Atmosphere of a Distant Planet: The Week in Space

Another achievement by the James and Web telescope, Orion’s temporary disconnection, new findings on the wet history of Mars and the European Space Agency’s new astronauts. Summary of the week in the universe

Minutes of tension

The Artemis 1 mission is progressing as planned, although at the beginning of the eighth day of the mission, contact with the Orion spacecraft was lost for a short hour. The loss of contact occurred while the engineering team was working on re-installing Orion’s communication system with the deep space network – the array of antennas that allows the United States space agency, NASA, to communicate with distant spacecraft. Contact with the spacecraft was restored after 47 tense minutes, and is now being tried at Nas “A to understand what was the reason for the disconnection.

This week the spacecraft passed about 100 kilometers in front of the moon, then activated the auxiliary engines to begin a maneuver that would eventually put it in the intended orbit, circling the moon at a great distance from it and in the opposite direction to its orbit around the earth. At the end of the week, the spacecraft should complete the entry into orbit with another engine activation, and then stay there for about two weeks. Then you will perform another maneuver that will put it on a trajectory back towards Earth.

In recent days, NASA and the European Space Agency, which built the Orion service vehicle, completed testing all the spacecraft’s engines, as well as the fuel mixing mechanism, which ensures the uniform distribution necessary for the proper functioning of the engines and the spacecraft itself. NASA states that the spacecraft consumed up to So almost 70 kg of fuel less than the predictions.

The Earth shines above the surface of the Moon, a video composed of images taken by the Orion spacecraft:

Chemistry from a distance of 700 light years

New data from the James and Webb Space Telescope make it possible to study for the first time in detail the composition of the atmosphere of a planet in a distant solar system. The telescope analyzed the composition of the atmosphere of the planet WASP-39 b, which resides about 700 light-years from our solar system.

Observations by previous space telescopes have identified a chemical signature of certain materials in this planet’s atmosphere, and James Bebb’s team also published with the same telescope images the discovery that its atmosphere contains water vapor. The research teams are now publishing a full breakdown of the composition of the atmosphere, based on an analysis of findings from the telescope’s four optical instruments, which include cameras sensitive to different wavelengths, and spectrometers that analyze the light and allow the chemical signature of elements and compounds to be identified.

The researchers discovered for the first time that the planet’s atmosphere contains sulfur dioxide (SO2), confirmed previous observations that it also contains water vapor and carbon dioxide, and also found that it contains carbon monoxide (CO), sodium and potassium.

The planet WASP-39 b is a gas giant, about half the size of Jupiter, but it is very close to its sun, completing one orbit in just 3.4 Earth days. This proximity means that the strong energy from the sun affects the atmospheric processes that take place there. Among other things, it probably leads to the formation of sulfur dioxide, in the same way that radiation from our sun creates ozone (O3) in the Earth’s atmosphere. “This is the first time that we have seen in distant planets solid evidence of photochemistry – chemical reactions that occur due to the energy of their sun. I see this as a real promise that this mission will advance our knowledge and understanding of the atmospheres of such planets,” said Sheng-min Tsai ) from the University of Oxford in the UK, leading one of the telescope’s research teams.

Many teams around the world, numbering hundreds of scientists, separately analyzed the data collected by the telescope, and the detailed findings on the composition of WASP-39 b’s atmosphere are expected to be published soon in five scientific papers. Detailing the components of the atmosphere and the quantitative relationships between them allow a better understanding of how the planet was formed. The researchers estimate that this particular planet reached its current size through a series of collisions in which it swallowed smaller planetary bodies.

According to the researchers, the research on this planet paves the way to using the telescope to also study the atmospheres of rocky planets, more similar to Earth and closer to us, such as the planets of the Trappist 1 system, which was discovered only a few years ago at a distance of less than – 40 years from us.

data integration. Each of the optical instruments of the space telescope allows to identify different materials in the composition of the atmosphere of the planet, for a complete picture | Source: NASA, ESA, CSA, J. Olmsted (STScI)

Pride, Prejudice and Telescopes

And more in the matter of the James and B telescope: the United States’ space agency, NASA, announced late last week that it would not change the name of the telescope, after a further examination by historians found no evidence for the claim that it discriminated against employees from the LGBT community, and even resulted in their dismissal due to their sexual orientation.

James Webb was the second head of NASA, and ran the space agency from 1961 to 1968. He led the agency’s efforts to land a man on the moon, although he ended his job about a year before the first step on it. The allegations against Webb do not relate to his time as head NASA, except for his work in the 1950s, when he held senior positions in the US State Department. He served there during a period that later became known as “The Lavender Scare”, in which thousands of men and women from the LGBT community were fired from their government jobs on the grounds that they were a “security risk”. The harassment of LGBT people occurred simultaneously with the more famous persecution of suspected communists ( The Red Scare), and Senator Joseph McCarthy was a central figure in both persecutions.

