Show notes for Episode 188, April 10th 2014
Hosts: Paul, Rob C, Hugh, Julie(background)
Title: Cosmos YES, Congress NO
Tonight’s show is full of people! Starting with the birthday shout-out to Yuri Gagarin (first man in space) we progress quickly to all the amazing women who have contributed so significantly to modern astronomy (celebrating International Women’s Day). On the downside, we lament the cuts in the NASA budget and the impact that a world crisis can have on astronomy and space science. On the upside, we revel in the reboot of Cosmos, commenting upon the opening episode this past week.
This week in space/astronomy history:
1. March 7th, 1962 – Launch of OSO 1 (Orbiting Solar Observatory), first astronomy satellite; main mission was to study the Sun but also to look at celestial sources of UV light, X-rays and gamma-radiation (Suggested by Jen) NASA, wiki
2. March 10th, 1977 – The rings of Uranus were discovered (Suggested by Jen) – although William Herschel apparently observed them in 1789, it is debated whether or not he could have seen them because they are so faint wiki
3. March 10th, 1814 – Spectral Analysis – first observed by Joseph von Fraunhofer (Suggested by Jen) DW, wiki
4. March 9 1934 birthday for Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, April 12, 1961.
1. International Women’s Day: March 8th, 2014. Shout-out to astronomers past and present: Jocelyn Bell Burnell (b. 1943), Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941), Sandra Faber (b. 1944), Caroline Herschel (1750-1848), Helen Sawyer Hogg (1905-1993), Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868-1921), Cecila Payne-Gaposchkin (1900-1979), Vera Rubin (b. 1929), Carolyn Shoemaker (b. 1929), and Jill Tarter (b. 1944).
2. Asteroids whizzed by Earth. At distance of roughly 350 000 kilometers, placing its passage inside the orbit of the Moon (385 000 km), th 25-30 metre-wide asteroid DX110 passed the Earth on March 5th, 2014. DX110 is bigger than the Chelyabinsk meteor (20 metres) but smaller than Tunguska (60 metres). Two other asteroids, 2014 EC and 2014 EF, also passed even closer, but were slightly smaller at about 10 metres in diameter. These flybys are not rare, but NASA’s JPL Near-Earth Object Program is constantly watching for these objects. (Suggested Reading: 2014 DX110 Wiki, Bad Astronomy article, NASA)
3. New NASA budget request to the White House. The 2015 NASA Budget proposal has about a 1% cut compared to the 2014 budget; but when your total budget is billions of dollars, as NASA’s is, a 1% cut is 100millions of dollars (in context, the total national budget is trillions of dollars – so NASA’s total budget is less than 0.5% of that). Areas that may receive more money: space technology (e.g., asteroid capture), commercial spaceflight (e.g., buying launches from SpaceX), heliophysics, new Europa mission (see below). Areas that may receive cuts: earth science, astrophysics, planetary science, and education.
MER Opportunity and LRO are not on the actual request for funding, they’re on the “wish list” so they’ll probably be gone, CASSINI, CURIOSITY (obviously) and most of the other planetary missions will stay. NASA has committed to a new discovery mission starting in FY15, not sure what it will be these are the “small” 450 million dollar missions like DAWN, GRAIL and Kepler (my favourite!) Pu-238 production will continue to be funded! Yay! This is important for missions to the outer regions of the solar system, so it’s great to see that NASA is going to keep making this. They will be funding 133 million for an asteroid redirect mission, of which details are fairly limited, but 20 million will go to observing near earth objects. SOFIA got mothballed. This is bad! Education funding down by ¼, which is also bad. (Suggested Reading: NASA Fiscal Year Request Summary, Bad Astronomy article,)
Better breakdown from planetary society
Details on SOFIA
4. Ukraine-Crimea influencing astronomy? The impact of the Ukraine-Crimea conflict and a possible “sanctions showdown” with the US could imperil the ISS and indeed other NASA/DoD ;launches. Soyuz remains the only way for people to reach the ISS and the Atlas 5 main engine is supplied by Russia. Thus, could US space efforts be a casualty of the current eastern European crisis?
5. Europa Clipper. One of the missions earmarked for funds in the above budget is the probe to Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa. The launch date could be as early as the 2020s, and would see the Clipper flyby the moon many times with distance from the surface from 25 km to several thousand kilometres. Two instruments of particular interest: an infrared spectrometer to study the icy surface, and radar to penetrate the surface ice. It would also potentially flyby Ganymede and Callisto along the way. Total estimated cost is about $2 billion. Europa Clipper follows in the footsteps of Saturn’s Cassini-Huygen’s mission – although there is no mention of a lander for the Clipper.(Suggested Reading: NASA)
6. Mars rock mission. NASA Ames internal study concludes that the SpaceX Dragon capsule would have the capability to perform a sample return mission from Mars. The mission would launch from Earth in 2022, a modified Dragon capsule dubbed the Red Dragon (How cool is that?) would perform a soft landing on the martian surface, collect a sample (possibly a drilled sample!), load it up into a Mars Ascent Vehicle which would ascend out of Mars and come straight back to Earth, landing in a High Earth Orbit where it would be picked up by a second Dragon capsule and delivered safely back to Earth. NASA estimates that the Red Dragon could land up to two metric tonnes of useful payload on Mars (i.e. the equivalent of two Curiosity rovers). (Suggested reading: Space.com article)
In more SpaceX news, next week they’re launching again this time with landing legs. Still landing in the ocean but it’s all progress on the road to reusable rockets.
(Suggested reading: UniverseToday article)
7. Yutu lives! (Sort of) The YUTU Rover (Jade Rabbit) survived its encounter with the dreaded lunar night and was able to move its instruments around even if the rover itself didn’t move. As we suspected it was an issue with the rover being able to position its solar panels correctly. At night the rover hunkers down around its warm radioactive core to keep sensitive equipment and electronics safe from the harsh environment of the lunar night, however with the disabled mechanical equipment they aren’t able to fold down the sensitive pieces of equipment on the rover’s mast. All this aside, the rover was able to wake up 48 hours behind schedule and while it’s not currently moving it is still able to take panoramic and infrared images and the ground penetrating radar is still functioning normally. They should be just coming out of their third lunar night in the next few days, hopefully everything is still in good shape!
(Suggested reading: UniverseToday article)
8. Using bonded molecules to determine exoplanet atmospheric pressure. Never ceases to amaze me what we can learn just from looking at stuff! They measure the broadening of the 1.06um absorption line corresponding to vibrating and rotating O2-O2 dimers, basically two O2s that are covalently bonded together. The theory goes that as the atmospheric pressure increases you get significantly greater broadening effects from these O2-O2 dimers than you would from a simple O2 monomer. By comparing the relative levels of the two you can determine the effect of atmospheric pressure on the O2, and thereby determine what the atmospheric pressure of the planet is likely to be.
(Suggested reading: UniverseToday article, ArXiV article)
9. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos premiered this past week. A fitting tribute to Carl Sagan’s original series and wonderfully update images and graphics, Cosmos delivered! Apart from an overcrowded steroid Belt graphic (and an over populated Oort Cloud) there was little to be disappointed in. For those of us who saw the original series, this promises to be both a ride down memory lane as well as a wonderful modern tribute to teh state of modern astronomy.
Thanks for listening!
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