News from the Solar System

The burden of too much information is heavy, come and find out with us and Julian Priest, artist in residence at Space Place what you can do about it, if only complain, The Royal Society of New Zealand warns about blue light at night, NASA will land Mars 2020 at Jezero, an ancient delta on Mars, gravitational waves might or might not exist, the king is dead, Kepler run out of power, long live the king, TESS is the new kid in town. And last but not least, InSight has landed on Mars.

The weight of information

NASA’s freshly launched cargo to the International Space Station hols a precious item. A satellite that Julian Priest, artist in residence with Museums Wellington, is finally going to use to summon Wellingtonians to MEET TO DELETE. It’s not a spell, it’s a “sciency-arty” project about the weight of information. His 2cm x 2cm pico-satellite (named TWOi 2.0) will be deployed into orbit where it will transmit metadata back to a receiver that is part of Priest’s installation in the Thomas King Observatory. Julian wants to draw awareness on the weight of information.

Royal Society in blue light

A new paper released by the Royal Society Te Apārangi finds that our increasing exposure to artificial blue light is a possible risk for our health, for wildlife and for studying the night sky. However, there are many things we can do to protect ourselves and te taiao the environment from artificial blue light. The paper is hailed by anti light pollution and dark skies advocates.

How blue light affects us in Aotearoa from Royal Society Te Apārangi on Vimeo.

NASA decided on the landing site of Mars 2020 rover.

And it is Jezero, an ancient delta. This was not easy, it took scientists more than a year to debate and New Zealand even had a team with a stake into the landing, and they made it to the last 3 sites. Quite an honour even though our team did not win. The trick about the next rover on Mars, the big challenge, is to go out hunting, boldly and directly, for life itself — fossil or living — on the Red Planet. NASA’s rover is being built, as is ESA’s ExoMars rover, and both space agencies have chosen where they will land on Mars to start roving in 2021.

Columbia Hills team.png
Columbia Hills landing site proposal team at 4th Landing Site Workshop in California, October 2018

Gravitational waves hide and seek

Back in 2015 the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) were confident they found evidence of gravitational waves. They published their findings and 2017 they got a Nobel Prize. Now, another bunch of scientists, from Denmark’s Niels Bohr institute in Copenhagen,  believe that the LIGO team failed to make a convincing case for the detection of the gravitational wave event. So, when you are looking for a gravitational wave you are looking for a variation in length of about 1000 of the diameter of a proton. To do this, lasers are fired down very long tunnels and those tunnels are compared to each other. The problem is that there is a heap of noise from thermal changes in the equipment and tiny little seismic events so it’s very difficult to extract a signal indicating a gravitational wave. The Danish team believes that the LIGO team did not do their signal processing properly, which therefore casts the original signal into doubt. Keep tuned for more updates. Of course LIGO keeps their position and they think it’s a misunderstanding about their method to analyse the data.

This is what science is all about, questioning results and being open to justifying what you have.

Kepler dies forever

The very famous Space Telescope Kepler, that discovered so many exoplanets received the last set of commands on the 15 of November which were to disconnect communications with Earth. The “goodnight” commands finalised the spacecraft’s transition into retirement, which began on Oct. 30 with NASA’s announcement that Kepler had run out of fuel and could no longer conduct science. Coincidentally, Kepler’s “goodnight” coincides with the anniversary of the death of its namesake, German astronomer Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion and died 388 years ago on Nov. 15, 1630.

Insight landed on Mars

After Curiosity, Mars InSight had its 6 minutes of terror. That is how long it takes the craft to land on Mars. InSight is set to study the interior of Mars.

The landing of InSight was broadcast online on Tuesday morning New Zealand time:

Here is the first picture that InSight sent from Mars,

This image was acquired on November 26 (27 in NZ), 2018, Sol 0 of the InSight mission where the local mean solar time for the image exposures was 13:34:21. Each ICC image has a field of view of 124 x 124 degrees.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech