Space | EarthSky Updates on your cosmos and world Fri, 12 Aug 2022 10:36:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Wow! See a galactic collision in stunning detail Fri, 12 Aug 2022 10:01:11 +0000 Astronomers using the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii have captured a stunning new image of a galactic collision of 2 galaxies 60 million light-years away.

The post Wow! See a galactic collision in stunning detail first appeared on EarthSky.

Galactic collision: Two spiral galaxies starting to merge, at angles with each other.
View larger. | Wham! The galaxies NGC 4568 (bottom) and NGC 4567 (top) collide in this new image from the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii. In this galactic collision, the 2 spiral galaxies will eventually merge and form a single elliptical galaxy about 500 million years from now. Image via International Gemini Observatory/ NOIRLab/ NSF/ AURA/ University of Alaska Anchorage/ T.A. Rector/ J. Miller/ M. Zamani/ D. de Martin.

No, it’s not just a line-of-sight coincidence. The two galaxies in the image above are actively colliding. You might think this stunning new image is from the space-based Webb telescope. But in fact, it’s courtesy of the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii. We’re witnessing two galaxies beginning to merge together due to their mutual gravitational pull. Over hundreds of millions of years, the galaxies will continue to mesh together, until they form one new galaxy. That won’t happen for about another 500 million years, however. Bonus: You can spot the glowing remains of a supernova in the new image!

A galactic collision millions of light-years away

The Gemini North telescope captured the two galaxies – NGC 4567 and NGC 4568 – just as they are beginning their merge. And to be sure, there’s no danger to our own galaxy. This cosmic collision is far away from us, about 60 million light-years. The galaxies are in the direction of the constellation Virgo.

NGC 4568 is the larger-appearing galaxy on the bottom, while NGC 4567 looks like it is dive-bombing its companion. At this point, both galaxies retain their spiral shapes. But eventually, they will merge to form a single elliptical galaxy. Currently, the centers of the two galaxies are about 20,000 light-years apart.

Two galaxies merging, with inset square with noticeable white dot.
View larger. | The new image also show a fading supernova (inset box), called SN 2020fqv, which was first detected in 2020. Image via NOIRLab/ NASA/ ESA/ Z. Levay/ R. van der Marel/ STScI/ T. Hallas/ A. Mellinger.

The galactic collision is a slow cosmic dance

When we hear the word collide, we tend to think of a fast and brutal smash-up. Instead, a galactic collision is a more gradual merging that takes millions of years. The combined gravity of the galaxies causes them to repeatedly brush past each other. They swing by each other in ever-tightening loops. Very slowly, they lose their spiral shapes as gravity triggers star formation and distorts them. In due time, the two separate galaxies become one roughly elliptical or spherical new galaxy.

As the galaxies merge together, immensely long streamers of stars and gas either mix together or are ejected. However, because distances between stars are so large, the likelihood of stars actually colliding in a galaxy merger is as low as in a lone galaxy. Instead gravity affects their positions, and they move as the gas does.

Check out this video simulation zooming in on the colliding galaxies:

A glimpse of the Milky Way’s future

The image of NGC 4568 and NGC 4567 is incredible in its own right. It shows one of the most mesmerizing – albeit slow and drawn-out – events in the natural universe. But, it also provides a glimpse into the future of our own Milky Way galaxy. In a few billion years, astronomers say, our galaxy will suffer a similar fate, colliding with the nearby Andromeda galaxy. You can watch a simulation in the video below:

Panel of 8 illustrations of 2 galaxies gradually merging together.
View larger. | This series of illustrations shows the predicted merger between our Milky Way galaxy and the neighboring Andromeda galaxy. Image via NASA/ ESA/ Z. Levay/ R. van der Marel/ STScI/ T. Hallas/ A. Mellinger.

Here is a description of what’s happening in the images above:

First Row, Left: Present day.
First Row, Right: In 2 billion years the disk of the approaching Andromeda galaxy is noticeably larger.
Second Row, Left: In 3.75 billion years Andromeda fills the field of view.
Second Row, Right: In 3.85 billion years the sky is ablaze with new star formation.
Third Row, Left: In 3.9 billion years, star formation continues.
Third Row, Right: In 4 billion years Andromeda is tidally stretched and the Milky Way becomes warped.
Fourth Row, Left: In 5.1 billion years the cores of the Milky Way and Andromeda appear as a pair of bright lobes.
Fourth Row, Right: In 7 billion years the merged galaxies form a huge elliptical galaxy, its bright core dominating the nighttime sky.

Bottom line: Astronomers using the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii have captured a stunning new image of a galactic collision of two galaxies 60 million light-years away. The event also provides a glimpse into the future when our Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy eventually merge.


The post Wow! See a galactic collision in stunning detail first appeared on EarthSky.

]]> 0
Launches: Micro-X rocket to image Cass A Fri, 12 Aug 2022 02:15:06 +0000 Launches blog for August 12: Northwestern University's "Micro-X" rocket launches on August 21, 2022, to snap a photo of supernova remnant Cassiopeia A.

The post Launches: Micro-X rocket to image Cass A first appeared on EarthSky.

Scientists lined up behind a big rocket.
Micro-X rocket and team. Image via Northwestern.

EarthSky’s Launches blog, with Dave Adalian and Lia De La Cruz, brings you the best in spaceflight updates. Bookmark us! And come again.

SpaceX’s 2nd Starlink launch for the month is currently scheduled for 5:40 p.m. EDT (21:40 UTC) on August 12, 2022. Watch the livestream here.

August 12 update: Micro-X rocket to image Cass A

From Lia: A rocket built by Northwestern University researchers will be launching on August 21, 2022, from the White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico. Micro-X (the high-resolution microcalorimeter X-ray imaging rocket) will spend 15 minutes in space, just enough time to snap a quick image of the famous supernova remnant Cassiopeia A, or Cass A. This region of space – located some 11,000 light-years from Earth – marks the spot where a star exploded.

Micro-X will launch, have its 15 minutes of glory, then parachute back to Earth for a landing in the desert about 45 miles (70 km) away. Enectali Figueroa-Feliciano, who leads the project, explained in a statement:

The supernova remnant is so hot that most of the light it emits is not in the visible range. We have to use X-ray imaging, which isn’t possible from Earth because our atmosphere absorbs X-rays. That’s why we have to go into space. It’s like if you jumped into the air, snapped a photo just as your head peeked above the atmosphere, and then landed back down.

The rocket looks like fun, doesn’t it? Every little kid’s dream! The video below explains more.

Wispy bubble with multiple colors on a black background.
Cassiopeia A is a supernova remnant in the direction of the constellation Cassiopeia, located about 11,000 light-years away. Image via NASA.

August 11 update: Artemis 1 scheduled for August 29

From Lia: Emre Kelly – a space reporter for Florida Today and USA Today – tweeted the news that the U.S. Space Force has updated NASA’s Artemis 1 launch date from pending to scheduled, on August 29. The launch window opens at 8:33 a.m. EDT (12:33 UTC) on that date and lasts two hours.

To meet this date, the targeted roll-out date for the mighty Space Launch System (SLS), which will launch the mission, would be August 18. The mission, which will send the uncrewed Orion spacecraft around the moon, will last 42 days. The targeted splashdown date would be October 10. In the event of a delay, NASA has also announced two backup launch opportunities in September.

Following Artemis 1, hopefully no later than 2024, Artemis 2 will carry the first-ever crewed test flight of the Orion spacecraft. Artemis 3, which will fly astronauts to the moon, is currently targeted for no earlier than 2025. That mission might be the one to land humans on the lunar surface. The Artemis mission also has as one of its short-term goals of sending the first woman and first person of color to the moon’s surface.

Read more about Artemis 1: Return to the moon

Partial shot of an orange booster, plus the white Orion space capsule on top.
Artemis 1 is the first of several new NASA moon missions. The mission will send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft (the white capsule shown here) around the moon, via NASA’s Space Launch System). It is now scheduled to launch on August 29 from Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image via

August 10 update: SpaceX had a busy day yesterday, with Starship engine tests and a Starlink deployment

From Dave: Fans of Starship – SpaceX’s two-stage, fully-reusable heavy lift vehicle – were atwitter yesterday (Tuesday, August 9, 2022) after reports from the company’s Boca Chica, Texas, Starbase showed video of successful live-fire engine tests performed on both Booster 7 and Starship (or just Ship) 24. The pioneering aerospace concern is moving, as usual, quickly ahead, apparently aiming for an orbital test of the tallest and most powerful rocket yet built, as soon as they can make it happen.

Confusingly, SpaceX calls both the second stage (“the spacecraft”) and the entire two-stage vehicle – a stack of a Super Heavy Booster and a second-stage spacecraft – a Starship. The two stages tested today, Booster 7 and Ship 24, will be mated into a single complete Starship for the maiden voyage into orbit around Earth. Notably, today’s test marks the first time a Raptor 2 engine – in this case, just one of 33 engines the rocket carries – has been fired while mounted on a Super Heavy Booster. The impressive video of the engine firing at full thrust drew a flurry of celebratory congratulations, along with a handful of the usual sneers from SpaceX’s detractors.

SpaceX also shared video of the Ship 24 static engine test fire, a milestone for this particular spacecraft, but not the first time the company has live-fired a Starship second stage. Two of Ship 24’s engines were fired during the test.

Meanwhile, back at Kennedy Space Center, SpaceX shot 52 more Starlink satellites into orbit aboard a Falcon 9 booster that made its third roundtrip into space and back. SpaceX shared video of the fiery nighttime launch:

They also offered up video of the booster’s automated landing at sea on the A Shortfall of Gravitas.

Launches: Rocket firing engines with smoke.
SpaceX performs an engine test on Starship 24 at its Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, on Tuesday (August 9, 2022). During the same test window, the Super Heavy Booster 7 was also test fired, marking the first time a Raptor 2 had been used with the vehicle. Also on Tuesday, SpaceX launched another batch of 52 Starlink satellites. Image via SpaceX.

August 8 update: Russia leaving ISS? Not so fast!

From Dave: Yuri Borisov, the new head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, apparently didn’t really mean it when he told Russian President Vladimir Putin last month the agency was ending its participation in the International Space Station after 2024. During a live briefing hosted by NASA late last week (August 4, 2022), speaking through an interpreter, Sergei Krikalev, executive director of human space flight programs for the Russians, said there was a misunderstanding, possibly something “lost in translation:”

As far as the statement for 2024, perhaps something was lost in the translation. But the statement actually said that Russia will not pull out of the program until after 2024. This means up until the end of 2024 there will be no changes. And after 2024 may mean 2025, 2028 or 2030, and this specific concrete decision about a termination of the program will be based on the technical condition of the station and the assessment of all partners.

His comment came during a discussion of the upcoming SpaceX Crew-5 launch, set for early fall. The flight will mark the first time a cosmonaut will ride a Dragon crew capsule to orbit, according to NASA:

The Crew-5 mission will carry NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada as well as JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Koichi Wakata and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina. The Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon Endurance spacecraft is scheduled to launch no earlier than September 29 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Four people in spacesuits.
Members of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5 pose in their spacesuits in this collage. They are, from left to right, top to bottom: NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina. Kikina will be the 1st cosmonaut to fly aboard a SpaceX Dragon this September. Image via NASA.
Middle-aged man with an intense look on his face.
Russian space agency Roscosmos head Yuri Borisov. Image via

Bottom line: The “Micro-X” rocket built by a team of seven Northwestern University alumni is launching on August 21, 2022, to snap a photo of supernova remnant Cassiopeia A.

Looking for last week’s Launches blog? Click here

The post Launches: Micro-X rocket to image Cass A first appeared on EarthSky.

]]> 0
SpaceX Starlink launches for August Fri, 12 Aug 2022 01:45:48 +0000 SpaceX has seven Starlink launches scheduled for the month of August 2022. Watch the second one take place at 21:40 UTC on August 12, 2022.

The post SpaceX Starlink launches for August first appeared on EarthSky.


Starlink launch on August 12, 2022

SpaceX’s second Starlink launch for the month is currently scheduled for 5:40 p.m. EDT (21:40 UTC) on August 12, 2022. The Starlink Group 3-3 mission will launch 46 Starlink satellites atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. After liftoff, viewers can anticipate watching the Falcon 9 first stage return to Earth on the droneship Of Course I Still Love You. Upon liftoff, it will mark the private company’s 170th Falcon 9 launch. Wow!

See the official livestream on SpaceX’s YouTube channel. The stream will begin about five minutes before liftoff.

Starlink launch on August 9, plus 5

Just a few days prior at 10:14 p.m. EDT (02:14 UTC August 10) on Tuesday, August 9, SpaceX launched 52 Starlink satellites from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. You can watch it in the video above or in the tweet below. The mission, Starlink Group 4-26, was also launched atop a Falcon 9. At liftoff, the launch marked SpaceX’s 100th orbital launch attempt of the year: a new record!

Altogether, SpaceX has five more planned for the month, bringing the total on its agenda up to seven launches. Keep reading to learn about more Starlink launches in August 2022.

Starlink Group 4-26: Tues • Aug 10th, 2022 02:14 UTC
Falcon 9 Block 5 | Kennedy Space Center, FL, USA | SUCCESS

Starlink Group 3-3: Fri • Aug 12th, 2022 21:40 UTC
Falcon 9 Block 5 | Vandenberg SFB, CA, USA | GO FOR LAUNCH

Starlink Group 4-20: Tues • Aug 30th, 2022 00 UTC
Falcon 9 Block 5 | Cape Canaveral, FL, USA | DATE/TIME MAY CHANGE

Starlink Group 4-23: Tues • Aug 30th, 2022 00 UTC
Falcon 9 Block 5 | Cape Canaveral, FL, USA | DATE/TIME MAY CHANGE

Starlink Group 4-27: Tues • Aug 30th, 2022 00 UTC
Falcon 9 Block 5 | Cape Canaveral, FL, USA | DATE/TIME MAY CHANGE

Starlink Group 3-4: Tues • Aug 30th, 2022 00 UTC
Falcon 9 Block 5 | Vandenberg SFB, CA, USA | DATE/TIME MAY CHANGE

Starlink Group 4-2: Tues • Aug 30th, 2022 00 UTC
Falcon 9 Block 5 | Cape Canaveral, FL, USA | DATE/TIME MAY CHANGE

Starlink: A thin white rocket on tail of flame launches straight up over clouds of steam.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket after launch. Image via Interesting Engineering/ SpaceX/ Twitter.

