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The selfie was taken on April 6 (Sol 46 of the mission) with a camera called WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering), part of the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) instrument, located at the end of the roverâs robotic arm. Ingenuity was about 13 feet (4 meters) away from Perseverance. The image was created by stitching together 62 separate images. Here’s an article on how the rovers take the “selfies.”
While Perseverance has now moved further away from the helicopter, the proud parent will stay nearby for Ingenuityâs first flight, as well as the 30-day testing window to provide âsupportâ and to relay commands from Earth. Â Thereâs an overlook point about 200 feet (60 meters) away where Perseverance will âwatchâ (aka, take pictures with its cameras) the Mars helicopterâs first flight. Â
For the first flight, JPL mission controllers will send flight instructions to Perseverance, which will relay them to Ingenuity. JPL says that several factors will determine the precise time for the flight, including modeling of local wind patterns informed by measurements taken by the roverâs weather station, the MEDA (Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer). Ingenuity will run its rotors to 2,537 rpm and, if all final self-checks look good, lift off. After climbing at a rate of about 3 feet per second (1 meter per second), the helicopter will hover at 10 feet (3 meters) above the surface for up to 30 seconds. Then, Ingenuity will descend and touch back down on the Martian surface.
We can expect to get details of the first flight (engineering data and possibly images, confirming if the flight was successful) back on Earth during the early morning hours on April 11. The current expectations are that data will be received at about 3:30 am EDT/12:30 am PDT/ 7 am UTC. A post-flight news briefing is currently scheduled later at 11 am EDT/8 am PDT/3 pm UTC.
There is a pre-flight briefing today (Friday 9 April) at 10 am PDT / 1 pm EDT/ 5 pm UTC. You can watch here. Â
https://www.universetoday.com/150819/perseverance-takes-a-selfie-with-ingenuity-its-almost-time-to-fly/feed/0150819What are the Best Ways to Search for Technosignatures?
https://www.universetoday.com/150815/what-are-the-best-ways-to-search-for-technosignatures/#respondFri, 09 Apr 2021 02:57:36 +0000https://www.universetoday.com/?p=150815The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) has long roots in human history.Â With the advent of modern technologies, scientists were finally able to start scanning the skies for any sign of life.Â When the search first started back in the 1960s, it focused almost exclusively on trying to detect radio signals.Â Over the decades, no …
]]>The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) has long roots in human history.Â With the advent of modern technologies, scientists were finally able to start scanning the skies for any sign of life.Â When the search first started back in the 1960s, it focused almost exclusively on trying to detect radio signals.Â Over the decades, no irrefutable evidence of any artificial radio signals was ever found. Financial support started to drift away from the discipline, and where the money goes so do many scientists.
But more recently, the spike in interest in exoplanet research has breathed new life into the search for intelligent life, now commonly referred to as the search for âtechnosignaturesâ. In 2018, NASA sponsored a conference where scientists who were involved with the field came to discuss its current state.Â That meeting was followed up by a meeting last year sponsored by the Blue Marble Institute, which NASA also helped to sponsor.Â Now a working paper has come out from the group of SETI scientists that attended the conference. Numerous potential mission ideas to find technosignatures are described in the paper. Itâs clear the search for extraterrestrial intelligence isnât limited just to radio astronomy anymore.
There are 12 different mission concepts discussed in the paper, but they can be broken down into two major categories – those that focus on exoplanets and those that focus on bodies in our own solar system.
The authors, led by Dr. Hector Socar-Navarro, a senior scientist at the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias and director of the Museum of Science and the Cosmos of Tenerife, introduce a novel parameterization that help understand the categorical breakdown.Â Called the âichnoscaleâ, it is defined as âthe relative size scale of a given technogisnature in units of the same technosignature produced by current Earth technologyâ.
So the ichnoscale uses the fact that most of the technosignatures the proposed missions are searching for would be visible on Earth given a powerful enough sensor.Â For example, if a alien civilization has a Dyson sphere (e.g. a type of advanced orbital structure that encompasses an entire star), then the ichnoscale of that Dyson sphere would be whatever the cross sectional size of the sphere is divided by the size of the largest orbital structure currently around Earth – the ISS.
The authors then introduce a graph that helps guide discussions about various technosignatures.Â On the graph, the y-axis is the ichnoscale, as described above, while the x-axis is the total number of objects that could be observed for that type of technosignature.
