop Me Now” by the company, has the same set of payloads as what the company originally announced in March. That includes three unidentified payloads for the National Reconnaissance Office, the ANDESITE (Ad-hoc Network Demonstration for Extended Satellite-based Inquiry and other Team Endeavors) cubesat built by students at Boston University and whose launch was arranged by NASA, and M2 Pathfinder built by the University of New South Wales Canberra.

I suspect that, because the launch business is normally filled with delays that can extend to two months, Rocket Lab has weathered this situation better than many others.

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Weather for Saturday’s SpaceX launch is presently poor

The weather for Saturday’s SpaceX launch presently gives only a 40% chance of launch.

Forecasters from the 45th Weather Squadron have issued a slightly more pessimistic outlook for the next two Crew Dragon launch opportunities Saturday and Sunday.

There’s now a 60 percent probability of weather conditions at the launch site violating one of the criteria for liftoff for launch opportunities at 3:22 p.m. EDT (1922 GMT) Saturday and at 3:00 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) Sunday, according to the weather team.

The worst part is that the weather doesn’t look good for either day.

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Doctors admit: Masks are nothing more than “symbols”, do little

Researchers admit masks are nothing more than “symbols”, and may in the end increase the risk of catching the coronavirus, or other diseases.

From the original New England Journal of Medicine paper:

A mask will not protect providers caring for a patient with active Covid-19 if it’s not accompanied by meticulous hand hygiene, eye protection, gloves, and a gown. A mask alone will not prevent health care workers with early Covid-19 from contaminating their hands and spreading the virus to patients and colleagues. Focusing on universal masking alone may, paradoxically, lead to more transmission of Covid-19 if it diverts attention from implementing more fundamental infection-control measures. [emphasis mine]

The paper than bluntly concludes that masks are really no more than a “talisman” and a symbol for influencing others to do what the mask-wearer wants.

Masks are visible reminders of an otherwise invisible yet widely prevalent pathogen and may remind people of the importance of social distancing and other infection-control measures.

It is also clear that masks serve symbolic roles. Masks are not only tools, they are also talismans that may help increase health care workers’ perceived sense of safety, well-being, and trust in their hospitals. Although such reactions may not be strictly logical, we are all subject to fear and anxiety, especially during times of crisis. One might argue that fear and anxiety are better countered with data and education than with a marginally beneficial mask, particularly in light of the worldwide mask shortage, but it is difficult to get clinicians to hear this message in the heat of the current crisis. Expanded masking protocols’ greatest contribution may be to reduce the transmission of anxiety, over and above whatever role they may play in reducing transmission of Covid-19.

I am sick and tired of being forced to do empty, feel-good gestures that actually increase my risk, and do nothing except advance the political agendas of fools who are guided only by emotion and irrationality.

I will not wear a mask under these conditions, and I will tell anyone that tries to force to do it to go jump in a lake.

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Poll: Hawaiians favor construction of TMT by wide margins

A new poll suggests that Hawaii’s general population supports the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) by a 2 to 1 margins, 61% in favor, 32% opposed.

The poll also found wide opposition to the goals and tactics of the protesters, as well as the failure of the state government under Democratic Governor David Ige to stop those protesters from illegally blocking construction.

  • 92 percent of Hawaii residents agree there should be a way for science and Hawaiian culture both to exist on Maunakea
  • 80 percent of Hawaii residents agree that peaceful protests are fine but have no tolerance for protests that result in laws being broken
  • 79 percent of Hawaii residents agree that the government is responsible for providing safe construction access to the TMT site

None of this really matters. Ige and the Democrats who run Hawaii support the bigoted beliefs of the protesters, who want all non-native residents and their projects removed from Hawaii, while imposing a rule controlled solely by these so-called native Hawaiians.

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Rover update: The state of Curiosity’s wheels

[For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see my March 2016 post, Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater. For the updates in 2018 go here. For a full list of updates before February 8, 2018, go here.]

In my last rover update (April 16, 2020), I posted some new images taken of Curiosity’s wheels, showing the damage that they have experienced during the rover’s journey so far in Gale Crater.

At the time, I was unable to match any of the released images, taken on Sol 2732 (April 13, 2020), with the previous wheel image I have used to quickly gauge any new damage (see my July 9, 2019 report).

As it turns out, one of those images did match the earlier image. I simply failed to realize it. Today’s daily download of raw images from Curiosity included additional photos of the rover’s wheels, apparently also taken on Sol 2732 but not available until now. One of those images matches the earlier wheel image, and this time I spotted the match. A comparison is posted below, with my analysis.
» Read more

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A Martian crater with a straight edge

A mis-shapened crater on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was released today by the science team of the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows a small Martian crater whose northern rim for some reason is flattened into a straight line. Such a crater is rare, since almost all craters rims are round, even in the case of a low angle impact. The cause is unknown, though there are theories. From the caption, written by Ingrid Daubar of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Arizona:

One possibility is that there was a zone of joints or faults in the crust that existed before the impact. When the impact happened, the crater formed along the straight line of these faults. Something similar happened to Meteor Crater in Arizona. Our image doesn’t show any faults, but they could be beneath the surface.