Growing numbers amidst controversy

Love ’em or hate ’em, Starlink satellites are SpaceX’s internet communication satellite constellation. They deliver high-speed internet service worldwide, mainly to locations where ground-based internet is unreliable, unavailable, or expensive. The private company is well-known for launching batches back to back, several times a month, regularly lofting 60 satellites at a time. As of this writing, about 2,750 are currently in orbit and will build up to perhaps as many as 30,000 eventually.

Most thought it exciting to see the first few Starlink satellites traveling together in the night sky. But then more were launched, and then more. And astronomers began to worry.

Starlinks are bright. Astronomers say they’re photobombing astronomical images. They have the potential to interfere with the professional astronomical observations that have brought us our modern-day view of the cosmos. And although SpaceX has tried to address the issue, they remain far from what astronomers say is acceptable.

Meanwhile …

South Korea is on its way to the moon. SpaceX assisted the country by using a Falcon 9 rocket to launch the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO), also known as Danuri, on August 4. It’s a milestone for South Korea, being the country’s first-ever deep space mission, and sets the stage for more ambitious launch efforts down the road. Mission officials with the Korea Aerospace Research Institute said in a statement that KPLO …

… will be the first step for ensuring and verifying [South Korea’s] capability of space exploration.

The KPLO mission’s main objective is a demonstration, but will also employ its six science instruments for research when in lunar orbit. It should arrive at the moon and establish an orbit by mid-December of 2022, stated NASA.

Bottom line: SpaceX has seven Starlink launches scheduled for the month of August 2022. Watch the second one take place at 21:40 UTC on August 12, 2022.

Via Space Launch Schedule

The post SpaceX Starlink launches for August first appeared on EarthSky.

]]> 0
Betelgeuse is recovering from blowing its top Thu, 11 Aug 2022 21:01:07 +0000 Betelgeuse blew its top in 2019. The explosion kicked up a dust cloud, which made the star look dimmer from Earth. The star is slowly recovering.

The post Betelgeuse is recovering from blowing its top first appeared on EarthSky.

Four images of a mottled orange globe with light and dark clouds bursting out from one point.
Do you remember when Betelgeuse suddenly got dimmer in 2019 and 2020? Scientists are watching the star slowly recover from an outburst that darkened its light. Image via NASA/ ESA/ Elizabeth Wheatley (STScI).

NASA originally published this article on August 11, 2022. You can read the original here. Edits by EarthSky.

Betelgeuse literally blew its top in 2019

Analyzing data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and several other observatories, astronomers have concluded that the bright red supergiant star Betelgeuse quite literally blew its top in 2019. Betelgeuse lost a substantial part of its visible surface and produced a gigantic Surface Mass Ejection (SME). This is something never before seen in a normal star’s behavior.

Our sun routinely blows off parts of its tenuous outer atmosphere, the corona, in an event known as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). But the Betelgeuse SME blasted off 400 billion times as much mass as a typical CME!

Betelgeuse is slowly recovering

The monster star is still slowly recovering from this catastrophic upheaval. Andrea Dupree of the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said:

Betelgeuse continues doing some very unusual things right now; the interior is sort of bouncing.

These new observations yield clues on how red supergiant stars lose mass late in their lives as their nuclear fusion furnaces burn out, before exploding as supernovae. The amount of mass loss significantly affects their fate. However, Betelgeuse’s surprisingly petulant behavior is not evidence the star is about to blow up anytime soon. So the mass loss event is not necessarily the signal of an imminent explosion.

Studying Betelgeuse before, during and after the SME

Dupree is now pulling together all the puzzle pieces of the star’s petulant behavior before, after and during the eruption into a coherent story of a never-before-seen titanic convulsion in an aging star.

This includes new spectroscopic and imaging data from the STELLA robotic observatory, the Fred L. Whipple Observatory’s Tillinghast Reflector Echelle Spectrograph (TRES), NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory spacecraft (STEREO-A), NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, and the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO). Dupree emphasizes that the Hubble data was pivotal to helping sort out the mystery. She explained:

We’ve never before seen a huge mass ejection of the surface of a star. We are left with something going on that we don’t completely understand. It’s a totally new phenomenon that we can observe directly and resolve surface details with Hubble. We’re watching stellar evolution in real time.

The titanic outburst in 2019 was possibly caused by a convective plume, more than a million miles across, bubbling up from deep inside the star. It produced shocks and pulsations that blasted off a chunk of the photosphere. This left the star with a large, cool surface area under the dust cloud that was produced by the cooling piece of photosphere. Betelgeuse is now struggling to recover from this injury.

Dust cloud from the ejection blocked Betelgeuse’s light

Weighing roughly several times as much as our moon, the fractured piece of photosphere sped off into space and cooled to form a dust cloud. That’s what blocked light from the star as seen from Earth. The dimming, which began in late 2019 and lasted for a few months, was easily noticeable by backyard observers watching the star change brightness. One of the brightest stars in the sky, you can easily find Betelgeuse in the right shoulder of the constellation Orion.

Even more fantastic, the supergiant’s 400-day pulsation rate is now gone, perhaps at least temporarily. For almost 200 years astronomers have measured this rhythm as evident in changes in Betelgeuse’s brightness variations and surface motions. Its disruption attests to the ferocity of the blowout.

Betelgeuse: 4 panels of outbursts on star and graph with sine wave and also irregular wave.
View larger. | The 4 illustrations at top show Betelgeuse ejecting mass from January 2019 to March 2020. At the bottom is a graph that plots the star’s change in brightness over time. The escaping material cooled to form a cloud of dust that temporarily made the star look dimmer from Earth. This unprecedented stellar convulsion disrupted the monster star’s 400-day-long oscillation period that astronomers had measured for more than 200 years. The interior may now be jiggling like a plate of gelatin. Image via NASA/ ESA/ Elizabeth Wheatley (STScI).

An interior like gelatin

Dupree suggests the star’s interior convection cells, which drive the regular pulsation, may be sloshing around like an imbalanced washing machine. TRES and Hubble spectra imply that the outer layers may be back to normal, but the surface is still bouncing like a plate of gelatin as the photosphere rebuilds itself.

Though our sun has coronal mass ejections that blow off small pieces of the outer atmosphere, astronomers have never witnessed such a large amount of a star’s visible surface blasted into space. Therefore, surface mass ejections and coronal mass ejections may be different events.

Betelgeuse is now so huge that if it replaced the sun at the center of our solar system, its outer surface would extend past the orbit of Jupiter. Dupree used Hubble to resolve hot spots on the surface of Betelgeuse in 1996. This was the first direct image of a star other than the sun. NASA’s Webb Space Telescope may be able to detect the ejected material in infrared light as it continues moving away from the star.