The types of technosignature sought by each mission vary widely in complexity and technology level of the civilization associated with it.Â One relatively straightforward mission concept is a mission to detect industrial pollutants in atmospheres of exoplanets.Â Dr. Socar-Navarro mentions that it is possible that the James Webb Space Telescope could detect NO2, a common industrial pollutant emitted by combustion engines, in the atmospheres of exoplanets.Â Even more impressively, some more advanced mission concepts, such as LUVOIR, would be able to detect concentration levels similar to current Earth concentration levels on exoplanets up to 10 parsecs away.Â Other atmospheric pollutants, such as CFCs, widely known for having caused a hole in the ozone layer, could also point to a technological civilization on a planet whose atmosphere contains an abundance of them.
Atmospheric pollutants could be detected for a civilization which is at least as technologically advanced as humans.Â A few other missions could do the same.Â Though radio astronomy hasnât turned up much so far in the SETI effort, scientists have barely scratched its potential.
One suggested mission that could potentially find a human level civilization relatively nearby is a radio telescope on the far side of the moon. This isolated space would allow it to be affected by a minimal amount of radio interference – in fact it would be impacted by only a single satellite.Â Such isolation could allow for much more sensitive instrumentation, and a much higher signal to noise ratio of any data it collects.
Radio itself is a power intensive medium, and even on Earth it is being replaced by newer technologies such as laser pulses.Â Searching for those laser pulses is another proposed mission.Â Alien civilizations could use them either to communicate messages or even potentially as propulsion systems.Â Many of these beams are strong enough to be seen from very far away, and systems can be designed with modern technology to be able to capture them.Â Â
Another strategy to detect far away civilizations uses a technique similar to exoplanet hunters themselves – transiting. Transiting is when an object passes in front of a star that it is orbiting, and minutely lowers that starâs brightness.Â These dips in brightness are not necessarily indicative of a planet, however, and could be caused by technosignatures themselves, such as a star shade or a satellite belt.
Smaller technosignatures arenât the only ones capable of blocking a starâs light though.Â Larger structures, such the aforementioned Dyson Sphere, or even a galaxy-spanning civilization producing anomalous waste heat, are a possibility for more advanced civilizations.Â These wouldn’t be detectable via transiting as they completely block a starâs light. However, they would be detectable via another modern technology – infrared imaging.
Such large structures would not be able to contain the huge amounts of energy put out by a star or galaxy.Â Therefore, it must be transmitted through the structure somehow.Â The most likely way it would be radiated is through waste heat, which can be monitored via a simple infrared camera.Â There are many infrared mission concepts, and one similar to the Herschel mission should be capable of detecting these large scale structures.
At this point itâs pretty obvious that there are no such megastructures in our own backyard.Â But there might be smaller signs that we simply havenât been able to see because we never bothered to look.Â This concept of finding alien technology close to home was popularized by 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the missions suggested for searching closer to home would definitely have found the artifact made famous in the movie.
The Red Planet might not be the most likely place to look though.Â That title would most likely lie with a heavenly body without a lot of surface activity, and while Marsâ environment might seem relatively stagnant, it actually isn’t.Â There are much more geologically stable places in the solar system, such as Mercury, the moon, or even asteroids in the asteroid belt.
Dr. Socar-Navarro points out an important point about why this stability is important.Â Currently, the closest star to Earth (Proxima Centauri) is approximately 4 light years away.Â However, stars are not stationary, and one approaches close enough to the Sun to breach the Oort cloud about once every 100,000 years.Â Since the Earth has formed, that means there have been approximately 45,000 stars that have passed by our planet.
If one of those stars contained a civilization as advanced as we currently are, they would probably have noticed the biomarkers of life in Earthâs own atmosphere.Â They also might have been tempted to send a probe to observe the evolution of that life, similarly to how the Breakthrough Starshot initiative is attempting to send a probe to Proxima Centauri.Â Â
Any probe that was sent might have been caught up somewhere in the solar system.Â While the most likely places for a probe to end up, such as Jupiter and the Sun, might have destroyed any evidence, there is a chance it landed somewhere more stable.Â As such, close to home missionsÂ suggest focusing on trying to find a probe that might have been sent to our solar system in the past, with one exception.
Locations for this probe search range from the Moon to the Trojan asteroids that follow Jupiter around. For the moon mission, current observational techniques would be combined with AI algorithms to thoroughly search the entire surface of the moon, down to a few centimeters in diameter, for anything that might seem out of the ordinary. Transmitting all of that data back to a human on Earth who might be able to define what âout of the ordinaryâ is would be completely infeasible with the current bandwidth to lunar orbiters.
Instead, the paper suggests using a neural network AI system that was successfully trained to detect anomalies in data sent back by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.Â If that algorithm was uploaded to a newly designed orbiter, it could dramatically cut down on the number of images it would need to send, and therefore make such close observation feasible.
Pure data transfer wouldn’t be as big of an issue for a few other missions suggested closer to home.Â One would be to send a polarimeter to the asteroid belt and the Trojan belt.Â The instrument could then conduct a survey of the objects in these two crowded areas of the solar system to see if any of them seem to be out of place when compared to similar objects. Human devices stick out very prominently in polarimetry because they are typically built with very flat, metallic surfaces, which tend to polarize light. Devices from alien origins would assumedly have the same sort of metallic sheen.
One of the most famous examples of where polarization would have been extremely useful was the very brief observation of ‘Oumuamua as it zipped through our solar system.Â Unfortunately, scientists didn’t get a chance to use the technique as the unique object was already on its way out of the solar system before observing platforms could be brought to bear on it. There has been some speculation that ‘Oumuamua itself was actually a alien probe, but unfortunately we will never be able to tell as it is no longer in observational range of any of our platforms.
That sad fact informs the final close-to-home mission concept from the paper – the design and assembly of a rapid response intercept mission for any new interstellar visitors telescopes find.Â This mission could be based on the ground, set to launch when the time is right, or launch ahead of time with the expectation that it will complete a hard burn to catch up with whatever object might be transiting our solar system.
Even if the object such a mission would visit turns out not to be a probe, it would still provide invaluable data for other scientific efforts.Â Dr. Socar-Navarro points out that dual use scenario would be the norm rather than the exception.Â Every one of the proposed missions would collect data that would be useful to scientific disciplines other than SETI, making it more appealing to funding agencies.
SETI itself still has that special place in the human psyche though. Dr. Socar-Navarro praises the participants of the Blue Marble workshop and stresses the importance of this ongoing search.
âTechnosignature research brings in people from the whole world – the interest in other civilizations is something that excites our imagination collectively.â he says.Â The virtual workshop participation of 53 excited scientists from 13 countries lends credence to his assertion.Â With luck, these workshops will be a first step towards increasing interest in finding a definitive answer to one of the most fundamental questions of the human condition – are we alone?
]]>https://www.universetoday.com/150815/what-are-the-best-ways-to-search-for-technosignatures/feed/0150815An Intermediate-Mass Black Hole Discovered Through the Gravitational Lensing of a Gamma-ray Burst
https://www.universetoday.com/150810/an-intermediate-mass-black-hole-discovered-through-the-gravitational-lensing-of-a-gamma-ray-burst/#respondThu, 08 Apr 2021 15:39:10 +0000https://www.universetoday.com/?p=150810An intermediate mass black hole was discovered by its chance alignment with a gamma ray burst.
]]>Black holes come in three sizes: small, medium, and large. Small black holes are of stellar mass. They form when a large star collapses at the end of its life. Large black holes lurk in the centers of galaxies and are millions or billions of solar masses. Middle-sized black holes are those between 100 to 100,000 solar masses. They are known as Intermediate Mass Black Holes (IMBHs), and they are the kind we least understand.
One of the biggest difficulties in studying IMBHs is that they are difficult to find. We think they are formed when large stars or stellar-mass black holes merge in the centers of globular clusters, so they tend to be obscured within a dense cluster of bright stars. Intermediate black holes usually aren’t active, so we also can’t identify them by their jets or intense x-rays. But they should be fairly common. It’s estimated that about 45,000 intermediate-mass black holes could be in the vicinity of our galaxy.
Recently a team has used a new technique to find one of them. Their method uses gamma-ray bursts and gravitational lensing. A gamma ray burst (GRB) is a bright flash of gamma rays that occurs from time to time. They are likely caused when a large star explodes as a hypernova, or when two large stars collide and merge. Usually, a GRB will occur as a single flash lasting about half a second, but sometimes we’ll see two flashes that are in the same general region of the sky at nearly the same time. Now that could just be random chance, but it’s more likely that the two flashes were caused by the same GRB, but appear as multiple flashes because of gravitational lensing.
The team analyzed the pattern and spectrum of the double burst to show that the second one was an echo of the first. This confirmed that the event was gravitationally lensed by a mass between us and the GRB. They then used the timing of the two bursts to calculate to determine the cause. They found the data was consistent with an intermediate-mass black hole of about 55,000 solar masses.
This method can’t be used to find lots of intermediate-mass black holes, but every IMBH we find gives us another source of information. Intermediate mass black holes in the early universe may have been the seeds of the supermassive black holes we see in galaxies today. The more we understand about the middle children of the black hole family, the more we can how black holes helped shape our modern universe.