Perhaps some sort of uneven collapse changed the shape of the crater. There are piles of material on the crater’s floor, especially in the northwest and northeast corners. If those piles fell down from the rim, why did it happen there and not in other places? This crater is near the size where larger craters start to show wall slumping and terraces, so this type of collapse could be occurring unevenly.

The crater is located in the southern cratered highlands of Mars, at about 32 degrees latitude. At that latitude, it is also possible that some past glacial activity could have misshapen this crater, though I have no idea how. The crater itself does not appear to have any glacial material in it.

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New observations confirm Earth-like planet orbiting nearest star

Worlds without end: New observations have confirmed the existence of an Earth-sized planet orbiting the nearest star to our Sun, Proxima Centauri, only 4.2 light years away..

The planet, Proxima b, is estimated to have a mass 1.17 of Earth’s, and orbit the star every 11.2 days. Based on that orbit, the planet is also in the star’s habitable zone. Whether there is life there however remains unknown.

Although Proxima b is about 20 times closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun, it receives comparable energy, so that its surface temperature could mean that water (if there is any) is in liquid form in places and might, therefore, harbour life.

Having said that, although Proxima b is an ideal candidate for biomarker research, there is still a long way to go before we can suggest that life has been able to develop on its surface. In fact, the Proxima star is an active red dwarf that bombards its planet with X rays, receiving about 400 times more than the Earth. “Is there an atmosphere that protects the planet from these deadly rays?” asks Christophe Lovis, a researcher in UNIGE’s Astronomy Department and responsible for ESPRESSO’s scientific performance and data processing. “And if this atmosphere exists, does it contain the chemical elements that promote the development of life (oxygen, for example)? How long have these favourable conditions existed? We’re going to tackle all these questions.

The research data also suggests there might be another planet in orbit around Proxima Centauri, though this conclusion is very preliminary.

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OSIRIS-REx completes close fly-over of backup sample grab site

The OSIRIS-REx science team has completed its closest fly-over of its backup sample grab location on the asteroid Bennu, getting to within about 820 feet.

The goal was to get better imagery and science data of the site, both for research and also should the planned October 20th sample-grab-and-go touchdown at the primary site, Nightingale, should fail.

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SpaceX raises $346 million more in investment capital

Capitalism in space: According to Elon Musk, SpaceX has raised an additional $346 million more in investment capital.

According to the very short article at the link, this brings the total raised during this latest fund-raising round to $567 million. This is puzzling, as in March SpaceX announced that it had raised $500 million in this round. If the company has raised an additional $346, the total should be higher.

Either way, this brings the total raised by the company to close to $2 billion, almost all of which is being dedicated to building Starship & Super Heavy. Compared to what NASA spends on SLS/Orion — about $3 billion per year with a total about $50 billion when its first manned mission occurs finally in 2024 — this is chicken feed. However, for a private company fueled by competition and good management (unlike NASA), it is likely more than enough to get the job done.

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Weird central peak in Martian crater

Textured central peak in Martian crater
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on March 18, 2020. It shows a very strange central peak in a crater on Mars. Not only does this peak stick out like a sore thumb in a relatively flat crater floor, its surface is strangely textured, patterned with what look like scallops.

The overview map below shows the area covered in the crater by the full image.

My guess is that the peak is the final impact melt from the original impact. Think of a pebble thrown into a pond. You get ripples (the crater rim) as well as an upward drop of water (the central peak). Unlike pond water, the material in a crater freezes quickly, leaving both the ripple and the upward drop frozen in place.

Close overview of crater

This peak however also reminds me of volcanic cones found in the American southwest, the remnant cone of a much larger volcano that has long ago eroded away.

The textures might be evidence of that erosion process, as they resemble scallops that wind and water erosion can cause on rock faces.

We also could be seeing dunes on the slopes themselves, though I think this is unlikely. This crater is on the edge of the vast Medusae Fossae Formation, the largest volcanic ash deposit field on Mars, as shown by the white cross on the overview map below. Thus, being on the edge of this ash field there is a lot of available dust and sand that can pile up on these slopes.

Wide Overview map

Still, the sunlight side of the ridge suggests the scallops are in bedrock, not sand dunes. And to assign their origin to either wind or water or ice erosion I think is a stretch.

So while the peak is probably the frozen melt remains of the original impact, the scallops are a geological mystery that needs unraveling.

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