Big red fuzzy, blobby star, with white near center fading to deep red on edges.
Betelgeuse imaged in ultraviolet light by the Hubble Space Telescope, and subsequently enhanced by NASA. The bright white spot is likely one of this star’s poles. Image via Andrea Dupree/ Ronald Gilliland/ NASA/ ESA/

Bottom line: Astronomers concluded that the bright red supergiant star Betelgeuse literally blew its top in 2019. Betelgeuse lost a substantial part of its visible surface, causing a dust cloud to form and dimming the star as seen from Earth. Betelgeuse is still recovering from that outburst.


The post Betelgeuse is recovering from blowing its top first appeared on EarthSky.

]]> 0
Can meteors make a sound? Scientists say yes Tue, 09 Aug 2022 10:00:00 +0000 Is it possible to hear a meteor? Some people report hearing meteors make a sizzling sound. Scientists explain how you can hear a meteor.

The post Can meteors make a sound? Scientists say yes first appeared on EarthSky.

Meteors: Bright light in middle of elongated flash in dark blue sky with small clouds and stars.
What are the odds?! Emma Zulaiha Zulkifli captured this amazing image in Sabah, on the island of Borneo in Malaysia. She caught a bright meteor streaking right in front of the bright planet Venus on December 15, 2018. She wrote: “Yes, the meteor actually did streak in front of Venus! Only a bit of tweaking on contrast and noise reduction done in Photoshop CC2018.” Way to go, Emma! Some people claim to have heard meteors. Is it possible? Read on.

Is it possible to hear meteors?

Meteors are fun to see and can fill us with momentary awe. Those brief streaks of light are a reminder that many small rocky objects and even-smaller icy particles – most no bigger than sand grains – enter Earth’s atmosphere every hour of every day. Most burn up in Earth’s atmosphere and never reach Earth’s surface at all. Seeing them is fun and cool. But is it possible to hear meteors as well?

Sometimes, after a meteor shower, people report hearing the meteors as they disintegrate in the atmosphere. Some people report a low hissing sound, like bacon sizzling, when seeing exceptionally bright meteors. Is it really possible to hear meteors?

Astronomers now think it is.

Small flash of light in a dark blue sky with stars.
2013 Quadrantid meteor by EarthSky Facebook friend Susan Jensen in Odessa, Washington.

Hearing VLF radio waves?

For years, professional astronomers dismissed the notion of sounds from meteors as fiction. Why? Typically, a meteor burns up about 60 miles (100 km) above the Earth’s surface. Sound travels so much more slowly than light does. We shouldn’t be able to hear the rumblings of a particularly large meteor for several minutes after the meteor’s sighting. It’s like hearing thunder after the lightning flashes have already happened.

A meteor 60 miles high booms about five minutes after it appears. This is a “sonic” meteor. The noise it makes is related to the sonic boom caused by a faster-than-sound aircraft.

But some meteors seem to make a sound at the same time that we see them. We hear and see these meteors simultaneously. Is this possible? Yes, astronomers say. These are what astronomers call electrophonic meteors.

Basically, the explanation is that these meteors give off very low frequency (VLF) radio waves, which travel at the speed of light. Even though you can’t directly hear radio waves, these waves can cause physical objects on the Earth’s surface to vibrate. The radio waves produce a sound, which our ears might interpret as the sizzle of a meteor shooting by.

Buzz, sizzle and hiss

In 2013, Live Science reported one classic example of people hearing meteors. It occurred in 817 A.D., as a meteor shower passed over China. Many observers reported hearing buzzing, sizzling or hissing sounds, according to a 1992 report by Colin Keay, a physicist at the University of Newcastle in Australia. Something similar happened in England in 1719.

Astronomer Edmond Halley said:

Of several accidents that were reported to have attended its passage, many were the effect of pure fantasy, such as the hearing it hiss as it went along, as if it had been near at hand.

The dismissal of these observations by suggesting that the sound perception may be psychological through “an affrighted imagination” set back the study of the phenomenon for nearly two centuries.

Bright streak of light over pier on lake, in dark blue sky with stars.
The 2017 Perseid meteor shower peaked in the moonlight, but that didn’t stop Hrvoje Crnjak in Šibenik, Croatia, from catching this bright Perseid on the morning of August 12, 2017. Notice the variations in brightness and color throughout and the little “pop” of brightness toward the bottom. A brightness “pop” like that comes from a clump of vaporizing debris. Thank you, Hrvoje!

A 1978 meteor changes minds

It wasn’t until the 1970s and later that scientists began to take these reports more seriously. As Keay reported in the journal Asteroids, Comets, Meteors, people who claimed they could hear meteors were dismissed as crackpots.

But then, the sighting of a large meteor over New South Wales in 1978 caused hundreds of reports. Keay analyzed 36 of those reports.

VLF waves travel at the speed of light, so observers would hear them at the same time that they saw the meteors pass overhead. But those waves need something physical to act as a transducer and create the sound. Keay found that various objects such as aluminum foil, typing paper, plant foliage like pine needles, thin wires, dry frizzy hair and wire-framed eyeglasses could all produce those kinds of sounds. This phenomenon is called electrophonics.

A recent example from an observer pulls these objects into play:

When I was out [viewing the Leonid meteor showers in 1999], I had my head back on the ground and heard a sizzling sound. My head was close to grass and leaves and I wear wire-frame glasses as well. The sound was definitely simultaneous with the observation of a rather large streak.

Meteors over Mongolia

A team of scientists did an extensive study in Mongolia during the 1998 Leonids meteor shower. They took great care to find a location in:

…central Mongolia, devoid of life, any human or animal nocturnal activity, power lines, and AC electrical equipment of any sort.

The snow-covered plain was cold, -17° Fahrenheit (-27° C). Besides capturing audio recordings from two bright meteors, the visual observers also heard noises from the meteors. Here are their results and the results from other studies:

Chart detailing sounds such as pop and whoosh.
Table of sounds heard during the Leonids Meteor Shower. Chart via Journal of Geophysical Research.

The sound precedes the brightest moment

And you typically hear the sound before the fireballs reach maximum brightness. The frequency of the sounds was in the 37 to 44 Hz range. The average person can hear between the frequencies of 20 to 20,000, so this is near the low end of that range. You have probably heard a 30-Hz sound if you have ever driven fast down the highway with your back window open.

How can you increase the chance of hearing meteors?

Here are some suggestions: lie down on a plastic tarp near dry leaves, frizz your hair, wear wire-framed eyeglasses and be near sheets of aluminum foil and typing paper. See a discussion and comments here.

It is not just meteors that produce low-frequency sounds. Aurorae, earthquakes and the re-entry of large rocket stages also produce electrophonic sounds.

Antique painting of many colorful streaks of light in sky above a waterfall.
Artist’s illustration of the Leonid meteor shower in 1833, one of the most spectacular in history. Image via Edmund Weiss.

Hearing more meteors than you can see?