]]>https://www.universetoday.com/150810/an-intermediate-mass-black-hole-discovered-through-the-gravitational-lensing-of-a-gamma-ray-burst/feed/0150810Perseverance Captured This Image of a “Rainbow” on Mars, but it’s just a Lens Flare in the Rover’s Camera
https://www.universetoday.com/150803/perseverance-captured-this-image-of-a-rainbow-on-mars-but-its-just-a-lens-flare-in-the-rovers-camera/#respondThu, 08 Apr 2021 15:05:02 +0000https://www.universetoday.com/?p=150803Did the Perseverance rover capture a rainbow on Mars? This image, from the roverâs left rear Hazard Camera, sure looks like it. But alas, no. However, film director JJ Abrams would be proud. The roverâs official Twitter account explained it best, that rainbows just arenât possible on Mars, and this is simply a lens flare: …
âRainbows aren’t possible here. Rainbows are created by light reflected off of round water droplets, but there isn’t enough water here to condense, and itâs too cold for liquid water in the atmosphere. This arc is a lens flare.â
A lens flare is created when non-image forming bright light (such as direct sunlight) enters the lens and subsequently hits the camera’s digital sensor and scatters. Here’s another lens flare image, which also shows the recently dropped off Ingenuity helicopter:
Atmospheric science aside, these are extremely beautiful pictures from Mars. If youâre wondering why you perhaps havenât seen lens flares like this before from the Red Planet, there probably have been, but the quality of Perseverance’s cameras are showing so much more crisp detail in its images.
Here’s another cool lens flare image, a close-up of one of Perseverance’s wheels, also taken by one of the rear Hazcams:
The previous Mars Exploration Rovers had and the Opportunity rover has solar filters on most of their cameras. In addition to solar filters, Perseverance also has sunshades on the front Hazcams. This was considered mission-critical, because it needs them for driving forward (Perseverance is usually driving forward). Sunshades werenât considered essential on the rear Hazcams, so some of those images have scattered light artifacts, such as the one below:
The lead lens flare image was taken on Sol 43 (thatâs April 4, 2021 for us Earthlings).
]]>https://www.universetoday.com/150803/perseverance-captured-this-image-of-a-rainbow-on-mars-but-its-just-a-lens-flare-in-the-rovers-camera/feed/0150803Mars Helicopter Survives its First Night on Mars is Getting Ready to Fly
https://www.universetoday.com/150790/mars-helicopter-survives-its-first-night-on-mars-is-getting-ready-to-fly/#respondWed, 07 Apr 2021 21:08:45 +0000https://www.universetoday.com/?p=150790NASA's Ingenuity Helicopter survived its first night on the Martian surface and is preparing for its first test flight.
]]>On April 3rd, the Mars Ingenuity helicopter was removed from its carbon-fiber shield on the Perseverance rover’s belly. On Sunday, April 11th, it will make its first attempt at a powered, controlled flight, becoming the first aircraft to operate on another planet. In the meantime, Ingenuity accomplished another major milestone as it survived its first full night on the Martian surface.
Surviving that first night was no easy task for the 1.8 kg (4 lbs) rotorcraft. Around the Octavia E. Butler Landing – where the Perseverance rover is stationed in the Jezero crater – nighttime temperatures can plunge as low as -90 Â°C (-130 Â°F). These conditions can cause unprotected electronics to freeze and crack, as well as cause damage to onboard batteries that must to remain operational through the night.
Enduring a Martian night is just one of many challenges facing Ingenuity and its parent-mission Perseverance. However, the situation is complicated by the fact that the design of Ingenuity needed to be small enough to fit aboard the rover and light enough to fly in the thin Martian atmosphere (which has less than 1% of Earth’s atmospheric pressure).
By making it through an evening on Mars, Ingenuity has shown that it has what it takes to make it on the surface. As MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager at NASAâs Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a recent NASA press release:
“This is the first time that Ingenuity has been on its own on the surface of Mars. But we now have confirmation that we have the right insulation, the right heaters, and enough energy in its battery to survive the cold night, which is a big win for the team. Weâre excited to continue to prepare Ingenuity for its first flight test.”
Before Ingenuity was removed from Perseverance’s belly, it was receiving power from the rover. Once it had deployed its four legs and was on its own, Perseverance was instructed to move away so Ingenuity could start drawing power from its solar panels (which mounted atop its rotors). Once flight tests begin, Perseverance will act as a communications relay between Ingenuity and Earth and will monitor its flights from the “Van Zyl Overlook.”
