Magnetic Reconnection

Earlier this week I had a fellow telling me about magnetic portals that threaten Earth that have just started showing up and “oh my goodness”.

Given the grin I had upon my face at hearing the news, especially from him because he learned all about it from the internet and he tends towards the conspiracy sides of things if you know what I mean. I don’t think he believed me when I told him to relax.

So I thought I’d post a couple of videos explaining correctly what he was all excited about because magnetic reconnection is REAL, but not quite like he thinks.

See what the MMS mission is about and learning, first this:

and then this:

Phobos in Orbit

Check this out – Hubble captures the Martian moon Phobos in orbit.

Goddard Space Flight Center/NASA/ESAHubble — A football-shaped object just 16.5 miles by 13.5 miles by 11 miles, Phobos is one of the smallest moons in the solar system. It is so tiny that it would fit comfortably inside the Washington, D.C. Beltway.

The little moon completes an orbit in just 7 hours and 39 minutes, which is faster than Mars rotates. Rising in the Martian west, it runs three laps around the Red Planet in the course of one Martian day, which is about 24 hours and 40 minutes. It is the only natural satellite in the solar system that circles its planet in a time shorter than the parent planet’s day.

About two weeks after the Apollo 11 manned lunar landing on July 20, 1969, NASA’s Mariner 7 flew by the Red Planet and took the first crude close-up snapshot of Phobos. On July 20, 1976 NASA’s Viking 1 lander touched down on the Martian surface. A year later, its parent craft, the Viking 1 orbiter, took the first detailed photograph of Phobos, revealing a gaping crater from an impact that nearly shattered the moon.

Phobos was discovered by Asaph Hall on August 17, 1877 at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., six days after he found the smaller, outer moon, named Deimos. Hall was deliberately searching for Martian moons.

Both moons are named after the sons of Ares, the Greek god of war, who was known as Mars in Roman mythology. Phobos (panic or fear) and Deimos (terror or dread) accompanied their father into battle.

Close-up photos from Mars-orbiting spacecraft reveal that Phobos is apparently being torn apart by the gravitational pull of Mars. The moon is marred by long, shallow grooves that are probably caused by tidal interactions with its parent planet. Phobos draws nearer to Mars by about 6.5 feet every hundred years. Scientists predict that within 30 to 50 million years, it either will crash into the Red Planet or be torn to pieces and scattered as a ring around Mars.

Orbiting 3,700 miles above the Martian surface, Phobos is closer to its parent planet than any other moon in the solar system. Despite its proximity, observers on Mars would see Phobos at just one-third the width of the full moon as seen from Earth. Conversely, someone standing on Phobos would see Mars dominating the horizon, enveloping a quarter of the sky.

From the surface of Mars, Phobos can be seen eclipsing the sun. However, it is so tiny that it doesn’t completely cover our host star. Transits of Phobos across the sun have been photographed by several Mars-faring spacecraft.

The origin of Phobos and Deimos is still being debated. Scientists concluded that the two moons were made of the same material as asteroids. This composition and their irregular shapes led some astrophysicists to theorize that the Martian moons came from the asteroid belt.

However, because of their stable, nearly circular orbits, other scientists doubt that the moons were born as asteroids. Such orbits are rare for captured objects, which tend to move erratically. An atmosphere could have slowed down Phobos and Deimos and settled them into their current orbits, but the Martian atmosphere is too thin to have circularized the orbits. Also, the moons are not as dense as members of the asteroid belt.

Phobos may be a pile of rubble that is held together by a thin crust. It may have formed as dust and rocks encircling Mars were drawn together by gravity. Or, it may have experienced a more violent birth, where a large body smashing into Mars flung pieces skyward, and those pieces were brought together by gravity. Perhaps an existing moon was destroyed, reduced to the rubble that would become Phobos.

Hubble took the images of Phobos orbiting the Red Planet on May 12, 2016, when Mars was 50 million miles from Earth. This was just a few days before the planet passed closer to Earth in its orbit than it had in the past 11 years.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

Supersonic Parachute

I am always amazed at parachute tests,.  A capsule (see link below) is speeding along at 12 times the speed of sound and then the parachute is deployed creating incredible stresses on the system, in the end designs it all holds together. For some unknown reason this test got me to wondering how much stretch the attaching parachute cord occurs and what the tensile strength is, for that matter what it is made of.   Oh I’m sure the data is out there, I just need to find it.

About the test:
ESA — This parachute deployed at supersonic velocity from a test capsule hurtling down towards snow-covered northern Sweden from 679 km up, proving a crucial technology for future spacecraft landing systems.

Planetary landers or reentering spacecraft need to lose their speed rapidly to achieve safe landings, which is where parachutes come in. They have played a crucial role in the success of ESA missions such as ESA’s Atmospheric Entry Demonstrator, the Huygens lander on Saturn’s moon Titan and the Intermediate Experimental Vehicle spaceplane.