Keay’s hypothesis got further testing during the Leonid meteor shower of November 18, 1999. The researchers detected distinct VLF sounds and also found that many of the meteors were not even visible by eye but were heard. In fact, they detected 50 times more meteors by their VLF signatures than by sight alone. Dennis Gallagher, a space physicist at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, said:

What makes this exciting is that we’re talking about a phenomenon that has been experienced by people for perhaps thousands of years. Even in modern times folks who reported hearing such sounds were ridiculed. It was only about 25 years ago that Keay was able to do the research and legitimize the experiences of all those generations of people. It shows there are still wonders in nature yet to be recognized and understood. We should take this experience with meteors as a reason to open our minds to what may yet be learned.

Fun fact: When meteoroids – rocky bodies from space as small as dust particles – are burning up in the atmosphere, they are called meteors. When one is large enough to survive entry into the atmosphere and hit the ground, it is called a meteorite.

Bright meteor with large greenish head pointing downward.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Garth Battista in the Catskill Mountains took this image on August 4, 2022. Garth wrote: “This bright meteor burned over the Catskill Mountains last night just after midnight.” Thank you, Garth!

Bottom line: Can you hear meteors as well as see them? Scientists say yes.

Read more: EarthSky’s 2022 meteor shower guide

The post Can meteors make a sound? Scientists say yes first appeared on EarthSky.

]]> 56
How do meteorites survive their fiery journey to the ground? Tue, 09 Aug 2022 01:32:34 +0000 Asteroid 2008 TC3 entered our atmosphere and scattered meteorites over Sudan. Researchers found the resulting meteorites came from the back of the asteroid.

The post How do meteorites survive their fiery journey to the ground? first appeared on EarthSky.

Irregular-shaped asteroid tumbling toward Earth.
Asteroid 2008 TC3 tumbled toward Earth, eventually impacting in the Nubian Desert of Africa. Searchers found some 300 meteorites. Image via Peter Jenniskens/ Petr Scheirich/

SETI Institute originally published this article on August 8, 2022. You can read the original here. Edits by EarthSky.

What part of an asteroid reaches the ground?

When a small asteroid enters Earth’s atmosphere from space, its surface is brutally heated, causing melting and fragmenting. So it’s been a mystery as to why space rocks survive and reach the ground as meteorites. A new study solves that mystery, using the fiery entry of asteroid 2008 TC3.

The peer-reviewed journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science published the study on August 4, 2022. Peter Jenniskens – of the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center – is the lead author and a meteor astronomer. Jenniskens said:

Most of our meteorites fall from rocks the size of grapefruits to small cars. Rocks that big do not spin fast enough to spread the heat during the brief meteor phase. And we now have evidence that the backside survives to the ground.

An asteroid scattered meteorites over Sudan in 2008

In 2008, scientists detected an almost 20-foot (6-meter) asteroid called 2008 TC3 in space. Then, they tracked it for over 20 hours before it hit the Earth’s atmosphere. It created a bright meteor that disintegrated over the Nubian Desert of Sudan. The breakup scattered a shower of meteorites over a 4.3 x 18.6 miles (7 x 30 km) area. So Jenniskens collaborated with University of Khartoum professor Muawia Shaddad and his students to recover these meteorites.

Professor Shaddad explained:

In a series of dedicated search campaigns, our students recovered over 600 meteorites. Some were as big as a fist, but most no bigger than a thumbnail. For each meteorite, we recorded the find location.

Group of people pointing to a meteorite on the ground.
Muawia Shaddad and Peter Jenniskens join students of the University of Khartoum to hunt meteorites. Here is one of the larger finds from the first search campaign from December 8, 2008. Image via Shaddad/ NASA.

A tumbling asteroid

The researchers conducted grid searches perpendicular to the asteroid path. They were surprised to find that the larger, fist-sized meteorites spread out more than the smaller meteorites. Then, teaming up with NASA’s Asteroid Threat Assessment Project (ATAP) at NASA Ames Research Center, they decided to investigate.

Darrel Robertson of ATAP is a theoretical astronomer. Robertson indicated:

While the asteroid approached Earth, its brightness flickered from spinning and tumbling. Because of that, asteroid 2008 TC3 is unique in that we know the shape and orientation of the asteroid when it entered Earth’s atmosphere.

Contrail of meteor descent in twilight sky.
View larger. | Cellphone image of the contrail left by 2008 TC3 during its descent. Image via Shaddad/ NASA.

Computer model shows entry into atmosphere

Robertson created a hydrodynamic model of the entry of 2008 TC3 into Earth’s atmosphere. The model shows how the asteroid melts and breaks up. He used the observed altitudes of meteor brightness and dust clouds to calibrate the altitude of phenomena recognized in the model.

Robertson then added:

Because of the high speed coming in, we found that the asteroid punched a near vacuum wake in the atmosphere. The first fragments came from the sides of the asteroid and tended to move into that wake, where they mixed and fell to the ground with low relative speeds.

Meteorites: Computer simulation of an asteroid melting and breaking up when entering our atmosphere.
A computer simulation of the melting and final breakup of asteroid 2008 TC3 as it entered Earth’s atmosphere. The asteroid scattered meteorites over an area in Sudan. Image via D. Robertson/ NASA Ames Research Center.

Size and shape makes the difference

While falling to the ground, friction with the atmosphere soon stopped the smallest meteorites, falling close to the breakup point. The atmosphere had a harder time stopping larger meteorites, which fell further downrange. As a result, most recovered meteorites were found along a narrow 0.6-mile (1-km) wide strip in the asteroid’s path.

Robertson further commented:

The asteroid melted more and more at the front until the surviving part at the back and bottom-back of the asteroid reached a point where it suddenly collapsed and broke into many pieces. The bottom-back surviving as it did was because of the shape of the asteroid.

Two meteorites on the ground with a man in the background.
These are some of the meteorites remaining from the backside of asteroid 2008 TC3. Jenniskens found them on the ground in the Nubian Desert of Sudan. Image via Jenniskens/ SETI Institute/NASA Ames Research Center.

Larger meteorites spread out

No longer trapped by the shock from the asteroid itself, the shocks from the individual pieces now repulsed them. That sent these final fragments flying outward with much higher relative speed.

Jenniskens added:

The largest meteorites from 2008 TC3 spread out wider than the small ones, which means that they originated from this final collapse. Based on where they were found, we concluded that these pieces stayed relatively large all the way to the ground.

The location of the large meteorites on the ground reflects their location in the back and bottom-back part of the original asteroid.

The meteorites were different types of rocks

Cyrena Goodrich of the Lunar and Planetary Institute led a team of meteoriticists in the study. They determined the meteorite type of each recovered fragment in the large mass area.

According to Goodrich:

This asteroid was a mixed bag of rocks.

The researchers found that the different meteorite types were spread randomly on the ground, and therefore were also spread randomly in the original asteroid. Goodrich said:

That agrees with the fact that other meteorites of this kind, albeit on a much smaller scale, also contain random mixtures.

These results may also help scientists understand other meteorite falls. Asteroids are exposed to cosmic rays while in space, creating a low level of radioactivity and more near the surface. Jenniskens said:

From that radioactivity, we often find that the meteorites did not come from the better-shielded interior. We now know they came from the surface at the back of the asteroid.