These flights are the sole scientific objective of Ingenuity, which is a technology demonstration designed to see if airborne missions can operate in Mars’ thin atmosphere and gather information from a wider variety of locations. Ingenuity will complete its testing within 30 Martian days (sols), which is the equivalent of about 30 days and 18 hours on Earth. Once this is done, Perseverance will move into the next phase of operations.
Said Teddy Tzanetos, deputy operations lead for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL, the next month will be a very lucrative time for the mission. “Our 30-sol test schedule is frontloaded with exciting milestones,” he said. “Whatever the future holds, we will acquire all the flight data we can within that timeframe.”
For the next two days, Ingenuity will gather data on its thermal-control and power systems to see how well they perform in the Martian environment. This is crucial since the helicopter is standing on its own and can no longer rely on the Perseverance rover for thermal protection. This data will be used to fine-tune Ingenuityâs thermal-control system so that it can continue to endure the extremely cold Martian nights and operational during the flight period.
So far, Perseverance has managed to provide the first of the many images it took of the helicopter on the surface of Mars (shown at top) and the first image Ingenuity took of the surface itself (shown above). The first image was taken by Perseverance’s rear left Hazard Avoidance camera, which shows Ingenuity rotor blades still stacked on top of each other and its four footpads planted against the surface.
If you look to the right of the helicopter, you can see tracks left by Perseverance‘s wheel after it moved away to place it in direct sunlight. Ingenuity will remain deployed on the surface until the mission controllers are done gathering data on the helicopter’s systems, all pre-flight checks are completed, andboth it and the rover are positioned for the flight test.
The flight date may shift as needed, but NASA hopes to commence flight testing no sooner than Sunday, April 11th. This first controlled flight will be shared via a live stream on Monday, April 12th, starting at around 3:30 A.M. EDT (12:30 AM PDT). You can watch the live coverage on NASA Television, the NASA app, on multiple agency social media platforms (such as JPL’s YouTube and Facebook channels), and the agencyâs website.
A preflight briefing will be broadcast on Friday, April 9th, at 01:00 P.M. EDT (10:00 A.M. PDT) which will provide the latest details on the helicopterâs operations and what to expect during its first flight. NASA will hold a panel discussion on Thursday, April 8th, at 01:00 P.M. EDT (10:00 A.M. PDT) for students and members of the general public, letting them know what to expect before the flight and where related resources can be found.
]]>https://www.universetoday.com/150790/mars-helicopter-survives-its-first-night-on-mars-is-getting-ready-to-fly/feed/0150790Here’s a Strange Rock That Perseverance Shot With its Laser
https://www.universetoday.com/150796/heres-a-strange-rock-that-perseverance-shot-with-its-laser/#respondWed, 07 Apr 2021 15:33:10 +0000https://www.universetoday.com/?p=150796Perseverance has been busy lately.Â After testing its systems out, taking the first sound recording ever on the Red Planet, and dropping off its helicopter sidekick, now it has the opportunity to work on its primary mission: stare at some rocks.Â And occasionally zap them with a laser. That laser is part of the Supercam …
]]>Perseverance has been busy lately.Â After testing its systems out, taking the first sound recording ever on the Red Planet, and dropping off its helicopter sidekick, now it has the opportunity to work on its primary mission: stare at some rocks.Â And occasionally zap them with a laser.
That laser is part of the Supercam system we reported on previously.Â It sublimates part of a rock with its laser. The gas given off by the sublimation is then analyzed by spectroscopic cameras onboard the rover.Â That spectroscopy of the smoke emitted by the rock helps determine what the rock is actually made out of.Â Â
Recently, the rover came across a unique rock that piqued its scientific teamâs interest.Â They duly zapped the rock with a laser, and Perseverance posted a picture of the now slightly more pockmarked rock on its Twitter feed.Â Â
The rover even challenged its followers to try to find the additional pockmarks created by the laser, which Twitter user @justpaladone and a number of others managed to do in replies to the main tweet.
Another Twitter user, Nicolas Worth, pointed out the similarity between the rock Perseverance is researching and one found by Opportunity in 2005 now known as the Heat Shield Rock. That rock turned out to be a meteorite made of 93% iron, and was the first meteorite found on another planet.Â
Whether or not Perseverance blasted a possible meteorite with a laser is still up for debate, and itâs probably going to be awhile before any results from the Supercam science mission will be released.Â Until then Perseverance will continue blasting rocks and patiently waiting for its winged friend to take flight, which should happen in the coming weeks.