Last year, ahead of the telescope’s launch into space, a group of four astronomers and astronomers initiated a petition demanding that the name of the telescope be changed. More than 1,200 scientists have signed it, including researchers participating in studies on the telescope data. The initiators of the petition claimed that even if he was not the initiator of the persecution of the LGBT, given his silence and his passive consent to these measures, it is not appropriate for the telescope to be named after him. The space agency appointed a historian to examine the claims, and following the examination announced that it found no reason to change the name.

On Friday, the agency released the report by its chief historian, Brian Odom. The report notes that the Lavender Scare was a painful chapter in the history of the United States, but emphasizes that “the bottom line is that there is currently no evidence directly linking B and B to the actions or acts concerning the dismissal of people due to their sexual orientation.”

Following the publication, the agency stated that promoting equality for the LGBT community is one of its core values, but made it clear again that it does not intend to change the name of the telescope. NASA to return to the beautiful tradition of commemorating scientists in the names of its scientific projects, and not politicians.

No evidence was found directly linking him to the dismissals. James Webb (center) receives a certificate of appreciation from President John F. Kennedy Source: NASA

Memories of wetter days

The Mars rover Perseverance, which landed on the Red Planet in early 2021, is now completing its first Martian year: one revolution of the planet around the Sun, which takes 687 Earth days. The researchers who analyze the findings he sends from there report data that confirms the assumption that there was once flowing water on the surface of Mars. Their findings were published this week in three scientific articles in the journals Science and Science Advances.

The Mars rover operates in the Jezero Crater, which scientists believe was once a large lake. The research teams used some of Presbyran’s advanced scientific instruments: a hyperspectral camera, which photographs the rocks at many wavelengths, the PIXL instrument, which is a fluorescence microscope that operates on X-rays, and the SHERLOC instrument, which is an advanced spectrometer. The three devices are used to analyze the chemical composition and physical properties of the materials being tested, and the researchers used them to test the composition of rocks and minerals in the crater area. All the findings point to minerals that were formed in a wet environment, probably in both salt water and fresh water at different times, possibly even groundwater that rose to the surface at a later stage. Some of them are minerals that were probably formed by volcanic activity, and then stayed in an aqueous environment.

“The data reveal a ‘fire and water story’ on Mars,” said Briony Horgan of Purdue University in Indiana, a partner in one of the research teams. “In Jazro Crater we can examine more ancient rocks than at other landing sites [של רכבי שטח על מאדים], which helps us understand the earliest periods in Mars’ history, when we think it was most suitable for life. The data confirms that there was water everywhere!”.

One of the main tasks of the Mars rover Persvirance, as well as its counterpart Curiosity, which has been operating on the planet for more than a decade, is to find evidence that in the distant past there was indeed life on Mars, at least microbial life such as bacteria or algae. So far, no such signs have been found, but “the researchers are excited to discover that there were several wet periods on Mars,” added planetary science researcher Schuyler Borges from Northern Arizona University, who is not directly involved in the analysis of Persbirens’ findings. “Because the meaning of more water is that there were more opportunities for life, if indeed there were any on Mars.”

The PIXL x-ray camera (with cover) at the end of the robotic arm of the Red Perseverance SUV | Source</a>: NASA/JPL-Caltech
An in-depth look into the wet past. The PIXL x-ray camera (with cover) at the end of the robotic arm of the Red Perseverance SUV | Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

fly into space with one leg

The European Space Agency has announced the recruitment of a new group of astronauts for the first time in 13 years. The group includes 17 men and women: five candidates who were chosen to be astronauts, 11 candidates who will be designated as “reserve of the astronaut team” and one who was chosen for an experimental program of integrating people with physical disabilities into the astronaut team. They were chosen from more than 22,000 people who applied.

Who may be the first disabled person in space is John McFall, 41, a British doctor whose leg was amputated when he was 19 following a motorcycle accident. He became a professional Paralympic athlete and won medals in short runs at the World Championships and at the Paralympic Games in Beijing 2008. Also as a doctor, he worked extensively with disabled athletes, and has now been chosen to lead the experiment to integrate a “paraastronaut” into manned space activities.

The astronauts selected for the training program are 40-year-old Sophie Adenot from France, military helicopter squadron and test squadron; Pablo Álvarez Fernández (Álvarez Fernández), 34, an aeronautical engineer from Spain; Rosemary Coogan, a 31-year-old doctor of astronomy from Great Britain; Raphael Liégeois, 34-year-old neurobiology doctor from Belgium; and Marco Sieber, 33, a doctor and former commando fighter from Switzerland. They will undergo a one-year training program at the European Space Agency’s training center in France, after which they are expected to deploy to missions on the International Space Station. The other 11 candidates passed all the tests and screenings, but for now the European Space Agency, which does not launch manned missions itself, cannot assign them to future missions. That is why they are defined as “reserve”, and will undergo the training if more European space missions are expected.

The 17 chosen for the positions of astronauts and reserve astronauts of the European Agency Photo: ESA - P. Sebirot
How many of them will get to fly into space? The 17 chosen for the positions of astronauts and reserve astronauts of the European Agency Photo: ESA – P. Sebirot

The article is Hebrew

Tags: Atmosphere Distant Planet Week Space

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