Bottom line: We discovered and tracked Asteroid 2008 TC3 before it entered our atmosphere. The resulting meteor scattered meteorites over Sudan. After collecting and studying them, researchers found the meteorites came from the back of the asteroid.

Source: Bolide fragmentation: What parts of asteroid 2008 TC3 survived to the ground?


How big are asteroids? See comparative sizes in this video

The post How do meteorites survive their fiery journey to the ground? first appeared on EarthSky.

]]> 0
Mars Sample Return mission steps forward Mon, 08 Aug 2022 17:00:24 +0000 The Mars Sample Return mission is changing a bit, including the addition of 2 new Mars helicopters. It will bring the 1st-ever Mars samples to Earth in 2033.

The post Mars Sample Return mission steps forward first appeared on EarthSky.

Mars Sample Return: 5 different robots including rover, lander, rocket, orbiter and helicopter on and above reddish terrain.
View larger. | This is an artist’s illustration of the Mars Sample Return mission concept. Multiple robots, including Perseverance (bottom left), will work together to deliver the samples of Martian rock and soil back to Earth in 2033. In the first step, the rover will deliver the samples to the Sample Retrieval Lander (bottom right). Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech.

The Mars Sample Return mission – which will be the most complex Mars mission ever undertaken – is one step closer to reality. NASA said on July 27, 2022, that it had completed the mission’s systems requirements review. The European Space Agency (ESA) is also a mission partner. NASA and ESA are targeting 2033 to bring the first-ever samples of Martian rock and soil back to Earth. The mission will enable scientists to study Mars samples directly in laboratories on Earth for the first time.

The Mars Perseverance rover – which landed in in Mars’ Jezero Crater in early 2021 – was the first leg of this international interplanetary mission. Perseverance has already collected and cached samples on Mars.

The systems requirements review is a technical review meant to ensure that developers of the Mars Sample Return mission understand exactly what’s wanted and needed for the mission and are ready to proceed with an initial system design.

And, until now, the return aspect of the mission has been in the conceptual design phase. Now, that process is nearing the end, and the overall mission is getting some changes, including two new Mars helicopters. A demonstration of the Mars helicopters technology – a small robotic coaxial rotor helicopter called Ingenuity, nicknamed Ginny – is operating on Mars now along with the Perseverance rover.

Changes for Mars Sample Return

The mission plan has already come a long way since it first started. And, as might be expected, some changes have been made along the way. Those changes are due largely to the success of the Perseverance rover and also for its companion, the Mars Helicopter. As Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, explained:

The conceptual design phase is when every facet of a mission plan gets put under a microscope. There are some significant and advantageous changes to the plan, which can be directly attributed to Perseverance’s recent successes at Jezero and the amazing performance of our Mars helicopter.

Robotic lander with 2 large solar panels sitting on reddish terrain.
View larger. | The Sample Retrieval Lander will launch to Mars in the mid-2020s. It will touch down near the Perseverance rover’s landing location. It carries the Mars Ascent Vehicle rocket that will bring the samples to the Earth Return Orbiter in Mars orbit. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech.
Long red, silver and white rocket with reddish cratered planet below it.
View larger. | Liftoff! The Mars Ascent Vehicle will deliver the retrieved samples to the waiting Earth Return Orbiter in Mars orbit. It will be the 1st-ever rocket to launch from the surface of Mars. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech.
Orbiting spacecraft will smaller ball-like object floating below it.
View larger. | The Capture/Containment and Return System onboard the Earth Return Orbiter will capture the Orbiting Sample container. Then, it will orient the container and transfer it to a clean zone in preparation for retun to Earth. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech.

2 new Mars helicopters

In the Mars Sample Return, Perseverance will be the main vehicle to deliver the samples to the Sample Retrieval Lander. The lander carries the Mars Ascent Vehicle and Sample Transfer Arm. There will also be not one, but two new Mars helicopters, similar to Ingenuity. They will be available as a backup method of delivering the samples.

Previously, the mission included a Sample Fetch Rover and a second lander. But now, Perseverance will be able to deliver its samples directly to the Sample Retrieval Lander, with help from the helicopters if needed.

Preliminary design phase

Next, the mission development will move into the preliminary design phase this October. This is a critical phase, where NASA will complete the needed technology development and create engineering prototypes of the primary mission components. This phase is expected to last 12 months.

Spacecraft on left, with smaller spacecraft and Earth to the right.
View larger. | ESA’s Earth Return Orbiter will launch from Earth in the mid-2020s. It will capture the samples in Mars orbit and then place them in the Earth Entry Vehicle stored onboard. Then, the Earth Return Orbiter will begin the journey back to Earth. Finally, the Earth Entry Vehicle will separate and actually bring the stored samples down to Earth’s surface. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech.
White, glowing disc-shaped object with bright trails coming off of it on black background.
View larger. | Ultimately, the disc-shaped Earth Entry System vehicle will bring the precious Mars samples down to Earth. This will be a historic end to a long and exciting journey. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech.

ESA involvement

ESA will remain fully involved in the mission. Despite the other changes on the NASA side, both the Earth Return Orbiter and Capture, Containment, and Return System will still be key components of the mission architecture. Last May, ESA presented the updated mission concept to the delegates from 22 states of Europe’s space exploration program, Terrae Novae. It is possible, however, that ESA’s Sample Fetch Rover will also be discontinued. ESA will make that decision at the next meeting of Terrae Novae in September. According to David Parker, ESA director of Human and Robotic Exploration:

ESA is continuing at full speed the development of both the Earth Return Orbiter that will make the historic round-trip from Earth to Mars and back again; and the Sample Transfer Arm that will robotically place the sample tubes aboard the Orbiting Sample Container before its launch from the surface of the Red Planet.

While the architecture for Mars Sample Return is coming together nicely, it is still dependent on future funding. More formalized agreements are expected within the next year. The NASA/ESA partnership is a great example of how different countries can work together on a common goal. As Zurbuchen noted:

Working together on historic endeavors like Mars Sample Return not only provides invaluable data about our place in the universe but brings us closer together right here on Earth.

Ribbed metallic tube with a piece of rock visible in the open end.
View larger. | One of the rock core samples that Perseverance has recently collected. The rover now has 12 such samples and is still taking more, for eventual return to Earth. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ Twitter.

Mars Sample Return: Searching for evidence of life

Mars Sample Return is, needless to say, an ambitious plan. If successful, it will be the first time that samples of Martian rocks and soil have been brought directly back to Earth for analysis. Scientists have studied multiple Martian meteorites that provide valuable clues about the planet’s past. But the samples from Jezero Crater are unique. They can, hopefully, answer the question of whether life ever existed on Mars. They come from the ancient river delta and surrounding terrain. On Earth, such locations are ideal for preserving microbial fossils. Is the same true for Mars?

As of this writing, Perseverance has collected 12 rock samples that are being stored in tubes onboard the rover. It will continue to collect more, in particular ones from the ancient river delta. Scientists can analyze the samples in state-of-the-art labs with equipment that would be too large to take to Mars. Perseverance does, however, have its own lab onboard where preliminary analysis is done.