This 1.25-m diameter ‘Supersonic Parachute Experiment Ride on Maxus’, or Supermax, flew piggyback on ESA’s Maxus-9 sounding rocket on 7 April, detaching from the launcher after its solid-propellant motor burnt out.

After reaching its maximum 679 km altitude, the capsule began falling back under the pull of gravity. It fell at 12 times the speed of sound, undergoing intense aerodynamic heating, before air drag decelerated it to Mach 2 at an altitude of 19 km.

At this point the capsule’s parachute was deployed to stabilise it for a soft landing, and allowing its onboard instrumentation and camera footage to be recovered intact.

The experiment was undertaken by UK companies Vorticity Ltd and Fluid Gravity Engineering Ltd under ESA contract.

The data gathered by this test are being added to existing wind tunnel test campaigns of supersonic parachutes to validate newly developed software called the Parachute Engineering Tool (also developed by Vorticity), allowing mission designers to accurately assess the use of parachutes.

LISA Mission Ends

The Laser Interferometer Space Antenna or LISA mission ended yesterday.

The LISA Pathfinder mission set out to test the technology needed to detect gravity waves.  The gravity waves were predicted to exist by Einstein a hundred years ago (actually in 1916).  Could they be found?

Thanks to the LISA mission we know, yes they can!  Here’s a new video from ESA that gives a good overview.

Enceladus Jets


We are just two months from the end of the Cassini mission!

NASA – Enceladus’ intriguing south-polar jets are viewed from afar, backlit by sunlight while the moon itself glows softly in reflected Saturn-shine.

Observations of the jets taken from various viewing geometries provide different insights into these remarkable features. Cassini has gathered a wealth of information in the hopes of unraveling the mysteries of the subsurface ocean that lurks beneath the moon’s icy crust.

This view looks toward the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Enceladus (313 miles or 504 kilometers across). North is up. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on April 13, 2017.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 502,000 miles (808,000 kilometers) from Enceladus and at a sun-Enceladus-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 176 degrees. Image scale is 3 miles (5 kilometers) per pixel.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Curiosity’s Traction Control

Readers who’ve been around for a while know we’ve been keeping an eye on Curiosity’s wheels; they have taken a beating traveling around on Mars.

NASA of course has been working the problem right from the beginning and they now have come up with an algorithm to help with the problem.

JPL/NASA (Andrew Good) – There are no mechanics on Mars, so the next best thing for NASA’s Curiosity rover is careful driving.

A new algorithm is helping the rover do just that. The software, referred to as traction control, adjusts the speed of Curiosity’s wheels depending on the rocks it’s climbing. After 18 months of testing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the software was uploaded to the rover on Mars in March. Mars Science Laboratory’s mission management approved it for use on June 8, after extensive testing at JPL and multiple tests on Mars.

Even before 2013, when the wheels began to show signs of wear, JPL engineers had been studying how to reduce the effects of the rugged Martian surface. On level ground, all of the rover’s wheels turn at the same speed. But when a wheel goes over uneven terrain, the incline causes the wheels behind or in front of it to start slipping.

This change in traction is especially problematic when going over pointed, embedded rocks. When this happens, the wheels in front pull the trailing wheels into rocks; the wheels behind push the leading wheels into rocks.

In either case, the climbing wheel can end up experiencing higher forces, leading to cracks and punctures. The treads on each of Curiosity’s six wheels, called grousers, are designed for climbing rocks. But the spaces between them are more at risk.

“If it’s a pointed rock, it’s more likely to penetrate the skin between the wheel grousers,” said Art Rankin of JPL, the test team lead for the traction control software. “The wheel wear has been cause for concern, and although we estimate they have years of life still in them, we do want to reduce that wear whenever possible to extend the life of the wheels.”

The traction control algorithm uses real-time data to adjust each wheel’s speed, reducing pressure from the rocks. The software measures changes to the suspension system to figure out the contact points of each wheel. Then, it calculates the correct speed to avoid slippage, improving the rover’s traction.

During testing at JPL, the wheels were driven over a six-inch (15-centimeter) force torque sensor on flat terrain. Leading wheels experienced a 20 percent load reduction, while middle wheels experienced an 11 percent load reduction, Rankin said.

Traction control also addresses the problem of wheelies. Occasionally, a climbing wheel will keep rising, lifting off the actual surface of a rock until it’s free-spinning. That increases the forces on the wheels that are still in contact with terrain. When the algorithm detects a wheelie, it adjusts the speeds of the other wheels until the rising wheel is back into contact with the ground.

Rankin said that the traction control software is currently on by default, but can be turned off when needed, such as for regularly scheduled wheel imaging, when the team assesses wheel wear.

The software was developed at JPL by Jeff Biesiadecki and Olivier Toupet. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the Curiosity mission for NASA.

Image: NASA