Perseverance has found evidence that Jezero Crater did, indeed, once contain a lake and that conditions were habitable, by earthly standards, a few billion years ago. The rover has also found various organic carbon compounds in rocks. It is not yet known, however, if any of the carbon is of biological origin. That is where labs back on Earth come in!

Read more about the Mars Sample Return mission

Bottom line: The Mars Sample Return mission is changing a bit, including the addition of 2 new Mars helicopters. It will bring the 1st-ever Mars samples of rock and soil to Earth in 2033. Scientists will analyze the samples for evidence of past life on the red planet.


The post Mars Sample Return mission steps forward first appeared on EarthSky.

]]> 0
UFOs – Ultra-red Flattened Objects – revealed by Webb Mon, 08 Aug 2022 11:45:46 +0000 Astronomers analyzing new Webb images have found UFOs, or Ultra-red Flattened Objects. These UFOs are disk galaxies that only become visible in infrared light.

The post UFOs – Ultra-red Flattened Objects – revealed by Webb first appeared on EarthSky.

UFOs: Side by side images of deep sky, one with red oval one without.
See one of the red UFOs – Ultra-red Flattened Objects – that appears in the Webb image (right), but not the Hubble image (left)? Webb is finding galaxies that Hubble missed. Image via Erica Nelson, et al./ arXiv.

UFOs in Webb’s range

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). It can see farther away in space, and so farther back in time. In operation only since this summer, it’s already discovering things Hubble couldn’t see, including some massive, deep-red, disk-shaped galaxies. Astronomers call them HST-dark galaxies. In a paper published on arXiv on August 2, 2022 (but not yet peer-reviewed), a team of scientists are also calling these galaxies Ultra-red Flattened Objects, or UFOs.

And – to Webb’s “eye” at least – they do have the classic, sci-fi look of a flying saucer!

Deep-red galaxies not visible to Hubble

These deep-red, disk-shaped galaxies have a redshift (or z) between 2 and 6. That value means we’re seeing them as they were in the universe 10.3 to 12.7 billion years ago. So they’re definitely not our next-door neighbors. But they are within the range of what Hubble could image, if it could see their red light.

Webb can see these “HST-dark” galaxies because it observes in infrared light, which is the part of the spectrum where these galaxies shine. The team that published the new study, led by Erica Nelson of the University of Colorado, Boulder, found 29 of these HST-dark galaxies. The galaxies have a significant amount of dust, which makes their light redder and hides them from Hubble’s vision. But Webb’s infrared sensors can see through that dust, making the UFOs pop into view.

Webb’s galactic discoveries

Compare the UFOs to the record-breaking distant galaxies that Webb has spied, which have redshifts of 11-20. That would be when the universe was between 400 million and 150 million years old. The UFOs, with a redshift of 2-6, existed when the universe was between 3 1/2 and 1 billion years old (out of its current 13.7 billion years of age). So these galaxies aren’t real close to us in time, but they are still closer than the record-breaking discoveries.

UFOs at cosmic noon

The astronomers refer to the time period that UFOs thrived as cosmic noon. The early ages of the universe when galaxies began to grow was the cosmic dawn. Then cosmic noon arrived, about 3 billion years after the Big Bang. Astronomers think most of the universe’s stars and black holes formed around the time of cosmic noon. And now astronomers say that these UFOs, or dusty star-forming galaxies undergoing extreme starbursts, dominate the total star formation rate budget of the universe during cosmic noon. So, as the paper said, since we have not yet been able to study what we could not see:

… we do not yet fully understand the growth of the most massive galaxies at cosmic noon.

From flattened to bulging

The scientists also said that these massive, dusty UFOs may be the progenitors of today’s large elliptical galaxies. They’re surprised by this finding, because astronomers believed that the bulging elliptical galaxies we see now would have already had that bulging shape at an early age. But as the paper said:

Perhaps the most noteworthy result stems from the flattened shapes of these HST-dark galaxies. These massive, star-forming galaxies are the likely progenitors of today’s massive galaxies, which tend to be bulge/spheroid-dominated … The expectation may have been that the stellar bodies of these objects would already host significant bulges. This, however, is not what we observe in this sample.

Fuzzy ball of white light with mostly blue line coming out from the center.
M87 is a large elliptical galaxy famous for the black hole at its center. The Hubble Space Telescope took this image in 2009. M87 lies about 55 million light-years away. It may have begun life as a UFO, or Ultra-red Flattened Object. Image via Wikipedia.

Webb is expanding our knowledge

The discovery of these UFOs is helping astronomers get a better picture of the universe at a more recent age. As the paper noted:

The stellar masses, sizes, and morphologies of the sample suggest that some could be progenitors of lenticular or fast-rotating galaxies in the local Universe. The existence of this population suggests that our previous censuses of the universe may have missed massive, dusty edge-on disks, in addition to dust-obscured starbursts.

The paper concluded:

This sample highlights the fact that the JWST discovery extends studies of galaxy stellar structures to later cosmic epochs during which we thought we had a reasonable census of the universe already.

Bottom line: Astronomers analyzing new Webb images have found UFOs, or Ultra-red Flattened Objects. These UFOs are disk galaxies that only become visible in infrared light.

Source: JWST reveals a population of ultra-red, flattened disk galaxies at 2<z<6 previously missed by HST

The post UFOs – Ultra-red Flattened Objects – revealed by Webb first appeared on EarthSky.

]]> 0
Robots to robot: ‘Happy birthday, Curiosity!’ Fri, 05 Aug 2022 12:00:17 +0000 Robots to robot: Happy birthday! Today over 100,000 robotic lawn mowers will "sing" Happy Birthday to the Curiosity rover on Mars. You can participate!

The post Robots to robot: ‘Happy birthday, Curiosity!’ first appeared on EarthSky.


Today is the day! Happy birthday Curiosity! Over 100.000 robotic lawn mowers are sending their love to you via song. @NASA @MarsCuriosity #HappyBirthdayCuriosityRover

— HusqvarnaUSA (@HusqvarnaUSA) August 5, 2022

NASA’s long-lived Mars robotic rover Curiosity landed in Gale Crater on today’s date (August 5) in the year 2012. On its 1st birthday in 2013, Curiosity sang a solitary Happy Birthday to itself from Mars’ lonely surface. In 2022 – for Curiosity’s 10th birthday – 100,000 robotic lawnmowers on Earth were expected to sing Happy Birthday to Curiosity. The tweet above provides a sample of their singing.

Husqvarna, the company that makes the lawnmowers, developed a new firmware program for its robotic mowers. As Linda Lindqvist, Product Manager Robotics at Husqvarna, said:

From a choir of robots on Earth to the loneliest robot in the universe, Happy Birthday!

The company said it’s the first time so many robots will take part in celebrating the birthday of a Mars rover. But not the last?

How did it work?

The firmware update was provided for three models of Automower® robotic lawnmowers: models 405X, 415X and 435X AWD. The update was available for 100,000 of the mowers around the world. In September, it will become a permanent feature of those models.

The technology is based on the mower’s existing alarm signal. The integration platform IFTTT will enable the mowers to sing Happy Birthday. Björn Mannefred, Robotics Software Manager at Husqvarna, said:

For us this is a way to pay homage to the great engineering work of NASA, and that of our extensive team of robotic experts, by letting our robotic mowers celebrate a fellow robot … nobody should have to sing Happy Birthday to themselves, right?

Curiosity’s life on Mars

Curiosity has been exploring Gale Crater since 2012, finding evidence for habitable conditions a few billion years ago when the crater used to be a lake. The rover recently spotted some odd stick-like objects that look like mini-hoodoos.

The rover has been working hard, so it deserved a big Happy Birthday … robots to robot!

Curiosity’s 1st birthday song

The NASA video below explains the origin of the idea to have Curiosity sing Happy Birthday to itself in 2013 … and lets you hear Curiosity singing.

And here’s the story on TikTok

And check out another cool take on the story, from TikTok, below. It captures the poignancy of Curiosity’s birthday celebrations, on the lonely, windswept desert world next door to Earth. Go, @astro_alexandra!

@astro_alexandra Mars rover Curiosity sang happy birthday to itself… #mars #spacetok #stemtok #sciencetok #astronomy ? original sound – ASTRO ALEXANDRA ?

Robots to robot: Happy birthday! Complex wheeled machine with camera looking toward the viewer, with Mars in the background.
View larger. | Self-portrait of a roving robot on Mars, known as Curiosity. Cute, isn’t he (she)? Read more about this image via NASA’s PhotoJournal. On August 5, 2022, robots to robot: Happy Birthday to you, Curiosity.

Bottom line: On August 5, Husqvarna robotic lawn mowers sung Happy Birthday to NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars. And you can participate!

Read more: Revisit Curiosity’s 10-year history

Via Husqvarna

Via Cision PR Newswire

The post Robots to robot: ‘Happy birthday, Curiosity!’ first appeared on EarthSky.

]]> 0
Mars Curiosity rover’s ‘7 minutes of terror’ Fri, 05 Aug 2022 11:31:00 +0000 To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Curiosity rover's arrival on Mars, here’s a video on the final 7 minutes of its chilling descent on August 5-6, 2012.

The post Mars Curiosity rover’s ‘7 minutes of terror’ first appeared on EarthSky.


10 years ago today: A nail-biter of a Mars landing

Today is the 10-year anniversary of the Curiosity rover’s successful landing on the planet Mars. The landing was unprecedented for its use of new technologies designed to get the rover to Mars’ surface safely. Curiosity hit the top of Mars’ thin atmosphere at a velocity of about 13,000 miles per hour (about 6,000 meters per second). In seven minutes, it had to decelerate and then set down, hopefully gently, on the red planet’s surface. Space engineers at the time described the landing as:

… seven minutes of terror.

And, to everyone’s great relief, Curiosity set down safely in Gale Crater on Mars at 10:31 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time on August 5, 2012.

Getting there is easy, but landing there is not

Going to the red planet is relatively easy. But landing on Mars is hard. In 2003, veteran NASA official Firouz Naderi commented:

Mars is a favorite target.

We – the United States and former USSR – have been going to Mars for 40 years. The first time we flew by a planet, it was Mars. The first time we orbited a planet, it was Mars. The first time we landed on a planet it was Mars. And the first time we roved around the surface of a planet, it was Mars. We go there often.

Around that time – around the turn of this century – the world was averaging about two failures for every three spacecraft launched toward Mars, according to NASA. There were a total of 39 Mars missions launched, and 25 failures or partial failures by the year 2000, according to Wikipedia.

But then we got better at it. And as the video above shows, Curiosity’s landing used a combination of complicated new technologies, including a new guided entry system and a rocket-powered sky crane that used cables to lower the 1-ton robot rover to the Martian surface.

Mars Curiosity rover still going strong

Since 2012, Curiosity has been crawling across Mars’ surface serving as a robot extension of our human senses in exploring Gale Crater on Mars. Curiosity has covered more than 17 miles (27 kilometers) of Mars. The rover has learned, among many other things, that Gale Crater might once have held a great salty lake.

Visit NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover page

Check this out: 8 Martian postcards to celebrate Curiosity’s landing anniversary

Mars: Spacecraft hovering above the surface, firing retrorockets, with cables from the craft lowering the rover.
Artist’s concept of Curiosity rover’s landing on Mars, via a “sky crane” and cables. The new rover that arrived at Mars in March 2021 – Perseverance – also landed on Mars via sky crane. Image via NASA.
Dusty 6-wheeled rover looking our way with a camera on a pole, in reddish Martian desert.
NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity took this self-portrait on May 11, 2016, at the “Okoruso” drilling site in the foothills of Mount Sharp, the central peak of Gale Crater. If Gale Crater once held a lake, Mount Sharp might have been an island in the middle of that lake. This self-portrait combines multiple images taken with the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), during the 1,338th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars. Image via NASA.

Perseverance was the next to land

Curiosity was followed to Mars by another robot rover, Perseverance, which launched from Earth on July 30, 2020. Finally, Perseverance touched down on Mars landing in Jezero crater on Mars on February 18, 2021. And Perseverance is largely the same design as Curiosity. When the $2.4 billion spacecraft carrying it reached Mars, it also hit the atmosphere at high speed (more than 12,000 miles per hour or 19,000 km/h) and then came to a complete stop on Mars’ surface seven minutes later. Like Curiosity, it landed via “sky crane,” but with one big difference: the sky crane technology was now tried-and-true.

Still, as with Curiosity, space engineers surely experienced a nail-biting seven minutes, waiting to hear that the Perseverance rover had set down successfully, as gently as it could, on Mars’ surface.

There, it joined the other Mars rovers in the search for life on Mars, and an exploration of the planet’s surface, atmosphere and history. Perseverance brought with it a special helicopter named Ingenuity that has explored the Martian surface as well.

Visit NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover page

Why focus so many spacecraft on Mars?

Read more from the NY Times: Too much Mars? An interesting discussion between two veteran space journalists about why Mars seems to absorb so much of the oxygen – and budgetary resources – in the rooms where explorations of our solar system are decided.

Animated view of a parachute opening, seen from below.
Parachute test for Mars Perseverance rover. The images were taken on September 7, 2018, during the third and final flight of the Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment (ASPIRE) project. Read more about this image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech.

Why is landing on Mars so hard? This 2017 video from MinutePhysics does a great job of explaining it:

Bottom line: Watch a NASA video describing the final seven minutes of the Curiosity rover’s chilling descent to the surface of Mars 10 years ago on August 5-6, 2012. And learn a bit about how the rover Perseverance landed on Mars in 2021.

Read more from NASA: Curiosity’s Entry, Descent and Landing

Enjoying EarthSky? Sign up for our free daily newsletter today!

Curiosity rover on Mars snags highest-resolution panorama yet

Mars rover measures key life ingredient

The post Mars Curiosity rover’s ‘7 minutes of terror’ first appeared on EarthSky.

]]> 23